TIME Culture

Do We Need a New Year To Create Change?

calendar
Getty Images

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

Why do we feel differently about change on January 1st than we do on May 15th or August 29th?

xojane

At the end of last year, I got into a spat with someone I love. “Spat” is actually a delicate word for what happened. It was ugly and it hurt and months later, we spoke again, this time more carefully. But underneath the more common-place insults from that day was something sharp and true: “Allison really can’t handle change.” That line stuck with me. Was he right?

There’s a tension between resolutions and outcomes. Some tension is fun and some tension leaves an ache. Anxiety thrives in this environment. But I tried to leave the fear in a small corner. I spent a lot of time thinking and talking about how things in my life and the lives of those around me and the events of the world are changing, changing, changing. For me, there were so many questions.

Could I handle a change in plans — an extra guest or two at the table, an early arrival, a cancellation? I didn’t want to be the person who panicked over minor details. In my mind, I’m smooth and sinuous, always above reproach in my gracious manner. But my face betrays the real worries: what if there isn’t enough to go around? What if we never reschedule our plans and it’s because I’m not good company? What if I’m not prepared?

Our lives continuously shrink and expand on a micro level (relationships, jobs) and a macro level (elections, public policy) without the passing of a new year. It never stops. Why do we feel differently about change on January 1st than we do on May 15th or August 29th? The Chinese New Year’s Day for 2015 is February 19th and the Jewish New Year starts on September 13th — these are dates imbued with religious and cultural significance. The traditions hold far more meaning than champagne or confetti or a kiss.

And yet — I like the taste of sweet and crisp champagne. I like being pulled in for the first kiss of a new calendar year (and I love Jennifer Weiner’s line at the end of Good in Bed — “I would like to be the only man you kiss this millennium” — because sometimes I am a romantic sap and that is a hard sentiment for a sap to resist). After the ball drops and I’ve made my way home from the party, I like pulling my hair out from its pins and a nice dress off at the end of a fun night with friends. I am not immune to the charms of December 31st. I’m just not convinced that it’s the driving force behind change.

On a political level, I am profoundly grateful for progressive changes. In 2014, grassroots organizing has sparked revolution on many fronts and demanded an end. The revolution is done with police brutality and the systemic devaluing of people of color. The revolution is done with condoning rape culture. The revolution is done with the exploitation of labor at unfair wages. These are only a few of the many issues crying out for a change. I’m so proud of the revolution undertaken in unions and on college campuses and on doorsteps and in the streets. I’m thankful for the work, the words, the constant and critical effort.

But this year, I wrote less and less about the political activism I hold dear. For the last five years, my writing was centered on feminism and social justice. The articles and reviews were reactions to what I read and saw, but not what I experienced. In my personal time, I read many essays online and the books I read this year were predominantly essay collections: Once I Was Cool, Legs Get Led Astray, Bad Feminist, The Empathy Exams. My writing turned inward and I focused on subjects I had previously shied away from. I can already see the changes in my writing. I feel like I’ve finally found a voice I can write in with confidence.

Part of the reason that I shied away from writing about my personal life was because I felt scrutinized by an inner circle. Why did I keep people around who discouraged my work? What, exactly, made them the final authority on real writing? I found that even when I encouraged their work whole-heartedly, it didn’t make them more supportive of me. If anything, it only made me feel even more isolated and uncertain about how to proceed. For two years, I stopped writing with any real frequency. I was so ashamed. My closest friends — some of whom are also writers — wondered what was happening to me and I couldn’t answer.

Another change in this year meant closing off the links to that inner circle. It happened gradually. There were a series of choices and each time, I picked the choice that echoed my intuition: get away, travel, dye your hair, take the class, tell your friends, read the books, do the work. That little voice saved me from my worst instincts and put me back on a path that keeps me fulfilled while reaching for everything I want to try.

I still have a face that shows exactly what I’m thinking, even if I’m trying to mask those thoughts. I’m still flustered and anxious and I don’t always handle every shift in plans with flawless grace. But I’m changing.

This time last year, I didn’t have a car, but now I’m driving the cute convertible that everyone discouraged me from buying — and then promptly fell in love with once I claimed ownership. I took a chance on the car I wanted most and it paid off. That was in September. It was an ordinary day that changed my outlook on the rest of the year.

