Expectations Before the Inauguration

I Have Heard What the Talkers Were Talking, the Talk of the Beginning and the End (But I Do Not Talk of the Beginning or the End)

 

It just hit me that I’m really, truly scared of what’s coming up ahead.

The inauguration is in less than a week. In four days, we will have a president whose word we cannot trust, whose hatred for people unlike him is undisguised, whose entire strategy has been to play on the anger and fear of hardworking, undereducated citizens. And I’m writing this article because I haven’t seen anything like it since about a week after the election. We have become complacent, supportive even, not fighting what lies ahead.

I believe we need to fight. And I am a hypocrite for that belief, because I too have stopped fighting. I am living in a world surrounded by people who talk to me in the patient voice of a suicide hotline, pleading with me to understand and admit to my mistakes in voting for someone like Hillary Clinton to represent the highest office of our people. And for the first few weeks, I fought. I fought bitterly, embarrassing my sister because it was three cousins and two of their friends on one me for over an hour, and at the end of the night, each side assumed they were victorious. I begged for our weekly family dinners to be politics-free, because I couldn’t deal with the praise being thrown in the direction of someone who hasn’t earned it, and received eye rolls and “grow up”s in return. My class WhatsApp group remains one-sided, because I and the one other confirmed Democrat are both miraculously keeping our mouths shut on this one, because we know we will never get our point across.

I am too tired to fight, and I hate that I even have the luxury. That I even have the choice. I hate that I am writing this on my phone, in bed, near suffocating and paralyzed from a sudden rush of anxiety. All because the Washington post reported that construction for the wall between the US and Mexico could begin as early as April, funded by the dollars of taxpayers who didn’t ask for this. Who didn’t ask for him.

And it’s even more frightening, considering Obama is still in office. That plans are being contrived and finalized and he isn’t even our president yet. That this whole world is going crazy, and it’s people who have gotten it this way.

Despite being a woman, I otherwise live in tremendous privilege. The president-elect doesn’t hate people like me, people with my skin color and my religion and my socioeconomic status. So when people wonder aloud, why do you even care?, I offer one of two possible responses, based on which one I feel will speak to them more.

The first: he doesn’t hate me today. But that doesn’t mean he won’t hate me tomorrow. This has proven wildly ineffective, for the most part; I mostly get rolled eyes and exasperated comebacks bemoaning my melodramatic tendencies. I don’t care. This isn’t drama. This is the tragic reality.

The second I haven’t really had a chance to use. Nobody in my vicinity wants to hear it, because it’s the real answer, and the truth is a loaded thing. I care because it isn’t right. No person is inherently greater than another. We all have skills. We all have talents. We all have rights, and it’s about time everyone recognized that, and gave the people on lower ground a stepstool, to get us all on equal footing.

The New York Times Book Review has a weekly interview with a different author, and they will often ask, “If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be?” A book seems a bit ambitious, because I expect the president will be quite busy, come the 20th of January, so I would like to offer a poem instead. A long poem, but even just the first few lines will suffice:


I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

And what I assume you shall assume,

For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

 

Walt Whitman wrote Leaves of Grass in 1891, and like most Transcendentalist writings, he imbued within it the themes of unity, of a universal divinity within all people that makes us simultaneously equal and great. We are all equal. We are all divine, and we all have the capability for greatness.

I was on the subway when a black teenager began to recite a poem he had written himself. One sentiment stuck with me; he said that black is a combination of every color, so that when he says black lives matter, it means all lives matter. And he is so right. Because it’s easy to say that all lives matter when all is subject to your definition of alive. It is only when all is truly all, when you can quantify each of its components and prove that every variation of humanity is included, that we will achieve that transcendentalist ideal of community, of acceptance. Of peace.

It may look like there is peace. The rallies are dead. The protests are a distant memory. I no longer see commuters with safety pins affixed to their shirts. But my words are still alive, and I intend to use them until the very last breath leaves my body. I am not done, and hopefully, neither are you.

I am fighting in my own way, and I’m begging you to fight alongside me in yours.

(note: title is also from Leaves of Grass)

 


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Love Languages

 

 

This article starts a couple years ago, when my teacher was out of the country and the administration couldn’t find a sub for my class. So instead of reasonably leaving us to have a free period, we got combined with one of the other classes happening concurrently with ours.

I just… have you ever had a teacher who’s sweet and devoted and doing everything right, but you just can’t stand them? Picture me raising my hand a la Hermione Granger when Snape refuses to call on her. I don’t know why, but I just couldn’t take her seriously. So when she decided to forego her intended lesson plan because of the 25 kids unceremoniously dumped into her custody for 50 minutes, and told us she would speak about her latest passion, love languages, instead, I was completely unimpressed.

