Illustrations by John Wilinksi
1. Leave the Country
By Amelia Rayno
In January 2018, I made a pact with myself to flip my world upside down and hit the road. Not a vacation. Rather, I was plotting the journey of a lifetime, with no end date or itinerary. It would be leaving a life where, frankly, I was pretty happy.
My loose plan: Start in Mexico and move south, through Central and South America, to reach Argentina.
Why leave a steady job as a Star Tribune reporter to venture into a world without hot showers, clean water, and most of my wardrobe? Well, it was just that, actually.
In this political era of the U.S., I was increasingly frustrated with new policies diminishing would-be immigrants and filled with guilt about my own privilege. I grew up a middle-class white kid in North Carolina with my essential needs met.
I wanted to see other places, and experience other cultures. I wanted to become vulnerable. I wanted life to be hard for a while. I wanted to meet the people at the heart of the current immigration conversation.
After telling the Star Tribune in April, everything happened at warp speed. I built a website, a Patreon page, and a business plan. I found freelance work and a website sponsorship. In a series of yard sales, I pawned off decades of sentimentality. I got vaccines. I said teary goodbyes. And on July 11, I boarded a plane with a one-way ticket to Mexico, two carry-ons, and a lump in my stomach. My old life was behind me. What was ahead I never could have predicted.
Three weeks in, I got a parasite. After eating vegetables I hadn’t properly cleaned, I stayed in my room for a week while the bacteria, likely E. coli, passed through me.
Travel often meant sweating cheek-to-cheek with travelers in a bare-bones van whipping around mountainous switchbacks so fast the wheels squealed. Showering became more battleground than bliss: I sparred with freezing water, bugs, and facilities ranging from “next to the chicken coop” to “on top of the toilet.” Sleep was hard to come by, with exposed box springs, screaming roosters, ear-blasting fireworks, and swarming bugs.
In the first three weeks, I broke down—often. I had panic attacks about all I had left behind. At times, I felt more depressed than ever before. Life was, indeed, hard. Or so I thought.
When I broke free of self-pity, I saw the reality of stunted childhoods in Mexico, where 12 percent of children are engaged in child labor. Severe malnutrition affects more than half of Guatemala’s children. I saw the lopsided distribution of wealth in Guatemala, which boasts the highest GDP of any Central American nation. Extreme poverty was everywhere.
“It’s so extreme,” a new Guatemalan friend, Jose, told me. “Some have everything they want, and some can’t feed their children.”
My plights could never compare, and with an open-ended schedule, I was free to enjoy the 360-degree mountain views, the crystalline magic of Lake Atitlán, with flaming sunsets over crumbling docks, the vibrant public markets, and the distinct texture and smell of the air when walking between street carts, where fragrant plumes billow into the night.
As I stumbled through the language, people spoke slowly for my benefit. They invited me into their homes, taught me to cook their food, and smiled at me.
People I met never associated me, a U.S. citizen, with U.S. policies targeting their friends and families. “It’s not you,” another new Guatemalan friend, Ricardo, said. “Your government is no more representative of you than ours is of us.”
When I vented about the U.S. policies back home, Ricardo challenged me. “You think this is different?” he said. “It’s like this everywhere. Corruption. Governments in the pockets of corporations. The will of the people isn’t always heard.”
After three months, I went back to the states briefly, to celebrate my birthday. Then I returned to Guatemala, moving more slowly than planned due to van travel logistics and an urge to dive deeper each place I went.
I was in Guatemala City shortly after a migrant caravan from Honduras made U.S. headlines in October. The caravan had passed through, and its occupants’ fate came up daily.
Much as I seek to set aside comforts and be “vulnerable,” I can still change (and end) my journey—in a way the migrants can’t.
I can return to a good job, hot showers, and a support network that will never let me sleep on a dirt floor or starve. Unlike the migrants traveling in the caravan, when I do return, I’ll be met with smiles, open arms, and open ears. As a white U.S.-born citizen, I have privilege, and it can’t be sweated off in the sun.
My fate lies squarely in my white hands, and because of that, I can never truly feel anyone else’s pain. I can’t experience their plight. I can’t walk in their shoes.
So, as 2019 begins, my pact is much simpler: Listen. Love. And just keep walking.
Want to leave the country and hit the road? Here’s some of what you’ll need to do:
Make sure your passport is up to date. (You’re not going far without it!)
Make a budget and create a business plan. (Wherever you go, you’ll still need dough.)
Talk to your accountant. (Or get a new one. Your tax filings probably just changed dramatically.)
Think about credit cards. (Which will help you build miles quickly?)
