One Netflix Marathon at a Time

I really like Netflix original series.

Sense8, Fuller House, the multiple Marvel’s Defenders shows, Marco Polo, The Crown– I could go on but you get the picture. I like these shows because they go places shows on TV don’t typically go, whether that means being honest about some of the things women experience (such as the way the line “smile” was used in Jessica Jones) or having complicated plots that wouldn’t be fully fleshed out in a usual television show’s allotted 45 minutes (looking at you, Sense8).

That being said, there is one Netflix show that stood out to me as the most honest, entertaining, and true-to-life.

Netflix’s One Day at a Time is based on the sitcom of the same name that aired in the 1970s and 80s. However, the Netflix update has added a whole lot more diversity and current event issues to the show (spoilers ahead).

One Day at a Time follows the lives of Cuban single-mother nurse and ex-military medic Penelope Alvarez, her mother Lydia, and two children Elena and Alex. While the show currently only has thirteen episodes, within the first season they deal with issues of PTSD, alcoholism, sexism in the workplace, divorce, religion, coming-out, sex, immigration, generational divides, and the lack of support many military veterans receive when returning home. Despite these all being pretty hot-button topics, the show never feels pushy and never uses any of those issues in ways that are disrespectful or purely as the butt of a joke.

Along with the fantastic amount of issues dealt with, the characters are amazing. Penelope is a strong woman who not only cares emotionally for her family but is their sole provider AND is allowed to show her emotion without ever being viewed as less of a strong person as a result of it. She has PTSD and physical issues after being deployed in Afghanistan and is shown dealing with those problems and working to get through them. In one episode she attends a women veterans’ support group and in another she is shown having to deal with the apathy and bureaucracy of a veteran affairs department. She is also shown struggling with the beginnings of her divorce from her husband, who refuses to seek help for his own combat-related PTSD. Despite everything against her, she manages to stay upbeat and is the life of the family.

Elena, her daughter, is a fourteen year old feminist and social justice warrior. She is outspoken and unwilling to compromise herself or her beliefs. She is one of my favorite characters on the show, mostly due to how easily I was able to relate to her character arc. Part way through the season she begins questioning her sexuality, and by the end of the season she has come out as a lesbian. I have never seen a show or movie show a coming-out story that felt as real and similar to my own experience as Elena’s on One Day at a Time. The episode in which Elena comes out to Penelope had me in tears from how closely it resembled the same conversation I had with my own mother. It was almost as if the writers of the show had been in the room with my mom and I, taking notes on everything from words to facial expressions.

Lydia, Penelope’s mother, is a deeply religious woman who immigrated from Cuba when she was in her mid-teens. She is also one of my favorite characters in the show due to her dramatic flair and how she manages to hold onto her beliefs and culture while still adjusting to the world around her. Her love for her family is incredibly obvious in every episode, particularly the episodes following Elena’s coming out. Despite the usual expectations of how religious people will act after having someone come out as not straight to them, Lydia was accepting of Elena, even mentioning Pope Francis’ 2013 statement that he could not judge those who loved others of the same sex and using it as a reason why she could not judge. She also supports Elena in expressing herself in whatever way makes her most comfortable, going so far as to make a suit for Elena to wear at her Quinceañera rather than the traditional dress.

Alex, Penelope’s son, is a surprisingly sweet pre-teen boy. In the first season his main issue is peer pressure from his friends, something that is relatable no matter how many times it is used as a plot device in sitcoms. He also served as wonderful support for his family members. He was the first person to find out Elena was a lesbian and he comforted his mom after a failed first attempt at dating again after her divorce. While he doesn’t have much of a story arc of his own in the first season, I am curious to see how his character will develop

Another main character is the Alvarez’s landlord, Schneider. I wasn’t sure about his character at first, but over the season he grew on me. While he is a white, straight male who owns the apartment building, he does try to be educated on issues of discrimination, feminism, and racism and over the course of the season checks himself and the privilege he was exhibiting multiple times. It was refreshing to see that type of character working to be better, especially when considering how rare it is to see someone working to check their privilege in media, let alone the real world.

One Day at a Time left me feeling uplifted and happy as the credits rolled on the last episode of the season. No, none of the characters were guaranteed to have perfect lives, but they all felt like they were having real lives with real issues that we all have experienced. I felt validated in my experiences and like someone understood some of the things I have been through or seen my friends go through.

Netflix shows have always been enjoyable to me, but they just raised the bar a lot higher with One Day at a Time. I can’t wait to see what they come out with next!

 

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I’m Watching It Burn

source: Jennifer Lee

 

On my eighth birthday one of my classmates gave me a Hello Kitty diary. Determined not to waste the present, I began to write in it. Little did I know that Hello Kitty diary would start me on what would become a major part of my life for the next thirteen years.

Keeping a journal became habit. I would write every evening about my day, no matter how dull. The pages would be filled with my thoughts, feelings, and concerns. In that first Hello Kitty diary I filled page after page of worrying over how I’d look with braces and wondering if Paul J in my fourth grade class had a crush on me. One particularly memorable page was covered completely in the words “I ❤ Paul.”

By middle school I was taking my journals to class with me. Anytime there was a quiet moment in class I would open the journal and write. Soon I became known as the girl who always had a notebook with her.

 

A selection of the journals I filled

 

In high school I went over the deep end with journaling. I carried the journal-of-the-moment with me everywhere, always ready to take an opportunity to stop and write. Rather than try to make friends during the lunch hour, I would find the emptiest table in the cafeteria and spend the time surrounded by my own thoughts. I challenged myself to see how much I could write each day, a challenge which culminated in my filling a journal in a week.

Journaling got me through some really rough times and provided me a safe place to try to work through depression, crushes, hurt over losing friends, confusion about sexuality, and the other typical concerns of growing up. It was a large part of who I was, and journals filled a huge plastic tub I kept in the closet.

Please note the past tense.

I stopped journaling religiously during my final semester of college. Between working part time at a women’s shelter, volunteering at an animal shelter, and finishing up my degree it was difficult to find the time or energy to journal. I tried to keep up with it, but I kept finding other things I’d rather do.

This fall I took a hard look at my life and the changes that had occurred over the past year. One of the most obvious differences was that I had stopped journaling completely. Rather than focusing on recording my life, I was focused on living it and staying in present moments as much as possible. As a result I felt happier, less anxious, and I wasn’t ruminating on negative events nearly as much.

I had hauled my dozens of journals in their plastic tub over one thousand miles with me when I moved after college, and then they once again sat quietly in the closet at my new apartment. After some serious thought, I decided the time had come. I was finally ready to say goodbye to my journals.