And I probably would have stayed that way if I weren’t such a sucker for what I like to call “pop psychology”. You know, those things that everyone knows about in a superficial sense, like Myers-Briggs personality types. And I had a friend who, in addition to actually being a psych major, was really into this stuff as well, so that only exacerbated my relatively tame fascination with the field. After plying me with online quizzes to help determine my enneagram type (“of course you’re a tri-type,” she groaned, “you never could fit into a box, could you?”) she moved on to love languages.

Our friendship was fraying at that point anyways, so I ignored love languages, again. And even though the concept flitted around my brain for the next two years, I never really did much research on it. All I knew is that there are five love languages: words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch, quality time, and receiving gifts, and apparently understanding your partner’s language is key to a strong relationship.

And then it was my birthday. I got a 12:01 text from my best friend and fell asleep smiling. And more messages through the day from friends all over, both casual and close. E-cards from my baby cousins and my dad (well, my sister on his behalf. He still thinks that there’s a tiny someone in his computer telling him that ‘you’ve got mail!’). I got hundreds of words that day, and I have never felt so loved in my life. And that’s when it hit me. Words of affirmation. Caroline, time to do some research.

The idea of five love languages was developed by Dr. Gary Chapman. In 1995 he published his book The Five Love Languages – the Secret to Love That Lasts, and it became a New York Times bestseller in 2009. The basic premise behind love languages is that while everyone appreciates love in each of its forms, each person has one love language that’s most dominant. So you can love your partner to death and spoil them with a gift a day, but if their love language is physical touch, just they won’t feel loved.

It’s a simple concept, really. But I feel like there’s more, and I want to share my personal thoughts on the topic. Disclaimer: I haven’t read the book. I haven’t taken the quiz either; my assessment is purely from a self-knowledge perspective, as well as some casual analysis of and discussion with my friends. With this in mind, I would like to propose my theory: every person encapsulates all five love languages.

Because thinking back to that same birthday, I recalled my friend sitting next to me in calc and telling me that she had a present for me, she just couldn’t bring it to school that day. I also remember inwardly cringing, because I get so awkward about receiving gifts, and honestly, if I want something, I’ll save up for it myself. It feels better that way. So here are two love languages- my love language, and what I’ll call my un-love language, the language that makes me feel uncomfortable.

And then I was talking to my sister, who told me that she found love languages so funny, because what she likes getting is different from how she actually shows affection. And I realized I’m like that, too; compliments and words keep me going, but I rarely dole out any of my own. Instead, I am all about acts of service. And the flip side to that is the love language I have the hardest time giving, which for me is physical touch. And the final love language is your neutral one.

So what does this mean?

It means love languages are a little more complex than they appear. Because it’s no longer simply about identifying your and your partner’s love languages; all the types have to be somewhat compatible. Because if the one language I can’t stomach is quality time and my partner craves it, then it takes extra effort on my part to fix myself and my aversion to quality time to make sure my partner feels love.

Because at the end of the day, I believe that the point of love languages is to become comfortable giving and receiving each and every one of them. Obviously, you will always have an innate preference, and that’s perfectly okay! But I would be knocking out a good 2/5, maybe 3/5 of the world if I only stuck to people whose preferences for showing and accepting love were exactly compatible with mine.

And one final thought; I think love languages are for more than relationships. I think every friendship, every encounter with a parent or child or sibling can only be strengthened when you know their love language and engage them with it. Loving isn’t exclusive to a romantic relationship.

Other Sharp Objects

other-sharp-objectsart by Agnes Cecile

 

Allow me to tell you a riddle;

Blue comes home from school this afternoon and she’s bouncing, energy crashing off wallpaper and knickknack shelves. “Today,” she announces, plaits smacksmacksmacking against her rucksack, “my teacher taught us philosophy!”

Blue is my little sister. She is seven and clever and utterly enthusiastic, and it’s because of her that I am sure I am adopted. Clancy, too, but he at least can still perform the movements of subdued should the occasion call for it. I am not enthusiastic. I am perpetually apathetic, marginally clever, and cannot remember the wanton happiness that accompanied being seven. This is only one of the ways I do not resemble my siblings.  

I can hear Blue pacing now, a mess of vitality seeking an outlet, waiting for someone to take the bait and ask, “what did you learn about philosophy, dear daughter?”

Her target is a tangible bundle of energy herself, the nervous kind that stems from malnutrition, alcoholism, and the insanity that comes with obsessive counting of the caloric variety. Clancy’s fingers play passive-aggressive taps on the marble island, and Veronica, our mother, finally sets down her wineglass for long enough to acknowledge Blue with a vague, “of course, darling.”

