On Racism, Nearby

I’ve been hesitating to even blog about everything that’s happening right now – the Ferguson, Missouri situation has reminded me that no matter how well-intentioned, I’ll always be white. As history has shown, that’s clearly not a bad thing, but it does mean that while I’d love to chime in and offer my take on the situation, I shouldn’t. It’s not that I can’t still be a part of the push against class warfare and racism – it’s just that I’ll never truly understand what it’s like to be anything but white.

That’s not to say that I can’t be an ally, that I can’t be someone who pushes for reform and truth and justice and tolerance and all of those wonderful, idealistic things I thought everyone believed in. The hard truth is that people don’t believe in those things. You learn the rose-colored worldview of tolerance and peace and then you hit the real world and it’s filled with ignorance and hate.

I was at 7-11 yesterday, buying iced coffee before I headed out to babysit, when a short, grandfatherly looking white man cut me in line holding two Cokes. He got up to the cashier, a nice woman who’d greeted me cheerfully when I walked in, and when he was told that it was going to be like $2.89, he flipped out. He asked how much one Coke was, because he’d been under the impression that they were 2 for $2.22. The cashier told him that they were no longer on sale, at which point he began yelling for her to come to the back and look. He turned around, nearly hitting me.

I don’t usually get scared, but something about him coming two inches from full body contact unnerved me. Apparently, the 7-11 people had put Pepsi on sale instead of Coke, but forgotten to take down the advertisements. I get that – it’s annoying. If you want to sell products and offer a discount, properly advertise it. She apologized for the confusion, admitting that they’d made a mistake.

They got back to the counter and he continued yelling (I’m not exaggerating here – the entire store could hear) about how this is what is wrong with America, greed and blah blah, and then he paused and told the cashier, “You wouldn’t know. You’re just visiting here.” She insisted, with a lovely accent, that she was an American too.

That’s when he lost it. He started going off about Judgement Day and how God would know that she was lying about being an American. (I almost cut in and asked him if God was American, but I didn’t and I’m glad.) He yelled at the cashier, and to her credit, she handled it beautifully. When he got to the part where he was yelling about how his mother would know that she wasn’t an American, she calmly told him that she didn’t care what his mother thought.

It was horrible. She was clearly an African immigrant, and I don’t care whether she was a citizen or here on a visa, she’s working and she’s nice and she’s obviously someone who is stronger than she looks. He was clearly the worst sort of American. After he left, I told her that I was sorry that she’d had to deal with someone so rude and that I hoped that her customers from then on were pleasant to deal with. The woman behind me offered her support as well. I would have been in tears – I was impressed with how calm she was.

It’s 2014. Any illusions of a white America should have been dashed years ago – it’s over, or rather, it never was going to be a thing. At some point, these people are going to have to embrace the fact that diversity is here to stay, whether they like it or not. I can’t fathom how anyone could be so cruel to someone based on their skin color, or their accent, or the fact that they work at a 7-11.

I’m still appalled. I wish I’d spoken up. Better yet, I wish the boyfriend had been there. He’s not always the most forward-thinking human, but I know that he wouldn’t have stood for this kind of hate. He’d have had words with the man.

It’s not just 7-11. It’s Facebook. I live in a very educated bubble. Most of my friends are white like me, have at least a college education, and are pretty progressive and liberal-leaning. (Not all. Most.) The posts that I’ve seen lately about Ferguson, Missouri and racism have been about being a white ally, class warfare and the threats to the white majority stronghold of our economy, and so on.

Boyfriend comes from a different place. His bubble is different. I love skimming his news feed to see how different they are. He probably thinks I’m trying to glean information about his lady friends, but honestly, it’s a remarkable sociological difference, whether it’s based on location, education level, or career path, and I’m fascinated by it. That and the lady friends.

Last week, a Marine friend of his posted something about the Ferguson, Missouri situation, including the riots, with a very inappropriate caption. I was appalled that an active member of our military would be allowed to post something like this – but it wasn’t just the post, it was the comments on it that aggravated me.

A plump, blond, middle-aged white woman commented on the post and said something about how upset she was about “these savages” and how “we bring our Lord to them and they act like animals” and so on and so forth. Our Lord? The same God of White America that the 7-11 dude worships? What are these people smoking?

I did a terrible job at describing the post and the comments, but I’m trying to illustrate how frustrating it has been for me to see that not only is racism alive and well, but it still wears the well-meaning mask of religion. I wanted to believe that while racism still existed, it at least had the decency to hide deep in a person’s soul and not be broadcasted around on social media and spit at cashiers in convenience stores. I wanted to believe that so badly, and clung to that hope. I was wrong.

I may scoff at the well-intentioned ally posts and the never-ending parade of sociological examinations of cross-sections of our society, but today I am grateful for them. I’m glad that I get to sit and click and read them – I’m glad they’re being published and that people are reading them, and sharing them, and spreading a message that shouldn’t be new to some people but clearly is. I need to do more — we’ll talk about hashtag activism at a later point. And the next time I see a man yelling at a woman because of her accent and the color of her skin, I’ll give him a piece of my mind. At the very least, a little social sanctioning may give him pause.

We can do better. We need to do better.

On the Puppy, Anxiously

There’s something wrong with Acorn.

We knew it the moment we met him. He’s all floppy black puppy, but he’s got sad brown eyes. He sat there on the floor of the house in Mississippi, shaking fearfully, timid but so sweet. We fed him, we bathed him, and he was ours. I knew it instantly. Boyfriend was hesitant, we wanted to make sure there wasn’t anything wrong with him before we took him in. And there wasn’t, mostly.

But there’s something wrong with Acorn. It isn’t physical. Whatever happened to him in the four and a half months before he joined our family left deep scars. We knew it when we met him, that he’d been mistreated. It’s in the way he cowers from an outstretched hand, the way he’s terrified of doors and floors, the way he used to curl himself up into a ball around other dogs. He’s anxious. Boyfriend likes to joke that he takes after his mother (me) in that way.

