On New Beginnings, Exuberantly

It always starts with a plan. I had a plan. Then, as per usual, something threw it. It came slowly, not with a bang but with a whimper. It began with the inkling of connection. I watched it grow, nurtured by endless hours of conversation, long hours spent on a porch swing, and adventures.

We met for drinks one night in May, just before my birthday. It was raining, and I was running late. I had forgotten to leave time to park, got turned around, walked a block out of my way, and then finally saw him, standing under an overhang. We talked for three hours that night, the typical first date interview. We talked about DOTA (for way too long – at one point he asked if we could talk about something else and at that moment, I could have crawled into a nerd hole and cowered forever), about Colorado, about whatever else. Honestly, I don’t remember. I texted my friend after and told her I thought I’d messed it up and that he wasn’t going to call me again.

Our second date was tacos. We drank wine on his porch then lingered in the hip waiting area for a space side-by-side at a communal table. I spent a good fifteen minutes of that dinner trying to figure out what it was that the girl across from me hated so much about the waitress or her drink; I never did figure it out.

By the time we went into our third date, we were both anxious. We’d each received exterior input about the other, and each had our own questions and concerns. When he brought it all up first, I was immediately relieved. We laid everything out on the table (metaphorically, it was a tiny table that could only hold our drinks and dinner plates and definitely could not not have withstood the weight of our conversation) that night. We lingered long after the meal was over; we had somewhere to be but no time constraints. The night was young and so were we. (I’ve just always wanted to say that, so thanks for bearing with me. Cringing is absolutely allowed; I’m doing it right now.)

That night, something changed. That night, it solidified. I took him to the goth bar, my very favorite place in Denver and a wonderful proving ground for prospective mates. He handled it beautifully. We slow danced, surrounded by a thrum of industrial house and adjacent a man who looked like he’d been copied and pasted from the video game that we both play. I remember smiling into his sweater as we danced, the proximity of him making me more aware of everything, including my own inability to dance and my sudden vulnerability. I pride myself on never being vulnerable, and there I was, fully covered but totally exposed. (Note: I just reread that and I completely understand how lame I sound….#noregrets.)

From there, the momentum built. There was a movie night, another dinner, a terrible attempt at playing DOTA together, a walk through the botanic gardens, a wedding reception (minus the ceremony), a baseball game, and my favorite part, long evenings spent blissfully unaware of the world as we swung back and forth like a slow pendulum on his front porch.

This is the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life. He knows everything about me. He still seems to want to know me and be with me. Parts of my brain that have been long-dormant are suddenly awake, thrilled by the prospect of use after such a long time. The curiosity has only increased, not just about him but about everything. Suddenly, my desire to know everything has been rekindled; it’s like my spirit has been prodded back to life.

I’ve been melting into the moment lately. That’s the best part — being fully in the moment. What is that? Why is that something I’m suddenly capable of doing? I can now sit in silence for the better part of three minutes…you’d be surprised; I know I am.

I knew it was a thing but I really knew it was a thing when he invited me over for dinner last week. He’d set a table with two places (and a tablecloth!) in the backyard; wine glasses, dinner plates, the whole nine yards…I guess the whole nine yards just included napkins and silverware, but you know, it was the most wonderful thing I’d seen. I went to put a bottle of wine in his fridge and then I saw it – green Jell-O. He’d remembered that I said I loved Jell-O with fruit in it (because I’m secretly not 27, I’m actually an 80-year old in disguise) and attempted to make it for me.

It never set. I laughed after he told me that he had a surprise for me, but felt bad because he knew I’d already seen it. My heart was doing tiny acrobatic flips inside my body. When we checked on the Jell-O some time later, it hadn’t set. I surmised that it must have been something to do with the pineapples in it, and the enzymes had prevented the gel from setting. I was still completely tickled. We put it in the freezer, and ended up slurpring up slush. It was magical.