Apparently this is sufficient.

“If a tree falls in a forest,” Blue says, voice raised, arms whipping audible vibrations, still skipping about, “and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?”

If a tree falls in a forest;

Amsterdam Avenue. It’s always Amsterdam Avenue. Our father’s driver, Andre, takes us to our various private schools this morning but he’s busy in the afternoons. I usually beg Clancy to pick me up and walk me from Broadway to Central Park West because even though he is largely made of limbs loosely looped together with rubber bands, he is male, and that alone is enough. But today I am officially a senior and far too proud to ask.

Here’s why I hate Amsterdam Avenue: it’s home to too many bars and pubs. It’s fine at seven in the morning, when the city hasn’t had much chance to do anything but open its eyes and reach for a coffee, but getting off school at three means I pass Amsterdam at prime day-drinking hours.

I never, never take Blue, because for her I pretend to be whole. I like to entertain the thought that Mummy would curl her frail arm around my shoulders and usher me to safety, locking me in my bedroom until the world turns kind and soft, but reality would probably present me with something closer to indifference, and I am too afraid to find out I am right. If I’m walking with Consuelo we’ll make a game out of it; I’ll shout back at the men who think they can lay claim to my figure, my curls, sometimes even my sunglasses, my only voluntary concession to fashion because Consuelo bought them for my 16th birthday. Daddy whistled when I removed them from their case, and even Mummy commented on their loveliness. I am still trying to pay Lo back for this luxury she can hardly afford, when all her spare change goes to her starving family in Chile. It’s in money, mostly, extra dollar bills I have Blue slip into her wallet when she isn’t looking, but when I’m caught and she’s feeling proud it’s usually in hollering good insults, like the Spanish kind she effortlessly spits from her otherwise gentle mouth.

So today they call out offers, compliments that scratch at my skin, and all the while I shuffle/shuffle/rap my way to Columbus, methodical. Silent and alone.

“Stop yelling at her, you creeps.”

A new voice, familiar but without substance. On an anonymous street, I have no way to identify the timbre, the vitriol that bites at the consonants. Quieter now: “I’m right next to you. Can I walk you home? I recognized you from history.”

I don’t have any friends. This is a fact and not a cry for help. I do have paid acquaintances, and it is in this respect exclusively that I faintly resemble my peers. The closest person in my life to a friend is Consuelo, only because I’m fairly certain that if my father stopped paying her to be my nanny, she would still manage to stick around. So this girl and I do the small talk thing other girls are so fond of. She tells me her name is Morgan, she has two cats, is on her way to the library, and I tell her about my sophomore brother and baby sister, my home on 91st and Central Park West, the thrill of the bugles exploding into “Taps”, the interlude to Landlocked Blues, my favorite song.

It’s nice, and that’s what surprises me. Because all my life I have never seen kindness, an outstretched hand or a well-placed smile, and there is something genuine and light radiating from Morgan like sunshine, only vaguely tinted with the awkwardness I am resigned to. She smells more like Lo than like Mummy; less expensive perfume and French embroidery floss, more fruity shampoo and the stubborn stink that always faintly clings to thrift store flannel, and that’s when I know, without even knowing her face, that she isn’t beautiful on the outside, not like Mummy or the girls who used to trip me in the hallways of elementary school. She is beautiful on the inside, though, which I think I prefer.

She stopped to talk to me. Maybe we can be friends.

“You are quite pretty,” Morgan concedes as we near my apartment. A thank you is rapidly working its way up my throat, because even though these ears can hear mysteries and sunsets and jealousy, too, I can ignore that for now, when something vaguely resembling happiness is bubbling through my veins. Morgan speaks again though, too soon, from somewhere far away, and the words flap like bats through my skull: such a pity. That thank you is dying deep in my stomach.

And I continue to crawl along, but inside my head I am running.

…and no one is around to hear it;

I have never seen my own reflection. No soulful gazing into mirrors, surreptitious glances into the backs of spoons. I haven’t so much as taken a selfie, and even though our parlor walls reek of professional family photographs, their tiny mouths do not smile in my direction as I enter or skulk past.

It feels like my whole life I have been told I am gorgeous, the spitting image of my model-like mother. I can’t properly remember a time before. It is the easiest thing that I have to offer; apparently, I am. Blue reminds me on average once a week, and young children in playgrounds often come over, hands sticky and smelling of ice cream and innocence, to touch my wrists and tell me I look like a princess. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that little kids and smashed adults always speak the truth.

So for all these years I am nothing more than a thesaurus entry for beautiful. Because I am fire, and arguments, and the Ramones, they give me the only thing I cannot ably refute.

You are brilliant/ I made 70s on all my exams.