He’s come a long way in the two months we’ve had him. He’s more confident around other dogs now, he loves to play with them. He’s better with people. He stills shies away from a hand that’s put forth too quickly, but he loves to be loved. He climbs into bed with me at night and sleeps with his head on my legs. He sits on the bathroom mat behind me when I brush my teeth. (He blends in, since the mat is black, so I’ve nearly tripped over him a few times.)

He’s been ours since we fed him. That first night, he lay by the foot of our bed, and he’s been with us every night since. He’s loyal – when I’m outside in the front yard, I don’t have to worry about leashing him since I know he won’t go far. When we’re hiking, boyfriend usually takes the lead, and when Acorn can’t see me anymore, he’ll double back until he sees that I’m behind them, and that I’m okay. Then he’ll run back up to boyfriend.

He’s like any other puppy, eating us out of house and home, chewing on everything he can get his paws on. He’s stubborn – he won’t come in until he’s done playing, and yesterday, leaving the dog park, we had to put him back into the car because he didn’t want to leave.

The car was where we first realized he had deeper fears. The first few days, he wouldn’t jump in or out of the car. When you’d try to take him out, he’d plant his feet as though you removing him was going to be the worst thing. Same for getting in. And doors. And places he’s never been before. And bridges.

He’s hesitant, nervous, afraid. He won’t go in the side door of the house. One day, boyfriend had the back gate open and he got out. Boyfriend found him, a few minutes later, waiting patiently at the front door to be let in.

He’s sweet. He’s loving. He’s learning how to be a dog. But he’s still scared. The other day, boyfriend was lamenting that we ended up with such a wimpy dog, a coward, and that these aren’t ever things he’ll outgrow. Abused dogs, he said, are like that forever. There’s no changing them.  (Boyfriend loves him, don’t get me wrong. He just gets frustrated at the seemingly unending line of nervous anxieties we find and the seemingly illogical explanations for them.)

I disagree. I mean, I don’t think Acorn’s ever going to the most aggressive, alpha male out there, but I do think that we can love a lot of the fear out of him. He used to freak out about the linoleum in our kitchen (I mean, who wouldn’t?). He’d scamper across it like it was burning lava. He wouldn’t eat if his bowl was on it, and if he did, he’d run back to the safety of the living room as soon as he could. But now, if I’m in the kitchen, he’ll sit patiently behind me or lay down on the floor in front of the refrigerator. He’s getting there.

Instead of getting upset with him, I’ve been as patient as possible. At first, I set the bowl just inches onto the linoleum, where he could eat with all paws on the wood floor. And then, I inched it in, so that eventually, he was standing with all fours on the floor, happily chowing down.

He used to be unable to go outside without one of us. Now, I let him out and let him play outside until he signals that he’s ready to come in. He knows we’re coming back for him, that being outside isn’t being abandoned. Sometimes, after I’ve had enough of outside play, he’ll refuse to come in, carrying his rope toy and looking longingly at me. I’ll leave him outside until he comes to stand by the door, his signal that he’s done. He knows I’ll be there to let him in.

Right now, he’s curled on the couch next to me, asleep. Even his dreams are calmer now. He used to yelp and squirm when he slept, nervous little yips. Now, he sleeps more soundly. When he falls asleep, he’s out. He’ll try to fight sleep, his eyes getting lower and lower until finally, they close and he melts into his sleeping position. It’s so sweet. After big hikes, he’s usually asleep before we even leave the parking lot.

He’s got the most adorable face. He’s already learned the word “walk” and when you say it, his ears perk up and he stares at you expectantly. He’s all giant paws and he’s still mastering walking gracefully.

We’re working on reassuring him that he’s safe, that we love him, that when he does something wrong he’ll be punished, but it will be reasonable and consistent. We’re finding out how to adapt to his nervous habits, and how to change the ones that are changeable. We’re exposing him to other dogs, so he’ll have buddies to play with and learn from. We’re letting him be loved by everyone who wants to love him — strangers always comment on what a sweet, adorable dog he is.

I can’t help but think about how whoever it was that hurt him and then left him. I can’t help but think about what a miserable person they must be. I can’t help but be sad for all of the animals that don’t have loving homes. But I look at my two furry sons, both rescued, and I can’t help but feel like the most blessed person on this planet.

Carlos, my FIV+ Chicago street cat, missing a fang and half an ear, who was returned to the shelter by a family. Acorn, my anxious black lab puppy, abandoned in Mississippi. They are my favorites. Carlos is fierce and too aggressive for his own good, but he loves his wet food and to be pet right under his chin, and will hop up onto the bathtub ledge to say hi while you’re taking a bath. He loves to curl up in the crook of your elbow and fall asleep with you. Acorn is sweet and playful, full of energy, who shakes with excitement when you come through the door. He loves ice cream treats and his rope toys, tearing up anything with a squeaker as soon as he can. These guys are part of my family. These guys deserve all of the love. I sometimes wonder if it was just meant to be.

He was such an unexpected blessing. It’s like my brother said, “He’s such a precious little pup.” And he is. He’s our precious little (50 pounds and counting) pup. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

On AAA, Shamingly

I heard a commercial for AAA on the radio the other day. The voice of a woman details all of the times that AAA has been there for her while her husband was too busy watching sports to come to her aid. This commercial offended me.

I know, I know, we’re too sensitive and jumpy and can get offended about anything. But you’d think that in a culture such a this, too sensitive and jumpy and easily offended, the team of advertisers tasked with the creation of such a commercial would be wary of their content and mindful of public opinion.

Apparently not.

Ostensibly, someone sat down a team of ad people and said, Sell AAA memberships to women. Remember, they’re helpless and scared, so we need to remind them that AAA is everything their man is not: responsible, reliable, prepared.

So the ad people probably said, Fish in a barrel! This one’s easy – let’s be quick about it so we can have an early lunch.

