On Long-Awaited Life Updates, Determinedly

Oh man, life is indeed a roller coaster.

I’ll do the briefest of brief updates, just because I can’t go back and catch up on everything.

– The last spring snowstorm we had in Colorado cracked two of my tree branches in our backyard. I was heartbroken. I loved that tree because of its crooked branches. The boys spent an entire afternoon taking down the tree branches, which had narrowly missed power lines. My backyard is a bit more naked, but I’m grateful that I still have part of my tree. 

We keep joking that we’re going to make a treehouse out of a boat and put it in the tree. As we walk around our neighborhood, I get exited every time I see a boat, no matter how ridiculous it might be to image it in our tree. Boyfriend remarked sarcastically to my mom the other day that having a boat in the tree is a great idea because it’s clearly so structurally sound.

– My recovery from the torn EHL tendon has been slow. I have regained about 50% of the movement. I am now a full 8 weeks post surgery. I am working on keeping my foot protected but also trying to get it to do some movement on its own. I was finally cleared to leave the boot two weeks ago! I have some nasty looking scars, and I’m not convinced I’ll ever have full movement back, but I’m alive. And I can sort of wiggle my toe.

– I lost my job two weeks ago. Long story short – bad business practices and disagreements about my working conditions (they wanted me full-time back in the stores due to nearly a dozen people quitting; I cannot be on my feet full-time, nor do I want to be). I filed for unemployment, which they told me they would not contest. Heartbroken again. I had been finally really starting to enjoy myself but also to utilize my strengths as a leader and as someone who wanted what was best for all of the stores.

— Boyfriend and I are thinking about moving to Mississippi. It’d be more of a study-abroad deal for me, since it’s going to be such a huge culture shock. He’d be pursing a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics or similar and I’d be after a Master’s in Public Policy and Administration.

I feel that Mississippi is a state in dire need of help on a very real and large scale, and that my involvement there would be a fantastic kick-start to a rewarding career in public policy of all kinds. (Non-profit administration also stems from this degree, and over the years, I’ve come to realize that it’s something I’d love to do.)
The reason that the Public Policy and Administration program intrigues me is because it is the only Master’s degree that really encompasses my loves of government, social issues, writing, and law, while furthering my drive to make a lasting difference in our world.
I’m hoping that this degree will help me sharpen my leadership and communication skills, but also allow me to participate fully in the community in the most effective way.
— I lost my car keys. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I lost my car keys. Like, gone. MIA. Nowhere to be found. I am so frustrated. We went to Costco the other day, and I came home and opened the door and we haven’t seen them since. I have torn my car and house apart to no avail. I am waiting. If they don’t turn up by Monday, I must have my car towed to a dealership so they can make me a new key.
— Acorn is definitely part shepherd. He plays basketball. It’s the most adorable thing I’ve seen in a long time. He comes with us to a school by our house, or a park close by, and runs around while we (usually the boys, only sometimes me) play basketball. He’ll play defense and try to get the ball from you, he’ll bark while he’s waiting for the rebound, and he’ll jump up to get it. Once he gets it, he’ll shepherd it around the court until he gets bored with it. He’s just like Air Bud, sort of!
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On Quarter-Life Crises, Existentially

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

On 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 the Weekend Recap, Productively

This weekend passed far too quickly, but it was wonderful.

On Friday night, I met my friends Jacob and Gina for dinner at my favorite Thai place. It used to be two blocks from my apartment, but now that I live across town, I don’t get there nearly often enough. (Order is always the same: an order of crab-cheese wontons with extra house sauce, pineapple curry, medium. Jacob and I usually share a bottle of their house red wine, too.)

Then I went to a friend’s soccer game. Well, sort of. His roommate and I ended up waiting forever for food, so we missed everything but the last two minutes of the game. (Oops.) I spent all of Saturday doing nothing on the couch – it was amazing. I never get days to do nothing, so doing nothing felt so good.

We always joke that I would make a terrible housewife since I’m not well-versed in the art of cooking. Or cleaning. My friends had a joint birthday party on Saturday night, and it was a snack potluck. In the middle of panicking about what to bring, I decided on bacon-wrapped, cream cheese-stuffed jalapenos, because everyone loves those. I went to the store, bought a bunch, made a bunch – it took forever – and then brought them to the snack potluck. They were a huge hit, which pleased me greatly.

Here’s a semi-gross picture of the final product:

Bacon wrapped cream cheese stuffed jalapenos

The party was awesome – there was so much food. Gina made the most delicious carrot cake I’ve ever tasted, then we made cream cheese frosting for it. We ended up with two cakes – one that said “Happy Birthday” and then another that said “Erica and Justin.”

My Dairy Queen cake-writing skills transferred nicely to the house party setting. I wasn’t so terribly thrilled with my handwriting, but it was suitable and made them happy, so I’m not complaining.

On Sunday, I worked. I feel like we’re staffed by a seriously high percentage of over-qualified people, and I’m grateful for it. A lot of us have been there forever, too, so we’ve known each other for years. It makes work interesting and reminds me how important it is to have a cohesive team. My friend Evan has graduated from college and is back at Dairy Queen awaiting word on some jobs that he wants to do – in the meantime, he’s got a bunch of qualifying tests to take, so we spent Sunday afternoon playing with words and quizzing each other.

