On Growth as a Human, Gradually

Last night, I was in the bathtub, reading Good Housekeeping and drinking wine (because apparently I’m making the leap from my 20s straight to middle age), when I had one of those moments of sudden clarity. I realize that this is a conclusion that everyone eventually comes to, or in fact may be sheer common sense, but it hit me like a ton of bricks:

If you do something for long enough, you will eventually start to take on characteristics of that activity. 

I realized last night that I’d over-subscribed to magazines. This is much like my habit of signing up for Cousera.org classes thinking I can find the ten hours a week I’ll need for the class. “Of all the people I know, you’re the person with the least time. You should not be signing up for classes,” someone told me, laughing when I tried to rationalize my class-taking habit. “But I just want to learn!” I countered. “Even if I only do half the readings, or a third of them, I may learn something valuable.”

As a kid, I absorbed everything I could get my hands on. Now, with less time to spend absorbing knowledge, I’ve had to make conscientious efforts to maximize my exposure to valuable information. To be a fully conversational adult – and if you want to go even further and become a master of trivial knowledge – you need to be well-versed in most topics: money, politics, fashion, pop culture, business, science, etc.

Since I rather enjoy being right – one of my favorite aphorisms is “I’m not wrong” – I would prefer to be knowledgeable about a subject going into a conversation about it. It helps me to form arguments (not in the sense of altercations, but for debates), but more than that, if I’m unsure, it helps me ask good questions that will help me learn or clarify any confusion I may have about the subject.

But mostly, I just want to know everything about everything and be really good at everything. Right now. But holy shit, that’s harder than it looks. (That’s also a lesson I should have learned many times during the course of my childhood: climbing ropes, doing pull-ups, overhand serves at volleyball, piano playing, running….)

A few months ago, I was thinking about all of the changes I wanted to make, and instead of leaping directly into them, I wanted to slowly expose myself over time, hoping that certain things would rub off on me. Then, seemingly fortuitously, there was a magazine sale. $5 for each subscription? Sign me up! (My bank account cringed and rolled its eyes when it saw $30 in silly purchases.)

As a result, in addition to my regularly scheduled Economist, Esquire, and Elle, I now receive: Popular Mechanics, Town & Country, Redbook, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan (just to be clear, I’m well aware that this is nothing more than a good mental break), Good Housekeeping, and Elle Home. It might be Elle Design, Elle Decor, whatever, I don’t know. But it’s not important.

Obviously you can see that I intend to do: get better at knowing how to differentiate between whiskeys and how to wear a men’s suit, housekeeping and maintenance, decorating, science, cars, world affairs and politics, and girl stuff: fashion, accessorizing, food, makeup, etc.

The girl world is far more terrifying to me than politics. I will always choose to talk Benghazi before Burberry. But….there are moments when you can see that movement has occurred, that you are further down the path that you set yourself on. On Tuesday night, I had a dinner thing. I had found a dress that I liked at the Nord Rack (seriously, their selection of $20 – $25 dresses is unmatched) so I knew I wanted to wear that. I accessorized it without even thinking. I added a belt, something I never would have done in the past. I wore different colored accessories. Mindful of the fact that it might rain, I wore my blue trench coat. I looked fabulous.

Not my best picture, and I wish you could see the whole thing — my point is sort of moot without a full picture, I guess — but here’s me and my partner in crime for sushi devouring. We’re adorable:

It’s happening. Without realizing it, I’m starting to take on the characteristics of the media I’m taking in (for both better and worse). I consciously hoped that exposure would start to produce results, and it has. Granted, I’m nowhere near where I’d like to be, but these baby steps are the steps that move us forward without us even realizing how far we have come.

Study something (like the news) for ten minutes a day, every day, and after a year, you’ve ended up studying it for about 61 hours (if my math is correct). 61 hours! Imagine how much time you spend doing negative things or engaging in bad habits. Granted, this is an overly simplistic and optimistic view of productivity – but after reading about a dude who spends just 15 minutes per day cleaning, I was inspired to spend 15 minutes a day thinking about spending 15 minutes a day cleaning, which may eventually translate into actual cleaning.

The other night, I spent two hours cleaning. Not rushed, hurried, “they’ll be here in ten minutes for the party!” cleaning, but slow, careful cleaning. It was magic. It was amazing how much better I felt and how much I wanted to continue – just for the sake of continuing the progress. Baby steps.

Baby steps for everything. This weekend, I’m baby-stepping into gardening. Keep your fingers crossed. This will be a disaster, but hopefully the kind that comes with the “I’ll do better next year” conclusions.

Now I realize that it seems simple. And it is. “You are what you eat.” “Kindness is as kindness does.” It’s all exposure – who and what you are exposed to shapes you.

But it’s interesting, because I argue that that’s not always entirely the case. My grandfather always says that you are who you associate with (which mostly likely means I’m a gay hipster), and to a certain extent, he’s not wrong. It’s like people who start to look alike after years together, or people who start to look like their pets. 

I hung out with a certain group of people in high school. I took on certain characteristics and behaviors, but I was never fully absorbed. I think I do the same things now, even though my groups of friends are vastly different, I fit in with them due my ability to adapt to them or perhaps it’s how my characteristics fit into different groups.

My friends now are super into electronic music. I like it; I’ll dance to it; it’s not my life. I still prefer hip hop. It’s funny how that works as we grow into adulthood – we don’t know everything about our friends anymore. But that’s cool, because what they’re into exposes us to such different experiences and we get to have adventures that we’d never otherwise have.

I always joke that when I got diagnosed with ADHD, I imagined that the medication would turn me into Monica from Friends – she’s obsessive about neatness and order. (That’s actually not a joke. I was crushed when I realized that wasn’t how it worked.) Apparently, organization did not come pre-programmed with my particular model. Damn. Even when I make conscious choices to be neater, I can’t. So perhaps I’ll have to spend some time around super neat people in an attempt to gain neatness through osmosis. Either that, or I’ll have to spend 15 minutes a day cleaning until it’s just part of my routine.

Do we get to make conscious choices about the habits that we pick up? Or is it luck of the draw? Are our proclivities merely the products of our cumulative experiences or are they more than that, innate but dormant until we happen upon them circumstantially? Do the attributes that we grow into stem from our intentions?

I’m still left with questions, and a stack of magazines I need to read. But at the end of the day, I’m confident that all of this exploration will lead me in the right direction – and eventually, gradually, I’ll be the person I set out to become. Not that the person I am now is all that bad, of course. It’s just that she can’t manage to hang her clothes up or remember to pick up all the lip gloss  — but on the plus side, her brother now knows the difference between lipstick and lip gloss, a very important distinction. See, he’s learning new things, too! Just think – some day I’ll be in my backyard, reading magazines in my hammock, drinking a mojito made with mint that I grew. Ah, life will be just as beautiful then as it is now.

 

 

On Breast Cancer, Bustily

Breasts have always been a source of stress for me.

When I was about fourteen, it became clear that I wasn’t going to do much more developing, and at the time, it was devastating. All the other girls had boobs and I didn’t. They used to tease me mercilessly: “If you didn’t have feet, would you wear shoes?….Then why do you wear a bra?”

After the pain that was being a flat-chested adolescent subsided, I was left with the marvelous acceptance of my body. As it turns out, the joke may be on them. I can fit into clothes. I can wear backless dresses. I can jog comfortably. (Not that I would ever jog, but if I wanted to, it would be easy.) People are forced to talk to my face after their eyes realize that the expanse of skin where my cleavage should be is just that, skin.

Who needs boobs anyway?

My birth mom was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years ago. Her mom died of breast cancer. All of her mom’s sisters have had it or died from it. My birth mother survived. She had many dark hours and a tough battle, including surgeries and struggles with health insurance. A woman at work had breast cancer last year. My stepmom had breast cancer last year. It’s just breast cancer everywhere. These struggles are so unique and so  life-changing.

I know in my core that I will someday get breast cancer. I’m ready for it. I’m at peace with it. One of the recommendations is that you do a preemptive double mastectomy. I looked at my mom and told her that I’d worked too hard to grow the ones I have now to even consider that at this point. If I ever procreate, I will get rid of the boobs after I’m done having children. If I don’t procreate, I’ll get new ones at some point during my 30s. But regardless, I’m definitely going to go up a cup size. (When in Rome...)

Reading the news about Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy made me stop and think. Breast cancer is such a serious struggle, such a profoundly widespread epidemic, but at the same time, preemptive surgery is also such a serious undertaking. I admire the courage, the willingness to subject herself to the pain and the recovery in order to mitigate future complications.

I am confident that I’ll make the right choices when the time comes. I am confident that no amount of cleavage defines me as a woman. I am confident that my vigilance and forward-thinking will keep me alive. I’m grateful for all the women who’ve come before me, who’ve shared their experiences, who’ve taught me how to handle it with grace and dignity and strength.

On the Weekend, Quickly

The weekend went by too quickly, as usual.

Friday was a stressful day for me – I had a meeting that took up a few hours in the morning, so I had a lot to get done at work before my shift at Dairy Queen started. We close at 10 pm, but on Fridays, we have to clean the store before we leave. Usually, we get everything done and are out the door by 10:30. On Friday, that did not happen. We clocked out at 11:20.

I declared a fifteen-minute break after we closed the doors and finished dishes. I was tired. We pulled crates out behind the store, like we used to do during summer nights in high school, and we sat for a few minutes. We attempted to try out some team bonding exercises I’d watched in Spokane, but I think we failed. (Or the exercises themselves failed. No, probably us. Something about truth-telling and strength. You push down on someone’s arm and if they’re telling the truth, they’re able to withstand your push, but if they’re lying, it’s easier to push their arm down?)

Then I decided that I wanted food and beer. We ended up closing Old Chicago. (Their late-night menu is amazing. We had bruschetta, 2 orders of chicken tenders, salad, and 4 beers between the two of us and the bill came to like $30. Why do we not do that more often?)

There was such great joy in the knowledge that my brain was working, dusting off some of the deepest corners of thought processes and bringing them to the forefront of my consciousness. I was lost in conversation, content to forget some of my points and make wild assertions that I was potentially incapable of backing up.

Saturday was more work. I was tired, since I’d gotten home so late. I was fumbling around, trying to unpack an emergency delivery order and get stuff done. I ended up flustered. I was grateful when my backup showed up. We were slammed. I stayed later than I was scheduled, but had to rush home to shower so I could go babysit.

During babysitting, I decided that this was one of those “you only live once” moments, and so instead of going to the goth bar to celebrate a friend’s going away, I drove up to Ft. Collins to celebrate another friend’s graduation. Oh my, was that an adventure.

I got there late – everyone had already been out and about for a while so I had some catching up to do. Our main objective for the evening was to make to a bar that had swings. We ultimately failed at that, arriving just a bit too late. But in the interim, we had a blast. (At least I did.)

(Just so we’re clear, I knew that my eyes were halfway closed when we posted that photo. It was just the best one out of the bunch.)

We almost got kicked out of our hotel some time during the early hours of the morning. At the time, I was thinking that we were being so quiet, but now I realize that seven people are in no way quiet. Ever. Especially not when they’re trying to twerk. (Still can’t do it.)

I woke up the next morning hating everything and in desperate need of coffee. I drove back to Denver, took a nap, then headed to my grandma’s house for Mother’s Day. I got my mom a necklace – since she works with the hearing-impaired, she speaks ASL and therefore the sign for “I love you” always makes me happy. I remember having it on something – a stamp? – as a kid. I saw a necklace with the sign for “I love you” and then a little charm that says “Do all things with love” and I had to have it. I hope she likes it.

On Resetting

He used a metaphor of outstretched palms trying to hold an ever-increasing load of books. Every single book is a source of stress in your life. At some point, you can no longer hold onto the books, and the lot of them will come tumbling down to land at your feet. That’s what this last weekend was for me. Desperately trying to maintain some semblance of normal in the face of being overwhelmed, I overdid it, and the result was disastrous.

It’s now Thursday; I am sicker than I’ve been in a while, and thoroughly worn out. But on the plus side, the worst of it all seems to have passed and my mood seems to have brightened as my energy has returned.

I was worried about how silly I looked this weekend (exhaustion, emotional panic, and whiskey are a potent combination), but my mom was quick to reassure me that this is all uncharacteristic and that the people who know and love me know that. “How are you supposed to explain everything to someone who has no idea?” she asked. “You can’t. And you can’t be expected to.” I felt better.

You can never make certain things go away, but you can change them. You can turn them into something positive, if you try hard enough. You can work to move past them so instead of them ruling you, you rule them.

Now that the worst of it has passed, I am still not sure how I’m going to stop working 60 hours a week. I am still not sure what I’m going to do next. But I do know that these past few days have been the reprieve that I needed to reset myself and find my balance.

I always tease my friend Britt about Marines being such babies, because whenever he gets sick, he needs me to take care of him. I once asked him why he never takes care of me when I’m sick, and he responded that I never get sick. He’s right. I have the immune system of a horse (not sure that’s an applicable metaphor or not, but going with it), but when I get sick, I’m laid out. He came over with soup and a cupcake, both of which were delicious, and then held me while we caught up on Game of Thrones episodes that we’d missed.

Carlos is going to be very grumpy when I have to go back to work tomorrow; he’s been spoiled with eighteen hours of snuggling per day and I know that my absence will annoy him.

I love his beast face.

And above all, I am so grateful for Tobias.

“I’m serious,” he said. “I’ve met tens of thousands of people in my life. You are one of the most positive people I know. Your energy is infectious.”

“You’re one of those rare lights in the universe,” he told me. “I only wish you could see how bright your light is.”

I smiled.

“I’ll keep repeating it until you believe it,” he said. I finally laughed.

On Taking Time, Thoughtfully

I woke up Friday morning crying. I sobbed the whole way into work. It was ridiculously uncharacteristic, and it was in that moment that I knew something was wrong. On Saturday, I saw my therapist for an equally uncharacteristic Saturday session. As it turns out, there is a perfectly rational explanation for what happened: One of the blog posts I read last week upset me and triggered an emotional storm. I had no idea that was even possible. Obviously, I’ve read a lot about triggers through the course of my studies, but I’d never experienced it firsthand.

He explained that the first few times this happens, you have no idea what is going to set you off, but something brings all of those emotions back to the surface. He reassured me that this is all normal, and that eventually, I’ll be able to recognize triggers before they sneak up on me.

It’s a wake-up call in a few different ways, but mostly it’s a reminder for me that I need to make time in my life for relaxation and recovery. I’ve been pushing myself so hard for so long, and something has to give. I have too many jobs, I work too many hours, and I don’t have enough time to reset. Instead, I find myself wound up, pushed to the limits, and exhausted.

Someone told me that I’m high-strung on Friday night, and to a certain extent, they’re right. But I do think that my inability to find time to relax is contributing to a higher level of high-strung Katie. My phrase for 2013 is “do less.” I”m trying to find a better sense of balance between work and relaxation, and  my hope is that I can find a happy medium soon that includes less work and more life.

I am lucky enough to have some of the most lovely and supportive friends on this planet. My gratitude for them is unending and impossible to quantify. I may be high-strung, but I have moments of calm, I swear, and I feel that with their support, the past few months have been far easier than they would have been otherwise. I am looking forward to a bright summer full of days playing frisbee in parks, eating cheese and drinking wine sitting on a picnic blanket. It will be wonderful.

I told work that I was going to take a few days off to relax. People asked me what I was going to do. I wasn’t sure. I giggled today, suddenly shy about an entire unplanned day, and said that I might lay on the couch and watch some Real Housewives. And that’s exactly what I’m doing. Today, I woke up, I had brunch, I ran errands with a friend, I saw a movie, I had soup. It was very magical.

This weekend was an adventure, and today, I woke up sick. Of course. I take time off of work to reset and I end up sick. I have a doctor’s appointment scheduled for tomorrow morning, so I’ll be up early braving the snow. After, I’m going to get coffee, come home, and lounge.

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 Hate, Sadly but Love, Optimistically (Legitimately)

no8, marriage equality, gay rights, human rights, love,

A glimpse of the “Mermaid’s Tears” nails to start your day. But more importantly, let’s chat about the gays. (I’ve scribbled a symbol for marriage equality across my ring finger.)

Emily came over for our girls night last night – since GIRLS is over, we ended up making mac and cheese and then funfetti cupcakes. Delicious. We had to chase the cat-beast because he got out and hid under the stairs. (Scary. I don’t want him to escape because if he does, he might get eaten by a wild animal. And my heart…..oh my heart would break into thousands of pieces. I’d be inconsolable.)

We were talking about friendship. We’ve been friends since high school – she was afraid of me until we went on the forensic science trip to Ireland/London, where we absolutely bonded.

We were talking about unconditional love and acceptance – the kind that goes with friendship. We talked about how valuable it is to have a strong support system, the kind where you can be your true self, the kind where you can share your fears and your heartbreaks and your successes.

Why the long lead-in? (What? You don’t care about my cat or what I ate for dinner last night?!)

For me, knowing that the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in Hollingsworth v Perry
– 
the gay marriage debate has reached the Supreme Court! – is such progress, such a monumental advancement, such a terrifying time. This ruling, although it most likely won’t be handed down for some time, is such an important map of the future of our country and the future of civil rights as we know them.

What does this have to do with friendship, with solidarity?

As it turns out, I sometimes worry that I don’t have a diverse enough friend group. And by that, I mean that I sometimes worry that I need more straight friends. (Kidding, mostly. Mike and I were talking about our friend groups after the adoption panel a few weeks ago – he’s got a very racially diverse friend group and I’ve got a diverse friend group that includes a wide range of people in all professions, age groups, walks of life, and sexual orientations.)

One thing that I’m grateful for is that I exist in such a welcoming, open space. My friends are people who love and respect and genuinely welcome diversity. I often find myself the lone straight girl in a group, and instead of allowing that to remove me from it, I embrace it. Honestly, I don’t even notice it anymore. The people I hang out with are my friends first, gays and straights and whatever else second….a far second.

Marriage is something that I want some day. It’s something that I want for myself and for each of my friends (each of them who wants to be married, of course). My hope, a hope that springs from a place of love, from a place of peace, and from a place of community, is to someday attend the weddings of the people who I care the most about; it is to know that should something happen, both partners have the full protections that legal marriage can offer them; it is to know that love has overcome hate and that we have known the peace that can come after hard work and struggle to promote change.

I hope that future generations understand the full weight of this upcoming decision and that they understand the amount of work that so many people have put in to make this a national discussion. I also hope they sit back and shake their heads with disgust as they think about the people who tried so hard to prevent this. I hope that my children think that gay marriage is common sense; that being gay is natural; that it’s okay to be who you are. I hope they don’t have to fear for their lives or defend themselves against attacks based on who they are, what they look like, who they love.

Because at the end of the day, it comes down to love and community. There’s nothing I want more than a community based on love and support, the kind that comes from strong friendships and shared goals.

It’s love. It’s more than religion or politics. It’s love. Love is the stuff that makes the world go ’round. Love is the life force that drives us, that moves us, that picks us up and leaves us breathless. What kind of monster would you have to be to deny love? (As soon as I typed that, I started thinking of certain kinds of weird love that we should deny. But my point stands: between consenting adults, love – the kind of love that makes them want to commit to each other in the eyes of the law – is a beautiful, natural thing that should be revered, celebrated, shouted out, and respected.)

 

Edit: [Typing with long, reptile claw nails is ridiculously difficult. I’ve been making serious errors everywhere. If you were to somehow calculate correct usage of the English language and keep a chart of it, you’d see a sudden drop-off in exactness, or even near-ness. I feel like I’m just banging on the keyboard and hoping that words come out. Ugh. First world problems, I know. But seriously. Try it some time. Example – last night, I tried to unwrap a fresh cupcake. Could I do it? No. Weak. It was the ultimate in shame.]

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 Longing for Home

There are days when I wake up and my heart hurts. The sadness settles down around me, and the longing pangs begin. And they don’t go away – they are a dull ache of wanting that can’t be soothed by anything. I get online, and stare at pictures of the places that I came to love fiercely, and I pray that I never let the memories slip away.

I know they eventually will. The way to Long St. is obfuscated already. The way to Muizenberg Beach, however, will stay fused to the very core of my soul until the day that I die. And even then, I imagine it will refuse to let go.

South Africa is not my current home. It is not my birth place. It is not where I’ve spent a majority of my time. But parts of my heart linger there: on the scent of a fresh morning, on the sounds of crashing waves, in the metal of the chain that holds the gate together, in the sand. There are some things that you can never take away. There are some experiences, that no matter how brief, will leave you changed irrevocably.

The three months we spent in South Africa were comprised of sublime experiences: the disparity, the music, the nightlife, the sadness, the love. Yes, I was ready to leave when we left, but I swear, if I could somehow let you feel what I felt in the most magical moments, you’d understand.

Cape Town, South Africa

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa

On Business Trips and Existential Crises, Millennially

(TL;DR: 24-year-old girl emotional word vomit. So basically, what follows is some seriously grumpiness. Don’t read if you’re in a great mood. Don’t read if you hate millennial complaints. Don’t read if you’re Bruce Wayne – I essentially insult your power by comparing my power suit to your bat suit.)

I have just returned from my first business trip to New York City. I attended a big legal tech convention with my company. I had an absolute blast. Of course, in typical Katie Barry fashion, I failed to set an alarm and woke up incredibly late on my first morning there. I ran around, printing additional materials, and finally arrived in our booth. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they don’t kill me for the transgression, and I feel like an asshole, but other than that, I think the trip was a smashing success. I wandered the trade show floor, observing. I am far too timid and thus didn’t end up with any freebies (other than a football), but that may be for the best anyway. Who really needs a thousand pens and stuffed animals and flash drives?

I got to see Letterman taped! And Jason Bateman was on the show! I did the excited squeal that I make when I’m excited, and my co-worker looked at me like I was insane. Jason Bateman! Michael Bluth! Oh my god, so good. He had to retape his interview because they started talking about his daughter and it went to a very weird place – he sort of called her fat and it got super awkward. But I laughed so hard. It was so great.

I like being in front of the people. I like talking to people about what they need. I like talking to people in general. At one point yesterday, a man walked up to our booth and asked me what separates us from our competition. I blurted something out and he looked at my co-worker and said, “You should double her pay. That’s the quickest anyone’s been able to answer that question.” Even though he was not a serious potential client, I was thrilled. (It’s the little things. And don’t act like a little flattery doesn’t make your entire day some days.)

I spent the flight home in utter melancholy. Despondency. Severe emotional apathy. Thanks to my childhood, I have what I have termed a “mediocrity complex” in which my competency far outweighs my confidence. When I am confident and comfortable, I excel in whatever endeavor I choose to do. But for some reason, I’ve been hindered by the growing fears of my own inadequacy.

It’s holding me back – it’s stopping me from reaching my full potential. It’s miserable. I know this. I know that I am far more intelligent and capable than I could ever imagine, and yet, I stare at big projects, unwilling to start them because I’m terrified that something will go wrong. But I guess they’re not wrong when they say that everything worth happening happens outside your comfort zone.

I should just settle in and get comfortable with discomfort, because I am seriously determined not to be someone who just shows up. I want to be someone who kicks ass at what I do – and I want the people who I work for and with to be insanely impressed by my work and proud to have me as a team member.

I’ve been in this funk for a few months now. I can’t tell if the existential crisis I’m ensconced in is one that is the result of growing pains, or if it’s one that will lead me to seek growth. But either way, it’s brought my thoughts to a far more empty place than any of my previous quests for answers. It’s depressing, without depression, if that makes sense.

I no longer believe that I will find a person to truly love – that passionate idea of a soul mate has died and has been replaced by the reality that I find most men either incapable and boring or wildly pretentious and not life-experienced (they’re all such downers). I no longer have any idea what I’m passionate about (seriously. I mean, Game of Thrones counts, right?). I watch my friends as they do such great things – they volunteer, they work abroad, they are so much more whole people than I am – their accomplishments are starting to pile up, and yet, I don’t feel as though I can say the same. I no longer want children. That idea of that responsibility terrifies me. It’s this horrible stagnant circling – and the fear that I’m locked in a miserable holding pattern because I can’t think of one thing that I want. I do not want to internet date. I do not want to become a better snowboarder. I do not want to be tied to a cubicle for the rest of my life. (I mean, those “nots” are a start, right? Process of elimination? baby steps?)

It might be time to stop thinking about the future at all and start focusing – seriously focusing – on right now. I have a cat son who adores me, so there’s at least one thing I know I’m insanely good at it (snuggling and opening packets of wet cat food – okay, that’s two things). I am making new friends (whom I absolutely adore). I have managed to muddle along thus far, so perhaps I shall just keep on keepin’ on and see where I’m at in a month or so. Hopefully this panic that has been coursing through my veins and keeping me awake at night will settle soon. I’m tired. (Also, whiny never looks good on young ladies, so perhaps if I just shut up and think happy thoughts, happy things will follow.)

I also know that your twenties are at times terrifying and horrible – especially now that we’ve all coddled, terrified little people who want to think we’re young adults but are really just overgrown children – and perhaps this is one of those developmental milestones they write a thousand articles a year on. Perhaps this is the realization that eventually separates the “men from the boys,” so to speak in horrid gendered terms. But perhaps this is that kick in the pants where you have to realize that if you want something (oh god, what is that something? If only someone would just give me a freaking hint), you have to reach out and get it yourself. Ugh. Gumption. Courage. Candor. Capabilities. Potential. Here we go. (In case you can’t tell, I just typed words that feel good right now.)

On the plus side, I totally own a red business dress now. And it’s a damn good power dress. Maybe it’ll be like Batman and if you have the outfits, you’ll have the power. Hm. I’m going to stop now, obviously I’ve lost my mind and sleep will heal everything and I have some serious work to get done tomorrow.