You are musical/ my voice is the edges of broken glass.

You are attractive and fashionable and chic/ all of my words have dried up.

And every time it feels like losing.

…does it still make a sound?

Blue likes to do this thing where she sits cross-legged on my lap and traces the planes of my face. She picked it up from me when she was a baby, watched me with pure eyes as I cautiously met new people and discovered their features in the only way I knew how. When Blue does it to me it’s creepy and a little weird but it’s the only action that can calm her down when our mother is passed out via Ambien, the sole moments she has access to her dreams, and our father has disappeared into his paperwork, his floor plans and permits. To black and white worlds with no room for mistakes, where the problems have far easier solutions. So Blue clambers onto my bed today, tugs off my headphones mid-song. I can feel her eyes on mine.

My name is Luna and if your name is your essence you can see mine in these clouded white eyes. There is a part of me that is always hidden away, even when I otherwise appear whole. I hide from my classmates, from my family. Though sometimes I wish otherwise, I don’t completely know myself. The way my eyes crinkle when Blue makes me laugh, the curve of my lips as I pronounce my favorite words, the precise auburn of my hair.

Clancy though. Clancy is easy to know. He is that sharp, 16-year-old boy spice of Axe and wool blazers, callused hands and feet, such rough hair you can feel the untidiness of it beneath your fingertips. The thud of a hand hitting a basketball and the whispers of the soft baby brother beneath wishing you a good night. Brief but tight hugs, and security. Home.

But Blue…

So I ask her: lovey, tell me about blue.

Because I know Blue, plastic bangles clattering against each other and sometimes only dully hitting skin, scented markers bleeding fragrant along her hands, the feel of her smile against my cheek, but I don’t know blue, the origins of this sprite breathing steadily into my collarbones, fingers splayed out on my stiff school blouse, right along my ribs.

“Blue,” she says, the word slowly stretching between us, and I can hardly breathe. “Blue is raindrops. Not thunderstorms, but the normal rain that comes like tears. Blue is oceans, the deep smell of salt and fish and magic. And blue is winter, I suppose, cold, when you can’t feel your toes because the snow has gone into your wellies. That’s why blue feels sad.”

She stops, and I feel rain on my skin, smell snow and taste oceans. “So you aren’t blue, then,” I say, voice catching on splinters somewhere inside my throat.

“No, because that’s just what people think of when they think of blue. Mummy’s that sort of blue, because veronica is a flower and it’s pretty, but it’s small and fragile and pale. It could fall apart any minute, and only leave behind a thin, ugly stem. But I’m blue, too, because blue is denim, permanence and comfort, and blue is the sky at every hour. Changing, maybe, but always, always there. It’s peppermints, little baby boys, your favorite song.” She hums a few bars of Landlocked Blues, and she’s right. “Blue is everywhere, and it’s alive.”

She fiddles with my hair, braids and unbraids the strands until I nod.

“Can you see it now?” she asks me in a tiny voice.

“No,” I say after some time, because I cannot lie to her, because she is still seven and she still only knows the truth and it’s still one of the things I love about her. “I can’t. But it’s okay, because I’ll always have you to remind me.”

She floats her fingers along my eyebrows, wondering, and I wait. “I think philosophy is stupid,” she finally admits. “Because sometimes the questions don’t need answers. They only need to be asked, not talked about so much. And the philosophers don’t get it, keep shouting away when the only answer is that there is none.” Pause. “I’m not sure why it’s so hard.”

Blue goes silent, and I gather the courage to say, almost to myself: if a girl is told she is shattering-looking but cannot see her own face, is she still considered beautiful?

Blue continues to gently trail her fingers along my skin, quiet and true as a ghost, and I think and think and think and still cannot find a way out.

 


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When Every Day Is Thanksgiving

thanksgivingPrint by Clairice Gifford

 

Thanksgiving just isn’t my holiday, okay?

For one, my family doesn’t even celebrate it; Thursday night will most likely find us crowded around the kitchen table like every other weeknight, albeit with takeout food instead of my mom’s amazing homemade dinners, because she deserves a vacation from cooking.

I used to livestream the University of Texas Longhorns football game to my freshman year Whatsapp group, but since the Big 12 decided to schedule the game for Friday this year, even that measly tradition is no longer mine (I’m sure my class is pleased though- I was quite annoying and vocal about it).

Of course, there’s also the fact that Thanksgiving celebrates the genocide of America’s native people. Personally, I haven’t done enough research to know the full extent of this claim, but my cursory knowledge would confirm this viewpoint, and it’s tragic.

But there’s a real reason why Thanksgiving isn’t a day I demarcate differently from any other day off from school: it’s because I truly believe that every day should be Thanksgiving. Why is the fourth Thursday in November any different?

