Allons-y!

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[This was an application for a travel fellowship through the University of Washington.]

I grew up in the seedier parts of the Bronx, New York. To stay out of trouble, I turned to art. Hiding out and growing up at the Metropolitan, I would rush through the galleries, memorizing and comparing a stroke by Rembrandt to one by Velazquez, and then Monet. I spent a lot of time comparing the strokes of painters.

By my early twenties, I had engaged in mediums ranging from professional photography and digital art, illustrating books that became bestsellers, and painting murals in my community. I learned that, as artists, our minds are never at rest — we can’t help but look at things much differently than most other people; we are curious by nature.

The lawyer as an artist––it seems an oxymoron. In my art, I seek feeling, essence, grace, and style. As an aspiring lawyer, on the other hand, I was taught to search for predictability, certainty, logical analysis, and clarity in thought and words. They have little in common––or so everyone told me. Throughout law school, my aspirational dedication to painting was noticed, but not in a good way. I was met with skepticism, and employers questioned my commitment to casebooks.

From the first day of school, I heard the repeated cliché that law school teaches you to “think like a lawyer”––to take the chaos of the facts of life and order it within boundaries to create boxes of facts with understood meanings. Armed with logic, I fell in love with the order of it all, which allowed me to develop myself as (what I thought) an unstoppable force.

However, as I learned to think like a lawyer, I started editing my imagination. I learned to analyze rather than to explore, to focus on flaws rather than beauty, to be skeptical rather than open-minded, and to seek sense rather than truth. And in that way, I found that despite becoming a better student and leader, I lost sight of the human qualities that made me an artist.

A few months from graduating, I’m realizing that this is what I’ve been missing: human experience not through precedent, but through single, authentic, momentary connections with people vastly different from me. As lawyers, there is an implied assumption that we should flip off the switch of ethical and human concern, conduct impartial legal analysis, and later, flip the switch back on. The imagination of human predicaments is like a muscle: it atrophies unless it is continually used. And the imagination of human distress, fear, anger, and grief is an important attribute in the law. I don’t want to enter into my legal career knowing how to flip the switch on and off, or worse yet – keep it “off.” It’s important for me to keep it on. My role as an artist-lawyer is to be fearless in using the breadth of my human experience to disrupt and reframe ideologies and discourse.

I hope that the Bonderman will teach me to connect with people again, kindling that forgotten flicker of creativity until new ideas start to boil and bubble from deep within. Traveling will challenge my well-worn assumptions and accumulated habits. People who have forgotten why they believe a certain idea and are unwilling to challenge that outlook are beholden to a power that they don’t understand, and they can careen into brick walls of mediocrity, frustration, and sadness if their idea happens to mislead them. Simple things, like the proper way to eat dinner or the proper way to show respect to another person are different everywhere – and simple things and brief moments in time with strangers can lead to a more meaningful understanding of the kaleidoscopic complexity of life in our country and in others. The Bonderman Fellowship would allow me to get off the plane, meet people, fall in love with them, treasure every moment, and know that moments are all I have. Then I want to get on the plane again and love them forever.

When I envision where I want to go most, I gravitate to countries with large cities. I would seek out countries with cities that seem to have vibrant lives all of their own: Japan, India, Thailand, Indonesia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina. Each of these countries is individual, full of contradictions, rough spots, ugly bits, quirks, noise, corners and sharp edges, layer upon layer of being, complexity, a past, present, and future, a pulse. They are full of life and death, poverty and wealth, callousness and hospitality, struggle and beauty, achievement and failure. These cities truly breathe with great big gulping breaths. They are vibrant, blinding, demanding, harsh, and in their own unique way, painfully beautiful. These cities are microcosms of the larger world; at any given moment, absolutely everything is happening there. The human experience is being played out in all its complexity and drama. These cities won’t be just places to visit or live in for a while; they’re places I envision forming a relationship with. I want them to take over me, to own me, to change me in ways I can’t fully wrap my mind around. I don’t think these are cities I can ever truly leave, no matter where I go.

I purposely searched for cities riddled with contradiction, because contradictions and paradoxes are why I am applying to the Bonderman. I’m seeking to erase the walls of reluctance between art and logic, to make fissures in levees of assumption I had built up for years. I don’t want my two identities to be diametrically opposed, but instead to coexist and supplement one another.

I would journey to countries that mix old and new, traditional and modern. In each of the cities I plan to visit, I’ll find color and confusion at every turn – vibrant, chaotic, somehow chaotically beautiful. I would see the struggle between countries’ ancient spiritualism and modern materialism, the friction between the majority community’s beliefs and those of the other great religions each nurture, the battle for power between the central and state governments—and how, at the same time, these dualities have strengthened them, helping these countries become more pluralistic and resilient. I hope to recognize and adapt to my own contradictions in the same way, to give back to the world and access something more strange and true underneath.

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