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.

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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 Voting, Enthusiastically

Four years ago, I was in Chicago when then-Senator Barack Obama was elected as the 44th President of the United States of America. I cried tears of joy then, and I will most likely cry tonight (whether or not the tears will be tears of joy remains to be seen).

Social media is abuzz with messages, but mostly, I’m seeing status updates urging people to vote. I love this. I’m 24, smack dab in the middle of the demographic that people worry won’t vote. Honestly, I don’t understand. I was thrilled to register to vote, and even  more thrilled to vote. I’m still thrilled. I got chills today just thinking about how wonderful it was to cast my ballot last week.

I encourage everyone to do the same. Get chills. Go vote. Be an active part of something that’s bigger than you are. Only then are you entitled to complain about the government for the next four years.

On Fall, College, and Debates, Randomly

I’m totally embracing fall today. I’m wearing my lumberjack plaid shirt (which got complimented at the grocery store by two really burly-looking dudes, so that made me feel pretty badass), I drank a pumpkin spice latte (work perks), and I’m relishing the leaves that are suddenly everywhere (Colorado got really windy last night, so now there are leaves on lawns, leaves in the streets, leaves on the sidewalks, and so on). I even changed my Gmail theme so that the background is a wonderful vision of red, yellow, and green leaves.

Yay, fall! It’s still sunny and bright, so I’m not even thinking about the ice scraping hell that is yet to come. Right now, I love the weather. I love the leaves. I am craving a pumpkin carving session. I want to make spiced cider and wear striped socks.  It’s still warm, so I’m still looking forward to wearing my coat – although somehow between last week and now, I’ve managed to mislay my brand new black pea coat. Hrm…..looks like the hunt is on.

Where does one leave a pea coat? It’s not in my car (although my gray one is, along with the black one that I am dissatisfied with. I keep it in there to wear when I go to bars so in case someone steals it, they’re actually doing me a favor instead of ruining my evening). It might be in my house (this is a constant problem since 80% of my clothing is black – I can never find anything when I need it). It might be at my mom’s house. It is. It’s hanging in her kitchen closet because I didn’t get it after dinner last week. Boom! Thank you, logic and desperate recollection.

***

I fall asleep while watching tv on my computer, usually. It’s my way to calm down after the day, but also my way to keep abreast of current pop culture stuff. I usually choose The Daily Show or The Colbert Report because they’re 21 minutes (ish), they’re light-hearted, and I don’t have to follow anything other than the sound of their voices as I drift off. Also, Carlos seems to enjoy them, too. He curls up with me and lays his head so he can see the screen. I have no idea if he’s watching or if he’s just comfortable that way, but I won’t complain.

But the other night, I chose one of the new episodes of Modern Family. I’ve written about the show before, mostly because if it’s a good episode, I will have cried at least once by the end. (Not cried like melted down and sobbed, but teared up and/or felt at least one tear drip down my cheek.) The show is silly, but I do think that they have some really poignant moments. And that’s what I’m all about – the humor blended with the absolute certainty of reality of life.

So….the oldest daughter is going to college. The move-in process was really not one of the show’s finer moments, but the scene where the parents have gone really got to me. The daughter is shown wandering around the cafeteria, alone, as the parents drive home. She calls her parents later, when she’s back in her room. And the parents are holding back tears and so is the daughter. Of course, my heart just cracked and spilled over and tears ran down my face – enough to annoy the cat.

I’ve written about my college drop off a hundred times. It was horrible. My uncle and cousin were kind enough to accompany my mom and brother to Chicago. We got my stuff moved in. And the first night, they were still in the city. Over breakfast before they left – at a place that did not have sides of fruit available for purchase – I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

I’ll repeat, just for emphasis, it was horrible. I’m not even embarrassed. My uncle does a really funny impression of me begging, “I’ll go to DU, I swear! Take me with you!” (Funny now, not so funny then.) And then I cried for the next three days. The first night, my roommate came back into our room and declared – oddly gleefully – that there was a bulimic on our floor because she’d heard some girl throwing up. (That girl was me. Not a bulimic. It was tear-induced vomiting.) After those first few days, I was more or less fine and proceeded to fall in love with Chicago. But watching the tv parents drive away in their van, and the girl alone in her room brought it all back, just for a minute. That’s how you make good television.

I also laughed out loud at the gay/lesbian Venn diagrams they made with their arms. I laughed hard enough to annoy the cat, who apparently doesn’t find gay/lesbian human Venn diagrams amusing at all.

Last night, I fell asleep while watching Breaking Bad. Then the boy/man/romantic interest – ugh, we’ll just call him by his actual name because I am sick of writing “he” – Then Matt called, and my sleeping self told him that it was very windy and then went back to sleep. (Sleep Katie is very productive – she answers the phone, she responds to emails and texts, and she talks. Last week it was about towels and cat food – obviously very pertinent and totally normal things.)

***

The debate last night. I don’t care what side you support, or who you think won, but I’ve been very much enjoying all of the internet uproar about the whole thing.

Like this, which made me laugh out loud:

Binders full of women My roommate got pregnant our freshman year of college, and now has an adorable five-year old daughter. She’s single, a teacher, a mother, and a beautiful human being. She was indignant about Romney’s answer to the AK-47 question (as was I), and rightly so. It reminded me of my junior year of high school when our Morality teacher told us that single parent households were against God’s plan…I told him that I was being raised in a single parent household (at that point, I was living with just my mom, and it was by choice). His response? “Would you want your kids raised that way?” Personally, I think I turned out just fine. And I don’t own any weapons, assault or otherwise.

Also, the best facebook status of the night, posted by one of my brother’s friends: “Apparently, guns don’t kill people, single parents do.”

On Education, Gratefully

My word for 2012 has been “gratitude.” I have tried to be more mindful of the wonderful blessings in my life and express gratitude in all areas of my life. First things first: I have improved dramatically at writing and remembering to send Thank-You notes. I think that may be the only real deliverable; the rest of my gratitude practice has been solely in my own mind and heart.

As I’ve been crawling, inching, barely progressing on the series Breaking Bad, I’ve been reflecting on my own life, my own decision-making rationale, my gifts and support systems. Of course, the onslaught of gratitude and related emotions has been a refreshing reminder of how beautifully hopeful and heartbreaking life can be.

But the greatest gift I’ve ever been given was my education. From the age of three, I was enrolled in private, Catholic schools. While I realize that Catholic schools are a hot-mess of crazy (this is true), I also realize how valuable the emphasis on education is. I remember begging my parents – pleading my case every single year – to let me go to public schools. They didn’t.

I went to a Christian Brothers high school, but my real luck came from the Jesuit university I attended. The Jesuits are noted for their commitment to the education of the whole person. If there’s one thing I took away from my college experience, it was “solidarity.” While Loyola may not be known for their commitment to the betterment of Rogers Park (I think it’s a no-win situation, as far as land ownership goes, but on the plus side, the Loyola stop is in pretty good condition. and there used to be a Dunkin Donuts!), they’ve always emphasized service-learning and commitment to communities of all kinds, more than just their own student body.

My professors there were not all devout Christians, but they were all devout scholars and educators (give or take a few). One of my favorite professors was a women’s studies professor who taught some of my feminist theory classes. She was a devout Catholic, but freely admitted that as a woman, she had problems with some of the catechism. I so adored her commitment to her faith but her willingness to question it and call attention to its hypocrisies and flaws. It allowed me to see the Catholic faith in a new light, and for that, I will be forever grateful.

While attending Loyola, I lived in one of the most racially diverse neighborhoods in the city of Chicago, which is already a wonderful blend of everywhere. But that’s not the point, even though I will carry pieces of Rogers Park in my heart forever. The point is that my educational experiences have left me a more rounded, grounded, rational human being. I’ve traveled to Europe for a forensic trip because I was lucky enough to have the most badass forensic teacher (we had one of the only forensic science classes in the country at the time) ever. Loyola prepared me to open my heart and mind to the conditions in the townships in South Africa.

All of this education has left me curious, well-informed (mostly), and most importantly, someone who cares about the well-being of all human beings (solidarity, solidarity, solidarity, and so on).

Regardless of your religious views (trust me, I have plenty of opinions and don’t ever get me started about the current Pope), this article should give you hope for the future and hope that educations such as mine will continue to cultivate a love of learning in young minds everywhere:

By Carl Bunderson

Denver, Colo., Oct 16, 2012 / 03:03 am (CNA).- Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School based in Denver, Colo., has nearly doubled its enrollment in just one year by introducing a classical curriculum.

“This is something people want, and they’ve wanted it for a long time, and now it’s available,” principal Rosemary Anderson told CNA Oct. 10.

Our Lady of Lourdes is a pre-kindergarten through eighth grade school. The parish’s pastor, Monsignor Peter Quang Nguyen, had helped turn around a number of schools in the Archdiocese of Denver which had been in danger of closing. He was assigned to Lourdes five years ago.

When Msgr. Quang hired Anderson to be principal in 2010, the school was in “quite a bit of debt” and had only 104 students enrolled. That figure is 180 today.

The school’s capacity is 235 and Anderson believes that by the next school year, “we’ll have to start wait-listing kids.”

“The biggest problem when I came on was that everyone thought the school was going under. The attitude has changed…Now people know this place will be there, and their kids are getting a phenomenal education, and parents don’t have to worry that it will close in a few years.”

“I’m very grateful for Monsignor Quang’s support. None of this would have happened if he wasn’t completely on board,” she added. “We were right in this together.”

Anderson noted that classical education is meant to help students learn how to think, rather than merely teaching them “subjects.” The program at Lourdes school was inspired by 20th century author Dorothy Sayers’ essay “The Lost Tools of Learning,” and the work of Laura Berquist, who was involved in the founding of Thomas Aquinas College – a Catholic university in southern Calif. which uses the classical model.

“She’s a huge influence,” Anderson said, “she founded a homeschooling curriculum called ‘Mother of Divine Grace’ and is brilliant in the ways of classical education.”

The foundation of classical education is a set of three methods of learning subjects, called the trivium, which is made up of grammar, logic, and rhetoric.

Lourdes school will focus on the grammar and logic phases, and will introduce the eighth graders to rhetoric.

The trivium “happens pretty naturally” using the classical curriculum, and ideas of grammar and logic and integrated into the subjects taught to students: “it flows naturally from the way teachers are teaching,” Anderson expressed.

This year saw the hiring of five new teachers, in a faculty of 15 total. And out of those five, four have either had a classical education or taught in a classical school,  Anderson reported. “I brought in people who know what the vision is…they’re confident in how to teach” classically.

Anderson noted that the school drew in numerous students who had previously been schooled at home. Several homeschooling parents enrolled their children as this type of education wasn’t available before. “Now they know there’s something that will sync up with what they’ve taught” their children.

Several non-Catholic families have also come to Lourdes just for the classical education, Anderson said. She expects that group to grow as well, “because it’s a great education.”

Parents at the school are very invested in the classical model, which she “welcomes completely.” She pointed to the Catholic teaching that parents are the primary educators of their children, and that “we’re just here to help them.”

Anderson was encouraged to differentiate her school, and with the “support and knowledge”of Bishop James D. Conley – former apostolic administrator of the archdiocese – chose to follow this approach to education as a way of imparting to students the art of learning.

“The classical approach is Catholic, through and through,” said Anderson. While “other schools are doing great things,” “no other Catholic schools in the diocese are doing this yet.”

The school’s re-organization will be a three-year process. The first year, which is occurring presently, involves a re-vamp of the English department and the introduction of Latin classes.

Latin was introduced in place of Spanish because of its importance as the basis of all Romance languages. Students “logically process things better when they know Latin,” said Anderson. She pointed to high school freshmen who “test into honors French, without having had any French before, just by knowing the root language.”

Latin is important for the grammar stage of the trivium because its nouns decline, or change their ending according to function they are performing in a sentence. This helps students to better understand how languages work, and it is coupled with the memorization of poetry.

The second year of the school’s rehabilitation will consist of a renewal of science and social studies.

“We’re not necessarily changing the material we’re teaching, but how it’s given to the kids, which is a step away from dependency on textbooks,” said Anderson.

Students will be reading more primary sources for history, and in English classes, reading historical novels to tie-in with their history classes.

“All the classes are very intertwined. What they’re reading in English should correspond to what they’re learning in history, and in history should be able to carry over to the virtues they’re learning about in religion, so it’s all very integrated.”

Morgan McGinn is in her second year at the school, and teaches second grade. She discussed how the move to classical education has changed her teaching style.

“I have to read and discover knowledge on my own before I can share it with my kids…It’s definitely changed my teaching; I can’t just look at a book anymore and read the lesson, and be prepared for the next day.”

“I’ve had to almost flip everything I know about education upside-down to teach classically,” she said.

Her students are now “required to think more,” rather than having “the information they need to know fed to them.”

The holistic approach of classical education, meant to build up the whole person, translates to an emphasis on the fine arts. “We already had a great performing arts and speech department here…so that was already very integrated,” said Anderson.

The school’s music and performing arts teacher, Patricia Seeber, is a veteran of the school, having taught there for 13 years.

“The feel where we’re at spiritually with the kids, that we’re making that the most important part of the day, has shifted for the better,” she said.

“It just feels like they’re really responding to it in a great way.”

In keeping with the introduction of Latin into the curriculum, Seeber has added Latin hymns among the songs prayed at the school’s bi-weekly Masses.

“We raised the bar I think a step or two higher than a lot of schools do, and the kids really rise to the occasion.”

Lourdes’ classical education is meant to help the students realize their full potential “spiritually, intellectually and socially,” and help draw them to God through the true, the good, and the beautiful.

The parish’s maintenance director, Bryan Heier, reflected on Anderson’s leadership at the school, saying “with enrollment as high as it is so quickly, she’s doing something right.”

On New Opportunities, Sadly, Fondly, Excitedly

This post is a love letter to one of my best friends, who’s off to intern abroad for the next six months. I hope she has an absolute blast perfecting her Italian while eating gelato and canolis and kicking ass at what she’s doing.

I’ve known her since I was fourteen. We got close during geometry class our sophomore year – we were absolute hellions to our teacher – and then traveled to Europe together on an amazing forensic science trip between our junior and senior years of high school.

We went to Chicago together our senior year. She was visiting her boyfriend, and I was falling in love with the lake. We ended up going to the same university. Even though we’ve had very different life experiences, we’ve been able to maintain and strengthen our friendship through the years.

Honestly, some of my best memories from college are from my senior year. The Irish, the Ginger Summer (parts one and two), bar trivia, adventuring, accidentally driving to Wisconsin, the Boston trip, the last night and the sunrise that wasn’t – those are the moments that shape the beautiful memories of my time in Chicago.

I have come to rely on Madeline for advice, for adventure, for a good laugh. Sometimes when I’m really stressed out, she’ll appear in my dreams and yell at me, so I’m pretty certain that she’s my super ego. She is the logical half of our duo, the rational one who always has the right answer. I respect and value her opinions at all times, and have looked to her as a source of strength when I need it most.

I’m so lucky to have a friend like her.

There was a flaming bowl of rum punch involved. That may explain why the picture is so off kilter.

San Francisco, summer 2010, singing “Wonderboy” at a karaoke bar. Are we awesome at karaoke? Absolutely not. Did we rock? Of course.Wonderboy, what is the secret of your power?

The Chicago Mustache Bash:

Spray painting the Irish’s van. Sally, as the van was called, had no working speedometer or gas gauge. The Irish had gotten her for $400 and paid a guy in beer to fix her when she broke.

The first night we went out with our new Irish trivia buddies, they picked us up in the van. I was certain we were going to die when they opened the sliding door while we were on Lake Shore Drive and yelled “air conditioning!”

(The Irish got stopped trying to get back into the US from Canada because they had spray painted “We’re here illegally” on the side of the van.)

South Boston, 2010. A trivia adventure.

Downtown Chicago, 2009. Maddie’s family was in town. Things got wild. This is my favorite picture of us. 

On Being a Twenty-Something, Defensively

I’ve had a blog since I was fifteen. I wrote posts on MySpace, I posted to (and obsessed over) my LiveJournal account, and finally, when I went away to college, I got a Blogspot to document adventures for my family. Three (give or take a few) iterations later, you have the present form of the same thing: a place on the internet to write about my life.

There is something so entirely humbling about reading back to a post that I wrote when I was little.

Stuff like:

“I stood there, in the company of many, but I knew so few.”

and

“I smiled, trying not to make eye contact. I’m sure my dejected look detracted from my approachability.”

or

“The drive home, in the cool night air, windows down, music up, was immense. No other cars on the road, just me and the night, speeding slowly home. I set the cruise control, just for fun, so that I could just be in the night. I was sixteen again, fresh with ideas, taking the turn to the song, letting the music take me elsewhere.
The lights in Denver have begun their countdown, a simple way of informing pedestrians of their impending restriction, and at night, the countdown simply hits zero and reverts back to the little light man walking. I found myself timing it so that as I drove, I’d be crossing the intersection as the change occurred, the ultimate end leading back to the same beginning.
There is nothing better than the promise of summer, no matter what life is holding for you at the moment, standing outside in the night and smelling the air will change your life. Floral scents intermingle with the city’s hot fresh air and the animals of the night seem to be more alive.
We saw a skunk mosey past, on his way somewhere fast. As I drove away into the night, rolling down the windows, I passed the skunk again, still running, still on the street, getting somewhere.
We’re all getting somewhere, even if we have no idea where we are.”

These posts become a place for me to mark my growth. They remind me that I’ve always been some things, and they reinforce that I’ve always been others. Sometimes I am struck by how insightful Past-Me is, and others, I cringe at her insecurity and wish her all the self-assurance in the world.

I’ve been reading posts about my generation. We’re the Millenials, the ones who are supported by their parents, who have no work ethic, who are vapid and shallow and marked by their sense of entitlement. All of those authors are so wrong.

Yes, we’re wallowing, wandering, lost, and afraid. (And yes, some of us are total dicks. But your generation had some not-so-pleasant people in it too, admit it.) What we were raised to see as our future is crumbling in front of us, as though arriving at the desert mirage to find more and more of same, too-hot sand. We’re thirsty. As I’ve said before, we’re the Next Lost Generation. We have no idea what to expect, because the expectations change daily.

Struggling to find the balance between youth and maturity is a difficult one, particularly when any move toward “grown-up” is criticized, and movements to remain “youthful” are equally stigmatized by both my peers and my age-superiors. What I find interesting is that many of these authors criticizing the Millenials are Millenials themselves.

I work three jobs and don’t get financial support (except health insurance premium – Mom, you’re the best), and I make it work. I have work ethic, drive, desire, and passion to create a sustainable and secure future for myself. I happen to enjoy a few gin & tonics and some dancing. So be it. Yeah, I get frustrated at my peers. I find people with no drive infuriating and weak. I am prone to the occasional meltdown of desperate wallowing.

But I’m also not wallowing for the sake of wallowing. This life is a journey. Right now, the age-superiors are controlling a large stake of this world that we live in. It’s hard to get past the entry-level job, it’s hard to ascertain whether or not our place is as adult-equal or child-mentee. It’s difficult. It’s like being seventeen again, being all lost and insecure and afraid.

The reason that there are so many twenty-somethings actively writing about their lives is because they’re finding an outlet.The internet has opened lines of communication that hardly existed twenty years ago, and has fostered equal parts community and isolation by “social networks.” Growing up with access to technology will change – has already changed – a lot of the ways that people example typical milestones. There’s a lot more comparison, more evaluation, but also less of each.

Pressure on young adults to be “perfect” is a very real thing. They want to succeed, and want to be able to do that, but are often so coddled and cared for that they lack the tools with which to do so. Or, alternately, they want to succeed but instead of being coddled and cared for, they’re tough enough to make it on their own but are constantly fighting external circumstances. It’s life, just like you lived it, just like your kids will live it. It’s just always a bit different.

Yeah, some of those blogs are insipid as all hell. Some are lame. Others are personal. Each blog inhabits its own space. It is exactly what it is. And I’ll tell you something that I always tell people: If you don’t like it, don’t read it.  (For those of you who think the Millenials are strange, you should delve into the world of middle-aged bloggers, some who are fascinating, wonderful creatures and others who are like reading something reminiscent of listening to nails along a mile-long chalkboard. The grass is always greener, dear Baby Boomers.)

My blog marks my growth from adolescent to young adult and beyond. I’m humbled by, grateful for, astonished by, embarrassed about, aware of, and immensely proud of everything, even the parts I hate. This blog, while both public-facing and well-trafficked, is an account of growth and the stages that mark a life. My life. It is meant to be self-pitying and triumphant in equal measures.

When I look back on my posts, I am able to mark the moments at which I grew and changed. I am able to see how my opinions and tastes have changed and grown. And I am  content to see how the journey has progressed thus far, and excited about the glorious future that awaits.

So, remember: If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Problem solved.