Story time: one of my cousins was just telling me that in second grade, her teacher didn’t believe in Mother’s Day (or Father’s Day, for that matter), because it made it seem like there was only one day a year where a person had any obligation to appreciate her mother or father. And that isn’t true! So on a random day in the middle of the year, my cousin and her class made a Mother’s Day project, and the mothers loved it.

I feel this way about Thanksgiving. Designating one day a year to be grateful seems awfully trite and insincere, and we can do better. Personally, I recite formal prayers twice a day, not to mention all the little conversations I’ll have in my head with God (hey, I have a stats exam now, please help me remember all the distributions and their formulas? Half hour later: thumbs up, thanks for the help!) and there is a designated blessing in both prayers for thanksgiving in a general sense. Every person is required to be thankful on a daily basis, and I think that’s so important.

I could end right here if I wanted; message delivered and hopefully accepted. But I want to make this personal. I want to really inspire you, my much-appreciated reader, to become a grateful person whose “thank you”s slip easily off her tongue. So story time, part two.

One day I came to school and I was sad. This has been my life for the past seven or so years; random bouts of what I hesitantly refer to as depression, only because I haven’t been medically diagnosed, and haven’t so much as taken psych 101 in my illustrious college career. It’s this: hours, or days, and in September or February, usually weeks, where the sadness just becomes debilitating, because it’s so heavy it slowly crushes my lungs, my chest. My heart.

So it’s some day in late September when I show up to math class and the melancholy makes it hard to speak, to listen, to try and work out a problem I should be able to do. And I have a wonderful friend who notices that I’m blue, and not for the first time. She shows me funny videos of her niece, buys me chocolate, gives me a long hug. And when a few days later I’m feeling like myself again, she texts me, and says: I noticed you’re sad a lot, and it hurts me that you feel this way. So I was thinking that every night we could text each other one thing we’re thankful for. It doesn’t have to be anything major. Just one thing.

And I thought, it can’t hurt. Let’s try it.

I wish I could say that I’m cured. Spoiler: I’m not. October regressed into a horrible couple of weeks. As I’m writing this, it’s cold and windy and the air is hard to breathe from all the gloom it carries. Sometimes I still have days where I need to listen to the Smiths’ “The Queen is Dead” on repeat five or six times until I find the energy to move.

But it’s okay. Because no matter how bad a day becomes, at the end of it there has to be one redeeming factor. When I’m myself, my gratitude is generally a bit deeper; I’m thankful for friendship, for getting the answer right in a tricky class and earning a professor’s praise, for a life of meaning. But sometimes I’ll have silly responses, where I’ll be grateful for pizza, a new sweater, losing a couple pounds.

And on the days where getting myself from one minute to the next feels like wading through mud, I have to be present enough to focus on one thing that made this day go right. Once the only thing I could come up with was that I was grateful that the Yankees hadn’t made the postseason, because I didn’t have the energy to keep up with baseball anymore. And it meant just as much as any other more serious response up to that point.

Just today a teacher of mine told me something that changed my perspective completely. She used Stephen Covey’s definition of happiness (from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), which is that happiness is putting aside what you want now for what you want later, to explain that happiness stems from optimism. By foregoing something in the present for something in the future, a person is forced to believe that what lies ahead is worth waiting for, because it is a future that is welcoming and bright.

And that is how it is possible to be depressed, yet still happy, something I hadn’t believed possible, despite the vehement protestations of my parents and sister to the contrary. All it takes is the notion that one thing is worth living for now, and that one thing will remain worth living for tomorrow. And that affected me like no other words ever have.

I’m not healed, not even close, but I’m optimistic. And right now, that’s enough.

I want to challenge you to celebrate thanksgiving, a real thanksgiving, every day for a month. Choose one thing daily that you are grateful for, without repeating, and share it. Do it with a friend, a relative, a blank notebook. If you want, I’ll partner with you; it would be a privilege to interact with you this way, to know what makes you happy.

I’ll start off, right now. Today I am thankful for the ability to communicate with these words. Because if this reaches even one person, I will have made a difference, and in the end, that’s all I could ever ask for.

Election 2016: The Results Are In and the Winner is Apathy

Truth: when Lana asked me to write this article, my first thought was, but I don’t even care about politics.

My second: then I should write about that.

So here I am, writing about the general state of apathy I have felt for the past year and a half over the presidential election. It starts like this: there are about 20 primary candidates in the beginning, and it felt a bit pointless to do any research on them when within a few weeks half the pool would likely have dropped out of the race. But there were still so many to choose from, for so many months. And by the time the race finally narrowed, I- along with, I imagine, much of the world- was in disbelief that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were our options. Any hint of excitement I felt disappeared.