Before getting rid of the diaries, I went through them one last time to see if there were any memories or creative works I wanted to save. Rather than a stroll down memory lane, I ended up wandering down embarrassment boulevard. Remember the entire page where I declared my love for Paul over and over? It turns out that wasn’t even the worst part. I also found a detailed plan to overthrow the fifth grade social structure involving the choice of who gets to write the assignments for the day on the class whiteboard, the phrase “brace face” used in reference to how I feared I would look once getting braces, and a vow to someday marry James Maslow of Big Time Rush fame.

Of course, there were more serious entries. The diaries surrounding my sixteenth year were especially difficult to go through. I ran across things that I had completely forgotten, and realized I was glad to have forgotten them. That was the final deciding factor as to whether I would keep the diaries. I don’t need to remember everything about my past- if I’ve forgotten something, there’s probably a good reason. Most of the journals were then tossed into trash bags and then placed in the dumpster the next morning. A few lucky journals would receive a different fate.

My parents live about an hour away from me, and have a beautiful backyard complete with fire ring. The weekend following the Great Journal Cleanse I drove out to visit them, the remaining journals traveling with me in my purse. My parents and I went out to the fire ring and I tore out all the pages of the remaining diaries. Dad got the fire started; Mom and I stayed out to watch as the pages burned and to tend to the fire.

 

The burning remains of 13 years of writing

 

I felt like an enormous weight had been removed from my shoulders as I watched the pages curl in on themselves and blacken. Now, even if I wanted to, I couldn’t go back and relive my past successes and despairs. All I have left are my faded and time-warped memories, which I honestly don’t think should be taken as a true measure of how things happened.

Now that the journals are gone, I am more focused than ever on living in the moment and enjoying it rather than just recording it. I find myself more frequently pushing myself out of my comfort zone and interacting with the world in ways I never would have before. For example, I’ve started sharing my writing whereas I used to hoard it like a dragon of words. I now have a poetry blog on tumblr that is dedicated to my sharing my pieces, and I attend a monthly open mic night to perform and get to know other poets in my city.

The journals were a huge part of my identity for thirteen years. That urge to record life and try to make sense of it will probably never go away, but the urge to keep all those reflections and realizations to myself has faded. I’m using the energy I put into containing myself and my feelings in notebooks and putting it towards expanding out of myself instead. So far I like the changes.

Here’s a question and a challenge for you: What are you still holding onto that is keeping you from expanding and living in the moment? Are you ready to watch it burn?

Wishes for 2017

 

As 2016 comes to an end, here are five wishes for 2017:

 

May things not be as terrible as we fear.

Yes, challenging times are coming our way as a result of certain elections and political appointments. No one knows how things are going to turn out, but right now all signs are pointing to danger. Let’s hope that the signs are wrong, and that things will be okay.

Even if things do turn out to be bad and difficult, may we stand in solidarity with people who need our help and support- may we remember to care for those around us and to act as a community rather than as unconnected people. May we make things better by the compassion in our hearts and the way we deal with whatever happens.

 

May you meet one new person who changes your life for the better.

Connection with other people is one of the most important parts of being human. Through relationships with the people around us we are able to grow, to learn, to have new experiences, and to develop compassion. We receive so much from the people in our lives, both good and bad. It’s important for us to remain open to what we can learn from those around us.

On the flip side of this wish, may you also make a positive change in someone else’s life in the upcoming year. It doesn’t have to be a huge change, just something that brings a little more light into their days. Maybe you can start saying hello to your neighbor whenever you meet at the mailbox, or you can have actual conversations with the people you see at the grocery store each week. Sometimes it really is the smaller acts of simple kindness that make the biggest difference for people.

 

May you learn a new skill that brings you joy.

It can be so easy to get stuck in routines, or to say you want to try something and then you never do. Don’t let yourself get away with that anymore. Go to a library and pick up books on cooking, or knitting, or woodworking, or how to learn another language. Learn something new by the end of the year so that you can see a difference in yourself by the time 2018 rolls around.

Obviously, it’s also important that you do things to make yourself happy in the coming year. Personally, I’m planning to start taking kickboxing lessons again. It’s been years since the last time I went to a class, but I remember it being the best time I ever had being physically active.

 

May you grow emotionally in a way that makes you look back at the start of the year and barely recognize yourself.

This wish is a big one. Growth is so important- it keeps us open to new thoughts and opportunities, it helps us adjust to new challenges and ideas, and it gets us closer to becoming the people we want to be. Sometimes that growth can be scary, but in the end it is always a good thing.

 

May you find something in your life that you feel passionate about, regardless of what other people say.

Passion is something that is precious and all too rare. If you are lucky enough to find something that makes your eyes light up when you talk about it- or even luckier to have that passion line up with a career path- hold onto that passion and follow it, regardless of what anyone else might say or expect of you.

Here’s the deal- this is your life. In the end, you are the one who has to live with your choices and the results. If there is something you want out of life, work for it. Do not let other people determine what you do or how you spend your time. Don’t go into things just because you think it is what you’re supposed to do. Living by other people’s expectations won’t make you happy- only you can really make yourself happy.

Circle of Magic: A Series Worth Reading

art by Minuiko

 

Warning: This review includes minor spoilers regarding character development.

 

There are some book series that you discover when you’re young that help to form who you are. The characters become your friends and role models and parts of them slip into your personality as you face growing up and the associated challenges. Sadly, those books don’t always hold up under time and when you revisit them years after your first reading you can be disappointed by what you remembered as a great story with wonderfully fleshed-out characters.

The Circle of Magic series by Tamora Pierce holds up even after fourteen years.

I found my first Tamora Pierce novel (Sandry’s Book) in the school library when I was eight. The description on the back cover sounded interesting and at that age I read practically anything I could get my hands on, so I checked it out. I had no idea that it and the books that followed it would come to mean so much to me.

The core of the Circle of Magic series is the intense friendship between four children (who by the last book are full-fledged adults). They are all found in their respective states of abandonment by a mysterious man named Niko, who brings them all to a temple community called Winding Circle, where they end up in the care of two temple Dedicates named Lark and Rosethorn.

The first four books in the series of nine (plus two companion novels), focus on the kids learning to use their different types of magic. One has magic with thread, another with metalworking and fire, a third with weather, and the last with plants. While I unfortunately couldn’t relate to their experiences with magic, I could relate to their feelings of isolation, wanting to belong, friendship, and confusion as they grew up. The second four books (known as the Circle Opens quartet) separates the four into their own adventures as they all go traveling with their teachers and focuses on the challenges they experienced as they worked on forming their own identities away from the chosen family they had formed. That was much easier for me to relate to, especially as I got older.

The final book in the series, The Will of the Empress, is also my favorite. It takes all the development that the four have gone through and puts on the final touches to make them seem so beautifully real. After their separation from each other, the four are at odds because they don’t know how to be around each other after experiencing so many life-changing events while apart. Over the course of the book, they come back together as best friends/siblings in a way that is even better than before they had been separated.