At one point, my junior high math and social studies teacher came in. She didn’t recognize me (thank G-d). She caused me much grief during those fragile, hormone-addled years, and I hate her for it. (Seriously embarrassing but somehow hilarious story – when I was in 7th grade, I didn’t get into the “fast track” math section that would do Algebra in 8th grade. I got stuck in the “slow track” section that did two years of pre-algebra. When I found out the news, I stood at the window of the classroom, fighting back tears. A few months ago, I found myself sobbing – absolutely breaking down – on my therapist’s couch about that incident. It somehow totally changed my ability to see myself as intelligent, and I had no idea that I’d been carrying it around with me for so long. In the middle of my crying, I turned to my therapist and sobbed, “You can’t make this shit up,” to which he responded by laughing so hard his body shook – while apologizing for laughing. He wasn’t wrong. It’s funny, sad, and true, all at once.) So, of course, rather than stand by my co-worker while he rang up her purchases, I did the mature thing and went to the back – where no customers can see – and busied myself with some unnecessary task until she’d left and it was safe to go back up front.

I went to Jacob’s belated holiday party last night. It was fun. I didn’t know anyone, so I tried to muster up the energy to be social and make small talk. It was good – I was bubbly and talkative for a while, but then was saved when my friend’s roommate texted me and asked me if I would edit a paper for him. (I love to read people’s papers.)

Tonight is my weekly girls’ night with Emily – we watch the show GIRLS on HBO (she DVRs it for us); we cook dinner; we drink wine; we do our nails; we bake something. It’s a surprisingly low-key and very calming way to start the week. I’m excited. Tonight we’re making chili.

On Stumbling, Stubbornly

It happens less frequently now, most likely due to a conscious effort to subdue such thoughts, but every now and again I’m struck by a period of existential crisis which leads to panicky thoughts, hastily hatched life plans, and morose moments spent in soon-to-be tepid bath water, reading material thrown aside and all my focus directed on pink toes turning the taps.

Those toes breaking the surface of bath water form the basis of the physical memories of each experience, but it is the rapidly firing thoughts that mark the turn from “keep on keeping on” to “panic” in my existence. I spent a lot of time questioning everything as an adolescent (to wit, I had a “Question Authority” bumper sticker hanging in my room – right next to my Kerry/Edwards bumper sticker and an Anti-Flag album – oh adolescence). The questioning led me to beliefs that I still carry today, and to the realization that some questions are better left unanswered.

The goals of my early introspection were far grander than they are now. Then, I was determined to seek love and beauty in all things, in the naive belief that arriving at the correct answer would be as simple as stumbling in the right direction with enough stubborn determination.

Now that I am older, immersed in a world that is far more complicated than I could have ever imagined, I see that the root problem revolves around conviction. Convincing yourself of something can be difficult, although true growth requires conviction to move in a singular direction (or perhaps many singular directions simultaneously).

I spend time now mired in the “what if?”, and endless stretches of point and counter-point conversation with myself. I can convince myself of the correctness of both sides of any argument, and it’s that ability that holds me back. How can I move with conviction if I’m not convinced myself?

Which brings me to my current crisis, which has been simmering under the surface for longer than I’d like to admit. It’s terribly important, and yet it isn’t, if that makes any sense at all. It’s the ennui of the daily grind, I think, the realization that I’ve lost focus on the bigger grander scheme of things in favor of survival now. I’ve lost a part of me that is essential to me. I’ve let go of certain dreams in favor of the moment, and even though it is living the moment that keeps us alive, it is also important to chase dreams.

It’s funny how quickly survival now can turn into tunnel vision. It’s not just “now” in the immediate sense, but also now in the same way we used now in Africa – now can be immediate, or it can be later. It could be at any point from now into the future. Survival now for me has become an endlessly repetitive schedule of work, work some more, maybe see some people, date, pay bills, don’t think about anything but this week or next.

But what I’ve lost, or misplaced, is perspective. Perhaps not perspective exactly, but the ability to remove myself – whether it’s objective introspection or a wild fantasy world. It’s the thoughts, the curiosity, the wonder that used to keep me feeling alive. It’s the drive to know everything about everything. I’ve somehow managed to separate me from my future self, and in doing so, I’ve somehow disconnected the forward progress, I think. But maybe that’s overstating it.

I think that I’ve gotten so bogged down with everyday stress and responsibility that I’ve lost the wonder that used to fill me. I often write about wishing that I had time to be bored, and yet, when confronted with time unfilled with obligations, I find myself so overwhelmed by the possibility that I fill it up as quickly as possible.

I was shocked when I read this article in The Atlantic about online dating, because it struck a chord with me. Not necessarily all of it, but the idea that there’s always something else waiting made me start to think about how I approach much of my life. They discuss “perceived alternatives” as one of the three factors that affect satisfaction in a relationship, and it got me thinking, both about dating but also about my own perceptions of alternatives.