I wasn’t always like this. When I was eight, my school took us to Democracy Plaza, a pop-up exhibition in Rockefeller Center for children explaining the workings of our government and electoral systems, and I found it fascinating, enough that I went back with my family one weekend. My father loves politics, and I spent quite a bit of time curled up in a chair next to him, watching the news and absorbing the numbers (my forte, even then) that seemed to be the driving forces of who would represent the American people.

Election nights had a tangible tension and anticipation to them, as my sister and I sat on the wooden floor in front of the television with red and blue crayons and colored in electoral maps, tallying up votes in the margins and bringing the pages to school the following day. In eighth grade, I was one of the student ambassadors at my elementary school’s election night, helping the younger children discover the magic that was democracy.

I was helpful. I was passionate. I was alive.

This is the first presidential election where I am old enough to vote, and I don’t feel a thing. Normally, there’s such a thrill in doing something for the first time. I know I felt excited to vote for my first time two years ago, during a congressional election. This year, the only reason I am voting is because if my grandfather were still here, he would have never let me pass up the opportunity to vote.

He was 88 years old in 2008, the last presidential election year he was alive, recovering from pneumonia and recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, but he still called my mother on Election Day and said he was going to vote.

So my housekeeper took him to vote.

This gradual shift in my mindset was mostly unnoticed until I sat down to write this article. Because the only thing I care about is the fact that I really don’t care. And that terrifies me, because in a couple weeks, I turn 21. I’m a junior in college. I’m hardly old; for heaven’s sake, I’m a student! I am young, and idealistic, and I want to change the world. And I know that many of my contemporaries feel the same way. We want to rally, we want to protest. We want to feel we make a difference.

America’s bipartisan system is a funny one. Look at Bush vs. Gore in 2000, where the candidate who received more votes did not win the presidency. But the beauty of a bipartisan system is that it really does feel like your vote makes a difference. When there are so few choices, one vote can put one candidate over another.

This year, the race is as close as ever. I’m writing this article on Monday afternoon, and given that I’m sadly not a prophet, I have no idea what will be 48 hours from now. Even my beloved statistics have let me down; there is really no way to analyze the numbers accurately. But there’s a sense of apathy afoot, because tomorrow doesn’t look any brighter. We know that Trump is racist and sexist and homophobic, not to mention unqualified. We know that Hillary is a liar and could very well be indicted. And no matter who wins the election, that consciousness is still a part of our mental fabric. Our voices demanding someone better weren’t heard. This election is one of reaction, instead of action. And that will always hurt.

What to do on Election Day is clear- you go vote. There’s a secret ballot, so nobody will be out to get you. You can watch the election coverage, or not. That’s up to you.

But I honestly don’t know what comes afterwards, and it frightens me terribly. I want a way to recapture the fire I felt as a kid, marveling over government, my place in democracy, visiting Congress and the White House in Washington, DC with reverence. With awe.

I just don’t know how.

 


Caroline lives in New York and is a junior in college. She enjoys, among other pursuits, (American) football, music, and learning new things. You can find her on tumblr at thinking-pretendingtoread, where you can talk to her about such things as space, singing in the shower, and everyone’s favorite dead fictional characters.

On “The Boys Will Love It”

For Once, I’m Making This about Me

 

When I was nine years old, my mom came home from work with a copy of Sports Illustrated Kids.

“They were giving them out free in the office,” she shrugged, and I eagerly tore it open, even though I had zero previous knowledge of anything sports, because it was something new to read. Five minutes later, there was a poster of NFL running back LaDainian Tomlinson Scotch taped to my pale pink bedroom wall and I was spitting back the statistics I had memorized from the backs of the paper cards on the insert in middle of the magazine.

I have never looked back. From March to October I have baseball, from September to February I have football, and that formerly hellish month in between has recently been plugged in with college basketball. Sports is one of the many things I am passionate about, and even thought it drives my mom and sister crazy, I’m not giving it up any time soon.

So I know what you’re thinking now: this is another article about how sports aren’t just for boys. Title IX and all that, laws that put women in sports and validated their feelings. Jessica Mendoza is now a commentator on Sunday Night Baseball. Women are breaking barriers in sports. Good news to be spread to all.

Not quite.

I mean, I’m as happy as the next girl about all of the above, really. It’s important and it’s about time women in sports was normalized. But here’s the catch: it isn’t normalized. Not really.

I can explain by telling you about my first semester of college. I was in an honors program, and three of my five courses were with the same 20 students. It was the perfect opportunity to make new friends, in addition to the few acquaintances I already knew from high school.