Sell stuff via Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, and yard sales.
Get your gear. (You’ll need a backpack and packing cubes, a durable rain jacket and sneakers, a backup cell phone with backup charger, first-aid equipment, layer-friendly clothing, and more.)
Print out copies of every important document—passport, license, birth certificate, and social security card.
Hit the docs. (Any “almost” cavities? Get them filled. Thinking of a birth-control implant? Now is the time. And get vaccines—lots of them.)
Consolidate your student loans. (This should help lower your rates.)
Purchase travel insurance. (Good plans including emergency evacuation often cost less than $400 a year.)
2. Cultivate Inner Activism
By Serita Colette
My students will often ask me, “Serita, what exactly do you mean when you say you work in social justice?” I tell them, “it’s not just about the work I am committed to doing, but a way of being in the world that reflects the work itself.”
Activism is outwardly standing up for societal change, but the internal piece is applying that change to our thoughts, motivations, and behavior. If we are to re-imagine a world of honest love and liberation then we must commit fearlessly to it as an inner calling.
The beauty of winter in Minnesota is the expanse of time we are given by nature to embody this inner activism. Ask yourself right now, “What am I dreaming up and desiring that is independent of material possessions, body attainment, or social acceptance? How does this desire align with my highest truth of who I want to be in the world?” Take a few long, slow, and steady breaths. Now ask yourself, “What am I willing to give up right now in order to make this happen?”
Over the past year I’ve witnessed numerous people seeking freedom from spaces of injustice causing inevitable burn out. We need to return to ourselves not through isolation and escapism, but from a place of remembrance. There are teachings from your ancestors, elders, and neighbors. Are you listening?
The great Audre Lorde wrote, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” If you’re speaking out against hate, don’t let it consume you. You are not the fear and anxiety you may feel at times in your chest or the anger you feel at your temples, or the sadness that sits on your shoulders. Grieve for what is not, and remember what is and has been, and what will be.
I’ve thrown “self-care” rhetoric out because it has become synonymous with privilege and money. I call my inner activism a practice of liberation. This is what feeds my soul, my spirit, my dharma. Here are few things you can do to begin your practice:
- Spending time away from screens presents opportunities to breathe life into my spirit. Instead of looking at your phone in the morning, light a candle. Repeat your resolves, dreams, and desires. My sadhana (daily spiritual practice): sit in meditation every day before venturing out into the world.
- Did I mention less screen time? Take a social media cleanse for one month— everything will be there when you return.
- Spend time in nature. When is the last time you spent time in nature without opening up social media? Let go of that habit. Nature is waiting for you to see it, feel it, and be in right relationship with it. Your being is waiting, too.
Let Go of Judgment
Release yourself from the societal pressures and standards that arise with this New Year and embrace your practice. It’s called “practice.” It will evolve, change and fluctuate every day. There will be times when you get bored, unsure, overwhelmed, but remember this is a practice of peace, a practice for liberation, a practice for you.
Serita Colette was born during the monsoon in Kerala, India, and raised to be an intersectional feminist and performance artist by her mother and auntie. Colette is a queer woman of color, teacher, healer, and activist living in Minneapolis. Find more at seritayoga.com and on Instagram, @seritacolette.
3. Tackle a Twin Cities Bucket List
By Tom Weber
The first thing I did upon moving to Minnesota from St. Louis was kill my houseplants. I’d arrived at night. It was freezing. I unpacked only my bed and a bag. I didn’t remember the plants until the morning. They passed in the night from exposure.
I resolved then to embrace the cold and quickly bought snowshoes and, later, skis. I sought outdoor activities as a way to beat winter—though winter won a few times.
When I sat down to write a bucket-list book for the Twin Cities, the list was seeded with the stuff I’d done to become one with Minnesota winters. In that way, I feel that asparagus plant did not die in vain.
So might I suggest for you the same resolution? Taken from the newest edition of my book, 100 Things to Do in the Twin Cities Before You Die, a few ideas for things to do outside this winter:
Art Sled Rally
January 25, 2020
Another way to beat winter is to throw yourself down a hill atop flimsy cardboard, or so the organizers of the Art Sled Rally would have you believe. All are invited to make a sled (that’s a liberal use of the word) with cardboard or any other materials from your home, then ride it down a cordoned-off hill in Powderhorn Park in south Minneapolis. Spoiler alert: Very few sleds make it down intact. But if laughing were fuel, they’d go for days. There are no points for actually getting anywhere. Past creations include an aquarium filled with sledders dressed as various sea life; a replica of London’s Tower Bridge; and various game recreations, like Pac-Man and Hungry Hungry Hippos. You really have to see it in person.
Lake Harriet Winter Kite Festival
January 25, 2020
Rule number one about walking on frozen lakes: Never be first to do it. But at the height of winter, with below-freezing temperatures, an ice jaunt should be uneventful. To that end, the Kite Festival takes place on Lake Harriet in Minneapolis, where you can bring your own kite or just come to check out the wide variety of airborne art. (The shark kite was my favorite a few years back.)
February 1, 2020
One of those breathtaking experiences that make you feel Minnesotan. It’s a short-ski (or snowshoe) jaunt, at night, across one of the Twin Cities’ most scenic lakes, Lake of the Isles. The groomed ski path is lined with thousands of luminaries—candles inside little ice vases—and several “rest stops” (for hot chocolate, snacks, and entertainment, like the fire dancers). There are no electric lights on the lake. You have just the glow of thousands of candles to guide you as you blend your perfectly normal Minnesotan desire to walk or ski on frozen lakes with that primal need to interact with neighbors when many have retreated to heated homes.
4. New Year, New Pet
By Allison Duncan
We often identify as either dog people or cat people, and I’ve always been among the former. One thing I’ve noticed since moving from Chicago to Minneapolis in July is that many of my fellow Minnesotans feel the same. Without a pup to call my sidekick, though, the abundant “yappy hours” and dog park meet-ups are enough to make me, a newbie, feel left out.
So, in the spirit of New Year’s, my resolution is to adopt a dog. The timing feels right: I work from home; my apartment has not one but two fenced-in dog runs; and, most notably, I’ve felt a little lonely in my new city. I figure the dog and I can rescue each other, even if just from the darkness of a harsh Minnesota winter.
A former colleague volunteers as a dog foster for Secondhand Hounds, a local nonprofit that provides shelter and veterinary care to animals at risk. The rescue advertises new dogs on its website on Wednesdays, but she says the process can be cutthroat. Most dogs garner multiple applications. The foster decides who gets an in-person meeting and, later, a house visit.
As one does, I’ve been checking the site obsessively. I thought I’d found “the one” in an Australian shepherd mix named Deck, but he went to the veterinarian who cared for him. Then, a 10-week-old border collie mix named Vegas caught my eye. They described him as “a super sweet pup who loves to play and get belly rubs” and noted he could climb stairs but wouldn’t go down them yet.
Every Wednesday, I’m still refreshing my browser, and in the meantime I’ve made a few dog-friendly resolutions for my future partner-in-crime: I promise to research breed-appropriate diet and exercise, to buy a dog sweater for winter walks, and to stay on top of shots and vet visits. And I’ll always remember the year that we found each other.
5. Find Your Glam Alter Ego
By Stacy Brooks
I was teetering on six-inch stilettos, trying to arrange my mouth into what I hoped was a flirtatious pout. My false eyelashes itched, and I felt like an idiot. This photo shoot wasn’t the beginning of my ill-fated modeling career—it was my New Year’s resolution.
Typically, my resolutions are of the practical sort, like learning to use chopsticks or running a 10K. But these have only gotten me so far. I felt trapped in an unfulfilling job, and I didn’t trust myself to turn a side gig as a food writer into a career. Meanwhile, the same insecurities about my appearance had been rattling around in my head since middle school: thighs too wide, nose too big, eyes too small.
But despite those insecurities (or maybe because of them), I had a long-standing fantasy of myself as a vintage pinup. A swimsuit-clad Betty Grable peeking over her shoulder, or a sultry Marilyn Monroe—with the sassy sensuality of Gil Elvgren and Alberto Vargas illustrations. They personified the confidence I lacked. In hopes that there was truth to “fake it ’til you make it,” on January 1, 2017, I resolved to become a pinup girl.
I booked a photo session with a local photographer and splurged on the whole package: an elaborate updo, makeup, free rein to rifle through a closet bursting with vintage dresses and high heels. After that initial awkwardness, the photographer put me at ease with a combination of soothing encouragement and skilled direction. I never did figure out how to walk in those stilettos, but by the end of the afternoon I was twirling with aplomb and blowing kisses with a wink.
I left the studio with more than a pair of false eyelashes I was slightly terrified to remove. I left with the knowledge that a couple hours of attention from a professional makeup artist and hairstylist could make me look just as flawless as the models gracing magazine covers. I left with that exhilarating rush you get when you do something that scares you, and everything turns out okay. I left with the little bit of confidence I needed to change my life.
A few weeks after the shoot, I went back to the studio to pick up the print I ordered. It sits on my desk in my home office, the desk I work from as a full-time freelance writer. Whenever I need reassurance—when I’m pitching a new editor, when I’m struggling with a story, when it feels like quitting my job was the dumbest decision I ever made—I look to my pinup alter ego.
She’s lying on her back with her legs in the air, in a classic seductive pose. A black petticoat spills out from the folds of her dress, and there’s a knowing half-smile on her crimson lips. She holds my gaze with a look that says, “You’ve got this.”
6. Make Something New
By Becky Lang
Maybe, in an eggnog-laden fever dream, an idea came to you that’s so good you can’t let it go. Maybe you just flipped through a magazine and developed an urgent need to turn a how-to into a new career path. (Maybe it’s happening right now.) Or maybe you’ve spent a long time waiting for someone to ask you to share your perspective. No matter what it is, New Year’s is the perfect time to stop asking permission and start creating. We’re sure what you have to offer is valuable, so let’s get it out of your head and into the world. Whether it’s a podcast idea, a screenplay, or an Etsy business, here are tips for getting started.
1. Find a blank space. We assume your idea is stellar, but is it as novel as it sounds? Do a little research to avoid, say, designing punny T-shirts that Urban Outfitters already stocks. Make lists of what people are and are not doing. The second list is where you want to go.
2. Cement your concept. This is the hard part. You may need a name for your project, or a sketch of its interface. Get out a notebook and wireframe it out, element by element. Use the power of free association to write a long, uncensored list of ideas. Eventually, you’ll land on one you love.
3. Develop your platform. If you want to start a blog, learn how to set up a WordPress site and browse available themes. It’s tricky at first, but worth it. If you want to start a podcast, familiarize yourself with recording tools like GarageBand and hosting platforms like Fireside. Trying to sell your goods? Etsy, Big Cartel, and Shopify make it simple. For those writing the next Great American Novel, Scrivener is well worth the $45 price.
4. Promote thyself. It sounds painful and awkward, and it is! But you should be proud of your project and creative in finding ways to turn people onto it. Develop a calendar detailing how you’ll promote your work on Twitter and Instagram over the next month, and ask your friends and family to help. Offer them a signed copy of your book, a hot dish of your latest recipe, or a piece of your art for their kindness. You might just inspire them to start their own project.
The Okee Dokee Brothers’ Resolutions
Joe Mailander and Justin Lansing aren’t actually related, but the Minneapolis-based folk duo’s artistic partnership is as tight as they come. As the Okee Dokee Brothers, they record engaging and educational albums for children, including Can You Canoe?, which won a Grammy for Best Children’s Album in 2013. Released this past fall, their latest album, Winterland, is a collection of seasonal originals, including “Ice Fishin’ Shack” and “Ukulele in a Snowstorm.”
7. Eat Less Meat (Justin’s Resolution)
One year, I watched a documentary about meat production in America and figured that I could do my part by becoming vegetarian once the new year rolled around. I liked being vegetarian, even though I had always eaten meat and figured it should be a part of every meal. Sometimes, when we’re playing shows, they feed us food backstage. At the time of my resolution, we were updating the terms of our performance contract. I added that we needed one vegetarian meal. Well, due to a lack of strong will on my part, a couple months after becoming a vegetarian, I stopped being a vegetarian. That said, when we’re at concerts, there’s still one vegetarian meal, and that’s mine. So, I consider myself a “green room vegetarian.” The thing is, even though this resolution didn’t necessarily last long, it has stuck with me, and continues to remind me that I don’t need to eat meat every single meal. I’ve resolved that a resolution doesn’t have to be permanent to be successful.
8. Cut Out Alcohol (Joe’s Resolution)
Before we got serious about family music, we played in a lot of bars. I liked to drink—quite a bit. We had some very, let’s say, adventurous times. One January, I was tired of the ups and downs, and I made a New Year’s resolution to quit drinking. I slipped once in February, but by February 6, it stuck. I stayed sober. This year, I will celebrate my 10th year of sobriety. Since I put the bottle aside, I have prioritized my marriage, and now I get to spend quality time with my 2-year-old son. As a band, we decided to focus more on healthy outdoor activities, daytime family-friendly shows, and positive, vibrant energy. I don’t know if it’s more that my sobriety has helped the band or if the band has helped me stay sober, but I’ve never regretted that resolution. I still have my vices. Now it’s a hot sauna and a cold lake, so life’s pretty dang good!
Mailander and Lansing also have a tradition of reading Woody Guthrie’s famous 1943 “New Years Rulin’s” journal entry every year. Here are a few of their favorite resolutions of his:
Wash Teeth If Any
Write a Song a Day
Keep Hoping Machine Running