Honestly, I could go on about these books forever, but the main thing that still gets me is the main characters and the amount of diversity that is written into each novel. Out of the main four characters and their four teachers, four are POC, at least two more are at least mixed race, and only the remaining two would be considered white. Five of those eight are women. Three are openly lesbian or bisexual and one is polysexual without being shamed.

Sandry is written as being incredibly rich and related to the rulers of at least two countries, but she very rarely uses that information to influence people. She is stubborn and headstrong, but is also incredibly loyal to people that she feels deserve her loyalty. She is one of the most powerful stitch-witch in the world and one of (if not the only) person able to weave pure magic. She helps care for her aging uncle (who happens to be the ruler of the country) and acts as his advisor.

One of the things I love most about her is that she is usually described as being a bit silly and lighthearted, but when she gets upset she becomes terrifying. She is the ultimate example of “Looks like a cinnamon roll, but could actually kill you.”

Daja is a large black girl who was kicked out of her culture for being the only survivor of a shipwreck (something thought to be bad luck). She is easily the least tempermental of the main four characters and is frequently the voice of sense. She is one of only two people with metalworking magic to be able to use their magic on every type of metal. She is described as having a large body frame and is celebrated for it through both her metalsmithing and her physical power. She also (spoiler alert!) survived pulling a forest fire through her body in order to put it out and save a caravan, created a type of living metal that could be used for prosthetic limbs, and despite being kicked out of her birth culture remained one of the most genuinely kind and forgiving people in the series. In Will of the Empress, she also realizes she is a lesbian and has the only shown romance in the entire series.

Of all the characters, Daja is the one with whom I most identify. It takes a lot to make her upset, she is the “mom-friend” of the group, and she has a bit of a struggle with her sexuality before coming to accept herself. She is steadier than I am, but I hope to someday reach her level of conviction.

Tris is an angry redhead who was passed around her family until no one else wanted her, and so they gave her away to be raised at a temple school. She is the most powerful weather witch in the world, and is also able to work magic in “normal” ways, through potions, spells, etc. Despite her awful childhood, underneath her hard exterior she is so, so kind. She takes in strays, both animal and human, like it’s going out of style and protects them from everyone who might hurt them in any way. She is described as heavier, but is never fat-shamed (except by bad characters). She is very temperamental at the beginning of the series, but by the end had learned to keep a better hold on her emotions. Even so, she is unafraid to speak her mind and refuses to be needlessly cruel to anyone. Because of her powers and skills, she is offered jobs in battle magic, but she turns them all down out of a refusal to kill anyone. She has a very clear view of right and wrong.

My favorite thing about Tris is her ability to come back from the bad things that have happened to her. She experiences some pretty traumatic things in her life, from being given away by her family to having to help fight off pirates from Winding Circle, but she works through the related trauma and moves on with her life while healing and improving herself further.

Briar was orphaned at a young age and then forced to join a gang. He was arrested three times and was about to be sent off to work in the mines or at the ship docks for the rest of his life before being found by Niko and taken to Winding Circle. There he learned that his love for growing things was actually plant magic. He learns to stop using fighting as his first reaction to things and becomes an amazing and intelligent young man. He becomes an expert in growing bonsai trees and making medicines. By Will of the Empress he’s become a little bit of a womanizer, but he is responsible about it and ensures that none of his partners think he’s more serious about them than he is. He is kind, smart, respectful, and never backs down from a fight.

Not only did Briar set the bar impossibly high for any men that I may consider dating, but he also showed me what I want to see in myself in regards to self-growth. He becomes the best possible version of himself over the course of the series without ever losing sight of where he came from and what really matters.

The concept of the found family is very important within the series. As previously mentioned, the four main characters all have some kind of birth-family related trauma. Throughout the first four books of the series, they grow closer together until they begin to refer to each other as foster-siblings. By the second four books, they drop the term “foster,” and just refer to each other as their brother and sisters with Lark and Rosethorn as their mothers. Their bond is at the center of their lives, and it is so wonderfully refreshing to see that intense of a friendship between four people without it ever even attempting to turn romantic. This series taught me how beautiful platonic love can be, as well as its importance.

It is so rare to find a book series that doesn’t have a romantic pairing as a large part of the plotline. Even at eight years old, I was able to recognize how odd it was that none of the main characters felt any kind of attraction towards each other past friendship. As I read more of the series and the characters grew up and continued not to feel anything more than friendship towards each other, I was incredibly happy. Reading a book where the central relationships were strictly platonic made me feel like it would be okay if I cared more about my friendships than about finding a romantic partner.

There are so many things these books taught me: acceptance of people different from myself, how to stand against adversity with the help of family and friends, how to find strength for difficult times within myself, and the importance of friendship. I honestly believe that no other book series, not even Harry Potter, influenced me as much while I was growing up.

I reread the series about once a year. It serves as a great escape from reality as well as a reminder of everything I want to be: As confident as Sandry, as even-tempered as Daja, as kind as Tris, and as able to grow as a person as Briar.

 


 

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5 Female Lesbian/Bi Characters and Why They Matter

 

 

Media representation of people in the LGBT community is something that has been discussed at length both in academic circles and in the popular arena. In the GLAAD- Where We Are on TV 2016 Report, only 4.8% of series regular characters on primetime television were identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. While this is the highest number they’ve ever found, they also reported that a lot of those characters still fall under stereotypes about their sexuality. There is still a lot of work to do in terms of reaching equality in numbers and quality of LGBT characters on television.  

Over the years, a few lesbian and bisexual characters have left a major impression on me. These characters are well developed, three-dimensional, and are not used as punchlines or confined to background roles. They either have helped me to identify traits that I want to develop in myself or find in a partner, helped me to better accept myself, or have simply reassured me that there are other people out there who feel things similar to what I feel.

 

Korra (Avatar: The Legend of Korra)

 

The main character of the Avatar: The Last Airbender sequel/spin-off show, Avatar: The Legend of Korra, is one of my favorite characters of anything I’ve ever seen. Korra starts out at age 17 in the show and is strong, rebellious, talented, and determined to reach any goal she sets for herself. By the end of the series, she has mellowed. She is still strong, talented, and determined, but she is less rebellious and stubborn and has grown into a fully realized Avatar (master of all four elements). She puts the needs of others before herself, but remains true to herself by doing things in her own way.

Korra is also an amazing example of diversity. She is a woman of color, experiences Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in the last season after being nearly killed in a fight at the end of the third season, and her body type isn’t the general “pretty” body type a lot of women are depicted as having. She is shown with defined muscles and curves that aren’t excessive.

Oh, and did I mention she’s bisexual?

Over the course of the show she is shown in a relationship with a man, Mako, but by the end of the show she is shown beginning a romantic relationship with another woman, Asami. Their relationship had a lot of build up, particularly in the last two seasons. The two women were shown developing a close friendship and supporting each other through very difficult times before they became romantically involved.