I imagine my future self as being entirely different from the person I am today, which is silly, because as I age, I grow increasingly aware of the fact that I am and always will be myself (this is an overwhelmingly positive thing as I’m only growing more and more happy with who I am). Yet, if this is the case and I’ve got my mind constantly focused on the intangible elsewhere that is the “perceived alternatives”, how is it that I’m supposed to start building the foundation for the rest of my life? It’s not something that can be done subconsciously – arguably yes, but is that the sort of foundation you want?

I know that my disconnect is not uncommon. I know that approaching something looming ahead of you as large as the rest of your life is not something to approach all at once. It must be resolved in small chunks. Baby steps, if you will. (You will.)

I think the restlessness might be growing pains, the terror of assuming responsibility for everything you are and the desire to have the fullest life possible. I spent most of last year working on my own perception of myself, and I think that beautifully positive pseudo-metamorphosis is causing me to reach for more and question the path I’ve found myself on for some time now – the path of immediacy, the path of stability, the path of desperate independence. I have achieved my short-term goals: stable employment, home ownership, savings and a retirement account, and of course, my sense of self has been strengthened and renewed. Now, I want more.

I am looking for more knowledge. For more passion. For more wonderment. For new experiences. I am looking to continue the growth period and extend it – ultimately fusing the ideal of my future self into the absolute reality that is current me. I have spent the last decade learning how to live, how to be alive (here I pause to say that living and being alive are two different things, mostly), how to fully embrace myself as a human being and I think it may be time to return to my origins as a know-it-all fascinated by all things in the world around me.

It hadn’t occurred to me that it was intellectual curiosity that was missing until I sat next to a guy on a date and watched as he explained a theorem to me. I realized that I was absolutely fascinated, and even as I yawned against him, exhausted, I was desperate for more. My brain, it seems, has not forgotten what it feels like to learn. It is as though the connections that used to fire so rapidly, the very same connections I long ago set aside in favor of experience, yearn to fire again, to make sense of things, to connect.

I think this time it may be as simple as starting off in search of knowledge that will lead me where I ultimately need to go. I have built the foundation that I needed, created the security that I sought, and now I can push forward, confident in my own abilities. Perhaps I was not wrong about stumbling stubbornly in the right direction all those years ago.

On Irony and Millennial Rage, Pointedly

I am a Millennial. I live in the age of technology, apathy, and stagnancy. I find myself, for some reason, oddly incensed when I read articles decrying the state of our Millennial generation and the effect we’ll have on the future.

One of my friends posted a link to a New York Times op-ed piece called “How to Live Without Irony” on his facebook wall. I, being the curious creature that I am, clicked on it. And I’ve been in a Millennial fury ever since.

The article focuses on irony as the “ethos of our age” and discusses hipsters as “the archetype of ironic living.” Before I even begin, I must state that I believe that the sort of hipster that the author, Ms. Wampole, is describing is a sort of hipster that we only see in stereotyped form – the sort of hipster that she imagines is the sort of hipster that died out the minute Urban Outfitters opened its first store, just as the emo movement of my teens trickled into black nothingness after a few years of outpourings of softened masculinity and affectation of grief stemming from the loss of nothing concrete.

(The cover image of the article shows two hip-looking twenty-somethings wearing Justin Bieber shirts, ironically. I know plenty of hipsters and I’ve never once seen a single one of them wearing any sort of pop star t-shirt, save for Ben, the South African grad student who owns a Britney Spears t-shirt but genuinely loves her. That’s not irony; that’s adoration.)

The author goes on to describe the acceptance of such an ironic life as being something easily mocked and lacking individuality, the ability to gift sincerely, communication skills, and an aversion to risk.

She’s right on the count that it’s easy to mock hipsters. But that’s not really a point. It’s easy to mock most groups, so long as you’re not a part of them. Ms. Wampole admits that the reason she’s so irked by hipsters is that “they are….an amplified version of me.” I’m not sure what she means by this, although she goes on to point out that she, just like hipsters, finds it hard to gift sincerely.

This is bullshit. Maybe you, Ms. Wampole, are just a terrible gift-giver. Yes, it’s terrifying to work really hard on a present that someone might hate, but that’s part of being alive. (Do you also not date because you’re afraid of rejection?) I know hipsters who gift-give insanely well – I own two eye patches and a pair of man-pants, neither given ironically, and all three things appreciated intensely.

I have no idea where the author is getting the idea that hipsters can’t gift sincerely. Oh, wait, perhaps she’s thinking Urban Outfitters, which is hipster gift central, but again, way too mainstream for authentic hipsters. (You’ll find them in the boutiques that I’m terrified to enter – because instead of finding acceptance and awesome things, I find condescending glares from the pierced staff and faces full of disgust.)

The teenagers who buy the brass knuckles mug for $17.99 (I’m making that price up) aren’t buying in to hipsterism and ultimately embracing irony as their ethos; they’re buying it because they want to feel badass. They want to feel adult. They want to feel like a unique consumer.

Same goes for the dude who’s in the Puma store buying a pair of sweet track shoes. Or the new bride in Anthropologie spending a ridiculous amount of her newly created joint back account on a bathrobe or a pretty, lace-lined dress. They want to feel unique. They want to exude the air of quality, or expensive taste, or maturity through purchasing power. Those people aren’t hipsters, or maybe they are. But it doesn’t matter. Because at the end of the day, it’s not the ironic life that anyone is buying into.