Change can happen any time. It’s happening right now.

Allison McCarthy is a freelance writer living in Maryland. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Why I’m Over the Size Acceptance Movement

Bathroom scale on white tile floor.
Getty Images

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

What exactly does SA 201 look like? I’m not sure because none of the loudest voices in the movement focus on that

xojane

My mother started me on diets when I was 7 years old. There were nutritionists, doctor visits, numerous diet plans, even Weight Watchers, and I hated every moment of it. I have a vivid memory of sitting in a WW meeting and being literally applauded for losing 9lbs in one week and being baffled by why something so irrelevant deserved applause and annoyed at being put on the spot.

By the time I was 14 I had had enough. Not only had I not lost weight, I had in fact gained weight — which made sense to me since I was still growing through puberty. So I refused to diet anymore. Needless to say, my mother wasn’t happy about it. I figured that if she really loved me she would accept me the way I was. I didn’t have a problem with my body, she did. I didn’t see why her problem had to be my problem anymore, so I put my foot down, and that was that. I’m now 38 years old and my mother has more or less accepted and respected my personal truth: conversations about my weight are off limits. And, yes, I’m going to eat that.

It was also about that time that I discovered there was a whole movement dedicated to the way I was feeling about my body and I embraced it. Thus a Size Acceptance (SA) activist was born. I spent those early years thinking deeply and critically about healthism, the diet industry, unrealistic beauty standards, gender expression relative to fat bodies, and blatant discrimination and stigma. I was grateful for those outspoken voices who reflected my experiences, my beliefs, and most importantly, my body.

“Riots, not diets” were words to live by and even as a Black woman who weighs 350lbs I felt very much a part of it. I had several blogs that I tended to forget to update and that fell by the wayside, I participated in Substantia Jone’s Adipositivity project (NSFW), and I even helped publish Lesley Kinzel’s book Two Whole Cakes. You can thank me for the subtitle and the fact that the cover doesn’t contain an obvious and cliche fat font. I still regret that the Feminist Press didn’t get to publish The Fat Studies Reader when I worked there, but the book is out in the world and that’s what matters.

Over the past twenty odd years the movement has spawned several sub-movements: Health At Every Size, an overall Body Love/Anti-diet approach, one that is focused on Fatshion, and another that is not much acknowledged by the other groups but that shouldn’t be ignored and is focused on fat sexuality/dating while fat, and one that is not necessarily a sub-group but is more of a vague and diffuse collection of random voices who go on social media to laud any and every public/celebrity/artistic representation of fatness regardless of what that representation actually is or how deeply thought out it is (yeah, no, I’m really not “All About That Bass”). All of this is fine and good, but as this fragmentation happens I feel we are moving away from solidarity and towards an exclusionary “good fatty” and “bad fatty” paradigm. I don’t feel a “riots, not diets” way so much anymore.

What’s more, a lot of these sub-movements focus on SA 101 ideas: eat healthy, exercise regularly, don’t gain/lose weight, don’t have/stop struggling with an eating disorder, love your body, resist stigma and shame, wear what you want, date who you like, and only flaunt your sexuality if your body is under a size 20. What happens when you move past SA 101 ideas? What exactly does SA 201 look like? I’m not sure and I’ve never been able to form a coherent SA 201 playlist or even start much constructive discussion about it because none of the loudest voices in the movement focus on that. Presumably because so many people still need SA 101. And that’s all fine, but I need SA 201.

I think quite a few of us do. And what alienates me most is the fact that none of those voices look like me and I’m left to wonder, “Where do I fit in now?” For the record, I’m Black and weigh about 355lbs, have chronic conditions, and while I’m educated, I’m more lower middle class than upper. I’d probably be considered a bad fatty and so would a lot of other fatties I know. Those SA 101 ideas begin to seem oppressive to me when you can’t afford to eat healthy, when you gain/lose weight for any reason, when you have had or are considering weight loss surgery, when you have chronic health conditions or are not able bodied, when you think there is such a thing as clothes that fat people shouldn’t wear, or when all those people/artistic endeavors who are lauded look nothing like you or represent ideas you think are flawed. It seems like there is in fact a wrong way to have a body. Your underpants are not actually your own. And, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!

I’m particularly disheartened by the way straight White women’s needs seem to be prioritized over POC, LGBTQ, men or people who are masculine of center, and people who are visibly not able bodied even though I think we probably do the most subtle everyday activism around the subject just from being so visibly othered. There just aren’t any women who look like me who can speak for me in this movement. There never really have been — but now that I’m in an SA 201 place I need people who look like me. I need voices who are not so thoroughly represented. This movement is especially lacking fat male voices. This lack of diverse representation is especially true regarding the different way fat bodies are read. Fat Black bodies are not read the same way as fat White bodies. They just aren’t. Period. And if one more White person tells me that Black people are generally more accepting of fat bodies I will scream. This isn’t true and I’m tired of saying so. The racially charged events of the past summer are a stark reminder of this.

I really don’t care what other people do with their bodies. Gain weight, lose weight, exercise, don’t exercise, eat whatever the eff you want. Wear whatever, but if you are fat and you dress loudly and then make a sweeping statement about how people stare at you (and by extension all other fat people) only because you are fat rather than how you are dressed or what you are doing in public with a camera on a tripod on crowded city streets, I’m going to call you on it.

Instead of making room for everyone’s voice, I feel like only one collective voice gets recognized as valid. It’s all made me not want to be involved anymore. Lack of solidarity is killing the movement. The call to all fat people to be the same is limiting progress. I don’t have any ready answers for where to go next. I just know that I want to feel represented. I want the people who do look like me to talk loudly and say more. I’d like to have conversations about fatness, fat stigma, and intersectionality — which is integral to moving forward constructively — that don’t devolve into casual racism, or ablist rhetoric, or be told by someone who weighs 200lbs less than me that our struggles are the same. They really aren’t. I’d rather for someone who looks nothing like me to acknowledge and respect our differences, than insist we are all the same. We’re really not and that should be okay.

Just make some room for me at the big girls table and listen to what I have to say.

Cary Webb works in publishing and lives in New York. This article originally appeared on xoJane.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Behold, a Hammock for Your Feet

Put your feet up, and watch how it works

This week in offbeat inventions: “The Foot Hammock,” a hammock for cubicle jockeys and gamers who often get restless sitting in front of the computers at their desks for hours on end.

Co-founded by Brigham Young University student Matt Hulme of Provo, Utah, “The Foot Hammock” will have a booth at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nev. Supporters can look out for its Kickstarter, which is expected to debut this week as well.

A similar “foot hammock” that made the rounds on the Internet this summer appears to be up for sale.

TIME society

This Is How to Melt Soda Cans Into Almost Anything

Here’s how you recycle the cool way

We all know how to recycle the lame way: Just dump your aluminum cans into that blue bin and let the garbage man haul them off and turn them into who knows what—probably just more cans.

Here’s how you recycle the cool way: You build your own tiny foundry like Grant Thomas, aka The King of Random. Then you melt down your old soda cans yourself and turn them into whatever you want with a few molds from the Dollar Store.

We should say upfront that building mini foundries and working with molten aluminum might not be for everyone. For the DIY-challenged, it’s probably a good way to end up with a very confused doctor looking you over in the emergency room.

But even if you aren’t ready to fire up a forge in your backyard, watching Thompson melt down cans with ease and turn them into metal biscuits and other goodies (including a sword) is a fun visual representation of how recycling and reusing metal isn’t just some ambiguous concept. It’s something anyone can do, even at home. Just don’t use your good muffin pans.

Bring on the 18-pack of Mountain Dew!

This article originally appeared on FWx.

More from FWx:

TIME society

A London College Is Offering a Course on Taking the Perfect Selfie

492551433
Getty Images

Plus, it will help "improve your critical understanding of the photographic self portrait"

Is one of your New Year’s resolutions to improve your selfie game? Hopefully not! But if it is, you should consider heading to the U.K. to take a new course dedicated solely to the art of the selfie.