I took him camping last weekend. That was going to be a make-it-or-break-it time for us, obviously, the first weekend away. I was nervous, but not overcome. We got stuck in horrendous traffic on the way up. We pitched our tent (poorly…my fault…it looked like a sad teepee….we corrected it on night number 2 and it actually looked like a tent…) and settled in. The whole weekend was blissful. We got to make beautiful campfires and smores (“Some more of what?”); I realized how much I need a treehouse and/or a mountain/nature hammock; we attempted to paddle across Georgetown Lake; and I got to learn a bit about rocks. .

I can’t explain to you what I’m feeling, because it’s all bubbling up inside of me and I’m content and calm and thrilled and hesitant and ecstatic all at once. This isn’t like anything I’ve done before; this is not the kind of dating I’m used to; this is right and easy and beautiful. It’s terrifying. My brain is alive with curiosity and the things I’ve yet to learn and the experiences I’ve yet to have.

I’m so happy to have found someone who’s on the same page with everything. Most things. He doesn’t listen to rap music before 5pm, which is something we’ll have to work on, because hip hop before noon is my jam.

I had a dream that I was too wild for him. My car was filled with those red plastic party cups, and when I opened my door, they spilled out everywhere. I kept denying that they were mine and he kept telling me that since they were in my car, they belonged to me (possession in 9/10s of the law). I woke up shaking. I told him about it and he told me that I am wild and that he likes that about me, and then he quoted Thoreau and said, “All good things are wild and free.” My heart soared.

This is something new and different; something wonderful and exciting. I love my beautiful life and I am so blessed. I don’t know where it will go, but I’m excited to see where it leads. I tried to explain to him that the world gives you exactly what you need when you least expect it, and I’m hoping I’m right.

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On the Law, Lawlessly

It’s no secret that our justice system is a weak and broken beast. The laws that govern us (to a certain extent) are the products of a demonstrated need, and yet they provide countless loopholes and the ever-present problem of interpretation. They are further proof that all things well intended suffer from equivalent potential for ill intent.

The laws we abide by are meant to provide us with a guide for living, but more than that, a guide for our own behaviors and interactions with others. The lure of the law lies in the illusion of safety that it provides, in the clear demarcation of right vs. wrong. However, the punishments imposed as a means of failure to follow the law, which once loomed over the populous as the ultimate deterrent, have lost their luster, their ability to strike fear into the hearts of citizens.

Why is that?

Well, part of the blame rests with lawyers. They’re intelligent creatures, capable of doing great good in the world, but they often turn into legislators and judges. Not that all legislators or judges are bad people (to be honest, I’d love nothing more than to hold court and render stunning opinions), but they can fall victim to the lure of their own convictions, disregarding the spirit of the law and the best interests of their constituents in favor of their own political advancement.

Part of the blame rests with the people, who call for more laws to be written in response to events that upset them. More laws don’t help clean up existing laws that aren’t working; instead, we find ourselves buried under the oppressive crush of laws that govern our every moment. The good news is that these laws contradict themselves in such a manner that if you have a proper legal team, you can throw enough chaos into the mix and walk away scot-free.

So while it may be illegal to kill someone, it’s not actually a firm black and white thing. Mitigating circumstances have long existed, of course, but now we’ve entered an era of self-righteous self-defense.

In Texas, it’s like this:

“The Texas provision authorizes deadly force not only to “retrieve stolen property at night” but also during “criminal mischief in the nighttime” and even to prevent someone who is fleeing immediately after a theft during the night or a burglary or robbery, so long as the individual “reasonably” thinks the property cannot be protected by other means.” – source here

This is why the internet now finds itself upset at Texas (that’s not new), enraged that a jury could find a man who killed someone not guilty by reason of shitty lawmaking and a thin defense that shouldn’t have held up. One of my lawyer friends applied reason (pssh, reason? This is Texas, there is no reason) to counter my annoyance by stating that it is the law, the lawmakers, and the jury who all did exactly what they were supposed to do here. The jury followed the law.