This is in no way a new thing. Expression of self through material expression is the ultimate in statements. The fashion industry thrives not because we need couture. It thrives because the clothes we wear ultimately send signals to our peers about who and what we are.

Judith Butler (my favorite feminist theorist, don’t judge me) writes about a concept that I’ve hung on to: the idea that all individuals are always dressing in drag. This means, essentially, that what we wear and how we put ourselves together is all a performance. For example, I usually wear jeans and a sweatshirt to work. Today, I’m wearing dress pants and a nice shirt. My co-workers are all like, “Laundry day?” because me dressed up is usually my signal that it’s time to wash my clothes. But no, today I’m wearing dress pants because we’re closing on our house (eek!) and I want to give off the appearance that I’m totally calm and put together (I’m not).

Everything we do and own is performance, and I think the author would do well to remember that the idea of “heteronormative drag” goes much further than the Brooklyn hipsters.

It is my contention that the expression of irony through statement t-shirts, and other ironic, or potentially outdated fashions is merely a cultural commentary, and a rejection of the bubblegum pop materialism that we Millennials came of age in.  (Ms. Wampole seems to forget that fashion is cyclical – I would kill for some more vintage dresses. Think 50s housewife. The lines look good on me, and accentuate my almost non-existent curves. I don’t want them to make feminist statements; I want them because I feel good in them.)

I don’t think that it’s so much “nostalgia for times he never lived himself” so much as it is the rejection of consumerism as a whole – for example, the move toward bicycles signals a conscious attempt to provide quicker pedestrian transportation, particularly in cities. It’s practical and functional, and people want to deck out their bicycles the same way they want to put fuzzy dice in their cars (but shouldn’t).

I can’t (and won’t) speak to fixed-gear bicycles because they terrify me. My dad gifted me his 1973 road bike (with gears and brakes, thankfully) for my birthday a couple of years ago – not because I was feeling nostalgic for the damn time in which the bike was created, but because I rode on the bike when I was a baby; I think it’s sweet; and it was free. Perhaps they signal some sort of accomplishment, as in, “yeah, you see this baby, it has no brakes. I’m a badass.” Again, I think that’s what people really want. It’s the cycling equivalent of a Tesla Roadster.

I grew up in an age marked by plastic and glitter and things made of glittering plastic. I think that the hipster mentality is rooted in a desire to embrace the bright colors but simplistic design and clean lines of times past, when furniture was for function rather than overly artistic design for the sake of overly artistic design. (Think of McMansions and the glittering, faux-crystal chandeliers. It’s not that the hipster is rejecting quality, but they’re rejecting the pretense that “all that glitters is gold.”)

Of course, I must address mustaches. I’m personally terrified of facial hair. I think it’s weird. On some people, it looks great, but I don’t want to wake up next to the remnants of last night’s sweet handlebar mustache. I don’t want to date a guy who spends more time on his mustache than I do on my hair. I don’t get hipster mustaches. And I am critical of them. But heck, I’m critical of Bump-Its, too.

I think Ms. Wampole is correct when she says, “Throughout history, irony has served useful purposes, like providing a rhetorical outlet for unspoken societal tensions.” But she’s wrong to say that our “contemporary ironic mode is somehow deeper; it has leaked from the realm of rhetoric into life itself. This ironic ethos can lead to a vacuity and vapidity of the individual and collective psyche.”

I do believe that outwardly, the display of the ironic is more present than at most points in history. But again, I contend that it stems from not only access to social media and all things internet-based and it also stems from a sort of cultural shift that’s happening. We’re frustrated and stagnant, and it seems that no amount of pushing and shoving is allowing this generation to get out of the critical gaze of our elders. I feel as though we can honestly do no right. I’ve attended webinars that focus solely on how to manage Millennials, webinars that criticize but neglect to touch on the benefits that we may have. We may lack social interaction skills, but I think that with enough mentoring and practice, we’d all be more than proficient. (I exchanged recipes with a middle-aged businessman at the last trade show I attended. I don’t think I sat there the whole time buried in my phone. I was terrified, but I stood, hands folded in front of me, smiling and making small talk. Success.)

(Something for middle-aged readers to remember: did you start out in middle-management? No? You started out as a kid in an ill-fitting suit who had no idea what was expected of you? Oh, really. Hmmm…perhaps you’d like to share your experiences and some tips with the young kids in your office. Perhaps you could each benefit from a relationship. I bet they’d be willing to teach you about a lot of things, not just pop culture references. I always say that one of the things I’m most grateful for is the fact that I’m the youngest by 18 years in my office. I’ve had such beautiful opportunities to learn and grow, both personally and professionally. And I’ve also contributed to the environment in which I work. I bring enthusiasm, perspective, and humor. I’d argue that we’ve all benefited.)

Is our move toward silly expression really just a reaction to the overwhelming burden that’s been placed on us? As a Millennial, I’m constantly met with statistics that are wildly incorrect. They tell me that I’m not civic-minded or politically engaged. These are distinctly false. I am both civic-minded and an informed voter. (I think the pollsters would do best to stop interviewing 18-year old high school graduates, for I think that all rational thought at 18 is not necessarily the rational thought that those same people will possess a mere five years later.) I’m constantly facing the news that I’m going nowhere, that I’m ill-prepared to lead a productive and sustainable life, that I’m vapid and moronic. I have news for you: I’m none of those things. And I resent it.

Perhaps I am a bit sensitive, the hallmark of my generation. We were so coddled and loved and adored, but that’s the fault of our parents, the generation that moved to the suburbs and embraced materialism as a marker of success and eschewed happiness in favor of social status. (Oh she’s shifting blame! Quick, get her!)

I’m not shifting blame entirely. I do know plenty of people who aren’t half as self-sufficient as I am. I know plenty of Millennials who lack the drive and focus. But can’t you say the same for people in your own generation?

Ms. Wampole describes us as a “self-infantilizing citizenry,” and I think she’s wildly incorrect. We are not that. We are driven, determined, and yes, stagnant. Our under-employment and over-educated minds are frustrated. Our loans are crippling and our credit scores sick with over-exertion and exhaustion. We work jobs and jobs and jobs, until we are exhausted, mentally and physically. And yet, we hope.

Just as Ms. Wampole says she did in the 90s (mind you, she’s really only 3 years removed from this pathetic generation of Millennnials and hipsters, so perhaps the fact that she sees some of us in her is based in proximity alone). We hope for better for ourselves. Not necessarily materialistically better, but better. We hope for many things – a government of the people, by the people, and for the people; a solid 401(k); a peaceful, sustainable future for our own children (should we choose to procreate). None of these things vary that drastically from the hopes of generations before us, but the messages are so mixed these days, it’s hard to tell if we’re headed in the right direction.

She also discusses the archetype of her own generation, “the slacker who slouched through life in plaid flannel, alone in his room, misunderstood. And when we were bored with not caring, we were vaguely angry and melancholic, eating antidepressants like candy.” I’m not sure how this differs from the current hipster archetype. I’d like to argue that her generation’s slacker has become the hipster of mine. The aimlessness we feel somewhat resembles that of the Lost Generation, the generation who struggled to find meaning, who struggled in a post-war world, who lacked the solid foundations of a future, yet who desired so much to discern meaning from their circumstances.

We need to stop writing off the hipsters or the Millennials, or both singularly, as being unintelligent and uninformed. We need to stop criticizing them for this mess – the current social atmosphere is far more charged and reactionary than you might be inclined to believe.

The friend who posted the article responded to my comment taking offense to Ms. Wampole’s assertion of our insincerity through ironic expression saying that he felt that the author’s intent was not to go after hipsters and that irony can undermine sincerity and authenticity. He’s wrong about her intent: she’s a hipster-hating human who doesn’t have any clue what she’s talking about since she’s locked in the ivory tower of academia – it’s a very sheltered world, and I often find that when theoretical thinking is not paired with real-world experiences, it tends to become a shade too intense and unrealistic.

He’s right about irony undermining sincerity and authenticity. I personally strive to be the most authentic person I can be. I love sincerity and truth and understanding and the trust that can be fostered through honest communication. But I also think that since truth and trust are difficult for some to embrace, irony can serve a purpose.

I think that plenty of identity formation can stem from negation. Think of it as “I am not this, therefore I am something else.” Granted, it’s a much broader approach, but finding out what you dislike or reject can lead to some very necessary self-exploration that perhaps you may not have done otherwise.

I will concede that irony, like all things, is best in moderation.

On Entitlements, Defensively

I’m annoyed (oh man, what’s new?).

One of my absolute favorite teachers from high school posted a Facebook status about hearing he could quit his job teaching because he could get government handouts that total more than he makes per year. Cue the slew of comments from people advocating for people who work and decrying the lazy poor. And for people only deserving to earn money for the work that they do, and comments suggesting that people are lazy, and we live in a sick country dependent on handouts.

This is untrue. How do I know this? It’s no secret that I work my ass off. But there was a time when I made significantly less than I do now. And during that time, there was a lot of panic. Sometimes, I’d stare at my bank account and wonder how I was going to make that last me the entire month, with rent, bills, insurance, and gas and food. It goes fast.

So out of curiosity, I checked out government assistance. (Food stamps, bitch.) And guess what? I made too much to qualify for ANY of the assistance programs. (Not just food stamps, bitch.)

I started babysitting. And then I started freelancing. And then I started working at Dairy Queen. And I also got a raise or three at work.

I’m frustrated by the ideas tossed around – many of them lack any sort of basis in fact. Granted, there are a multitude of programs that fall under the umbrella of government assistance. Stafford loans, unemployment, Medicare/Medicaid, etc. And yes, there are people who are ridiculously dependent on the government without the expectation that they should have to work for it. But there are also people who need the help that they get.

I’m frustrated that the dialogue here is so critical. I’m frustrated that instead of focusing on the cause of the poverty and need in our nation, we have created a system that doesn’t allow for equal opportunity, that has magnified the cyclical situation of the working poor, that divides our nation into socio-economic groups, and so on. We’re reaping the “benefits” of an economic clusterfuck that we’ve been complicit in creating.

I harp on this all the time, but it’s because I really do see it as a barrier to progress: our societal devaluation of various types of labor has created the situation we’re in and it’s simply not sustainable. Gone are the days when someone could begin a career and work up through the ranks of a company. They may not have been wealthy, but the idea of a pension and a comfortable retirement was possible. The dream of owning a home and putting food on the table was a reality.

Now, we are forced into a hyper-competitive (and unrealistic) model of unattainable career advancement. The white-collar workforce has become an oppressively elitist segment of society, neglecting to remind themselves that their luxury cars had to be built by a laborer – someone who possesses skills they themselves most likely don’t have.

Personally, I wasn’t cut out for manual labor (apparently a lack of muscles makes me unfit for jobs that require them). Or the daily grind of a statistician (lack of mathematical prowess and logical thinking disqualifies me). Instead, I work at a job that suits my own strengths. It’s high time that we reminded ourselves that any society needs variety – variety of skill sets and variety in life. But the fact that one person runs a company and another wires houses or fixes clogged toilets does not mean that any person is of any greater value than the next. (Trust me, no amount of luxury cars in a garage is going to fix your overflowing toilet. There’s no app for that.) (There probably is an app for that.)

The discussion now focuses on the stereotype that the poor are lazy, which is something I’d love to put to the test. Let’s take your $70k/year job and pay you $12/hour for it. Let’s say that what you do isn’t worth that much. Let’s see you have to deal with not only the aching muscles, but the condescending tone of customers that so much resemble you by day. (Yeah, I get this a lot at Dairy Queen – somehow, my uniform and position behind the counter make me open to belittling, yet when I pass these same people on the street dressed in my professional attire, they open doors for me and say hello. Curious, isn’t it?)  Let’s see how you cope. Let’s see how good you are at balancing your budget, at cutting coupons, at working 14 hour days to feed your family. After you’ve spent time being part of the working poor, I’d love to hear you talk about entitlements and handouts. (Better yet, I’d love it if you’d start your arguments with facts instead of conjecture.)

Oh, and while I’m the subject of entitlement, let’s tax the shit out of capital gains. Sorry. If my $14/hour job gets taxed at a certain rate and your millions in interest and dividends don’t count, I have every right to spit your own arguments back at you. Entitled? Yeah, I think I am. I’m entitled to same services you, services such as education, roads, and police. The services that my tax dollars pay for. The services that you expect but don’t want to pay for.

I’m not saying that our government or economy or society are in a good place. They’re not. They’re corrupt. They’re every bit as corrupt as the governments we criticize. But to attempt to deny people things that they are entitled to, especially if they work and work and still can’t make enough to make ends meet, is a travesty.

I urge you to reexamine the way the you treat other people. All people. Poor. White. Black. Rich. I urge you to think about the advantages that you had. My advantages? Education. I come from a family that put education first and foremost. And I was very lucky to have the help and assistance and support that I did. I want to use my gifts to give back to my community. I want to use my gifts to help empower all people – and to give them the gifts that I had, and ultimately, give everyone a chance to make the life they want.

I don’t support handouts to people who don’t deserve them, and I do think that often, the idea of handouts leads to a dependence on them and a perpetuation of a problem that couldn’t have been solved with assistance in the first place. But I think that everyone in our society deserves the chance to live a life that’s fruitful and happy. In order to create a sustainable future for all of our citizens, not just the rich white ones, we need to come together as a people and do some serious reevaluation of our principles. Perhaps some moral compass re-calibration is necessary, too.

Just a thought.

On Education, Gratefully

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Carl Bunderson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Rape, Legitimately

Earlier this week, Representative Todd Akin, a Republican from Missouri, was discussing his views on abortion when he said, “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s [pregnancy from rape] really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down. But let’s assume that maybe that didn’t work or something: I think there should be some punishment, but the punishment ought to be of the rapist, and not attacking the child.”

Understandably, a bunch of people flipped out. We’re not talking “take shelter until this blows over” freak out, we’re talking intense, election losing freak out, and rightfully so.

Just for the record, the body does not have any “ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” What methods does Mr. Akin imagine the female body might have to avoid pregnancy? I’m curious. Click here for an article discussing the science behind rape and pregnancy. You’ll note that around 32,000 pregnancies occur as a result of rape each year.

So, realizing that this comment wasn’t just going to be hidden under the rug, Mr. Akin responded. From the New York Times:

Mr. Akin quickly backtracked from his taped comments, saying he “misspoke.”

“In reviewing my off-the-cuff remarks, it’s clear that I misspoke in this interview, and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year,” Mr. Akin, who has a background in engineering and is a member of the House science committee, said in a statement. “I recognize that abortion, and particularly in the case of rape, is a very emotionally charged issue. But I believe deeply in the protection of all life, and I do not believe that harming another innocent victim is the right course of action.”

 

I highly doubt that’s going to make it any better, Mr. Akin.

As a country, we spend an awful lot of our time and energy discussing and fighting about abortion, but I’m not entirely sure that we spend enough time trying to understand abortion. If you’re feeling curious, why not go over here and check out some stats?

But let’s skip the abortion debate, because we’ll get trapped into that abyss of conversation and lose our way.

Let’s talk about rape.

I am guilty of spending a large part of my life believing that rape was just uncomfortable, like bad sex. I didn’t understand. I still don’t, since it’s not something I’ve experienced, but I have a much better idea now.

I knew about rape as a child because I spent so much time buried in magazines like Time, Newsweek, and Reader’s Digest. During the 90s, I feel like there were a lot of news stories focusing on rape – particularly during and after political conflicts and wars abroad. That, coupled with the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal, really cemented the idea of the vulnerability of women during times of war and the idea that rape is tied in with power and masculinity.

But my understanding of rape was still clinical and journalistic. It wasn’t until I was ten or eleven or twelve (somewhere in there), and received a book of murder mysteries for Christmas that I started to understand. In one of the stories, there was a rape and murder of a young girl. I won’t go into detail. It was graphic. It terrified me. I wrapped the book and hid it in the bottom of my desk drawer because every time I looked at it, I had nightmares. That was my first visceral reaction to the idea of rape.

Then came high school, followed by college. We were in a feminist class, I think, and the professor showed this scene from the movie A Time to Kill, which really put it in perspective for me. I don’t know why it was this that did it, or why it’s haunted me ever since, but in that moment, somewhere in a dark classroom, I felt my heart tear open and begin to ache as the understanding spread through my body to settle deep inside my mind.

Rape is not just bad sex. Rape is destructive, violent, painful, terrifying, and scarring. We as a society do so little to protect and comfort victims. You’ll notice that it’s comments like this one by Mr. Akin, or the one by the officer in Toronto who said that women should avoid dressing like sluts to avoid being raped, that really set us off. They’re the comments that create awareness, promote discussion, and prompt change.

But even so, the change comes too late for so many. The rapists take shelter in the gray areas of the law, and often walk away without having to face consequences due to lack of evidence, or a “he said, she said” argument. Rape is covered up, hidden, made a secret. The victims are left shattered and alone, abandoned by their peers due to lack of understanding and social stigmatization.

Instead of working to protect the result of rape, why are we not working to end rape? Why are we not trying harder to educate our children about the consequences of rape, about the actual definition of rape, about date rape, about assuring consent? Why are we not working to provide a save haven for victims? Why are we not working to end the shaming that we put on the shoulders of victims?

I was the result of a one-night stand. I could just as easily have been the result of a rape. Am I glad that I exist? Of course. But imagine what might have happened to my birth mother had she struggled to support herself and her child (baby me!). Where would we be now?

Something that these lawmakers (so often male) neglect in their utter dismissal of the magnitude of rape as a crime is also the magnitude of the aftermath. Personally, if I were to be raped and become pregnant, I would be furious if I were to be suddenly expected not only to carry that child to term, but then take on the financial burden of raising that child. Would I be able to be the best mother possible for that child? Would I be able to provide for us adequately? Would I need social services like welfare to help me?

Let’s not regress to where we’re arguing about what counts as “legitimate” rape. Let’s focus on eliminating rape. Let’s focus on providing services to the victims. Let’s move forward. Let’s provide choices and options, but most importantly, let’s remember that rape victims are so much more than their reproductive organs. They are people who deserve our respect, rather than our insistence that we not punish the child. (It’s an argument that gets made over and over again, along with “so and so was the result of rape, and look at them.”)

And for god’s sake, is this not THE prime example of why we need more science and sex education in schools?!

P.S. Check out these Onion articles. They’re sad, but pointed and definitely worth reading.

 

 

On Gloria Anzaldúa

The first time I came across Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands, I was 17 and a senior in high school. I hated it. Like, really hated it.

I came across Anzaldúa again during an exploration of feminist literature for a women’s studies class in college. I liked her a little better, but found her style of inserting snippets of Spanish into her writing annoyingly pretentious.

(This stems from an upper-level Shakespeare class I took the summer between my junior and senior years of college. On the first day, the professor asked us to go around the room and give an example of “fool.” When we got to the girl sitting next to me, she said smoothly, “I have a highbrow and a lowbrow example for you.” I rolled my eyes. I would later go on to hear the professor telling the girl that it was unnecessary [subtext: pretentious and douchey] to put so many French quotations in her papers.)

I have no idea why I initially disliked Anzaldúa so much. Her writing isn’t really pretentious.  It’s honest. It’s the product of her cultures, and her experiences, and her feelings. (After I post this, I’m going to find my box of file folders and dig through it to find notes on why I hated Borderlands so much the first time. I bet it’s a seriously silly reason.)

Her writings influenced the lesson that my AP English teacher taught about segmentation in the mind. I remember it as this: as the human brain learns new information, it attempts to categorize that information, and puts it into the boxes that it already has established. Woman. Dog. Boy. Adult. And so on. Each box exists as a separate container for information.

(I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’ve never been great with a straight line. I am also aware of the fact that I have the handwriting of an 8th grade girl. I was one once,  you know.)

The identity of a person doesn’t fit into just one box. An identity is a combination of boxes, all jumbled together to form a bigger picture of the whole.

Anzaldúa’s writing focuses on her lack of a concrete identity (belonging entirely to one box) since she is mixed-race and a lesbian, and therefore inhabits many boxes within many other boxes, hence the title Borderlands. Being both of those can get difficult, especially in a society that does not seem to value diversity.

As a college student, I was more receptive to her writing style, although I’m not sure that I was as gung-ho on her as I was on other authors (Judith Butler, I love you).

The idea of not fitting in entirely is not a foreign concept to most people. Granted, as a straight white chick, I will never quite understand the implications of being part of both racial and sexual orientation minorities, but the inability to truly identify as something concrete is something that I struggle with as I attempt to accept that I’ll never know who my birth father was and as I process the larger implications of being adopted as I enter adulthood (although the possibility of being part Vulcan or Russian or English or German or Elfish or Canadian is always exciting, I guess).

Anzaldúa definitely brought a different perspective to American feminist writing, which was (and still is) primarily driven by a very monochromatic subset of our society, and I think it’s really good to continue to acknowledge that even in feminism, minorities are under-represented and overlooked, and then work to change that.

Girldrive – which I highly recommend reading, highlights the importance of looking at feminism from outside academia – also brought my attention to the importance of identities for women, particularly as they navigate the various roles they identify with. (Are you white first? Or a woman first? Or a feminist first? Eventually, you have to accept that you’re a mass of all things all at once, even if people see and identify you as one thing or another immediately.)

Anzaldúa’s contribution was a giant one and as much as I hated Borderlands then (I have since come to respect both the author and her works, and sincerely appreciate being exposed to them earlier than most), I think it needs to remain an important part of our educational curriculum far into the future.

What sparked this? This article in Bitch.

BiblioBitch: 25th Anniversary of Gloria Anzaldúa’s Borderlands/La Frontera

Books post by Devyn Manibo, Submitted by Devyn Manibo on July 11, 2012 – 1:14pm; tagged 25th anniversary,BiblioBitchbooksBorderlandsfeministGloria AnzaldúaLa Frontera.

If you read Bitch, you are likely at least somewhat familiar with Gloria Anzaldúa and her work with feminism, her beautiful writings, and her advocacy for women of color. She was a Chicana-Tejana-lesbian-feminist poet, theorist, and fiction writer, born September 26, 1942, in Raymondville, Texas. She passed away on May 15th, 2004, but still remains one of the most widely read, respected, and loved queer woman writers of color in history.

As someone who identifies as queer and mixed race, her work was bound to play a pivotal role in the way I construct and understand my identity, the way I live my life, and how I interact with others. I picked up a used copy ofBorderlands/La Frontera (the first edition) when I was 18 years old. Her semi-autobiographical collection of memoir and poetry was older than me, and I had no idea of the gravity of the impact it would have, but I began reading it, slowly–swallowing her words, and digesting them into my being. It was a lot to take in. Quickly, she helped me realize that the comfort I thought I found in labels was simply an assimilationist value I had adopted, not for myself, but for the comfort of others. I never knew how to answer the question, “so, what are you?” It was what I had been grappling with for my entire life; I was living between worlds–the borderlands. I am not either or, but rather, on the edges of all, in an unstable, and ever-changing terrain, “nepantla”–a Nahuatl word for the in-between spaces, where the boundaries are unclear, and we are constantly in transition. I can use ambiguity as resistance, and realize that I will not, and never will, fit so neatly into the boxes left out for me, for that would be the death of the borderlands, and the death of the identities I hold.

It is the chapter “Movimientos de rebeldia y las culturas que traicionan,” which roughly translates to “movements of rebellion and the cultures they betray,” that I carry closest to my heart. I have read those 10 pages more times than I can count. In this chapter, Anzaldúa notes “homophobia,” and not in the way you might think. She means the fear of going home, the fear of abandonment, by the mother, the culture, for being “unacceptable, faulty, damaged.” And to avoid rejection, we conform to values of “the culture,” while pushing what we are taught to understand as unacceptable into the periphery of our vision–the shadows. We’ve internalized our oppressions, thus, creating what Anzaldúa aptly named the Shadow-Beast. We fear that the beast will break free, and that our truths will show. Though, it is possible to come to terms with the Shadow-Beast, to see her as kind, and tender, as a being that wants to be released not in the name of destruction but to uncover the lies we’ve let inhabit our bodies, in order to come into our true selves, to resist imposed ideals, and to not be simply tolerated, but loved, and understood. It is a process, and most often, a struggle of pain, and melancholia. I am on a constant search for home, language, and kinship, and I was able to find a basis for all of this in Anzaldúa’s words.

gloria anzaldua with her arm outstretched, leaning on a wooden plank fence

Needless to say, this book has impacted my life in a way that I can barely scrape with a short blog post. I will revisit this text for years to come, it will live with me, it will understand me, and I will continue to discover what it means to live in such a transient space.

Aunt Lute, a nonprofit press focused on bringing the voices of women—particularly queer women and women of color—to publication, is celebrating its 30th year, as well as the 25th anniversary of Anzaldúa’sBorderlands/La Frontera. For the 25th anniversary of the book, Aunt Lute is looking to publish a fourth edition, but they cannot do so without your help. So, please, keep Gloria Anzaldúa’s voice alive, and donate via Kickstarter by July 28th.