City Lit, an adult-education college in London, is now offering a photography class called “The art of self portraiture.” The month-long course, which begins in March, is a “theory/practice introduction to photographic self-portraiture; it is conceived for students to improve their critical understanding of the photographic self-portrait, as well as a platform to develop ideas towards the creation of a coherent body of work.”

So in other words, yes, it’s a selfie class — but it’s not for basic iPhone pics. Students must come equipped with their own SLR cameras and knowledge of basic photography principles. Besides taking selfies, students will also need to participate in lectures, presentations, seminars, discussions and group work. It costs £132, or about $200.

Get those duck faces ready, everybody.

TIME society

Medical Students Now Watch Seinfeld to Learn About Psychiatric Disorders

Seinfeld
From "The Junior Mint" episode, pictured: (upper left) Jerry Seinfeld as Jerry Seinfeld, Michael Richards as Cosmo Kramer. Spike Nannarello/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank—Getty Images

An exercise called "Psy-feld"

Aspiring doctors now have an excuse to binge-watch Seinfeld.

At Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, N.J., psychiatry professor Anthony Tobia is teaching third and fourth-year medical students in the hospital’s psychiatric rotation about psychiatric disorders through the hit TV show’s eccentric characters — an exercise dubbed “Psy-feld,” NJ.com reports.

The students are required to watch two repeat episodes of the show a week on TBS and come to class ready to discuss the psychopathology “demonstrated” in each one. As Tobia told NJ.com,

“When you get these friends together the dynamic is such that it literally creates a plot: Jerry’s obsessive compulsive traits combined with Kramer’s schizoid traits, with Elaine’s inability to forge meaningful relationships and with George being egocentric.”

It reminds us of the Seinfeld episode in which Kramer (Michael Richards) acted out the symptoms of gonorrhea so medical students could practice their diagnostic skills:

And that time the klutz was watching a surgery from the observation deck and accidentally dropped a Junior Mint into the patient’s abdominal cavity:

TIME Germany

German Neo-Nazis Embrace Vegan Cooking, Techno Music, Stylish Clothes

Far-right extremists recently launched a "Vegan Cooking Channel" on YouTube

(MUNICH, Germany) — Neo-Nazis are keeping their black combat boots and bomber jackets in the closet as they try to force their way into mainstream German society.

Security officials say many young fascists are adopting more stylish and less intimidating images, with some branded “nipsters” after embracing hipster-style clothing as well as techno and hip hop music.

Far-right extremists even recently launched a “Vegan Cooking Channel” on YouTube featuring masked young men preparing simple recipes and providing household tips.

“If the young people don’t find skinhead types attractive, then they [the neo-Nazis] will simply die out, so they have to find something new,” said Daniel Koehler, an expert on radicalization…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME society

A Few Forecasts on the Defining Questions of 2015

2015-light
Getty Images

Andrés Martinez is editorial director of Zócalo Public Square, for which he writes the Trade Winds column.

Be on the lookout for the unexpected shocks

My friend Greg long ago convinced me that instead of a laundry list of resolutions, what we really need every New Year is just one catch-all aspirational slogan, more likely to be remembered past January. Like “Find the fix in ’06.” When I crowd-sourced the challenge of a slogan for this new year, a wise 10-year-old I know came up with, “See the unseen in ’15.”

I like it because it is both a timeless exhortation – to expand one’s horizons – and a particularly timely one. The year 2015 – the far-away year Marty McFly travels to in the 1980s classic Back to the Future — is shaping up, ironically, to be a year when the reassuringly familiar reasserts itself. Such mainstays as the Bush-versus-Clinton dynastic feud, the Star Wars saga, interest rates, U.S. power around the world, the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers, and the telephone all are poised to make a comeback this year. But don’t trust me: Grab a half-dozen Post-it notes and make a few forecasts of your own on the defining questions of 2015.

Before going any further, however, I realize my last comeback suggestion might seem absurd: that the phone, used as such, as in the lost art of dialing and talking, is back. But the hacking of Sony in late 2014 may prove a tipping point forcing people in many different workplaces to avoid putting certain things in writing. “Call me” may turn out to be among the most emailed words in 2015, shedding their once ominous overtones to become shorthand for, “I have something juicy to say about this, but I would be crazy to write it.” Here’s an interesting forecast close to home: Write on your first Post-it whether you think you will spend more or less time talking on your phone in 2015 than in 2014 (and figure it out at year’s end).

In politics, 2015 is shaping up to be a throwback year as Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton explore, and likely announce, their 2016 presidential bids. Will Bush or Mitt Romney or someone less aligned with the party’s business wing (Rand Paul, Ted Cruz?) be ahead in the GOP’s polls as 2015 comes to a close, on the eve of primary season? Write down your prediction (eschewing email for obvious reasons). And, if it is Bush riding high, will the dynastic hue of the contest affect how voters view Clinton?

The appeal of the familiar is understandable: The country has had a hard time settling into a semblance of normalcy pretty much since the start of this millennium, buffeted by a series of booms and busts, not to mention wars. Now the Federal Reserve, the institution wielding the greatest (if underappreciated) power over our financial affairs, is coaxing us to be OK with going back to normal. 2015 is when the Fed plans to put an end to its emergency measure of keeping the important benchmark interest rate it charges financial institutions at essentially zero. One defining story line for the year is whether this is seen as a vote of confidence in the economy, or whether it spooks markets addicted to artificial stimulation. Use a third Post-it note to guess whether the Dow Industrials Average will crack 20,000 and end 2015 above that level, which is slightly more than 10 percent higher than it is today.

In either case, the United States will look like a safe haven compared to much of the world. Our lead in all aspects of information technology keeps growing. We’re experiencing a manufacturing renaissance. We are well on our way to becoming one of the world’s lowest-cost (and self-sufficient) energy producers. 2014 started with a barrel of oil costing some $20 more than a share of Apple. The year closed with a surging share of Apple costing almost twice as much as a plummeting barrel of oil ($114 to $60). Go ahead and forecast on your fourth Post-it which of these two (Apple share or barrel of oil) will cost more at the end of 2015, and what the spread will be.

It should become clearer in the coming year that America has gotten its mojo back. It isn’t only our economic prowess. There’s also a renewed acceptance of American power and influence in much of the world, courtesy of Vladimir Putin’s antics, China’s extraterritorial assertiveness, the implosion of the anti-American left in Latin America, and all the global challenges – climate change, pandemics like Ebola, the persistence of radical Islamist terrorism – that still require U.S leadership.

This desire on the part of many countries for closer ties, coupled with America’s renewed economic confidence and domestic political trends, might make possible an ambitious trans-Pacific trade deal. And that would signal to the world that America is no longer stuck in the Middle East. On your fifth Post-it forecast a ranking of Iraq, Ukraine, Mexico, and China, according to the number of times each is mentioned in 2015 in The New York Times.

Meanwhile, information technologies continue to empower us. But now the revolution turns inward, as the next frontier of the Information Age that brought the outside world to our fingertips – the next great unseen that we will see – will be within ourselves. 2015 will be the year of the iWatch and other tracking and diagnostic technologies – some wearable, some in your medicine cabinet, others like cheaper, faster and less intrusive blood tests at the nearby drugstore – that will allow us to acquire unprecedented self-knowledge.

This will keep the topic of inequality alive, as we talk about how such technologies create a new “digital divide.” I don’t have a clever forecasting prompt here for your last Post-it, but rather a question worth jotting down and contemplating: What does it mean for a society to have some people walking around with sophisticated dashboards measuring their well-being, while many others don’t, and remain in the dark? That seems qualitatively different than having the divide being defined around one’s access to knowledge of China or finances.

As bullish as I am on 2015, I should caution readers that I am usually optimistic at the start of every new year. It must be a personal flaw. And that’s why “See the unseen in 2015” is a perfect personal slogan, and not just as an exhortation to climb a mountain or go on safari or avail myself of these self-tracking technologies. The slogan is an antidote to my own complacency, a cautionary admonition to be on the lookout for the unexpected shocks that can upset my rosy scenarios.

After all, no one has ever said that, when it looked like nothing could go wrong, nothing went wrong. Happy New Year.

Andrés Martinez is editorial director of Zocalo Public Square, for which he writes the Trade Winds column. He is also a professor of journalism at Arizona State University. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square. Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME world affairs

With Cuba, Nothing Can Be Simple

cuban-flag
Getty Images

My father hates the decision to normalize relations with Cuba, but I’m looking forward to a new start with the country of my birth

In announcing his decision to normalize relations with Cuba, President Barack Obama explained the relationship between the two nations with a saying very common among Cubans: No es fácil—it’s not easy.

After more than a half-century of unresolved geopolitical tension, Cubans both on the island and in exile have adopted the saying to describe any struggle, from the mundane to the complex. In Miami, some call it the “Cuban Condition” – nothing can be simple. We are all so diverse in our interpretation of the same events, yet so unified in our pride and passion for a country some haven’t seen in half a century, many never at all.

I was born in Cuba, but grew up en el exilio, in exile, in Miami. I lived among the old guard that fled immediately after Fidel Castro took over in 1959; those who stayed on for a few years before being disillusioned; those who hung on to their island for a decade, or two, or three, before fleeing; and others, like me, the children of those generations. Where you are woven in this great Cuban-American tapestry influences how you feel about what the President announced last week.

I don’t remember Cuba. All my life, I’ve heard about an island —described with such nostalgia—that Castro ruthlessly tore apart. To hear my parents and their peers describe a pre-Castro Cuba is to hear an eyewitness account of Eden itself: the houses were sturdier, the food tasted better, the streets were safer, and the ocean breeze was cooler.

My father was 19 when the Revolution drove another dictator, Fulgencio Batista, out of power. He openly admits—as many of his generation do—that he helped in that ousting, by causing disruptions and participating in civil disobedience. His brother—my uncle—was sent packing to France after setting fire to the last row of a movie theater. My father was never so brazen, but they believed that Batista was corrupt and tyrannical, and considered Castro their savior. My mother, on the other hand, was just 11 when Castro came to power, and was the first generation to be inducted into La Juventud Rebelde—the communist youth—and educated to venerate the pantheon of Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin, and Karl Marx – along with the one constant in Cuban history claimed by all, José Marti.

My mother’s first disillusionment came early on, when she was asked why she never reported to a government-required volunteer activity.

Porque no me dió la gana,” she answered. Because I didn’t feel like it. She was always a little hard-headed, a trait that didn’t set you up for a successful trajectory within the Communist Party.

Her disillusionment deepened when her dream of being a grade-school teacher was dashed as she was forced to become a veterinarian. The government’s new five-year economic plan called for more emphasis on agriculture and all that the industry required.

My mother resisted any urge to leave. At the time, leaving the island was considered an act of defection, and there would be no turning back. Leaving her family behind was unconscionable.

Then my mother met my father, also a veterinarian. Two years later, I was born. Suddenly the food rations, the lines to get rice and the meal plans all became increasingly difficult to bear. Still, when the Mariel boatlift opened the doors for anyone to leave the island, my parents stayed. My mother still couldn’t leave her family. My father, whose entire family had already left, couldn’t convince her.

The trigger for her coming around, and deciding to leave, was not a traumatic, high-drama moment, but rather an everyday scene, starring yours truly. I was all of two, eating a slice of ham. I asked for more, but there was no more to give. The rations only allowed for so much. My mother realized Cuba was no place to raise me.

As the story goes, the following months were agonizing. Thanks to my father’s French lineage, my parents were able to claim political asylum in France. But actually getting off the island took nearly a year. When the Cuban government learned of my parents’ desire to leave, they fired my father from his veterinary job and reassigned him to work in a construction site. He broke two ribs before word came that our application had been approved.

We lived in France for six years before making our way to Miami. My mother eventually was able to bring her mother from Cuba a decade later, and always hoped that she would one day also be reunited with the brother and four sisters that remained on the island.

Neither of them ever saw these relatives again, though there were years of grainy, bittersweet phone calls filled with hopeful talk of the impending reunion. My grandmother died in 2003. My mother, this May. My father, whose family has all since left the island, has never been as emotional about leaving his home, however. He’s kept memories alive by endlessly telling stories about the Eden that he remembers, debating every tweak in American policy, and lamenting the mistakes of his generation.

I’m often asked about my own journey; whether I’ve ever been back to Cuba, for example. I’m often told how beautiful it is by people who have visited – how everyone should experience it before the government changes, and the country’s “frozen in time” quality disappears. And all I can think about are the countless hours—at the dinner table, at parties, in the car—of my parents reminiscing about the past and complaining about how their country has crumbled. It became deafening, as if an entire people had become obsessed with one singular topic, never able to move past it and start anew. Like my parents, I’ve never returned. They believed that going back would be a sign of support for an immoral and corrupt government, and that any money they spent there would go in support of the dictatorship. And they wanted no part of it. Neither did I. I’ve always believed that the best way to honor their sacrifices was to honor their beliefs. It never seemed right to return to a place that my parents fought so hard to leave just to give me a better life.

Eventually, I do remember my parents shifting their tune. Sentences stopped beginning with “Cuando Fidel se cae,” once Fidel topples, and ending rather with the notion that the Cuba they remember will never again exist. At least with my parents, the harsh reality that exile was not going to be temporary finally set in.

I struggled with a swirl of mixed emotions at this month’s news. My initial reaction was to hold on to my parents’ anger, as a way of acknowledging their suffering. But, like my parents came to realize, there are emotions and then there’s the reality. The status quo has not only failed, but also frustrated a people who hoped regime change was always right around the corner.

And now that I live in L.A., I realize the complexity of the Cuban experience is lost anywhere north of South Florida. It’s like I am exile not from one, but from two, surreal islands: Cuba itself, and the displaced Cuban alternative in Miami. It would be unthinkable there to have someone come up to me and talk about how amazing Cuba currently is, but I actually hear it quite often here. Now I marvel that such a small island has held the attention of every president since Kennedy.

Though my father has mellowed in his old age—he’s nearly 85—it’s no surprise that he fervently disagrees with me. For him, there is no compromising, no negotiating with this regime. My mother, however, would’ve welcomed this news. The idea of an American embassy in Cuba is tantalizing, the idea of the American flag flying again in Havana should inspire the Cuban people that hope is just 90 miles away. And for me, it will be a welcome reminder that this home I left over a defiant demand for more ham is not as distant, and aberrant, as it has felt.

Jean-Paul Renaud is the director of communications for the UCLA College. Prior to entering higher education, Renaud was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times and the South Florida Sun Sentinel. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square. Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME society

Watch a Restaurant CEO Fire a Woman for Refusing to Wear a Bikini on TV

He also offered a free breast augmentation to a waitress as a bonus

Some television networks play heartwarming content over the holiday season — but not CBS. On Sunday’s episode of Undercover Boss, Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill CEO Doug Guller not only fired a bartender after she declined to wear a bikini on television, but also incentivized a different waitress by offering to pay for her breast augmentation.

Just the brand of American dream you’d expect to be served at an establishment that calls itself “America’s first breastaurant.”

In the above clip, Guller sits down with Jessica to discuss her decision to forgo wearing a bikini while on camera. (Note: Jessica follows the dress code on normal work days, just not when her grandma can see it on TV.) “That was a big bummer from my point of view,” Guller tells a bummed Jessica in front of an even more bummed audience. He had previously told cameras that he was actually “f****** pissed” — after all, “It’s called Bikinis, not Tee-shirts.”

While he had other complaints (including over-serving a customer and admitting to a disguised Guller that her ambitions extended beyond the breastaurant industry), he maintains his main reason for firing Jessica is her insistence at remaining fully clothed on TV.

But Guller isn’t a complete Grinch.

Just like Santa, Guller offers a different server a reward for her work ethic. “I’m going to make you a deal,” he tells Grace, promising her a free breast augmentation if she’s a “rock star” for the next six months.

“This makes my job so much easier,” she says. “I don’t even have to talk as much because they do the talking.”

Suffice it to say, the Twitterverse was not pleased.

Bikinis has also received backlash on its Yelp page. “Why would anyone who respects women spend their money in a dump like this?” asks one reviewer.

Guller appears unconcerned.

Read next: Twitter Account to Overly Thirsty Brands: Stop Saying the Word ‘Bae’

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser