Cheers to the Paradoxical Nature of the Holiday Season

The holiday season is complex, to say the least. There is an influx of joy for some, a reminder of loss for others, a pressure to perform for many, and an excuse to cozy by the fire for some. I find that every year the holidays feel a little different for me. There was a holiday season I spent away from my loved ones, all while two important people were stuck in the hospital (give a wild guess of which year this was). This year, I am embracing the holiday spirit (decorations and all) and I am actually looking forward to hosting loved ones for Christmas.

Beyond the duality of cheer and loss, I also dance between the best holidays in the world (Puerto Rico!!!) and the allure of the quintessential American Christmas. I have to play my dad’s holiday music while I make coquito with Don Q, but I still enjoy Christmas carols while sipping on hot chocolate (maybe with some Bailey’s). We’ll bake a honey ham but have arroz con gandules and tostones as the sides. These seeming paradoxes make up who I am today. There are also new experiences that help shape our traditions today and for years to come. I can’t wait to see the holidays through my niece’s joyful eyes.

No matter where you are in the holiday celebration spectrum – whether you are obsessing over moving the Elf or sitting in solitude – I hope you find time to breathe and practice a little gratitude. Whether it’s being thankful for a strong wifi connection so you can FaceTime your loved one in the hospital or feeling grateful for a warm home to welcome all your guests, there’s always something to be grateful for. 

Stop Chasing Butterflies

“Happiness is like a butterfly; the more you chase it, the more it will elude you, but if you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.”

– Henry David Thoreau

I don’t remember how I got it but I held on to a magnet with this quote like it was a lifesaver during my teenage years when I was convinced I would never find love. A hopeless romantic drowned in Nicholas Sparks books, I fantasized about my future love life like it was a movie waiting to be filmed. Looking back, I wish I could tell my young self that love is not always like it’s depicted in the books, a lot of times it can be so much more beautiful and raw, lighting us up in incredible ways. Still, I did not know that back then so I clutched my magnet and tried not to chase the butterfly too hard.

Fast forward over a decade later, and I am struck again by this quote but from a totally new perspective. My entire life I’ve been told to chase the career butterfly, so much that it’s been a subconscious effort most of the time. Work hard, keep climbing, don’t settle, go, go, go. It has just recently dawned on me (thanks to some great people in my life) that this aspect of my life is also a butterfly. That’s not to say that a dream job will “come and sit softly on my shoulder” if I turn my attention to playing Nintendo Switch instead (it doesn’t hurt to try though) but more like, what can life bring you towards when you are guided by curiosity and joy? 

As someone who has always been obsessing about finding your passion and has had to endure a few hits during her career, this idea almost goes against everything my brain has been conditioned to follow in life. Even as I write these words, I struggle to understand what this butterfly means to me and what “turning your attention to other things” looks like in reality. My words are not answers, at least they don’t feel that way to me yet, but maybe they can help drive awareness to your chase and make you question (in the best way possible) your own butterflies. 

I wrote the above about three months ago and while I still don’t have all the answers I am happy to report that life is full of little butterflies. Some you can only notice when you take a moment to really look for them, others are only able to catch you when you purposefully slow down your life. All are beautiful and worth admiring. May wonderful things come rest softly on your shoulder in this season of life. 🙂

-Cristina

Photo by Lana Kravchenko: https://www.pexels.com/photo/a-yellow-and-brown-butterfly-on-purple-flower-12889060/

My words on grief and losing someone you love

I don’t usually write about heavy topics here (or publicly). Still, I share these words from the heart as I process the recent loss of my grandmother. It’s part of my process, but maybe it can be part of someone else’s process too. 

Even though we have given grief a definition and thrown the word in with all the rest, grief shows up differently for everyone. It’s like a shadow that takes many forms, hides, and reappears as it pleases. 

When we lose someone we love, we are hit with a new, harsh reality that our loved one as we knew him/her no longer exists. In my case, my head got stuck on the thought of no more possibilities. Before there was always a reunion to look forward to, memories to be made, stories to be told… all possibilities. Death throws in a period and leaves us with the stale taste of finite. All of the memories we had instantly quadruple in value as the source is no longer producing. Everything feels fragile, and you immediately need more, and it tears you apart to know that’s not possible.

No matter how we see it, death is extremely difficult (impossible?) to grasp. I still mourn my grandfather’s death, and I remember being devastated when he passed when I was 14. When I think of him, I wish he could see who I grew up to be and how much of him I see in me. 

Now, with Abuela, it is entirely different. I am thankful I had her for as long as I did, but with that time also comes the strengthening of a bond that now feels ripped away from the very center of my soul. The years were a blessing that allowed me to see her in a way I couldn’t have seen my grandpa at 14. We got to share life thoughts and worries together, like two adults. I am beyond thankful for this, but it hurts in a way I couldn’t have anticipated. 

Even with all this time, how can it still feel like it wasn’t enough? Is there ever enough time? I smile amidst my tears as I imagine her rolling into heaven, updating my grandpa and uncle on the latest of who we became. Although, I know they know. 

How little of death do we comprehend and how many things we invent and hold on to in a human attempt to ease a pain that has no known eraser. I’ve been told to sit with my pain, greet it and embrace it for a moment. I say hello to it with a hint of honor, as I know I feel it because I was blessed with so much love and joy. How can I hate a feeling that’s a result of the very purpose of our living? 

We humans can be so magnificent yet such limited creatures. 

Still, we find ways to satisfy our thirst for comfort and reassurance, even if ever so fleetingly. Yesterday, it was the sound of her voice. Tomorrow it will be a Cardinal chirping hello in my window. Today, it is these words poured from the soul as I remain thinking of you.

Humor as a tool for revolution and coping mechanism for the current Puerto Rican situation  

Puerto Rico no se deja - Natalia Benitez

Photo credit: Natalia Bénitez

My friend said that if memes could be properly monetized, Puerto Ricans right now would be making bank. In the midst of a political crisis and arguably the start of a revolution for change, Puerto Ricans have shown no fear manifesting their beliefs with creativity, both physically and virtually. From divers underwater showing their protest signs to yogis leading a peaceful yoga class in front of the governor’s mansion – our creativity knows no bounds. If you are Puerto Rican, I bet you are receiving a constant flow of memes from family members, friends, and even coworkers. You have to admit they are good! 

How can a country that is undergoing what has been said to be a historical manifestation have the strength to continue to fight, while also entertaining millions with constant hysterical remarks?

The two coexist as part of a conscious or unconscious strategy, as one of the obstacles that important education and political messages often face is the ability to reach those who need to know said message. From a basic communication standpoint, humor is easy to share, it even strengthens interpersonal relationships. I have seen memes circulating social media that have encouraged me to do my own research to further understand the jokes and/or claims being made. In a culture where we are so overwhelmed by information and opinions from every device imaginable, researching has become key. I have had conversations with my grandma in which it is evident that solely relying on one TV station for your news is never going to be enough again. It is simply impossible to properly capture an entire movement when it is happening virtually and physically, EVERYWHERE.

Puerto Ricans are loud and proud, and it is in our nature to find humor in all situations, for some, in too many situations. You can blame the tropical climate for our “warmth” but perhaps, it is more accurate to look at years and years of situations (political or not) that are so beyond ridiculous that all you can do is laugh. People often say “hay que reír para no llorar” (essentially, you have to laugh to keep yourself from crying) and although that shows our resilience and spirit, it uncovers another big issue that Puerto Ricans are facing: a vulnerable mental health state.

After Hurricane Maria, the suicide rates reportedly went up in the island. The entire nation lived day after day full of worries, desperation, and angst. Those in the island were too busy surviving to have the time to call out shady government actions or even worse, lack of action. Those in the diaspora essentially dropped everything they were doing to desperately try to find feasible and effective ways to help, overwhelmed by the inability to connect with family members on the island. I am no medical professional, but I think it is safe to say that the island has gone through trauma. By definition, a coping mechanism is an adaptation to environmental stress that is based on conscious or unconscious choice and that enhances control over behavior or gives psychological comfort.

Interestingly enough, you could argue that this “humor as a coping mechanism” strategy was the governor’s own downfall. He claims the expressions said on the controversial leaked Telegram chat (charged with sexist and homophobic remarks) was his way of “releasing tension” from the pressure of his job. So while humor is a powerful tool for awareness and joy, it can also be poisonous and dangerous. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that the majority of the humor utilized lately in public conversations has been positively fueling the right for people to manifest themselves and hold the government accountable. It has also been key in the spreading of information and unification of a country that had been divided for far too long. Now, nothing will ever be perfect and while I can assure you there will be future memes mocking the fighting spirit of Puerto Ricans these days, it is important to remember what fueled the humor from the beginning: indignation and the overwhelming feeling that Puerto Rico has had ENOUGH.

Valuing Your Coveted Attention in an Overloaded World

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Some people hate advertising and all it entails – intense targeting, invasion of privacy, lack of transparency, etc. Add in the layer of the modern social media landscape and it all starts to blow up out of proportion, it is believed that the average person is hit with over 4,000 ads in a DAY. As a consumer on the receiving end, it can be exhausting, confusing and just straight up overwhelming. Truth is, advertising is not going anywhere, it will just keep evolving. People were complaining about commercials invading their TV time, now you scroll through Instagram and you get instantly targeted. Business is not going anywhere, people will always find ways to reach the people they think they need to reach.

Personally, I don’t mind ads (targeted or not) because either: 1. I’ve found information or products of value through them or, 2. I work in the industry and understand that people (and brands) need to make a living.

Attention is the new currency and in a world of overload, you either embrace it with control or get trampled. With over 250,000 people (in the US only) working on the marketing industry, it’s not realistic to assume we can all live unplugged lives and honestly, even if you are not in marketing, there’s too much happening online that unplugging yourself will likely affect your chances of success.

It all comes down to intention. If you choose to spend your time on social media (or the internet, for that matter) be more intentional and avoid mindless scrolling. Clean your feed from things that don’t bring value, respect your time and attention and treat it with the value it deserves.

Cristina Nogueras Marketing Clean your feed from things that don’t bring value, respect your time and attention and treat it with the value it deserves.

  • Your email address is a precious gem – Treat it like one! Brands are hungry for it so only give it away when it matters. Be mindful of where you subscribe and utilize it to your advantage.
  • Take control of your feed – You have two options: you either engage with the content you enjoy so you get more pleasant/useful things in your feed or you visit your feed less. Also, be intentional with who you follow as that will affect what kind of advertising you are being served.
  • If you know ads are inevitable, use them to your advantage – Looking to buy a dress for an upcoming event? Engage with any brand that sells dresses and soon you will start to see other brands flow in with other considerations and potentially, even some discounts. Let ads help you with something you already know you need because, why not? The added layer and disclaimer to this is to be smart about what you get thrown your way and learn to make your own calls.

Use advertising as a guide and starting point to further educate yourself on the matter. Sure, buying a dress might be a pretty straight-forward purchase for most people but as you get into products and services related to health, wellness, finance, etc. you have to be your best defendant. Disclosure is key – I am looking at you influencers who never disclose! – deceiving is ALWAYS wrong.

Cristina Nogueras Marketing Just because a brand has money to target you with beautiful advertising doesn’t mean that the product or service behind it brings anything of value, or is even safe.

Just because a brand has money to target you with beautiful advertising doesn’t mean that the product or service behind it brings anything of value, or is even safe. I could go on forever on that, but I will not. 🙂

If you want to try and live a successful, disconnected life, by all means, go for it! You are my true hero. But if you are like me and can’t really do it, that’s cool too, let’s help the industry and ourselves by setting better standards, protecting our attention and only “selling” it for true value.

Photo by Andreea Ch from Pexels

Real Talk: What’s been going on over here

I don’t really usually call myself a blogger, even though I have this blog and have had blogs since 2010. I do like to think of myself as some sort of writer. I write daily as part of my job, I write as part of my personal life. Writing gives me fuel in a way not many things do.

I started this blog in 2013 as a creative outlet to let my thoughts develop into further pieces to express all things typical for a 23-year-old living in New York City – hope, frustration, love and hunger. As the last 6 years have gone by, a LOT has changed. Many intentional changes but also many life changes that happen unconsciously, subtly but surely and leave you reconsidering perspectives.

One of my biggest frustrations in the last few years has been not having more time to write. I would complain that I didn’t have enough time, but then when I did have the time I was too tired to do anything and then I would blame myself for not writing. I kept beating myself up as I looked at others embracing and fulfilling their writing wishes with less than average ideas, when I felt I could too contribute to the wonderful world of words – if I only had the time or energy.

Life happens. We can sit, look back and think of all the ways we could have done it differently but that is only useful if you plan on implementing that in any way to your future. Otherwise, what’s the point? People keep telling myself I am too hard on myself and honestly half of the time (or more) I don’t see it. It’s not easy for me to recognize this but hey, it’s a process and I am ok with that.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I’ve missed writing and know that I am not perfect but I still want to continue to share pieces of me and my thoughts to whoever wants to enjoy them. Sure, it’s great when many people read what you have to say, but I think that at times it is just as empowering to combine beautiful words, make them yours, surrender them the universe, and see what happens.

I’ve come back to this blog after various unintentional hiatuses but never acknowledged them to protect myself in case I slipped away again… but not this time. I am putting it out to the universe because I know it’s something that is important to me and as such, it deserves the safety of accountability any other big task receives. Still, you don’t always need a plan or strategy. That’s the beauty of writing, you can just let it flow and let it refresh you in ways you probably weren’t even aware that you needed.

 

5 Year New York Anniversary


This week marks my five year getting-a-one-way-ticket-to-new-york-and-getting-my-first-job anniversary. This is pretty big for me, not only is five one of my favorite numbers but now I can also say that I’ve been in New York City for half a decade. That may not be much for some people, but for me, it’s an accomplishment that makes me feel proud of my strengths… and even my weaknesses.

You see, New York City is a drug. You say it’s just for a little while, you know it’s bad for you, but decide it’s worth it for those glorious moments. It hurts you, it brings you down, yet you can’t get enough of it. You know you are ruined for life because nowhere else will be New York. People tell you it’s bad for you and at certain points, you believe them. But then, something amazing happens that keeps you tangled within the vines of this concrete jungle. 

When I was younger and addicted to Nicholas Sparks and Harlequin Romance (Yes, I am ashamed) I had this vision of moving to New York City, becoming a writer and meeting a handsome man as he accidentally grabbed my coffee at the Starbucks I would go to write my latest novel. Ridiculous, right? I didn’t even drink coffee back then. Also, who writes a novel at Starbucks? That’s what those cute little independent coffee shops are for.

Still, New York always seemed magical to me and although I never realized it, I always knew I wanted to end up here. Did I imagine this dirty, messy reality that is Manhattan? Not quite, but even beyond the smelly street corners and the questionable characters, I have been able to find magic in New York. Sometimes in way of a kind stranger (yes, they have those here) or a delicious, Instagram-worthy meal.

I can feel the conflicting emotions within me just as I write this post. Half of me is swaying away in a whimsical fairytale praising this city for the dreams it inspires and the other half is banging her head against the wall, wondering why am I still here. New York can be cruel, it’s raw and it doesn’t ask for forgiveness. It makes you strong by necessity and you also immediately forget how to walk slowly. There is no explanation, it just happens. There is no slow here. There is also no stopping. There’s just going and going and going and going. 

Five years. I’m still here. 🙂

Thank you, New York, for making me a fighter even when I am not even aware of what the fight is all about.

Five Tips For “Fancy Shmancy” Dining

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Some people spend their money on shoes, I spend mine on food. The way I see it, we are all on a journey of food discovery, anxiously waiting for that next bite that will blow our minds and warm our souls. I believe that good food can be found anywhere, from your funky food truck to the new trendy restaurant in town.

Still, from time to time, you want to treat yourself and indulge in a freaking good dinner. I totally hear you if you think that fancy restaurants can be intimidating. Here are 5 tips from yours truly to help you enjoy your dining experience to the max!

(1) If you are going to be bad, do it well – Make sure that wherever you are heading is worth it. Nothing sucks more than dropping down the money for food that does not quite live up to its price. If you are treating yourself, do your research, and make sure that people rave about the food and the experience. Otherwise, the joke’s on you.

(2) Check out the menu before arrival – This is your opportunity to google all the ingredients you don’t know, without gluing your face to your phone while at the table. You will also feel smarter when you read things you can actually understand. It’s ok to be freaked out by the word “sunchoke” in your pasta option. Hey, you learn something new everyday.  

(3) Dress up, but dress comfortably – Last thing you want to do is be distracted because your fancy dress keeps creeping up or your tights got stuck somewhere else. You obviously want to look good, but you want to feel good too. Comfort gives you confidence and confidence is that “je ne sais quoi” that makes you look right on point.

(4) Take your time – Whether you are paying for dinner yourself or being treated by someone else, money is being spent. Take the time to indulge and enjoy every single bite. Seriously, take in all of the experience. Don’t let anyone rush you into being done, this is about you.

(5) If you act like you belong, you will belong – You will only look as uncomfortable as you feel. This is when the phrase “fake it until you make it” comes in handy. At the end of the day, a restaurant is a restaurant and you are there to exchange your money for an awesome culinary experience. It’s business. 

You want to treat yourself to a nice dinner? You go ahead and do that. Focus on the food and you are good to go. Don’t forget to snap your picture carefully, you want to get a good shot but you also don’t want to be that person. 🙂 

 

Image Source

Here’s To Love

  
Happy Valentine’s Day from Atlanta, here’s to all kinds of love! 

When you call your mom to ask what kind of wash is better for your new shirt, shrink it anyways but know you are still accepted. When you send your friends the perfect funny meme and you feel all warm inside. When you send your friends excessive Snapchats of your own face just to let them know you are thinking about them. When your dad sends you pictures of puppies on a regular basis because he knows they make you happy. When your boyfriend knows to wait before he starts eating so you can snap a picture of the food. When your boyfriend applauds you after you break into random dancing and singing, even though you may have disturbed the neighbors just a little bit.

Here’s to everyone that makes us feel loved and appreciated in the most special, weird and unexpected ways.

¡Feliz Navidad!

  
Whether you are on top of a snowy mountain or basking in the Caribbean sun, I hope you are all happy and surrounded by loved ones. That’s what it’s all about, right? 

Focus on what you have today and cherish it. Take a moment to let those far away know you are thinking of them. Enjoy every second, even if you are in your pj’s watching tacky Christmas movies. There’s no place for hate today, let’s keep that living on. 

Happy Holidays!!