I see his point, but he’s wrong. It used to be legal to rape your wife. Just doing it because it’s the law doesn’t make me feel any better and it doesn’t make it right. As a juror, you’re obligated to follow the law, but have we not spent years debating whether or not we should be following the letter of the law or its spirit?

We live in a society that’s used to broad application of excuses as a way to escape punishment or to justify horrifying behavior (Patriot Act, anyone?). We live in a society that simultaneously glorifies pseudo-piety and hyper-masculine aggression. It’s a funny line between the righteous and the hypocrite, in the same way that the Pharisees were the paragons of virtue back in the day.

Regardless, here’s what happened in Texas:

Man is on Craigslist. Man hires escort to come over and hang out. Man is presumably excited – he “believes” that sex is going to occur. Escort comes over, no one comes. Man is upset about the lack of sex. He demands the money ($150) back from escort. Escort says no, gets into waiting car. Man shoots at the car, injuring escort. Escort dies some months later. Man is charged with murder. Man goes trial. Lawyers claim that it’s legal to shoot someone who’s absconding with your property. Jurors are idiots, rule not-guilty. Prosecutors are also idiots, should have shot holes through that defense. (See what I did there?)

That deadly force law is ridiculous and should never have been passed. At what point did lawmakers not see that this was going to be a terrible law? At what point did it come to pass that a dude who shoots an alleged hooker can walk away from it?

My suggestion was this:

I would like to see valuation limits (or minimums?) of property established so that even though it may be legal to use deadly force to recover stolen property, you won’t be able to use that as a weak defense for murdering someone over $150. I know, I know, “what is the value of a human life?”, “how can we quantify sentimental value?” and so on, but come on, killing an escort over $150 because she wouldn’t have sex with you should not be justifiably legal in any way.

And – going further – how did the defense justify that he had been robbed (thus giving him the theft that allowed him to shoot her) while still holding onto the fact that he just “believed” he was going to get sex. If at no point was sex an explicit part of the illicit deal, then there could be no theft because the services rendered (escorting – which I imagine to be really awkward hanging out in a mini dress with a fur draped around your neck) were the services initially agreed to. Wait, since prostitution is technically illegal (unless the escort decides to have consensual non-escort sex with you, of course), wouldn’t he have no right to shoot her under that law anyway? Doesn’t criminal activity negate other stuff? (Forgive me for my pathetic grasp of our legal system and its laws, it’s been a while.)

I’m going to withhold my calls for more laws and instead call for fewer laws. No law advocating street justice (deadly force for nighttime theft) should ever be passed. No man should feel that he has the right to take a human life over $150. Shit, I would have sent him a check for $200, the additional $50 for his humiliation. Problem solved. No person should believe that they have the right to take the life of another human being unless their own live is in immediate, indisputable danger. Self-defense should not apply when the victim is driving away from you. Or when they’re unarmed and in a car. Or when you’re upset that you didn’t get laid.

I’ve also got a million dollar idea. Evan thinks it’s dumb and dangerous, and he’s probably right, but wouldn’t this be awesome (in theory)?

I’m thinking that it would be awesome to be a street justice mediator. I’d be responsible for hearing cases where parties have disagreements that can’t be settled via normal legal channels but might result in violence if not addressed. They’d come to me for gang wars, turf disputes, drug-related complaints, and so on. I’d hear both parties and then render a decision. That decision would be concrete. They’d have to follow it.

That’s where the idea gets a bit murky. I feel as though street justice is problematic because of the fact that “your word is your bond” doesn’t really apply here. I’ve watched enough Game of Thrones of late (and read enough history, novels, and so on) to understand that you’re never safe, especially when you’re consorting with criminals. But – at the same time – it would be a pretty sweet gig. And hopefully it would result in fewer gang-related deaths. (Even though in actuality, it would probably just result in mine.)

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 Earth Day 2013, Sandily

Happy Earth Day 2013!

