Goodbye 2016!

If, as I wrote last year, 2014 was the year that everything changed and 2015 convinced me that it was all for the better, then 2016 was the year of trying (and at times failing) to find balance in life.

Professionally, I was ablaze. By my calculation, I wrote 374 pieces in 2016. On Twitter, I threaded a bunch of my favorite piece, but writing for FiveThirtyEight was a highlight and an honor. I gave interviews, talked on podcastsblogged with my head, and was cited.

I went to Kyrgyzstan. I wish I had done a better job of writing about the trip, on a personal level, but all my writing time went to work — it was a crazy time. The pictures help explain:

Independence Day

With all this professional success, I would be lying if I said my personal life didn’t suffer some. I read less than I’d like and I didn’t ever finish that fiction project. I saw my friends less than I would have liked, and still fail at calling my parents often enough.

My bullet journal for 2017 starts with two simple phrases: Be Good. Do Good.

Writing: I still want to write more widely. I definitely owe the gents at The Strategy Bridge something and I want to pick up fiction again. I want to ask more questions and dig deeper. I want to return to writing nonfiction stories, the snippets of my life.

Reading: I read more books in 2016 than in 2015, but only figured out a good system in the latter half of the year. Because I do not commute, I’ve had to consciously build “reading time” into my days. I will continue to read two books at a time, one fiction and one nonfiction. I find I write better when I’m reading something creative and just as the world never stops turning, my need and desire to learn is ceaseless.

People: It’s been wonderful to pull the relationships I make online into the real world, and I’ve made some wonderful friends. But recent family events have reminded me that there is never enough time with the people you love. I want to be a better friend and a better daughter in 2017. My Mom is going to (re)teach me sewing. The woman owns 9 sewing machines, for Pete’s sake. I also want to do more in my community. DC gets a lot of shit but this city-state is my home. I’m starting the year by volunteering at DC Central Kitchen and hope to make it a regular occurrence.

Places: Aside from a week in Hawaii in February — an honest-to-goodness vacation — I have no travel plans set just yet. I’d like to make it to Kazakhstan this year (EXPO2017 anyone?!), and would always love a return trip to Kyrgyzstan. We’ll see what I can manage to plan.

So goodbye (and good riddance) 2016! I’ve got plans for you 2017. Let’s go.



FiveThirtyEight: Clinton and the Asia Pivot

This week FiveThrityEight published an article Shannon and I have been hard at work on for some time. I’ve been fangirling (fairly secretly) for months about the piece. I’m a huge fan of FiveThrityEight and getting the email in December (December!) asking if I’d be interested in writing for them caused me to break out into giddy giggles on the Metro.


Much of what I write about daily is a touch obscure for most of my family and friends–far off places they don’t know much about and which don’t impact their lives in a noticeably measurable way. While I love that I get to write every day about Central Asia, I was very excited to get a chance to branch out (or really, reach back) into American foreign policy more broadly.

A year ago, when Clinton was launching (officially) her campaign, I spent a Sunday afternoon writing an article about what a Clinton presidency might mean for Asia for The Diplomat. I pinged the other editors for memorable Asia-Clinton moments–I’d only just started writing full-time for the site–and wrote the article up while sitting on my porch soaking up the spring sunshine. I suppose this is what led FiveThirtyEight to me.

I hope you take the time to read the article. Our aim was to explain Clinton’s record as secretary of state because it is a fundamental part of her pitch to the American people as to why she’d make a good president–and Asia, though a low-level issue in domestic American politics often simplified to CHINACHINACHINA, will nonetheless be something the next president will have to deal with.

Those with greater knowledge about Asian politics may be a little disappointed as we wrote the piece for a general audience. This meant leaving a great deal out. We don’t dive into the political nuances of Myanmar’s democratic improvements  or Thailand’s regression, for example. We explain the South China Sea conflict but don’t dip into FONOPs, nine-dashed-lines, or the Philippine arbitration case. We don’t make a judgement on the TPP’s domestic implications because it was an article, first and foremost, about foreign policy. I hope we made good decisions on what to include and what to drop, because it’s impossible to include everything.

I think the final product turned out wonderfully, in no small part because of incredible guidance and editing from the FiveThirtyEight staff. I swam through many a spreadsheet of trade data, Shannon waded through speeches on speeches, and our editors poked us with questions. They challenged our assumptions and pushed us to explain more clearly things the audience we normally write for takes as a given. This is the first article of significant size I’ve ever co-written, the first time a “quantitative editor” has reviewed my econ-logic, and it was all a great experience.

Fun closing fact: One of my favorite sentences made it through, virtually unchanged, from the first draft to the final run: “The TPP is one area where the policymaking record of Secretary Clinton diverges from the politicking rhetoric of Candidate Clinton.”



Bloggingheads: A Crash Course in Central Asia

Made my Bloggingheads debut this week, sitting down to talk to Natalie Sambhi about Central Asia. Natalie is a co-host, along with my old professor Rob Farley and Matt Duss, of the Foreign Entanglements Bloggingheads program. They essentially video chat with interesting people around the world about foreign policy issues. I’ve been watching these since grad school so it was super cool to get to do it myself!

Natalie asked me for a “crash course” on Central Asia and I did my best to provide that…


Little Mercy

Now the candle’s in the window and it’s open
We watch the flames duke it out
With every gust and we’re hoping
No, it must just burn
To the bottom of the wick
It’s the bottom of the 5th and that shit is still burning


The flame is hope.

RFE/RL Podcast: Talking Nepotism in Central Asia

Talked regional nepotism with a crew of incredibly smart guys last week: Muhammad Tahir, RFE/RL Turkmen Service director and Podcast Host Extraordinaire; Alisher Ilkhamov, a research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London; Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch; and Bruce Pannier, who runs an excellent Central Asia blog for RFE/RL.

Check out Bruce’s write-up of the conversation here and get a good listen in as well.

Though perhaps too simplistic (I’m more comfortable writing than I am speaking, but I’m getting better at it the more I do!), I stand by my statement that seeding the government with your relatives works… up until the point it doesn’t. And when it falls apart, it does so in a grand fashion because while you’ve been making your sons and daughters ministers, the ministries have atrophied under them. Family is reliable (to a degree) in terms of loyalty but not always competence. As succession approaches in the next decade and a half across the region–Uzbekistan’s Karimov is 78, Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev is 75, and Tajikistan’s Rahmon is 63–eyes are on their offspring as potential successors. Uzbekistan is a prime example of how it can all go wrong.

Anyhow, listen to the podcast and read Bruce’s article (well, all his articles but definitely that one).