Introverted by nature, I was hesitant to start a conversation, especially with the boys – I had been in an all-girls environment for the previous five years, and was simultaneously enamored with and intimidated by the boys. According to my friend with four brothers, I had all the components necessary to befriend the boys: a pretty face, a bottomless stomach, and a solid handle on sports. But still, I couldn’t make the first move.

Everything changed when we had our icebreaker event. It was food, conversation, and an awkward get-to-know-you game during our universal free hour. I was eating quantities of pizza that rivaled the boys as my friends daintily dabbed the oil off of their slices when we were each handed a packet of M&Ms, not to eat, but as a prop for the game. There was a key on the projector screen, where each color candy corresponded to a different question you had to answer for the class. I think I chose a brown M&M; regardless, my prompt was to talk about something on my bucket list.

So I started to tell the 40 kids in the room about Beat the Streak. For anyone who’s unfamiliar, BTS is a fantasy baseball game where every day, you choose a baseball player you expect to get a hit in that day’s game. If you can string together 57 consecutive such days, you’ve successfully “beat the streak” and earn an obscene amount of money and fame. Nobody has yet to come close and I didn’t think my chances were any better, but I figured it would be a fun thing to try.

Here’s what happened next: the boys looked at me, and it was different. It was with a sense of familiarity, of camaraderie, of this girl is one of us.

I’m not going to lie: it felt really good. It still feels really good, when I’m on a date and mention my love for football and the guy, in disbelief, asks a dumb question and I give him a five-minute discourse in return, relishing the resulting shock that colors his face. When my (male) (grad student) math professor calls me out on my Yankees jacket, and I prove my true allegiance to the team.

I’m not sure why; it could be the sentiment of “the boys are the ideal” is etched so deeply into my brain that it’s instinct at this point. It could be the yearning I’ve always felt for an older brother, the shenanigans I would pull to earn the attention of my cousin, a year and a half older and the type of boy whose girl counterpart I always dreamed of becoming. Maybe it’s something as stupid and as natural as being a straight girl who is attracted to boys. One of the things I pride myself on is my intelligence, and it somehow manages to go for a long run when I’m in the vicinity of a guy who is tall and clever and kind, and this yearning for validation is just another side effect.

It doesn’t really matter. Because while it took me some time, I’ve finally realized two things:

The first is that I crave the attention, and not necessarily the boys’. I’ve always had interests that were in a different realm than most of my friends and family. They don’t know anything about music that exists outside the realm of pop radio, and they don’t read much fiction. We’re not even mentioning the whole fandom/ Tumblr/ writing fic thing. So the sudden rush of interest and conversation was thrilling then. Now? College has presented me with new friends (surprisingly, mostly girls) who share most of my interests, and all of the conversations I used to have in my head are coming to life. So who needs the boys now?

But it’s the second thing I’ve learned that changed my perspective, and it’s this: everything I love, I love for myself. Not for the boys, who will more often than not refuse to take me seriously when I rant about the Ryan Fitzpatrick Situation™ or recommend a cool article from ESPN. Certainly not for my family, who frown at my affinity for graphic sweatshirts and pins on everything and tell me to stop acting like a flower child because “it isn’t cute”. Yes, a lot of my passions stemmed from typical teenage rebellion and the desire to stick out. But I’m lucky; I fell in love along the way, and that made all the difference. I started listening to indie folk bands because, in my insular community, it made heads turn. It made people ask questions, and think I was this model for all things indie and hipster, and it was thrilling. At first, the beauty of instruments raining notes around me like stars was immaterial. The music’s beauty didn’t count; it was a means and not an end.

The joke is on me. I am utterly normal in nearly every respect, and you know what? That’s perfectly okay. My friends and family know that I am always willing to help them with their math assignments and English compositions. That sometimes I ignore texts because my mind is enveloped in a good book or a double overtime thriller. That I will try my hardest to make them laugh, always.

I am myself, and I am enough.

There’s a quote from Haruki Murakami that is one of my favorites: if you don’t know what you love, you are lost. I would like to amend it, and say if you don’t know why you love, you are lost. When I was trying to cultivate this image for myself, I found who and what to love, but I didn’t know why I loved it, and I was lost. I wouldn’t quite say I’ve found my way yet, but I have a map, and a compass, and I know where I want to go.

I’m here to remind you that nobody can dictate your choices, both big and small. You are the what and the why of everything you will ever love. You want to wear a backpack when everyone else uses dainty leather purses? Go for it. Something “boyish” like programming is your bliss? Study it! Become the best in your field. Follow your dreams, regardless of what the world thinks of them. They’re yours, and only yours.

If you’d like, pretend I’m cheering you on. But you don’t need my approval, you know. Girls are conditioned into believing that they are supposed to be subservient to society’s expectations for them, and I’m telling society to go to hell. You do you, girlies.