As mentioned, Korra is one of my favorite characters, especially after her character development in the third and fourth seasons. She learns to recognize when she needs help and accepts that help, something that a lot of people struggle with both in media and real life. Her struggles with PTSD, shouldering the responsibility of protecting the world, and trying to still be a somewhat normal young adult are surprisingly relatable, and I adore her quick wit, physical and emotional strength, and her willingness to stand up for what she believes is right. She is the kind of woman I wish I could be.

 

Santana Lopez (Glee)

 

I mentioned in a previous article that the character Santana Lopez on Glee helped me to figure out my own sexuality. She also is one of the first lesbian characters I remember seeing in anything (another would be Emily Fields on Pretty Little Liars).

There were a few things about Santana that stuck with me. One, her coming out was not perfectly smooth- which is what a lot of people like to pretend when they think about coming out. Santana did not have an easy time coming out, between being publicly outed in a political ad, blaming being outed on a friend, and certain members of her family not being supportive. Her grandmother- with whom she was incredibly close- was not willing to accept her as lesbian, and so basically disowned her. That was incredibly hard to watch, but it also added a reality to the situation that is frequently missing in depictions of characters coming out.

Another thing that stuck with me was her own hesitance to come out to the people in her life. It is so easy to just stay quiet and in the closet, but once you are honest about yourself it can feel so much better- as if a weight has lifted from your shoulders. I felt that struggle and relief was shown pretty well during her character arc, which is something I definitely appreciate.

Santana showed me that it was okay to be honest about what you want- and that while it might not be easy, you just might end up having a beautiful wedding with the woman of your dreams.

 

Clarke Griffin (The 100)

 

This next character might be a little controversial due to some fandom issues, but Clarke Griffin from the CW show The 100 is a character that matters to me (to be fair, I still haven’t watched season three and so am mostly basing this off the first two seasons). She is only 18 in the show, but assumes a leadership position in her society out of need to make sure her people are alright. Her initial skills are as a healer, not a fighter, unlike in most sci-fi dystopian fiction.

Since she is only 18, she makes mistakes. Yes, her mistakes in the show have much worse consequences than the mistakes of normal eighteen year olds, but she does try to do the right thing. Clarke tries to learn from her mistakes, and works to forgive those who have wronged her.

She is also bisexual. Over the course of the first and second seasons, she shows romantic interest in both male and female characters. To be fair,  Clarke has not said she is bisexual, but the showrunner did explicitly say on Twitter that she is bi. She is not treated like her sexuality is the most important part of her character, which is something that all too frequently happens on CW shows. It’s nice to see her still treated as a person, and not just a sex object.

 

Laura Hollis (Carmilla)

 

There are a lot of things I love about the webseries Carmilla– there are only a total of four male characters, the majority of the characters aren’t straight, there is some really great character development from all the main characters, and they have non-binary representation- but the main character Laura Hollis is definitely one of the main reasons to watch the series.

She starts out as a bright-eyed, idealist college freshman who thinks she can change the world by uncovering the evils of the world. Laura believes in standing up for what is right, believes in speaking up for those who can’t, and is extremely outspoken in her belief that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and kindness. She is the ultimate do-gooder, at least until the end of the second season when her morals are put to the test.

After she realizes she isn’t quite as perfectly upright and moral as she used to believe, Laura undergoes substantial character development. She does her best to make amends, but learns there are some things that can’t be fixed.

Laura openly identifies as a lesbian, and a large part of the show revolves around her on-again-off-again romance with the titular character Carmilla. I’ll admit that I am a bit of a sap when it comes to romance, so I really love their relationship. Each season has at least one episode with a declaration of love, and each of those episodes moved me to tears. Laura is an eloquent character, and so of course she has beautiful speeches about love. I hope someday to be as good at expressing myself as Laura Hollis.

Meg March (The March Family Letters)

 

Finally, in The March Family Letters, the modern web series retelling of the classic novel Little Women, Meg March is in love with a woman. The character John Brooke is adapted as Joan Brooke, making it possible for the story to remain the same while changing Meg’s sexuality.

Growing up, I read Little Women at least three times. Watching the web series, I was so happy to see that while Meg was changed in one major way, nothing else about her character changed. She still was neurotic, a little vain, and the mom-friend. It is always wonderful to see directors, writers, and actors recognize that someone’s sexuality doesn’t define them, but is just another piece of them, like any other personality trait or physical characteristic.

 

There’s no question that the media and society as a whole has a long way to go in terms of LGBT representation.There are still huge issues with the over-sexualization of characters based on their sexuality and acting like the character’s sexuality has more weight than any other part of their personality. This is extremely harmful, as it makes it look like there is only one way to be if a person is LGBT. We need more varied examples of LGBT characters in order to have representation of different people as LGBT- we are by no means all the same.

Obviously, the over-sexualization is another problem because of the way it makes a relationship- especially a relationship between two women- something merely for the excitement and pleasure of (usually) men. Rarely do those relationships get shown as something deep and real rather than just as two hot girls making out.

However, knowing that some shows are heading in the right direction is reassuring. I was very happy to see that this year had the largest amount of LGBT series regulars than any other year previously, and I am hopeful that the increasing LGBT character trend will continue.

 


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Gilmore Girls Revival: Where You Lead, I Will Follow

gilmore-girls-revival

 

 

By the time I started watching Gilmore Girls, the seventh season had already begun to air and I was only able to watch it on ABC Family when they played reruns. I have very vivid memories of one week in seventh grade when I was sick and watched the show every time it came on, regardless of the fact that the morning episode was the same as the afternoon episode from the previous day. Once I was able to go back to school during the day, I’d make sure to catch the afternoon episode as soon as I got home so I could keep up with the characters that felt so incredibly real to me.

I did a full rewatch of the series the summer before my senior year of college, and it was just as amazing as the first time (even better, since I didn’t accidentally miss any episodes). The characters felt full and developed, like people I could actually meet. One of my favorite things about the show was that it didn’t rely on outlandish plots or extreme drama and miscommunication to carry the story- it focused on real life and the difficulties involved in growing up and figuring out who you want to be.

Whenever I watch a show, I try to cast my friends and family in it. Personally, I’ve always considered myself as some kind of Rory/Sookie mixture, but other people in my life can be a little more clear cut. I see my father so easily in Richard Gilmore- the strong father who can be stern and strict but always tries to do what is right for his family. Paris Geller is one of my roommates from college, trying so hard to be tough and change the world however she can while underneath she is soft and kind and not quite sure what she’s doing. Lorelai is a mixture of my mom and my sisters. I’m incredibly close to my mom, similar to how Lorelai and Rory are, but my sisters have Lorelai’s independence and intensity.

Seeing these people I love in the characters on a TV show always made it feel more concrete, more like something from my life.

Watching the revival, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life, felt even more real and relatable.

 

Spoilers from this point forward. Consider yourself warned.

 

As I mentioned previously, I’ve always identified a lot with Rory (perfectionist over achiever with a passion for books and words who is close to her mom and has people fighting over who she should date? Okay, maybe not that last part, but everything else, yeah).

Seeing her in the revival at age 32 and still struggling to figure out what she wants to do with her life and feeling lost felt so validating. I went to school and got a degree in something that doesn’t exactly relate all that much to my actual job, and I have days where I wonder if I even know what I am doing with my life.

Watching a character that I looked up to as a pre-teen go through those same issues was wonderfully reassuring. It reminded me that it is more than okay for me to be confused about life- it isn’t something that we ever are supposed to have figured out.

Admittedly, Rory was quite a bit more lost than I feel I am. I did not appreciate the “other woman”-esque relationship she was in with Logan, and felt that she should have known better at this point, especially considering she basically did the same thing in season five with Dean. Rory was always pretty good about learning from her mistakes, so that part of her plotline irked me. However, I did like how they ended things. Their eventual breakup felt honest and true to the characters.

Lorelai’s character appealed to me more than ever in the revival. Throughout the original series she annoyed me at times, as she was a bit flighty and very impulsive. It was nice to see those character traits tempered and to see her in a place where she could be happy. The thing about her plot that I really loved, though, was that even though everything in her life looked good she still felt like there was something off. I feel like so often people don’t look past the overall feeling of surface happiness to check on what is causing the itch on the back of their neck, so seeing her actually address it was so satisfying. It also was hilarious to see Lorelai- the least outdoorsy of all TV characters- attempt to go hiking.

The most rewarding plotline, however, was Emily Gilmore’s. In the first of the four episodes, she is a grieving widow fresh from her husband’s sudden death and funeral. She goes through the beginning stages of grief, and by the end of the episode has been convinced to go to grief counseling. In the second and third episodes she tries to go back to how her life was before, but obviously doesn’t find it as fulfilling as it used to be before Richard passed away. The final episode marked so much growth from her.

She gave up the connections and groups she had participated in for years because they no longer made her happy and she was so tired of the head games played by her peers. She sold the house the Gilmores had lived in for years (with one of the most heartbreaking lines- “It hasn’t been home since your father has been gone”), moved to the house on the shore they had rented each summer, took on her maid’s family as if they were her own, and began volunteering at a whaling museum- and I don’t think I had lived until watching Emily Gilmore describe how whalers used to hunt whales in graphic detail. At the end of the revival she was unrecognizable from who she was at the beginning, and I loved that.

I think anyone who has gone through a major change- whether it be the loss of a loved one, a huge life transition such as moving to a new place, changing careers, etc.- could relate to Emily’s storyline. When you deal with something that huge, it makes you step back and really reflect on your life. Luckily, I haven’t experienced intense grief very often, but I have felt the need to re-evaluate what it is that I want from life and what I’m currently getting from it. In all honesty, I’ve been in one of these self-evaluation stages for the last couple months. It’s been difficult figuring out what it is that I’m looking for in terms of my future and where I want to be and what I want to be doing, but seeing an even more extreme form of that confusion played out through Emily’s grief and healing in the show felt incredibly soothing.

Transitions are hard. They hurt. Some days it feels like you were just torn apart and like parts of your heart are hanging out of your body for everyone around you to hit. However, if you’re strong and hold true to yourself like Emily did, you will come out on the other side happy and whole and ready for the next part of your life.

The two moments from the revival that I think will stay with me for a while both came from the last episode. Lorelai had gone off to California to spend a few weeks hiking the Pacific Coast Trail in order to clear her head and get a better sense of what she wanted. At one point she got to the top of a hill and looked out over a beautiful vista and called her mother to tell Emily her favorite memory of Richard. It fit seamlessly into the story and was such a touching story that perfectly fit everyone’s characterizations. I was in tears within seconds.

The other moment was after Lorelai returned from her hiking trip. Luke had become convinced that Lorelai was planning to leave him, and he gave her a full speech on how much he loved her and how he might not be the perfect man, but he was the one who would be there for her through anything and everything if she would please just stay. It so was heartfelt and, as anyone who has watched the show can attest, Luke isn’t one for big speeches. Seeing him so emotionally open was a shock. It was probably my favorite scene of the revival.

Overall, I am very satisfied with the revival (although I do want more, damn it!). I cried for basically the entire last episode, but when it was over I felt happy. I’ve seen how the characters of my favorite TV show aged and continued on with their lives, and it reassures me that I can do the same.

 


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I Love Women, and I Will Not Be Ashamed

I had just turned thirteen the first time I thought of kissing a girl. She was two years older than me and we volunteered together at the library every week. I remember imagining kissing her- how soft her lips would be against mine, how warm her hand would be on my waist- and feeling a rush of heat wash over me.

Since I was only thirteen- and a very sheltered thirteen at that- I pushed the daydream to the back of my mind and tried not to think about her too much.

When I was sixteen I wrote poetry and sometimes shared it with my friends. One of them, a bold girl with gorgeous hair that was always a mess of waves and curls, took my words and put them to piano music. She later wrote a full song of her own for me, and I cried after she played it for me because no one had ever created something for me before. I didn’t know what to call the feelings I had for her, but I knew it felt like more than friendship.

The winter I was seventeen, a friend took me swing dancing. She taught me to go in elaborate spins and held me close to the crooning of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. We’d go home after school together and explore frozen woods and have dinner with her family. She’d talk to my dad about the orchids he grew, and when she smiled at me it felt like I had just swallowed a full mug of hot chocolate.

Three makes a pattern, and I couldn’t keep pushing these feelings to the side.

The summer after graduating high school I cut my hair pixie short. I spent hours working to understand myself. I kissed a boy I barely knew and didn’t feel a thing. I tried on the label “lesbian.” I told a few trusted friends that I liked girls the way I had been taught I should only like boys. I read a book that featured a lesbian couple.

I tried to drop a few hints to my mom that I might not be interested in boys. She said I admired men’s ab muscles too much to be lesbian. I figured she must be right, and besides, hadn’t I had crushes on boys all throughout my childhood? Hadn’t I only ever kissed boys? She must have been right.

Freshman year of college I made a friend who seemed like everything I wanted to be. She was smart, and bold, and unafraid to be herself, and she made me feel like I could be that way too. Everything seemed better when I was with her, and I was so sure that if I told her how I felt, maybe we could be something more than friends. That assumption turned out to be wrong, but she remained my friend until the following fall when we had a falling out over an unrelated issue.

I started working to accept myself. I only told a few close friends at first, and then came out to my brother when he visited me at college. He accepted me instantly and completely, and has never stopped being supportive. Next I told my parents, who took the news better than I had expected. My mom had some suspicions, so perhaps my hints the previous summer had been heard. Dad was pretty stoic about it all, and basically just said that as long as I was happy, that was all that mattered. I told the rest of my siblings over the course of the next few months, and their reactions varied from long discussions on hetero-sexism in society to excitedly asking me if I was dating a girl.

The fall of my sophomore year of college, I began dating girls. The dates didn’t turn into anything serious, but I felt more comfortable dating girls than I ever had dating boys. The conversations flowed more easily, I felt more confident, and I was comfortable even with butterflies doing the samba in my stomach.

The winter of my sophomore year, I made a very good friend through Tumblr. Over the course of the following months, I developed feelings for them. To my extreme surprise and excitement, they turned out to have feelings for me as well. We began a long distance relationship, which quickly became the best romantic relationship I had experienced.

About the same time as when I was falling for this person, I realized that my fantasies of a relationship and marriage/lasting relationship didn’t necessary include sex. I had never really enjoyed kissing, and at times the thought of physical intimacy with another person made me feel kind of sick. I had heard the term “asexual” a few times on Tumblr, and began to look into it more and did some research. Everything I read felt right to me, and so I began to refer to myself as a biromantic asexual (or “bi ace” for short).

I came out as asexual to my dating partner when I visited them in the summer. We had been dating for about two months, and I remember being so terrified to tell them. I had read enough horror stories from other asexuals about how their partners couldn’t accept their orientation and broke up with them as a result. Thankfully, my partner was amazing and didn’t get scared off. They asked what kinds of physical contact I was comfortable with, and then respected the boundaries I set.

Sadly, about two weeks after I visited them we broke up. It was a mutual decision, but I was still pretty upset. They were the first person I ever said “I love you” to and the first to tell me the same. We remained friends, and still are there for each other when things get tough.

After the break-up, I gave boys a try again. I kissed a friend from high school on the 4th of July, and felt absolutely nothing (which really convinced me that asexual was one of my correct terms). When school started again I went out to dinner with a classmate and, while we had a great conversation, felt nothing. I figured I just wasn’t really over the break-up and decided to take some time off dating.

By senior year I was ready to date again for sure, and so got on Tinder to try and meet people. I ended up finding an incredibly sweet guy who was funny and interested in me, and we went out a few times. I should have liked him. I should have wanted to turn dating him into a relationship. But something was missing, and so I let things fizzle out and moved across the country (I never said I was good at handling things).

After moving and getting more-or-less settled, I started looking to date again. I found a surprising amount of guys who were interested in taking me out on dates, and went out with four of them. I had enjoyable times with all of them, but there was no spark. I didn’t feel the kind of connection that I want to feel with a romantic partner.

In the case of two times I hung out with one of the guys, I found myself more interested in women at the events we were attending. One was a gorgeous and lively woman in a red top and short white skirt at a latin dance class and the other was a petite woman in a floral dress reading The Once and Future King at the table next to ours at a cat cafe. Each time I would have loved to get to know the women better, but since I was technically there with a date, I couldn’t.

That, my friends, is a sign that I was dating the wrong person.

After continuing to go on these dates that were vaguely disappointing for no reason I could define, I took some time to really examine what it was about the dates I wasn’t enjoying. Each thought led me back to the lack of a connection I felt after each date, which I then compared to past dates I had been on. Right away there was one glaringly obvious fact: I felt most connected to a romantic partner when I dated girls.

In high school my mom and I would watch the TV show “Glee” together every week. I vividly remember the episode in season two where the character Santana was revealed to be a lesbian (partially because Naya Rivera, the actress who played her, is one of the celebrities I would love to date), and after the episode my mom commented on the reveal. “She just wasn’t connecting with any of the boys,” she said. “It makes sense that she prefers girls.”

About six years later, her words came back to me. Maybe the reason I’m not connecting with any of these perfectly nice guys I’ve gone out with is because I don’t actually feel an attraction to men. I mean, yes, there are multiple male celebrities that I have on occasion drooled over. However, when faced with an actual guy I am generally unimpressed. On the other hand, I frequently see women who I would like to get to know better or take out to dinner or wander around a European city with while holding hands and chatting about poetry.

I still stand by the label “asexual,” but I am less sure about the label “biromantic.” I definitely have a stronger preference for women. For the time being I will probably stay with my bi ace label, mostly because if I were to find a guy that I felt a romantic connection with I would date him (partially because I like the variety of puns I am able to make regarding those two parts of my identity).

Regardless of how I choose to label myself, I love women. Some part of me has known that since I was thirteen years old. I spent too long denying that, and I am tired of not accepting it. So here I am, telling the world:

My name is Colleen, I am 22 years old, own two cats, love women, and I am not ashamed.

 


 

Colleen is a proud Ravenclaw, tattoo enthusiast, and Jane Austen fan. Her dreams for the future include learning to make homemade ice cream and getting a full night of sleep without her cats waking her up. She can be found on tumblr as RavenclawPianist.

Life Lessons at a Zoo: Animal Teachers

Featured image credit

Whenever I tell people I work at a zoo, one of their first questions is always “Do you get to hang out with the animals?!” Since I work mostly in the gift shop/office, my answer is no. However, I do get to spend at least a few hours a week down at the feeding corral and I take some time during my lunch hour to walk through the zoo and see the other animals, and over the past few months I’ve spent some time reflecting on what I’ve learned from the animals I spend time with and how their lessons can be applied to life in general.

As previously mentioned, I spend the most time with the animals in the feeding corral. The main animals in that area are goats. Now, I never really thought about goats much before spending time with them, and now I feel like I know them way too well. They all have their own little personalities and I have a few favorites that I like to pet and scratch when I see them. People will buy treat food to feed to the goats, and the goats get so excited when they see people coming towards them with the little white bags of food. A few of them will even come running from the completely opposite side of the enclosure to greet the people and get fed. Because of their enthusiasm, frequently guests will come back through the gift shop and tell us the goats were their favorite animal in the zoo.

What goats have taught me: be excited and friendly and people will respond well to you. People like positivity and happiness, so try to offer that to them. They’ll like you more for it.

When the weather is nice, I like to eat my lunch out on a bench by the lion enclosure. The zoo recently acquired two male lions from another zoo that wasn’t going to put them on display because of space constraints, so they’re one of our newer exhibits. They’re two brothers, and the first time they were allowed out in their exhibit they started out cautious and then within minutes were exploring all the sides, sniffing the air for the scent of the female lion in the next exhibit over, and one was batting at the large ball in the water pool. We had a lot of people come out to the zoo for their unveiling, and still have people come through and comment on how majestic our lion boys are.

What lions have taught me: Sometimes things change and we can’t stay where we are. The change can be scary, and it might take some time to get used to it. But that doesn’t mean change is bad. It’s more than likely the change will lead you to a better place.

The zoo had three house cats that live in the office. One is a chubby orange cat named Macaroni. He’s been on a diet since before I started working at the zoo and probably will stay on a diet for the rest of his life. He’s the friendliest of the cats and will sometimes sneak out into the connected gift shop and charm guests until we put him back in the office. He is terrified of rain, and if he even senses rain coming will be a mess. He cries, tries to hide in secure corners, and his pupils get huge. When that happens, we give him a medication called “rescue remedy” to help him calm down and then cuddle him until he has relaxed. He’s learned that if he acts upset then he’ll get attention and love, and will frequently demand cuddles from people in the office.

What I’ve learned from Macaroni: Sometimes people need comfort and reassurance that things are okay. There is nothing wrong with that or with asking for help. Additionally, asking for help is basically the only way to get the help you need. So ask!

There are approximately thirty peacocks that wander freely throughout the zoo, including one partially albino female. She is known as Peeps and is a terror. Since she was raised by a former zookeeper, she doesn’t have the natural fear of humans that most of the other peacocks have. This causes her to follow people around the zoo and sometimes try to peck at them. She doesn’t like me very much for reasons I haven’t been able to figure out. If she sees me down at the feeding corral she’ll circle around me and eventually try to peck at my legs. There are times when I’ve had to call a zookeeper to have them take her to the quarantine section of the zoo so she can’t harass the visitors. One of my coworkers somehow was able to get on her good side and can pet her. I’ve never been brave enough to try that. I don’t like Peeps, but I definitely respect her.

What I’ve learned from Peeps: Not everyone you meet will like you, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you find a way to coexist.

My greatest weakness as a zoo employee is a fear of snakes. I’ve been terrified of them since I had a series of traumatizing nightmares around age ten (most of the nightmares involved snakes biting off my legs). Mostly the snakes at the zoo are confined to the reptile house, but we do also have to deal with some wild snakes that come onto zoo grounds, especially during the spring and summer months. When we see wild snakes, we are supposed to call zookeepers to come and capture them for later release at a plot of land away from the zoo.

The first time I saw a wild snake, I was walking with a coworker back to the office. I saw the snake slithering away in front of us first- a six foot long black rat snake. Considering I had never seen such a large snake in the wild before (I had only ever seen little garter snakes in Minnesota), I was pretty freaked out. I blurted out “Snake!” to my coworker, who made the radio call that brought the zookeepers and other zoo staff to us. I then rushed into the office and well out of range of the snake. Next time I saw a snake I was the only staff member around, so I handled the radio call and supervision until the zookeepers arrived. I was able to keep the panic out of my voice, although I did remain on the opposite side of the exhibit until the zookeepers had it contained. I’ve since seen at least three more snakes and am slowly getting less frightened by them. I still don’t want to be within two feet of them, but at least my head doesn’t start buzzing in fear.

What snakes have taught me: Fear can be worked through. It doesn’t have to paralyze you, and sometimes you can even get over a fear. It’ll take time, but it’s manageable.

I knew that working at a zoo would be fun, not to mention that it was a childhood dream of mine. However, I had no idea that it would turn out to be such a great place for important life lessons. As I continue to work at the zoo, I look forward to learning even more from animals because, believe it or not, they are some pretty great teachers.

 


 

Colleen is a proud Ravenclaw, tattoo enthusiast, and Jane Austen fan. Her dreams for the future include learning to make homemade ice cream and getting a full night of sleep without her cats waking her up. She can be found on tumblr as RavenclawPianist.

Impostor Syndrome: “I’m Really Nothing Special”

The first time I heard the term “Impostor Syndrome” was when one of my professors used it while describing me during an Honors Awards ceremony before I graduated college. My first assumption was that it meant that I pretended to know more than I actually did, which I later found out to be exactly the kind of thought that is prevalent in people with the syndrome.

According to Dr. Suzanne Imes and Dr. Pauline Clance, the psychologists who first wrote about Impostor Syndrome in the 1970s, people with Impostor Syndrome are typically high-achievers who have a difficult time accepting credit for their own successes. They will instead claim their success was a result of luck, faking their way through the task, or just being in the right place at the right time. Originally Dr. Clance thought Impostor Syndrome was something more frequently experienced by women, but later in 1993 revised that hypothesis and realized the common factor for people with Impostor Syndrome isn’t gender, but that they are high-achievers.

When I read about the syndrome (I recommend these articles), it felt like a light bulb had gone off over my head. These feelings of doubt and questioning my abilities that I’ve had for years were something that other people were experiencing too! I looked back over my academic career and more recent professional career and was able to pinpoint exact moments of Impostor Syndrome flares:

Writing a paper for a Theology class in college and accidently leaving out the conclusion because do I really have my own thoughts on this or am I just echoing back what I’ve been told?

Working at a women’s shelter and diffusing a situation only to find myself wondering later if the issue would come back up because the women probably know I don’t know what I’m doing. They only listened because a senior staff member was there too.

Any time I’ve gotten an “A” in a difficult class and have thought oh, I just BS-ed my way through the tests. Guess the professor bought it!

When I was promoted at my current job, I thought oh god, I made them think I can do this and now I have to pretend I know what I’m doing.

My boss compliments me and She thinks I’m doing well but really I’m just making lucky calls.

Writing this article and wondering Am I even qualified to tell other people about impostor syndrome? I’m just a normal person, not a PhD level psychologist.

Since so much of Impostor Syndrome relates to our inner narrative and how we talk to ourselves, it can be really difficult to separate the syndrome and what we honestly believe of ourselves. For example, my Impostor Syndrome tells me that I’ve gotten where I am because I’m good at pretending to know what I’m doing and what’s going on. However, when I stop and really look at everything I’ve put into getting here I know that I have earned every good grade, promotion, and raise that I have received as a result of my skills and knowledge. There may be a little luck mixed in there, but the majority of the credit is mine to claim.

There are dozens of articles out there on Impostor Syndrome and how to get over it, but something a lot of them seem to miss is that Impostor Syndrome isn’t something that you will necessarily ever get over. There will always be things that you think you got through purely by luck or because no one else knew better. I think of Impostor Syndrome as one of those awful kids in middle school whose main insult is that a person is dumb or doesn’t know anything- you can ignore it, but after a while you start to question if they’re right. To be clear, they are not right but their voice is pretty difficult to tune out sometimes.

So here is my recommendation on slowly getting over that nagging voice in your head telling you that you’re just an impostor: next time you’re doubting whether you deserve the credit for something, look at each bit of work that went into the project. Did you put in the time? Did something you know about or how to do help to complete the project? Did you make decisions relating to it? If you hadn’t worked on the project, would it have been completed? If you answer yes to any of those questions, guess what? You deserve credit. Tell that pesky voice in your head to go bother someone else.

I still find myself doubting whether I’ve actually known what I’m doing at my job or if I’m just fooling everyone around me. I probably always will have those moments. However, I also know there’s a reason people choose me for certain jobs or projects. They believe that I am the best person for the job, and if they believe that then I should be able to believe it, too.

 


Colleen is a proud Ravenclaw, tattoo enthusiast, and Jane Austen fan. Her dreams for the future include learning to make homemade ice cream and getting a full night of sleep without her cats waking her up. She can be found on tumblr as RavenclawPianist.

 

You Can Always Go Home Again: Leaving, Healing, and Returning

Last December I graduated from college and took one of the biggest risks of my life: moving across the country without a job, place to live, or knowing anyone where I was going other than my parents. I desperately wanted to experience somewhere and something new because I felt like I was stuck in the same place I had always been while living in my home state (Minnesota, if anyone is wondering).

Let me give a little background here. I grew up and lived in Minnesota from the time I was three, and it really is the only place I could remember living. For most of my childhood I didn’t really think about how living in one place affected me – after all, what kind of kid sits around and examines how their life could be different in another state?

But once I hit my teen years I began to feel an itch to leave. Depression also hit me around that time as a result of hormonal changes in puberty and some really terrible experiences I had trying to fit in with people I thought of as friends. Suddenly one of the few things I could think about was how my life would be different if I lived anywhere else. Leaving Minnesota seemed like one of the only ways to make myself feel okay again.

I stayed in Minnesota for college, although I did move three hours away from my hometown. That little move helped calm me down for a few years but after three and a half years of freezing winters and another terrible friendship experience, I was more than ready to dig myself out of three feet of snow and make my escape. I felt that if I didn’t leave Minnesota then, I would be stuck there forever.

Fast-forward to May of this year. I’m living in Texas, have a job, apartment, and the beginnings of a social circle. I’m happy, more confident than I have been in years, and convinced that I made the right choice to move. It felt like parts of me I hadn’t seen in a very long time were falling back into place.

Healing isn’t easy, and honestly I don’t think I really realized I was healing as it happened. One of the things I did notice was that I was becoming more and more comfortable in my skin. I stopped worrying all the time about if the clothes I wore were in style or if anyone noticed my tiny tummy pouch or if I was standing awkwardly. I was just letting myself exist without expecting too much more.

Another large part of my healing that I recognized was realizing that I am the one living my life. I know that sounds rather obvious, but after a lot of thought I came to the conclusion that some of the things I had been trying to aim for weren’t things I actually wanted. A higher paying job? Something I thought my parents wanted for me so I would seem more prestigious. Going straight into a master’s degree program? What I thought my teachers would have expected from me after I graduated with honors. A full life plan by the time I turn 23? Literally no one expects that, but for some reason I thought I needed to have it all figured out. Once I took a step back and really examined what I want versus what I think I should want, things felt a lot clearer. I felt a lot lighter after deciding to only go after the things I really want for myself, and not the things that I want to make other people happy or proud.

When I got overwhelmed with trying to plan out my next steps, I forced myself to take a week off to be gentle with myself. This was a huge struggle, as I spend so much of my time planning and questioning myself. During the week I didn’t let myself try to look too far into the future as to what I would do next. I spent the time catching up on sleep, watching movies that made me happy, and baking breads that I later shared with my neighbors instead. I’ve spent more time outdoors, breathing clean air and feeling sunlight on my skin (which is more tanned now than it has ever been in my life). I’ve started working on letting myself stay calm, rather than having my mind whirling away. All these things have been steps towards healing.

End of August came and I found myself on a plane descending to land at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport. I expected to feel nervous or anxious as waves of terrible memories rolled over me, but I didn’t even think of any of those things. Instead, I felt a sense of peace as I walked through the airport that I still knew like the back of my hand.

I spent most of my time with friends and family (the first thing my best friend said when she saw me was “Oh my god, you’re blonde!” which was both hilarious and gratifying), but I did take the afternoon of my last day in the state to go on a solo trip back towards my hometown. I both wanted to go visit the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum where my parents would take me at least twice every year growing up and wanted to prove a few things to myself.

As I drove out of the Twin Cities area and into the suburbs, I kept waiting to feel myself tense up when I passed familiar landmarks. I never did, even when passing the middle school that would almost cause anxiety attacks when I used to remember my time there. Instead I glanced out at it while driving past and felt something warm in my chest from knowing that I went there once and that it was so far in my past now.

The old, pre-move me would absolutely have tensed up while passing my old school. I also would have been swamped by all the negative memories of what happened there- bullying, not fitting in, feeling like I was drowning without anyone noticing. Current me remembered all those things, but let it roll away as I drove past rather than letting it follow me and overwhelm me. Old me would never have been comfortable spending a full afternoon wandering around somewhere completely on my own. Current me really loves to go places alone and didn’t even hesitate at the (admittedly small) chance that I could run into someone I recognized. Old me felt like I always had something to prove. Now I know that I don’t have to justify anything about myself to anyone.

I spent the afternoon at the Landscape Arboretum, wandering through gardens, reading a book in the shade, and just giving myself a chance to relax and reflect on my trip. The Arboretum is one of the places I think of when asked about beautiful places, and at the end of August it is a gorgeous riot of color. Roses were at the end of their bloom cycle, the trees were all a lush green with curls of sunlight breaking through their branches, and the kitchen herb garden smelled heavenly. While walking along a path in the Pines exhibit I caught myself thinking “Yeah, I could move back here.”

 

A waterfall on one of the paths of the Arboretum                         

 

 


My favorite of the roses in the rose garden

 

Back in Texas I thought more about the option of moving back to Minnesota. Over the last nine months I have grown so much as a person and have really been able to take a look at what it is I want from life. But Texas isn’t home, not like Minnesota is. One of the wonderful things I discovered through my trip was that Minnesota is still home, and thanks to the amazing friends I have there still I could very easily step back into my life there. Another wonderful thing I discovered was that I could go back there without hurting like I used to. I have grown and healed in Texas, and found those old hurts were tied to a time, not place.

There is no doubt in my mind that moving after graduation was the right choice for me. Had I stayed in Minnesota, I would have been stuck in old habits, an old environment, and old thoughts. Moving forced me out of my former routine and away from the safety of my friends and their reassurances as to my worth. I’ve had to learn to recognize my worth on my own and have completely made a new life for myself here. This was the biggest risk of my life, and it turned out so much better than expected. I found strength in myself that I wasn’t really sure was there.

I thought I needed to leave Minnesota so I could make a different life from the one I would have had there. As it turns out, I needed to leave so I could have the space to heal and become stronger. Now that has been done, I am able to recognize Minnesota is still home. And home will be there for me to come back whenever I am ready.

 


 

Colleen is a proud Ravenclaw, tattoo enthusiast, and Jane Austen fan. Her dreams for the future include learning to make homemade ice cream and getting a full night of sleep without her cats waking her up. She can be found on tumblr as RavenclawPianist.

 

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