And then they created this sad excuse for a sales pitch.

Now, I must explain a few things. First, I love AAA. I have been a huge fan of AAA since the very first time I locked my keys in a running car at 16 (you’ll note that I said “very first time.” Yes, with my first car, the Green Bean, it happened often since the doors locked automatically 3 seconds after you started the car, which is just enough time to say, “I forgot _____!” and get out of the car). They were there for me in Chicago, when my roommate left my headlights on and drained my battery.

They were also there for me when I got a flat tire. That’s the experience most closely associated with this radio spot, and the experience most likely to get my blood boiling.

I was driving to Boulder one afternoon last summer to see my boyfriend at the time. I was just getting off highway 36 when I heard a sound like an angry rattlesnake. Sure enough, I had just gotten my first flat tire. I drove along in traffic until I could safely pull onto a side street. I parked. I got out and inspected the car. Sure enough, the rear left tire was flat. Gone. Donezo. (If you were to spell “donezo,” is that how you’d do it?)

So, being the resourceful independent woman I am, I opened my trunk, shoved a million things aside, and pulled out my jack and spare tire, prepared to change the damn thing myself. (I’d never changed a tire, but we covered how to do it in driver’s ed and I wasn’t overly concerned.)

I used the tool (the name escapes me, I was to say tire iron but that’s so incorrect) to remove the lug nuts. Except they wouldn’t loosen. I jacked the car up anyway, hoping I’d be able to loosen them then. I couldn’t. So I jumped on the tool. That didn’t work either. A guy on a bike stopped and offered to help. I was stubborn, but after realizing that my full body weight wasn’t going to do much, I accepted his help. He couldn’t loosen them either.

So I gave up, had my boyfriend come pick me up, and decided I’d deal with it in the morning. In the morning, my boyfriend, such a great guy that he was, left me at my car so that he could drive to Denver. I called AAA. And then I waited.

The AAA guy got there to change my tire and said, “Where’s your boyfriend?” I bristled. My internal voice was yelling, “What, just because I’m a woman I can’t change a tire?!” But my external facade was composed as I explained that I had been unable to loosen the lug nuts and had been forced to call AAA as a last resort.

Then he tried to loosen the lug nuts, cocky and masculine in his approach. He couldn’t. I saw his posture change. My internal self cheered, a smug smile on her face. He looked back at me and I just raised my eyebrow at him as if to say, “Where’s YOUR boyfriend?”

“Not as easy as you thought it’d be?” I asked, sweetly. He was sour. He loosened them eventually, put on the spare, and I drove to the Discount Tire where I got two new tires.

I was upset. AAA has always been wonderful. In Chicago, the dead battery happened on a Sunday. I was so grateful to the man who came to jump my car, and he was so gracious about the whole thing. I told him that I was terribly sorry that he had to come out on a Sunday and he was so kind and wonderful and funny.

But this Boulder man? Everything that frustrates me about people existed in him. Grumpy demeanor, sexist, superior, and so on.

That’s why hearing this AAA ad annoyed me so damn much. It’s not hard to say, “We’ll be there when you need us.” or “We’ll make you feel more comfortable when your teen starts to drive.” or “Everyone needs a backup plan.” I don’t know — I’m not the ad guy, but I feel as though they could have gotten their message across a million other ways instead of having the rely on the oh-so familiar tropes of the sports-obsessed, neglectful husband and the weak, incapable wife.

(I get that in my own rendition of the “I’m a powerless woman and I need you, AAA!” story, my own boyfriend fell into the same trope, but he wouldn’t have been able to fix the tire anyway, so it’s a moot point.)

Shame on you, AAA. You get what you pay for and I suggest you get a better ad agency. You’re a valuable service that I find so worth the money, but if you can’t sell yourselves, how are you supposed to sell your services?

On Wedding Weekend, Spiritedly

I forgot how much I love to travel.

Love. The other morning, I had the urge to just throw things into the back of my car (including the cat – who doesn’t hate the car as much as you’d think), and run far away. I wanted to drive until there was no more road, until I’d come upon the glorious nirvana that is endless waterfalls and starry nights that never get too cold.

I love grabbing my “mountain backpack” (that’s what I call it, I bet it has a proper mountain term) from the closet and filling it to the brim with whatever I’m going to need for the next three to five days. I love the travel-sized toiletries. I love the bits of brightly colored fabric straps that have been tied to the zipper pulls for the past four years. I love the way I feel when I wear it.

I love shouldering the always too-full pack (always. I’m going to be the worst backpacker ever) and heading into the airport. In those moments, before the back aches set in and my feet start to hurt, I am filled with the possibility of adventure, with excitement, with a tingling in my fingertips as I hand over my boarding pass to the TSA agent.

I always try to make the exact awkward face I’m making in my driver’s license or even worse (better?), the face from my passport. I don’t know if they find that as hilarious as I do, but it’s worth it.

Chicago, gold coast, streelights,

The view from my friend’s apartment downtown. Oh Chicago, your cold spring winds caught me off-guard and were terrible. But the magic of the city is palpable. Its energy flows around you. It’s sublime.

This is where Katie and Eric got married. Between those two trees. I started tearing up when I saw her start walking down the aisle. I teared up again when her dad gave a speech, but it was her mom’s that put me over the edge. It was beautiful.

White wine. Photo booth. I kept calling it a “king hat.” It’s very obviously a crown. I’ve always been good with synonyms. Dancing. It was so wonderful to see my friends. I have missed them.

On Sunday, my friend Anne drove out to the burbs to pick me up and then we went back to her place and watched new episodes of Arrested Development and got frozen yogurt. I went with her to a birthday party before heading back to Denver.

I’ve been telling Evan that I want to go camping with him (athleticism and adventurous spirits are so sexy, but I’m nervous that I don’t have enough of that – maybe enthusiasm can make up for it?). My goal is to go to Conundrum Hot Springs, which is a very lovely 8.5 mile hike each way. While I was in Chicago, with my “mountain backpack,” I took the stairs as much as possible at the train stations to practice hiking. (Obviously this is a very flawed approach, but you have to work with what you’ve got.)

Sunday was great – I woke up early and went to REI with Evan. I’m really not having great luck with not losing Nalgene water bottles (I left yet another one in Spokane), so I thought I’d try yet again.  (80th time’s the charm, right?) We’re two days in and I’ve not lost them yet.

[Hah, I just have to insert a thought here that has nothing to do with anything, except losing stuff. My freshman year of college, while being young and dumb, I lost my camera at a bar. Shortly after, my mom sent me a care package with a package of cards with a note attached that said, “Maybe these will entertain you on those Friday nights when you don’t want to go out and lose something.” I love my mom.]

After REI, we went to brunch and then, faced with the prospect of an entire day off, I went to see Jacob. There was coffee, cleaning (I owed him – he’s helped me clean so many times), and then we met up with my brother and his friends for some grilling in the park.

Delicious.

Evan was at work, so I brought him dinner – tucked into an empty 6-pack was a cornucopia (ha, mostly) of delicious picnic foods: a brat with grilled onions and German mustard, chips, grapes, and cookies.  He loved it. (Relief. I was a bit nervous that it was going to be the worst thing.)

Summer is coming and I’m in full adventure mode. I want nothing more than to take road trips and to see things I’ve never seen before. Also, I’d love to actually get around to planting my garden (too late, but whatever), and doing yard work, and relaxing in my hammock. I’m filled with the same excited anticipation that I get waiting to get on the plane. It’s endless possibility and experience and it’s all in front of me. This is going to be the best thing.

On the Marrow of Life, Lovely

(I don’t care that “lovely” isn’t technically an adverb. But if you were to use it as an adverb, then you would be able to attempt to encapsulate everything I’m trying to put in this post. Think of it that way. I do what I want; deal with it.)

I think I was a sophomore in high school when we read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” At this point, I had not yet developed my hardened hatred for Hemingway  and was far more open to the literature from that time than I am now. I loved and hated the book.

At my core, I believe firmly in hopeless, foolish love. But at the same time, I recognize a situation that has no hope of ending well.  You can’t quite manage to tear your eyes away, watching the disaster unfold in front of you. It’s the compelling crash, but even as I see everything unravel, I hold out hope that there’s some way to fix it, for the characters to run off into the sunset together, happy and unburdened.

I also happen to adore Baz Luhrmann, mostly for “Romeo + Juliet”, but also “Moulin Rouge” and “Australia” — tear-jerkers, the lot of them. I’ve been meaning to go see “The Great Gatsby” but haven’t managed to find the time.

Evan came to visit me at Dairy Queen to try my roasted beets – his face was priceless, and he declared that he didn’t hate them, but I’m not sure if that was just an attempt to preemptively soothe my eager, anxious ego.

Spurred on by the wildling living inside me, I declared that I wanted night tennis (which is exactly what it sounds like); he did not. He suggested the movie; I readily agreed and plans were formed. He stayed for an hour and helped us close. Poor guy – his day off and he finds himself at work, sweeping and counting. I was thrilled, because we got out in time to make it to the last showing (11:15 PM; we’re madmen).

The theater was nearly vacant. I curled up and settled in for a long movie. It was breathtaking. I’m actually surprised that Luhrmann didn’t go for a more disconnected, surreal vibe. It obviously was, but I almost wanted more. It was elegant. I’m a sucker for Jay-Z and I loved the soundtrack. There were moments of brilliantly placed black humor.

The critics are right – we do lose some of the story through the visuals, but I think in the end, the story isn’t about the details. It’s about more than that. It transcends its own plot, as poignant and pertinent today as it was then. It speaks to experiences and heartbreak and the evils of obsession. You cannot repossess your past. There is no way to go back, no matter how hard one tries. There is only the bittersweet, hopeful march forward.

Speaking of the bittersweet, hopeful march forward, I’ve been on a journey of my own lately. It’s not bittersweet at all, it’s beautiful. The slow kindling of something into something more has created in me a warm radiance that seems so natural, I feel as though it’s always been there. It’s brimming with possibilities and the prospect of adventure.

For this, and so many other things, I am eternally grateful. I’ve been wondering Why now?, for it emerged suddenly but sweepingly, but I don’t want to wonder. I want to let this cloud of happiness swallow me whole, and I believe that’s exactly what I’m going to do. (He hates baseball and golf, too! Ugh, this is the best thing!)

We had our first book club meeting last night. The discussion was interesting, at times incomprehensible  and all around inconclusive, as I imagine every discussion about gendered communication to be. It was lovely. We sat on the porch outside, gathered around a table full of snacks, until the air grew too cool and we retired inside.

Then there was Game of Thrones. And of course, I fell asleep, warm and safe, pretending that I wouldn’t be unhappily woken by the rude intrusion of the daylight and the 4 alarms I set each night. But alas, employment called and I answered, reluctantly leaving my nest. (I won’t lie, I’m an insanely good nester. My bed consists of pillows and blankets and small bits of heaven.)

And now, I’m off to Chicago for a wedding! I always cry at weddings. I always cry at everything. The other day at Dairy Queen, a grandmother with tears in her eyes thanked me for letting them have their graduation party there, and told me how wonderful it was. And then I teared up. Because it was so sweet. She was so happy. It was just a cake. It was beautiful.

I haven’t been back to Chicago since last Memorial Day. I’m going to eat Dunkin Donuts, and touch the Bean like a tourist, and eat Portillo’s, and go to Laschet’s (or Laschet’s’z, as I call it), and stand by the lake. It’s going to be lovely. I have beautiful dresses to wear, too, so that never hurts.

Enjoy your weekend.

On Quarter-Life Crises, Existentially

It’s happened like clockwork. Every five or six months since I joined the working world, I start to panic. I find myself burned out, thoroughly exhausted, and inconsolable because it seems like everything I work so hard for is ultimately unattainable.

This month, I looked at my bank account after I paid my bills, sorted my savings, and so on. For the month of April, I have $15 a day. This includes gas for my car, food, and anything else I need. (Let me put this in perspective for you: It costs me around $40 – two and a half days of life – to fill up Simon’s gas tank. I do this every seven to ten days. Budgeting for four fill-ups during the month of April, we’ve already lost a quarter of my funds.)

***

According to new studies, about 11% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD. I lost the link to the article, but apparently the people with the highest percentage of prescription drug abuse are people born between 1981 and 1990. And then there’s this horrifyingly sad op-ed piece from a father who lost his son to a drug overdose.

I wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until I was twenty-three. It was a hellish two-day testing, during which all learning disabilities were ruled out. I’m grateful for that – I always wondered if I was just bad at math or if it was something more than that. (As it turns out, I’m actually average to above average at math, so I’m wondering how much learned helplessness is playing a role in my inability to do calculus. I also wonder how necessary calculus is for a long and happy life.)

In the year and a half since my diagnosis, I’ve embraced my Adderall and all of its drawbacks. Honestly, I’m eternally grateful for the drug. It’s changed the way I work. It’s allowed me to focus, something that I can’t do. I now have the ability to be productive. I often wonder what my grades in high school or college would have been like had I been properly diagnosed around the time I started wondering if I had a focus issue. I wonder if my inability to concentrate – which was honestly so bad that I never read a textbook – negatively affected my grade point average and my chances at success in life.

My manager when I was 16 always used to tell me that I had the attention span of a golden retriever. Now, I’m still not the best at impulse-control or listening, but I’m at least getting better at being patient, at doing work,
[edit: I came back to read this paragraph and realized I’d totally trailed off, leaving it unfinished. I’m leaving it this way.]

True, I immediately lost 15 pounds and have struggled to maintain my four-pounds-underweight weight ever since. I pick at my skin, unconsciously. I was having trouble sleeping for a while. They tried to prescribe me pills for that, but I declined them. I don’t want more pills.

Regardless, I’ve never abused it. Nor have I sold it. Nor would I ever dream of doing that. I believe that too much Dateline as a child has led me to lead the mostly drug-free life I lead today. I am disappointed to hear so much about the struggles that so many people are having with drug abuse, particularly my beloved Adderall. I never took it recreationally before being diagnosed, so I never understood the allure of it. I hate the vilification of Adderall-users. I hate how I feel like a criminal with my pharmacy and my doctors. I hate how hard I had to fight to get my insurance company to cover it, initially. I don’t take it on the weekends. I don’t take it so I can stay up and party. I don’t understand why you would.

***

I work sixty hours a week, and have for much of the last two years. I supplement my income from my full-time job with income from a regular babysitting gig and then a part-time job at a Dairy Queen. I am exhausted. There is no time for balance. There is no time for moderation. I see my family and friends when I can, working them in between the triple-work schedules that I juggle.

I hope that one day, I will make more than $xx an hour. I hope that eventually, I won’t have to work three jobs so that I can make ends meet. But for now, this is what I have to do. I try to love my job, and generally I do, but there are times when things start to get so impossible that I start to drown in the negative.

These past few weeks have been that cesspool of hell, the undercurrent threatening to pull me under. I go from being confident in what I do to cut down and weak. It’s frustrating. The environment, which can be so collaborative and positive, can quickly turn threatening and hyper-competitive, leading to unnecessary drama and unanswered questions. Instead of being able to stay afloat and above the chaos, I find myself questioning my own abilities.

***

People ask me why I work so hard. I don’t know how to tell them that I know what it’s like to wear damp pants to school because your dryer broke and your parents can’t afford to fix it right now.

I am so grateful for everything I’ve been given. I am grateful that I have been blessed with the ultimate gift of education. I am blessed because I  understand the value of a dollar, the value of simple indulgences like a drink with your meal. I understand what it’s like to make sacrifices; I understand how to cut out the unnecessary. (Seriously, if you want to save money, don’t buy liquid. Don’t buy juice, don’t buy soda, just drink water. One of my favorite indulgences is fruit and veggie juices. It pleases me on some core level.)

I don’t ever want to worry about money. (Which is why the sad irony here is that I spend every day worrying about it.) I don’t ever want to have to ask for help. I don’t need a gold-plated bathtub – I need to know that I can pay the water bill. I won’t stop until I know I’m okay. I can’t. If something bad happens, I need to know that I can hold on for a few months, that I won’t lose my house, or not be able to afford a car, or whatever else.

***

I’ve been struggling lately. It’s a life crisis of the worst kind. The “why do I work so much when it’s not really getting me anywhere?” struggle. The “maybe I’ll just live off ramen and be done trying so hard” train of thought.

I’ve been wondering if it’s that I’m materialistic or too greedy. But then I think, that can’t possibly be the case, can it? Sure, I take pleasure in my material comforts, but I truly believe I’m reasonable about them. I haven’t gotten my car fixed (long live the duct taped bumper!) because I believe it’s an unnecessary expense.

***

In the middle of this disjointed spewing of thoughts, I renewed my prescription online. Then I got a message saying that I’m due for a blood pressure check. I will gladly go and do the blood pressure check so that I can get my prescription renewed. I’m responsible. I’m on top of it. I renew, I submit to the examinations of the mind and body whenever they tell me to, I pay. I don’t abuse. I take my dose, no more, no less. I hate that people want to make the drug the problem, when in fact, there are other factors to consider. I will say, though, that I’m glad it happened at 23 and not at 10, or younger. I am grateful that medication was my choice.

***

I hate to say it, but have we considered the fact that our society is slowly building a set of standards that are possibly unattainable? I hear all of these complaints, including that op-ed piece in Wall Street Journal by a very whiny high school senior who didn’t get into her chosen schools, from people who aren’t measuring up. But are the standards too high? Am I one of those who worries I’ll never be good enough simply because I could be good enough? Or perhaps I’m already good enough but can’t see it because I’m constantly being told I should push harder, run faster, be better. (For the record, I’ll never run faster than last place, and I’m cool with that.)

I need my Adderall to focus. But I need my focus to work. And I need my work to survive, to be happy, to be secure. Above all, I want security. Is that so much to ask for? Security should not be the result of a sixty-hour work week. It should not come at the expense of happiness.

***

Last week, someone asked me what I do to relax. I stared at them, my mind desperately searching for any answer besides “gin.” After a very long and uncomfortable pause, I weakly offered, “I take baths sometimes?”

“I expected that you wouldn’t have a lot of answers, but I didn’t expect nothing,” was the response I got. I’m determined to somehow find time to take care of me, to find my own relaxation somewhere in this madness. But perhaps, much like security and happiness, relaxation is another of the unattainables we were told we could have if only we worked hard enough.

On Mike, Because He’s 23.

“Guess who said it,” he yells. He’s reading from his little book of quotations. He’s previously told me that if he ever dies, the book contains everything I’ll need to know about his life. And my life. And life, in general. “‘No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love…'”

I’m frantically running around the house trying to find clothes and put on makeup – it’s 10:20 pm on a Friday night and I swore to the boys that I’d be ready to leave by then. (Surprise, surprise: I’m not.)

“Mandela!” I yell back. I pause, suddenly unsure, but still pretty sure. “Or Gandhi. Or Mother Theresa!”

“Mandela!” he yells back. His friend laughs. He’s been watching my frantic getting ready with amusement – he has an older sister, too. I love having this time to banter with my brother. Sometimes, I forget how lucky I am to live with him – even though we’re both super busy with jobs and/or school and life, I still get to see him. I imagine that I’ll be really sad when someday, it’s not the same anymore. I take it for granted and I know that.

My first Cubs game! 2010

My brother and I could not be more different human beings: he’s the calm, reserved one. I’m the take-charge, emotional one. He lets things go; I don’t.  I live in a fast-paced world with no time for slowing down; he spends time meditating and reflecting. He cleans the house. I make sure the administrative details (bills, ew!) are handled. In truth, we complement each other very well. We both learn from the other and take care of each other. We’re both surprisingly protective – if someone were to hurt my brother, I would hope they understood the hell that I would unleash on them.

South Africa, 2010

We’re 22 months apart. I don’t remember how I felt about getting a brother, but I do remember how much fun we used to have playing together as kids. (And fighting, of course. I’m a little bit tougher than I look because I grew up fighting Mike.) We used to dig holes in the garden, trying to make a swimming pool (frustrating process, let me tell you). We would play baseball against the wall of the house. I used to dress him up and make him play dolls with me.

My most regrettable failure as a big sister was the day he sat on a nail. We were eating lunch outside on the back patio (pb&j and Cheetos), and I didn’t want him to sit at the picnic table with me (because I am a terrible person), so I told him to go sit on a pile of boards. Well, as it turns out, some of those boards had nails sticking out of them. And he sat on one. (I’m currently alternating between typing and covering my face in shame. Even now, I feel awful.)

Mike’s my partner in crime. We used to sneak out of our rooms during nap time and slide down the stairs on my mom’s exercise mat. We used to sneak into the neighborhood pool for night swimming. We used to play this game where we’d flip each other off at the dinner table when our parents weren’t looking. The first one to get caught lost. (I don’t lose.)

When we were in high school, my friends and I thought we were so cool because we had a freshman. Mike was our freshman. (We weren’t cool; we know that.) We used to call Mike “fruitypants” – ugh, long story, but it’s something a guy I once dated used to yell out of the windows of a moving car just because – and it stuck. To this day, whenever he runs into our old Creative Writing/English teacher, the teacher always calls him “Fruitypants.” Mike looooves that. But somehow, it stuck. Sometimes, we still call each other “Fruit” out of habit.

Mike is one of my best friends. I’m so grateful that he’s my little brother. He’s one of the wisest people I know. He’s got such a big heart, and he’s so smart. He’s thoughtful and kind and funny. Everyone who meets him loves him. He was always looking out for me in South Africa.

In our family, we always tease each other about being “the worst guy.” Mike started it; my mom and I picked it up. It’s usually used in a teasing way, out of exasperation. “Oh, you’re the worst guy!” my mom will say, and there will be a lilt of laughter in her voice. It’s the kind of warm expression that radiates love and family.

I love them. They’re the best worst guys ever.

Happy birthday, Mike! It’s your Michael Jordan year and it’s going to be so good!

On Snow and the Oscars, Randomly

As Denver lay frozen under a blanket of desperately needed snow, Mike and I found ourselves both at home at the same time for the first time in quite a while. We shoveled together, him heaving shovelfuls of snow in my direction, me trying to sneak attack when he wasn’t looking. (I did manage one direct hit!)

After, I curled up on the giant bean bag and started trying to figure out how to use our new television remote. Buttons, man. A new remote is terrifying, uncharted technological territory. I feel like my grandpa, lost somewhere on Internet Explorer 6.0, errantly pushing keys and hoping something happens.

We decided to watch the Oscars, switching over to James Bond during commercial breaks. (All things James Bond make me happy. As a child, we watched all of the films, and I aspired to be the calm, suave gentleman/secret agent that he was. I realize now that I don’t have the heart for murder nor will I ever have the whole cool-under-pressure thing down – I panic and tell the truth when cornered. It’s usually a good thing, but in an MI6 situation, probably not the best.) 

The Oscars failed to hold my attention, but made me want to start making films again. In college, I hung out with a bunch of film students, so I participated in a slew of projects, from the ridiculous to the slightly more prestigious.

I had a blast – at one point, I was assisting one of my film professors with a short he was working on and I got to read with a woman who’d been in R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet videos. If you haven’t seen them, find them. Your life will be forever changed. (Not necessarily in a good way.) Film was fun, and even though I never took it as seriously as I should have, I learned a great deal.

So here’s where this is going to get oddly confessional – I get so engrossed in media. I cry at most episodes of Modern Family and The Walking Dead (it’s totally normal, I swear). That stupid, stupid Budweiser commercial with the Clydesdale from this year’s Super Bowl? Every time. It’s not even a minute long, and halfway through it, I’m looking up, furiously pretending that I’ve got something sedimentary in my eye.

I love the idea that people can communicate such an array of human experiences and emotions through film. (For the purpose of this post, it’s solely film.) Every time I see a movie in theaters (rare, but it does happen), I come out playing out my life like it’s a movie. I imagine camera angles and I begin to create the script of my life as I’m living it. This feeling lasts for about ten minutes before I think, “This is stupid,” and go about my business.

But to make films is to be able to capture elements of the soul. I think that films have helped to change and inspire, inform and educate, and most importantly, connect us all. Regardless of your feelings about the ceremonies, the starlets, and the general Hollywood problem, you must admit that at some point in your life, there was a film that touched your soul.

And then, of course, there’s Stepbrothers. I’ve yet to meet anyone who hated that movie. If community showings of Stepbrothers don’t bring us together, I’m not sure what will.

On Rape and Rising, Hopefully

[There are potential triggers in this post re: rape. Please do not proceed if this may make you uncomfortable.]

“Rape” is a four-letter word.

I’ve written before about my journey to the realization about the devastation of rape (I knew, but I didn’t know, you know?). Now that I’m fully aware of not only the physical effects but the emotional and psychological devastation caused by rape, I’m burning with rage about it.

My friends and I have spent a lot of time discussing the gray areas surrounding the concept of sexual assault and rape. It’s a harrowing topic, because the more it’s discussed, the more it doesn’t make sense anymore. There’s the “maybe” and the “I don’t know” and the “intent,” but at the end of the day, regardless of where any act stands on the spectrum, it’s a harmful, traumatic experience, period.

It was one of my friends, during a recent discussion about rape amazed me with his passion, who reminded me why it’s not a fruitless endeavor to fight for change. His anger, his emphasis, the sincerity in his voice – it brought me out of the removed apathy that so many of us don when we’re hesitant. It brought me into the present; it ignited a part of my soul.

They say that rape is about power, and I guess that to a certain extent it is. But it’s more than that, too. It’s about having your power taken from you. Rape, gray area rape or legitimate rape or date rape or sexual assault or whatever else you can think to call it, takes away your power. It makes you feel weak inside. It makes you skittish and scared; it makes you hurt all over; it makes you burn with shame, even though you know that it’s not your fault.

It’s under-reported. I can empathize with those women (or men) who for any number of reasons, cannot report it, and suffer in silence. I think of the Kobe Bryant trial. I don’t care whether or not it was rape – look at what happened to the victim. She was shamed, called horrible names, doubted, had her life spread before the eyes of the world and then slowly dismantled to be examined. So often, it comes down to “he said, she said” and nothing can be proven.

(I should note here that one of my biggest pet peeves is when people assume that women are “crying rape” for attention. I don’t think anyone should ever misreport anything, and it’s disgraceful to do it – but at the same time, every time someone reports something, people are so quick to make critical judgments and I think that says a ridiculous amount of negative things about humanity.)

The statistic that 1 in 3 women will be beaten or raped within her lifetime is terrifying. One billion women. One billion. (I’m imaging Mike Meyers as Dr. Evil saying “one million dollars” right now….)

Think about that number. Really think about that. What does that say? What does that say about men? What does that say about our tolerance for violence? What does that say about our inclination to make women bear the brunt of the responsibility for actions committed against them?

The world is not a safe place. It never has been. But that’s not an excuse for us to stop working toward something better. I hate the idea that women are weak. I hate it. But I understand it.

During college, I took a Transgender English class – liberal arts, I know – and we read a story about a college professor who transitioned from male to female. I hated the book at the time – she wrote about embracing femininity in a way I found to be so shallow, materialistic, and stereotypical. She wrote about the vulnerability that she felt when she felt the wind between her thighs when she was wearing a skirt.

I disregarded the notion entirely. But I have gained new insight. I do understand the vulnerability. I am glad that I never realized my own vulnerability while I was living in Chicago or staying in Cape Town. I’m glad that I was bull-headed and street-smart enough to be safe.

No amount of “right decisions” can protect you. No amount of preparedness can keep you from harm. There is no such thing as safety. It’s all merely an illusion. That’s what we’ve come to as a society. Our gated communities and fancy security guards are nothing. Trust is irrelevant, an outdated idea shirked in favor of deceit and false self-truths.

Enough is enough. Listen to Eve Ensler (Vagina Monologues!) say some powerful stuff about the movement called “One Billion Rising.” People are breaking their silence. They’re letting go of the discomfort that they feel when discussing something as taboo as rape and sexually motivated violence. They’re realizing that something needs to change. People need to be held accountable for their actions. People need to fundamentally respect other people.

Rape is a preventable crime. It’s not preventable in the ways that have been suggested in the past, such as “dress more conservatively.” I forget who originally made the counter-point to this, but it’s so incredibly valid: what does that say about men? That they’re little more than wild beasts who will be unable to control themselves at the sight of flesh? That argument in itself is disgraceful to men and to women.

What I wear or do not wear cannot be construed as an invitation for rape or violence. What I do or say or act like cannot be construed as an invitation for rape of violence. There is no valid excuse. None at all.

We need to teach our young men that “no means no.” We need to teach them that power can be gained through other avenues that are more rewarding than acts of violence aimed at belittling and degrading other people. We need to emphasize respect – actions have consequences. Even if you can’t see the harm that’s been done, it’s there. We need to dispel the myth that sex is something to be taken, something to be claimed.

We need to remind all women that their voices and experiences matter. We as a global society need to value our women, rather than marginalizing them and quieting their voices. We need to remind women to be strong – we need to assure them that we’ll support them, heal them, and lift them up.

No one can be an island. We’re not in this fight alone. Globalization necessitates cooperation and conviction. We must work together to stop this perpetuation of violence, of hatred, of fear. Sexual violence against women (and men, too) has long been used as the ultimate bargaining tool, a source of shame and ultimate destruction. We must stop it. We must make it so that our people are free from the terror of vulnerability.

The world is willing to work for change – it’s time for us to realize that the capacity for human compassion and love is ever-present. This is a beautiful thing. Love is the essence of humanity – it keeps us strong and humble. Love is something we need to work on teaching our children. With a strong foundation, they will be less likely to take from others what they cannot find in themselves.

On Abortion, Thoughtfully

(The opinions expressed below are mine alone; don’t get all grumpy at me – I’m just having a jumble of thoughts.)

“How can you be pro-choice if you were adopted?”

I get that question a lot.

I usually choose to answer it delicately (“delicately” is an interesting word choice, I know, given that I’m not prone to grace). I usually say that to me, pro-choice is not necessarily pro-abortion but rather, exactly as it says: pro-choice.

I believe that the choice is the most important part of the argument. Once you’ve stripped away the arguments about when life begins, what God intended, and so on, you’re left with one thing: a woman’s body.

Since I happen to be the owner of a female body (I quite like the model I’m in), I have expert, first-hand knowledge of what being a woman is. I do not, however, have knowledge of pregnancy or knowledge of having to make the choice: adoption, abortion, or raise the kid.

I believe that people who don’t have that knowledge should sit down and do some serious listening. They should listen to women who’ve had abortions; they should listen to mothers; they should listen to people who’ve given children up for adoption, as well as people who’ve adopted children; they should listen to women – women who aren’t yet pregnant, who might become pregnant, who’ve been pregnant, and otherwise. Each woman will tell you a different story.

On the 40th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v Wade, I think we’re all in need of some listening. Not just listening, but understanding. We need to understand that we cannot force our own personal beliefs on others, just because we believe that we’re correct in our thinking. We need to understand that the law has stood for 40 years for a reason. And we have to understand that abortion is not new. Abortion existed before you, and it will exist long after your body has returned to the earth.

I don’t think I could ever have an abortion. Were I to get pregnant (“fall pregnant,” as they say in South Africa), I’m old enough now that I could handle it (mostly). I’d also have the support system I needed: my mom is going to make an excellent grandmother some day and my brother is so great with kids. It should be noted here that none of my friends want kids, so I’m going to be that nervous, awkward, unkempt wallflower mom at the Mommy and Me class. (I went to one, once, in Illinois with the little guy I was babysitting – basically my favorite baby ever. He was very uncooperative and kept getting up and wandering and I kept getting judgmental looks from all the other “mothers.” Phew. Was so glad when the final song was over and we could book it out of the library.)

It’s not just a question of age, though. It’s more than that. There are other factors, including economic and social ones. I think that economic independence is a huge factor in whether or not a parent will decide to raise a child. In fact, now that I’m on the fence about having children of my own, I think that my decision will ultimately come down to whether or not I’ll be able to afford them.

(They’re hell on the pocketbook, in case you weren’t aware. They also make you statistically less happy, but contribute to a more meaningful life. Ugh, I’ll save weighing this decision until my biological clock is screaming at me to procreate. For now, it’s all conjecture. Besides, little kids are the cutest things. Until they get weird and hormonal and teenager-y.)

I’m going to throw this thought out there:

I believe that if we make abortion illegal, we will not be stopping abortions at all, but rather driving terrified pregnant women into a very dangerous underground. I don’t think that most people would describe themselves as “all for abortion,” even the most pro-life among us. I think that most people believe that an early abortion is best, if abortion is the choice.

I think that by attempting to seriously limit access to abortions (and birth control, too), an upsurge of which we’ve seen on the political stage in recent years, we’re doing ourselves a huge disservice. Huge.

It’s easy to protect life during gestation, but it’s a lot harder to do that once the child is born. I think that people who are so vehemently pro-choice ought to do some looking into how they can help the children of this earth who have been born into situations that they cannot control, but situations that no child should ever be in. It’s one thing to support the birth of a fetus, but it’s another to support a child until he or she turns 18. I think we as a society should start looking into how we can help the children that are already on this planet.

It’s hard, because for me this discussion always takes so many turns. Abortion as birth control? Not okay. Abortion as a life-saving measure? Totally okay. What about welfare for mothers who can’t afford the babies they’re going to be forced to have? What about the strain on the system – that most pro-lifers don’t even want to pay for? We’re not creating a better society by limiting access to reproductive services, up to and including abortion.

My ending argument is this: if a child that is not wanted is born into a family, is life going to be any better for them? Are they going to end up neglected, unloved, and potentially abused? Will they have access to education and friends and the things that they need? Will they have clothes on their backs and food on the table?

I was adopted. I was (am) loved. But that doesn’t mean that life is perfect or easy. Nothing is simple. There are complications from being adopted that I will have to live with for the rest of my life. There are complications that my birth mother has and will live with, and the same goes for my parents. Being adopted is a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t make everything magically better. The same goes for having and raising a child. It doesn’t end at birth – that’s when it truly begins. (Oh man, I meant for that to sound ominous and heavy. That’s totally not me claiming that life begins at birth. Don’t think that.)

One of the most beautiful things about living in the United States is our freedoms. Freedom of expression, of speech, of religion: freedom to make the choices that will carry you through life. I love that we have the choice about what to do with a pregnancy, and I respect that so many women (and men) fought so hard to make sure that we would always have that choice.