Creative writing exercise: “Cosmopolitan”

  1. I used to read Cosmo for three reasons: the diet and exercise tips, the advice on “snagging a guy,” and to piss off my mother. The last one was probably unconscious. But undoubtedly, I knew that it was a jab to the feminist household she’d raised me in when I brought home Cosmo ­– which I hid in my room, ashamed. Yesterday, looking at the newsstand in a subway station, I laughed at the row of women’s magazines, all proclaiming to help their readers lose weight, gain traction in their careers, “snag” their men or at least effectively shag them, and dress smart. No wonder women are so confused about our lives and our identities. We’ve been taught that we have to follow rules that are laid out for us by someone else, rather than make up our own minds.
  2. Cosmopolitan comes from the Greek conjunction of “cosmo” and “polis” – the former meaning “the universe regarded as an orderly, harmonious whole,” and the latter, “city.” To be cosmopolitan is, today, to hold a certain degree of urban sophistication: an ability to mix with diverse kinds of people, an intellectual capacity to understand how political issues are manifested in daily affairs, and an awareness of the world beyond one’s immediate environment. The last one, in particular, highlights the universalism behind the concept of a cosmopolitan ethos, and the notion of global citizenship that the term holds.
  3. My obsession with the Sex and the City Series began when I was living in Buenos Aires. My European roommate showed me a website where episodes aired for free, and soon we were spending our evenings together on the couch, staring at a laptop screen, upon which scantily-clad women in expensive shoes drank dainty cosmopolitans – I’d never heard of the drink – and ranted about the asshole men they nevertheless pined after. My roommate missed her boyfriend and the show comforted her in his absence; I, apparently, missed American culture, in all its extravagance. Particularly, I missed the emotional awkwardness of its men, who, compared to the sensual and romantic Latin men I was living amidst, I knew I could count on to respect my independence, give me the space a Western woman craves. After I returned to the States from Argentina, I promptly moved to New York City.
  4. In “Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness,” Derrida writes of an “ethos of hospitality”: the necessity of a modern city to open itself up to those who seek refuge in a world of violence and closed borders. “Hospitality,” he writes, against Kant, who considered hospitality in a limited sense as a right of visitation, “is culture itself.” Today’s world requires openness toward the Other in a way it never before did, is Derrida’s insistence. It seems to me, though, that a culture of hospitality exists most in the places where people are fleeing from, rather than the cities in which they seek refuge. Africa, for example, has been welcoming westerners, for better or for worse, over the past five centuries. And now that Africans are arriving in Europe, seeking economic opportunity and political freedom, they are told: you, the Other, are not wanted here.
  5. Perhaps the ultimate signifier of the global, cosmopolitan middle-class is the commercial airplane. Not so many years ago, flying was a luxury, for the wealthy. Now, people can jet across the world at a relatively affordable price. The study abroad phenomenon has grown to the point where college students know they need a semester of it on their CVs; otherwise how will they show their “appreciation of other cultures, ability to learn foreign languages, knowledge of world history”? In the airport in Washington DC, getting ready to depart for a semester in Chile, I spied a guitarist plucking away and curled up in a chair near to him, watching him, completely absorbed in the instrument. On the plane, he moved next to me, we introduced ourselves, chatted the whole way. I slept with my ear on his shoulder. We awoke to see the Peruvian Andes coming into view under the rising morning sun. After the plane touched down in Santiago we stared at each other intently before exchanging phone numbers and saying good-bye. Later, standing on a bridge in that massive city, under a halo of smog overlooking the cordillera, he told me that he’d wanted to kiss me that day in the airport as we’d parted. Instead, we kissed on the bridge.
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