When we were little, Earth Day was a big deal. We did projects, and papers, and dioramas about Earth Day. Maybe I’m making that up, but I remember loving Earth Day. I looked forward to it. I think I imagined that my future self (which would equate to present me) would be this great planter of trees every year on Earth Day. To date, I have planted zero trees.

I did, however, rake my entire garden last weekend and plan on planting some things this year, so I feel like that’s a baby step in the right direction. Some day, we may be eating vegetables that I grew. I’m thinking tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, strawberries, basil, mint, and so on. In reality, it will most likely be a sad plot that starts out magnificent but ends up overgrown with weeds. But everyone does that at least once, right?

I may have no idea what I’m doing, but I have friends who know how to do this, so I imagine I can call on them to help assist me with planning, planting, and harvesting.

In the meantime, let’s focus on current ecological issues (of which there about ten billion). I was reading this article about building structures out of plastic bottles. Plastic bottles are great (not really – they’re terrible for the environment, but they’re ubiquitous), and they’ve been used in a ton of very ingenious ways such as providing light to homes and being used to help grow gardens inside.

However, reading about building structures out of plastic, all I could think about were the drawbacks. What about weather? What about security? How is the building going to hold up and be a strong structure going forward?

When I was in South Africa, one of the biggest problems in the townships (informal settlements) was the fact that the houses were built out of essentially reclaimed materials. The houses (some more shack than house) were built out of wood, sheet metal, plastic, anything and everything. The floors were often dirt, or dirt covered in carpeting. It’s hard to keep a place like that clean, but more than that, it’s hard to protect that sort of structure from the elements.

When a fire breaks out in a township, it’s often inside one of the homes. However, it’s nearly impossible to contain the fire based on a number of factors, including the lack of accessibility to running water, proximity to the other homes, and the materials from which the houses are constructed. When one house burns, it’s likely that the others around it are going to burn too, causing unnecessary damage and threatening human life.

The building project I visited was creating a house out of sandbags. These sandbags are laid down in a concrete foundation and eventually plastered or covered in concrete, creating a structure that is nearly impermeable, providing a safer structure that can withstand the elements.

This sandbag house is such a wonderful idea because it makes use of the ubiquitous sand that’s found in and around the Cape Flats where many of these townships are located. It’s cheap to buy the concrete mix and the bags for the sand, and with some community involvement and a little planning, a building can be built relatively quickly and very cheaply. Even better? It’s not flammable like the other houses, offering protection in case of a rapidly spreading fire.

Below is the article that I wrote while I was there, that was published in the Cape Chameleon, the publication of the Projects Abroad journalism project. I think it’s important to highlight sustainable building because it can help draw attention to solutions for problems that badly need solving.

Houses of Sand

THE FUTURE OF ECO-BUILDING

Issue No.52010

Words: Katherine Barry

A pile of charred wood is all that’s left of the shacks. The sand where they sat is littered with burned belongings: a blackened Bible, an office chair, clothes no longer usable. The metal sheets that had once been walls have been salvaged, taken for use in new shacks, the obviously burnt edges blending in amongst the rust.

The first fire broke out three weeks before in the same shack that would be the ignition point of the second fire, which would tear through the informal settlement of Village Heights in Cape Town, depriving 15 families of their homes.

Fires in informal settlements – like Village Heights – represent one of the biggest dangers of living in such a community. Even with attempts to build with space on all sides, fires such as the one that destroyed those 15 shacks can spread quickly since the materials used to construct the homes are highly flammable and unregulated.

‘It was better under apartheid,’ says Bernadine, the community leader who has created and maintained the Village Heights library, and who is the recipient of the first Projects Abroad sandbag house in South Africa. ‘At least then we all had our own homes and jobs. Now we have nothing.’

Government response

According to residents, after the first fire the government offered four wooden posts, five pieces of metal and some grounding plastic as a replacement. However, the metal went to the construction of a roof and the residents were left to use plastic to create walls. During the second fire, a woman was badly burned when the plastic melted onto her skin.

Proper housing is something that many people living in South Africa lack, for a multitude of reasons, including long waiting times after application for government housing. ‘I’ve been on a waiting list for twenty-one years,’ says one woman who lost her home in the fire. ‘My daughter is 20 now.’ She went on to detail her experience, saying that she makes regular visits to go check on the status of her application, only to be told that she is indeed still on the list, but that no further information can be released about the status of the application.

While debates rage about governmental involvement and personal contribution for houses, the issue remains that people lack proper living quarters. Residents of the informal settlements around Cape Town and throughout South Africa are forced to create homes using materials that they can find, salvage, or buy, resulting in homes that often lack even basic features such as a floor. Security measures are an afterthought as well, allowing for criminal activity to flourish in the crowded neighbourhoods. Where to go from here?

Sand is nearly ubiquitous in Cape Town and the surrounding areas. It also might present a feasible solution to the problem of the shack homes in the ever-expanding informal settlements. Filling bags with sand and then stacking them within a frame can create a solid structure that is built both efficiently and quickly.

Beginning with materials, construction with sandbags can be a cheap alternative to traditional building methods. Since all that is needed to build a sandbag structure are bags, sand, cement and wooden and metal framing, the cost drops significantly due to the lack of construction equipment needed. No cranes, no stacks of bricks and no heavy vehicles entering or leaving the construction site.

20% of the materials need to be allocated for the construction of the frame of the sandbag building, but there is a certain amount of flexibility as to what those might be – including the use of wood or tin. Bricks can be used as well, but in order to maintain the eco-friendly atmosphere, they should only be implemented if they are within reach to avoid the entrance of trucks and other machinery in to the site.

Benefits of sand building

This cost-effective creation is incredibly ecofriendly. Since most of the building can be done with materials found on-site, the need for waste is nearly eliminated. This waste elimination plays a large factor in the ecofriendly nature of the sandbag buildings.

Builders who choose to use sandbag building as an alternative to conventional construction methods also stand to gain carbon credits for their choices. Carbon credit programmes offer financial incentives for companies to build in keeping with the ‘green’ trends and for waste elimination and recycling of materials.

This waste elimination and recycling process, presents an opportunity for those who are economically disadvantaged. By being able to build effectively and also save money, they can increase community bonds and safety.

Structural soundness

Besides being fireproof, the sand structures also present an element of soundproofing not found in the corrugated iron structures, which currently make up most of the homes in the townships and informal settlements in the Cape Town area.

They are also not easy to deconstruct or demolish, in essence creating a lasting home that won’t be victim to natural disasters such as flooding or tornadoes. The solidity of the sand as it is packed and stacked neatly to create walls allows for an element of indoor climate control that supersedes that provided by the corrugated structures as well. The sand essentially insulates the home, keeping it warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

Spreading the word

The surmountable caveat to sand building is that it is not well known as a possible method for creating homes. The newly homeless fire victims had never heard of sandbag building when asked about it, yet were curious as to how it might work. They eagerly agreed that the community would want to be involved in such a building plan, given the right materials.

Based on the readily available materials and the community mentality that many of the neighbourhoods have, it seems that if sandbag structures could catch on, they might make a wonderful improvement for communities who are underfunded and under protected.

Projects Abroad began constructing their first sandbag house at the site of the Village Heights Library in August of 2010. While normally the construction of such a building (one room) would take less than a month, due to staggered volunteer arrivals, the project has continued for more than three months. Nevertheless, the house is beginning to take shape.

Bernadine hopes to show off the building project as a model of sustainable building. As of the beginning of December, the structure was complete and the roof had been added and finalisation of the exterior decoration was beginning. The hope is that the building will remain a long-standing testament to the possibility of creation from local materials and community involvement.

The project supervisor – Deen Singh – remains optimistic that the sandbag building will be used for the betterment of the community. He explained that everything must be done to help the children. The building has been designated for use in a crèche, or a childcare centre, one that will hopefully create a safe haven for children from all over Village Heights. Currently there are five volunteers working on the building. Rick, a German volunteer, feels that the building he is helping to construct will last, showing immediate change in the place that he came to volunteer. ‘It’s nice to leave something behind,’ he said.

Perhaps this sandbag building can be a model of change for a community that is desperate for change, but lacking the resources with which to create it.

On Fifty Shades of Gray Areas of Rape, Legitimately Angrily

WARNING: This post may contain triggers related to sexual assault and rape.

Note: For the purposes of this post, I’m using “rape” as an umbrella term to cover all things sexual assault. I’m also focusing particularly on heterosexual sexual assault (say that three times fast). These are an attempt to generalize my discussion of rape/sexual assault and to hopefully make it so that I don’t have to qualify every statement I make.

***

Part of eliminating our oppressive rape culture is attempting to take back the power that comes out of experiences of sexual assault. We’ve seen it with the “Slutwalks,” where women dress in provocative clothing and assert that the way that they are dressed is not an invitation for rape. We see it in the social media postings of rape victims who refuse to stay silent about their experiences.

However, we see the rape culture pushing back. We see women being expelled from colleges because they took action against a rapist (and by “action,” I mean “reporting the rape to the proper authorities through the proper channels”). We see families in other countries cloaked in shame, ostracized from their own communities because a female family member was raped. Was raped. Passive. Rapists rape a woman and then her family is left out in the cold? How fucked up is that?

We see women afraid to take action after a sexual assault for fear of being labeled as a liar or a slut. We see women’s sexual pasts dragged up to the forefront of discussions. We see their behavior critiqued, every action dissected for proof that the woman is really a wanton whore who begged for sex and then regretted it later.

That’s bullshit. Yes, again, there are women who do “cry rape” (much like crying wolf). Yes, those women give all women a bad name and undermine progress because it’s come to the point now that every rape victim is arguably essentially guilty of crying rape until proven raped. That is the single most damaging thing, because rape is already one of the most under-reported crimes.

I read this post from the Ms. magazine blog last night. It’s about whether or not you should out your rapist – that is, speak publicly about them and release their name.

After I finished it, I couldn’t stop thinking about Todd Aikin’s “legitimate rape” comments that set our feminist hearts ablaze late last year. And you know what? They finally make sense. (Actually, what he said will never make sense or be in any way correct.) But “legitimate rape” is really hard to define, and to someone who’s never had to go through any experience that falls on the rape spectrum, the gray areas of rape may seem a little silly.

The gray areas of rape are the areas where “legitimate rape” can’t be defined. One man’s idea of “just some fun” may be the beginning of a woman’s trip to the brink of hell, a trip into the darkest places of human consciousness, where there is nothing left but pain and hopelessness. Todd Aikin, I’m using you as my example because your words are haunting me, but have you ever walked to edge of hell and been swallowed by it? If not, then you are hardly qualified to tell me or any others that the gray areas of rape don’t exist.

Outing your rapist isn’t always possible, particularly when it falls into the deepest of the gray areas, a place consumed by shadows of doubt. Sometimes, your rapist may be an acquaintance. Sometimes, the risks of speaking out outweigh the pain of staying silent.

Reading Professor Steve Landsburg’s post about being sexually assaulted while unconscious sickened me. Granted, it was ultimately a question of behavior and morality, but I’m still appalled at that lack of respect for a victim’s experiences, memory of it or no. Sure, no harm, no foul, Steve. Sexual assault upon a victim who won’t know about it is a win-win for all. (Not.) Fuck you.

The worst part is not knowing. The worst part is that some victims of sexual assault will never know what happened. You’re telling me that waking up naked with eleven hours of your memory wiped clean from  your mind is a no harm, no foul situation? Fuck you. The consequences of “some fun” aren’t the same for you – and yes, perhaps you are spared the searing memories of violence and forcible penetration – but the shame and fear and lingering doubts are in no way less traumatic.

Did sex ever happen? The victim doesn’t know. Was I drugged? The victim doesn’t know. Am I okay? No. Will I ever be okay? The victim doesn’t know. What happened? “We just had some fun,” he says. The victim doesn’t know what that means, may not be able to find the words to ask. May not want to ask.

Victims of sexual assault are cloaked in shame; their experiences are automatically invalidated by claims of “she was asking for it” and “she did this to herself” and “she’s not a paragon of virtue” and so on.

I was reading a facebook post by a man who claimed that “Men don’t stop rape by not raping,” but I beg to differ. That’s the most simple step. That’s the first step. Men can help stop rape by not raping. They can help stop rape by ensuring that they’ve received appropriate consent. They can help stop the cycle of rape culture by accepting their own end of responsibility for their actions. All too often, it is the women who are left to suffer the psychological and physical damages of sexual assault and the men who walk away unscathed, free from consequences.

When the victim is sliding a blade across her thigh because she doesn’t have any tears left and she’s desperate to make the pain stop, is she in any way better off than someone who’s been “legitimately raped”? No.

“Legitimate rape” may be the easiest rape to see and define and fight against, but the gray areas of rape are very real. They don’t exist solely in the ivory theories of academia. They are the secrets that people carry closest to their hearts. They are the painful experiences that shape people, that kill the safest parts of their souls.

You can’t out a rapist when there’s no proof of rape. You can’t do anything. It’s the ultimate in powerlessness. It’s clever (on the part of the rapist) and it’s horrible. You don’t know if anyone will believe you. You don’t want people to think less of you. So you stay silent. But you are not alone. You’re not alone at all. Hopefully that notion will save the women who are being swallowed up by the darkest circles of hell, who can’t see anything bright ahead of them, who wonder if the pain and shame and questions will ever stop.

We’ve spent far too long pushing these issues under the rug. We’ve spent far too long assuming that the justice system will take care of the problem, that we are not culpable or complicit in our perpetuation of rape culture.

It needs to end. I don’t know where I stand on the ethics of  publicly naming your rapist, but I do know that we need to stop shushing our victims. Where is the support? Where is the outrage? Where are the people who feel that respect and responsibility are attainable and within reach?

Oh yeah, they’re stuck in the gray areas. They’re stuck in the places where the light of social justice doesn’t quite reach. They’re marginalized, quieted, ignored. It’s time to stop victim blaming, shut shaming, and virtue preaching (I’m looking at you Foster Friess, you Bayer aspirin asshole), and time to start supporting, educating, and validating each and every one of these experiences. That is how we move forward.

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 the State of the Church, Heretically

I’m really not sure why I hate the Pope so much. It’s not all Popes, just Benedict. (Fun fact: John Paul II and I have the same birthday, which we share with Tina Fey. Yeah, I’d be jealous of me, too.)

Benedict was always too conservative for the good of the Church – the tide of losses in both your youth and already established bases isn’t going to be helped by electing a Pope whose hypocrisy and lack of transparency serve to make the Catholic Church the butt of jokes the world over while alienating many of the faithful with your antiquated catechism and refusal to adapt to modernity. I’m not wrong here.

Don’t sit there thinking, “Oh, but tradition!” (In your best internal British accent…for some reason.) I think it’s high time we called Vatican III and sorted this out. I really think we can do something about the issues plaguing Catholics around the world. Also, a good shaking up in the ranks of the Cardinals wouldn’t be the worst thing. They’ve gotten far too comfortable.

The Church has gone through some rough periods after missteps by its leaders. However, the Church carries on – but it’s up to its leaders to make sure that the Church stays on the right moral path. (Think of the souls currently rotting in hell – if there is one – because they thought their purchased indulgences would save their souls. The Church definitely got the last laugh there – tons of cash money and a less-crowded VIP section heaven.)

My prescription for the Church: 1. Vatican III 2. A pope from either Africa or Central/South America. 3. A pope who’s not approaching octogenarian status. Just a thought.

Additional reading: These two articles made me laugh this morning, contributing to my excellent mood.

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.