Meanwhile, I’ll be here, minding my own business and filling out my MLB postseason bracket. And maybe this year, I’ll finally get it right.

 


Caroline lives in New York and is a junior in college. She enjoys, among other pursuits, (American) football, music, and learning new things. You can find her on tumblr at thinking-pretendingtoread, where you can talk to her about such things as space, singing in the shower, and everyone’s favorite dead fictional characters.

And you can follow Loud and Alive on Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter!

Why General Electric’s Commercials Matter

General Electric is Industry and Technology and Empowering Women

 

Like many people worldwide, I spent most of August binge-watching the Olympics, mostly during primetime, but sometimes planning my day around proximity to a TV when the US women’s basketball team was playing in the middle of the afternoon (what the heck, Olympic organizers?).

But as interested as I was in the athletes, I found the commercials to be just as captivating, mostly because they were actually funny – I never failed to smirk at the BMW commercial of the frat brother-like, overly superstitious men headed to some competition, and my mom has a soft spot for the Geico ad with Marco Polo.

But the one commercial that really stuck out for me was part of a series done by General Electric, specially aired during the Olympics. GE is an American corporation that services various fields, including power and gas, aviation, transportation, and computing. Basically, they do a little bit (okay, a lot) of everything! The group of six commercials they aired features Sarah, who cheerfully explains to various individuals that GE is both a digital company, and an industrial one, and she happens to work on the industrial side of things. She is often seen building a jet engine, or talking about her latest project with her husband.

So why do I love these commercials? Part of it is because I am a woman in STEM, and I’m fed up with explaining my major (applied mathematics with a concentration in computer science, if you were curious) to everybody who inquires, especially since most of them wouldn’t know an invertible matrix if it sauntered over and insulted their new Jimmy Choos. So yeah, it’s sort of personal. But more than that, the real reason is because Sarah is such an afterthought.

Let me elaborate: a few years back, Verizon, an American telecommunications provider, had a recurring ad that showed Samantha, who from the time she was little was exclusively referred to by her parents as pretty, and often told to leave difficult science and engineering related projects to her older brother. By the time she reached middle school, she was only concerned with her lip gloss, and not the upcoming science fair, despite her natural love for and talent in science-related fields. The commercial was very well-received when it debuted, and for good reason – it was well done. It wasn’t subtle in the slightest; it was a direct call to encourage girls to enter STEM fields, a message that deserves to be shouted from rooftops worldwide.

Enter Sarah and her GE commercials. The point of these commercials was to tell the world that there are two sides to GE: the technological side, which tells machines what to do, and the industrial side, which builds said machines. The message is well-conveyed, so in that respect, kudos, GE. But there’s a secondary, far subtler implication as well: women can build machines, too. When we see a woman who works for GE, we can’t automatically assume that she works in the digital field. And this makes me so happy because it implies that women working in technological fields is commonplace.

For instance, here is the first commercial I saw, which is also my favorite of the lot: Sarah gets onto the bus and sits down next to an Asian-American woman, who comments on the GE employee ID tag dangling from Sarah’s backpack. She immediately begins to bombard Sarah with tech questions, asking about coding and new developments in software, and when Sarah calmly responds that she works on the industrial side of things, the woman is sure that Sarah is playing dumb in attempt to protect company secrets. The ad ends with the woman tossing various complicated-sounding programming buzzwords to Sarah as she exits the bus.

Humans, this is great! Firstly because it once again shows Sarah, a total rockstar who goes to work in a sweatshirt and ponytail because oh, yeah, she’s building planes. And secondly, we have women of color! Who code! And it isn’t the punch line! GE could have easily chosen white male actors to build the planes and answer the questions. But they didn’t. They chose Sarah.

And what’s even better is that the company actually does empower women in their workforce. After doing a bit of research, I found out that GE has a women’s network, a forum where female employees can talk and share information and experiences. (The company also has similar pages for African-American, Asian-American, LGBT, and Hispanic employees, as well as a space for veterans.) Additionally, they are #3 in Top 50 Companies by Woman Engineer Magazine, The Times Top Employer for Women, and part of Working Mother 100 Best Companies, and Top 5 Great Places to Work in the UAE for Women.

GE is doing its part to create equality in its workforce, on the industrial side and on the digital one, and that’s a job well done.

 


Caroline lives in New York and is a junior in college. She enjoys, among other pursuits, (American) football, music, and learning new things. You can find her on tumblr at thinking-pretendingtoread, where you can talk to her about such things as space, singing in the shower, and everyone’s favorite dead fictional characters.

You can follow Loud and Alive on Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook!