Chaser

Well, last Wednesday night, the thing I’ve been dreading for months finally happened – the end of baseball season. Well, that is, the end of the only baseball season that matters: Cubs season.  I was dreading it no matter what, but I thought (and hoped) that I’d have a couple weeks left to enjoy the powerhouse, 97-win 2015 season of my all-time favorite sports team. And, I felt a very real hope that when the season did end, it would be on a note of elated, victorious triumph as the North Side’s 107 year championship draught finally came to an end. I truly believed that this was going to be the year. I know that’s what every Cubs fan says every year, but this year, there was a heavy dose of realism to temper the blind optimism. Joe Maddon is the manager we’ve been waiting for. Kris Bryant is a shoe-in for the NL ROTY. If Jake Arrieta doesn’t win the Cy Young award, then I don’t know what to think. Anthony Rizzo batted cleanup like nobody’s business and looked damn sexy doing it. The fielding was good, the hitting was insane. The team was full of youth and promise – they came out not thinking about losing, not thinking about the odds against them, just thinking about playing and playing to win.

And something did feel special. Their shutout victory in the NL Wild Card game against the Pirates was quickly followed by a historic, quick, and home run-heavy 3-1 NLDS victory over their longtime rivals, the Cardinals.

And then the NLCS. The hardest four games of baseball I’ve maybe ever watched. In four crushing, landslide losses, the Cubs fell in the NLCS in a clean sweep by the Mets. And suddenly, I remembered what it usually feels like to be a Cubs fan. The hope, the choke, the disappointment. In the last game, with a 7-run deficit in the bottom of the eighth, KB hit a 2-run homer…and it was the most joyless thing I’ve ever seen. As I saw the deadness in his sparkling blue eyes as he rounded third, I realized, it’s really over.

And just like that, once more, “This is the year” turned back into “There’s always next year.”

I will say this – that’s one of the things I love about being a Cubs fan. They’re the Lovable Losers for a reason. No matter how abysmally they do, their fans still love them. I can’t think of a single other team that could do so bad for so long and still have so many devoted, die-hard fans (and by the way, people who say that a World Series win would “ruin the franchise” can suck it. Yeah, maybe that happened to the Red Sox, but that’s because they’re the Boston Red Sox. No one outside of Boston gives a shit. So just let that sink in). It’s that quintessential American idea that “tomorrow is the thing.” It’s the line that Fitzgerald wrote that made The Great Gatsby the Great American Novel. “It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch our arms out farther… And one fine morning –“

Also, it is worth mentioning that that book was a hella long way from being written the last time the Commissioner’s Trophy made its way to Wrigley Field.

That’s what it is to be a Cubs fan. It’s the constant, true belief that next year is this year. And when it turns out not to be, it’s definitely next year.

And right now, that’s not just something I want for my Cubbies. It’s something I want for me. So this year…yeah, I took the loss pretty hard. I know it sounds crazy, but sports (especially baseball) are notoriously superstitious, so I think this can fly. I thought if maybe, next year was finally this year for the Cubs, then it’s possible it would be for me too.

In high school, I loved this song called “Weightless” by All Time Low.  The chorus goes: “Maybe it’s not my weekend, but it’s gonna be my year.” And even though I need everyone to know I don’t love All Time Low anymore, I still listen to that song pretty often in times of transition. Or just whenever I feel like I’m at a, well, all time low. I just want that to finally be true – this is my year. I always feel like something is missing, or even if it’s all there, things just don’t work out. I feel like my life has never felt like it’s taking off.

I don’t really think it’s my circumstances that stick me in a rut, it’s really me and my outlook. Despite being pretty optimistic and ambitious, I’m a chaser. I’ve somehow never found a way to be happy where I am because I’m so constantly thinking that it’s not quite right; I’d be better off somewhere else.

And let me tell you, that’s tricky. I don’t want to be constantly chasing, but I also don’t want to settle. It’s really tough to tell if I’m doing something good or something bad. I don’t want to be constantly too busy looking for the next best thing to enjoy where I’m at, but I also want to be brave enough to be able to drop everything and change my life if something’s not working. I’d rather be chasing than waiting around. But, what I really want is to find whatever it is I’m looking for. I definitely wouldn’t say I’m happy with my life right now, but I feel like the pieces might be there. And, while I’m still feeling that itch to do something totally different next year and see how that shakes out, I mostly feel like I want to make these pieces work. I want this to be the year where I say I’m here! I did it! But if it’s not, I want it to at least be the year where I just kind of said screw it and did something brave and unordinary and saw my life take an unexpected turn.

Here’s the catch though – I’m not that brave. I did do something brave by moving by myself to a whole new city, starting a whole new job, and leaving everything familiar behind. But even so, it feels like such a safe bravery. Because put another way, what I did was move to a safe Midwest city not far from my parents, take a stable job I’m not passionate about, and dive headfirst into a new life of quiet, sterile, lonely space. Nonetheless, it’s braver than I’m used to. So not seeing the “this is it” payoff kind of sucks.

And I thought if the Cubs won, that might be sign that this is the year. If I could watch this team win a World Series, with four rookies in the starting lineup, with the Curse of the Billy Goat, with the longest championship draught in North American sports history, with a true-blue tradition of losing…then anything could be possible. Maybe, just maybe, a big victory could be on the horizon for me too. Maybe the unexpected could really happen. Maybe my unlikely pieces would come together for something amazing.

But, there’s always next year. And that, most definitely, will be the year.

Gen Netflix

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First of all, I think it bears mentioning that I do have a qualm or two about posting this in the wake of my smartphone post…could I be any more preachy in my cautionary tales against technology? Seriously, if my life were a movie, I’d be like, the Woody Harrelson character. It’s really not a superiority thing; I just try to be wary of anything that serves mainly as a distraction and simultaneously makes us feel like we can’t live without it, thereby worming its way into totally controlling our lives. That way, I’ll perhaps be able to maintain at least a semblance of a grip on reality when the events of a Michael Crichton novel inevitably come to pass. But, at least with the smartphone post, I didn’t have to feel the sneaking sting of hypocrisy *quite* as much because I’m still rockin’ dat LG slider phone. But now, I might as well just not even write this post considering how completely I’ve succumbed, body and soul, to the siren song of the thing I’m about to criticize. And I’m not referring to like, occasional guilty dabbling. I’m all in with it. I’m talkin’ ‘bout the best $8.99 I spend a month – my boo Netflix.

If you’ve spent any time at all on the internet, you have at least a small idea of what a huge place Netflix has in the hearts of the millennial generation.  Knowing TV shows is essential to understanding linguistic shorthands and cultural inside jokes, the pictures accompanying articles are often TV screenshots, long-since-cancelled shows like Twin Peaks and Arrested Development are enjoying a new wave of fans, and it’s perfectly acceptable to consider a fictitious personage like Barney Stinson or Tina Belcher a personal hero and role model. And HOW would we have such a thorough knowledge of these shows, references, shorthands, and characters if not for Netflix – taping shows on VHS? Doubt it.

In a way, it is cool – incredibly creative and talented minds are involved in making TV shows. Each episode is a work of creative art, albeit a bit lowbrow, and it’s awesome that the product of that creativity has such a place in the everyday lives and conversations of larger society. Shows capture and, to some extent, mold the cultural zeitgeist, and I think that with the right critical eye, we really can learn a lot about ourselves by paying attention to the shows we watch. And, shows are CRAZY clever and entertaining – how lucky am I that I get to re-watch Arrested Development to catch all the Easter eggs that were impossible to catch on live, un-pausable TV?! I think there is something to be said for the way that characters like Leslie Knope and Jim Halpert can come to feel like friends. For me, I first started watching Parks and Rec and The Office with my mom, and now, in times of loneliness, the funny and familiar laughs I get from those shows remind me of the first time I laughed at that with my mom.

The not-so-awesome corollary of this , however, is our growing tendency to fill up the lonely spaces in our lives with Netflix. I mean, it’s so. Easy. You don’t even have to queue the next episode! I mean, that’s 100% me, so I would know. Getting ready for work, cooking dinner, writing this right now, trying to fall asleep, painting…you name it, the voice of Liz Lemon or Don Draper is acting as my background noise. And, even with other people, it seems like we still want to grab on to Netflix and make that false, smoothly resolved storyline the backdrop to our real, less teleological interactions. Case in point: “Netflix and chill” is a euphemism for “have sex.” Because apparently, you need to hear Alton Brown’s voice in the background while you’re doin’ it. I say “apparently,” well, for one because I’m not having much sex at the moment ( 😦 ), but also because if I say “Netflix and chill,” I mean it! I don’t beat around the bush – if you don’t want to watch this episode of Cutthroat Kitchen, then why did you come over?!

But, that actually doesn’t bother me as much. It is nice to just be with someone, chilling by the TV, snuggling, what have you. What bothers me more is that, having every great TV show right there on our computers, it kind of dulls the impetus to go out and do something with our lives. As someone who’s just gotten into the working world, I’m really realizing what a time suck and energy suck full time jobs are. You get up early, drive for 30 minutes, nine hours later you get back in the car, drive 30 minutes, and you’re home. You take some time to unwind, eat dinner…and suddenly, it’s 8 pm! On a weeknight, it’s hard to want to get back in the car to go the gym, a community event, or a class of some kind; but, you don’t want to twiddle your thumbs for 3 or 4 hours, so you do. Or…you can just stay on your sweet, familiar couch with that plushy blanket and watch Netflix! I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve watched an episode of something while eating my dinner and thought, I’ll just watch one more, and then I’ll read, or write, or paint. And before you know it, it’s 11 and I didn’t do anything with my night! And, it’s not like I don’t enjoy it and just do it because I don’t have anything better to do – I live in an amazing city with tons of cool things to do and I have some great co workers who’d probably like to hang out with me. But so many nights, Netflix wins! And after nine hours at an extremely mentally challenging and an extremely dry job? Hell yeah, I do like it. I like relaxing and turning my mind off and chuckling at funny things. But at the end of the day, is that really how I want to spend my life?

Of course, we are all living in a social world, and despite the apparent excitement that so many of us feel when plans get cancelled, we do have relational lives and personal goals that involve other people. But, even when we do leave our couch pants and laptops at home, Netflix still quietly nudges us, reminding us of the special place it has in our hearts. Of course, this is a much more subconscious thing. I doubt any of us spend our time out thinking of the shows we wish we were watching instead. It’s more of a weird sort of FOMO that we experience even as we’re out doing something.

So, quick sidetrack – there’s a movie I watched on Netflix called Don Jon, and the movie is mostly about how pornography addiction can make real sex empty and unsatisfying. But, it also touches on how romantic movies can make real relationships feel disappointing. In both cases, false expectations of the other people’s behavior create a desire for a relationship that’s pretty one-sided…but because we’re so used to seeing those kinds of relationships in porn or movies, we don’t realize how unhealthy it actually it is. So, keeping with this idea, I think TV is actually kind of like “life porn.” We can watch TV or porn or a movie literally whenever we want and all we have to do is just lie there, but real life stuff…oh man! We have to go out! We have to do that whole “does-this-person-like-me-oh-wait-do-I-even-like-this-person-in-the-first-place” song and dance, we have to put in all this effort, we have to stop being so goddamn selfish! So it’s just so weirdly easy to conflate the easy with the real.

I touched on this in a previous post, but certain cultural scripts – making new friends, navigating relationships, overcoming general problems – have made their way into real life in such a way that we get frustrated when stuff doesn’t really happen in an as-seen-on-TV way. Which, seriously? Since when are life’s most complex scenarios explored and resolved in 23 minutes?? And yet, we kind of always think that conflict eventually gets resolved, maturely and satisfyingly. Conversation always sparkles. People always come around to a reasonable way of thinking. That cute guy in the bookstore WILL notice you, and he WILL ask you out! Most people are decent and funny or eccentrically weird in the kind of way you still don’t mind them too much! If you’re saying this and thinking it’s about right, then respectfully, shut your honky bitch mouth.

Things take FOREVER to resolve (do they actually ever resolve? Probably not). People are jerks. Men are passive. And, you have to work really hard and constantly feel frustrated to make ANYTHING happen. Not in a Leslie Knope way. In like a Hillary Clinton way. Minus the snazzy pantsuits and SNL cameos, even.  TV is totally life porn! We get hooked on watching and it messes with the real stuff.

So it’s all fine and good to joke about our relationship with our Netflix accounts, to spend a Sunday night re watching half a season of New Girl, or to consider a fictional TV character a role model. But there comes a point where you just ind of have to be like…real life sucks, but it’s kind of better. At least it’s real.

Growing Up’s the Pits

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Well, if you’re an avid fan of mine, you may have noticed there’s a couple months of a gap in my blog posts. I’ve heard your clamor; I’ve heard your outcry – and, much like the great franchises of Jurassic Park and Magic Mike, I’m BACK. The reason for my brief hiatus is that I’ve been busy transitioning from my life as a glorified teen into my life as an adult-like human woman. I like, “got a job” with a “salary” and “health insurance” and “moved to another state” and “started a 401(K)” and “registered to vote” and shit like that.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve watched a lot of The Golden Girls, which led me to believe that when you drop everything you’ve ever known to start your next act in a whole new city, you instantly find sweet digs, kooky but great friends, and lots of local romance, and while you wait for your next wacky excursion you just hang out in the kitchen with a sassy Italian immigrant and eat lots of cheesecake. I knew that in reality, I probably wouldn’t find that in my pilot episode, so to speak, which was fine. Now I’m kind of wondering if I’ll even find it in my first season.

When I left Illinois on May 31st, the last thing I did was eat at Subway with my parents. I got in the car, and on my way to Wisconsin (I know, when I talked about moving, I know, you weren’t expecting a journey so epic and arduous as northern Illinois to southern Wisconsin), I passed by my favorite used bookstore and wondered if I had time to pop in. Then it kind of dawned on me – this was my last day, at least for quite a while, of familiarity. My last day of feeling at home and belonging somewhere I’d been for a long time.  No more Christmas Break. No more Summer Vacation. From now on, when I say “I’m going home,” I don’t really mean the house where my parents and brother and sweet little dog live or the town where I made the best friends I’ve ever had.

Of course, I know I’ll always have a home wherever my parents are. But my mom would never refer to my grandma’s house as “home.” And I know it sounds like such a simple thing, but I suddenly saw that I was really leaving my childhood behind as I drove away. A day that started so normal – I was staying at a friend’s house, I slept in, I made coffee, ate breakfast, watched a show, packed my bag – turned out to be a turning point.

Maybe I’m giving this a little too much gravitas, but since I have not yet established myself as the Blanche Devereaux of Madison, I feel a little justified in my sad feelings. I’m up to my eyeballs in tasks and expectations at my new job. I spent my first three weeks living alone in a hotel – and now I live alone in an apartment. I know absolutely no one here. I’m a terrible driver on unfamiliar roads and they’re suddenly all unfamiliar so I’ll probably die in a wreck.  I’ve gotten kind of chubby. It’s a bit of a letdown.

See, when I imagined myself starting my “new life,” I had this vision of me instantly excelling at work, breezily making friends, quickly establishing my local haunts, all of which come readily equipped with a Cheers-like set of regulars (OK, I seriously have to stop watching the Hallmark Channel late at night), getting asked out on a date by the first guy I talk to, and being really skinny and blonde, buying fresh produce at the Farmer’s Market right after my ten mile run. So, on one hand, it’s good to hold on to that vision because that’s the person I want to be, I guess. And, I did dye my hair blonde, so…check! But, on the other hand…seriously? That stuff takes time, and mentally acting like it wouldn’t kind of set myself up for disappointment. The reality is, I’m lonely. I don’t have anyone to talk to. I don’t know where to go to do the things I want to do. And I can’t help but think what I’d be doing if I were home – which, funnily enough, still means my parents’ home. My mom and I would be going to Kroger at midnight, buying healthy foods to make our summer diet more fun. I’d be running on my favorite routes from high school cross country. I’d be staying up late with my brother, watching those rat bastard liars the Golden Girls as we work on Infernally Hard (actual title) crossword puzzles together. We would be playing our favorite ’80s board games together after my dad came home at night. My dog would be sleeping in my bed with me. We’d maybe take a family vacation. I’d be working at Wal Mart or something. Instead, I’m watching Snapped: Killer Couples marathons at night and spending the day at a job where I don’t know my co workers and feel in way over my head.

And that’s where I am. There’s no big “but then I realized…” or “but you know what?” moment. I’m living in that struggle right now. I wish I had more of a resolution to this story, but in reality – unlike in the TV arcs my generation might be a tad more familiar with – life doesn’t tend to resolve, at least not in 30 minutes minus commercials. Hopefully, one day I’ll realize I’m 51% happy. Then, hey, you know, I’ll still have problems, but I’ll be more happy than not.

In the meantime though, I am focusing on what I can control. I can work on my writing, my health, and my creativity. Probably my driving, too, while I’m at it. I can check out cool places – even just like, one new place a week. And if it’s terrible and weird by myself, eh, whatever, right? I can’t make people like me or want to date me, but I can make myself a better person. I can make my life a little sweeter and happier. I can go see Inside Out by myself and sob the whole time and tell a group of tweens to shut up because I’m trying to have a moment.

And in the midst of everything, I have the choice to see living in the struggle as positive. Believe me, it’s tough – it’s tough to be 22, a time in my life where the world should be a feast, and feel like I’m missing out on absolutely everything. But, just when I think, oh my goodness, I’ve fucked up my life and listlessly become the person my parents and the people around me wanted me to be, something happens. And it reminds me I’m powerful, I’m strong, and I’m in charge. And, I’m 22! The world is a feast, but I have a long time to take advantage of it. Maybe now, it’s better for me to hunger and thirst. And little morsels – like being able to see my friends, beautiful weather, pop punk, good books, Netflix, and the Chicago Cubs’ red hot season – so sweet that feel me with such gratitude for this lovely life, will fill me until then. I’ll close with these words from a letter from one of the most wonderful friends I know:

“You are the most courageous of all my friends – even me. We all scrambled to find a way to live somewhat comfortably post-graduation but you jumped into the great-unknown alone. And I know that can be a double edged sword but I believe you are the type of person to succeed in this situation…you are not the kind of person to settle and take what she can get.”

Hell no, I’m not! Death, creep ever closer – I’m ready to face my future!

Why I No Longer Consider Myself a Feminist

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sorrynotsorry

A year ago, I would have seen this title, rolled my eyes, and prepared for outrage. So if YOU’RE reading this, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but this won’t be anything like the “Why I Don’t Need Feminism” tumblr that made the rounds a few months back. That was pretty terrible, and this post won’t be holding hands with that one anytime soon.

But you might still get mad.

To provide some context, an overview of my affair with feminism might be helpful. In high school, I knew it as a vocab word in my social studies textbooks and as a concept that the pundits on Fox News despised. I didn’t have any strong opinions on feminism when I was eighteen, but, if pressed, I would probably say nah. I didn’t know too much about feminism, but I thought it could be summed up as women who think that stay at home moms are losers, promiscuity and abortion are cool, women who want to get married are dumb, girly-girls are offensive, and all men are chauvinist pigs.  Although I knew I wasn’t not cut out to be a stay-at-home mom, I thought that this was a very honorable choice. I thought that sleeping around was a bad choice for men and women both. My stance on abortion was, politically, pro-choice, but morally, I believed abortion was always the wrong choice unless the life of the mother was in danger. I wanted to get married and have sweet little babies. I was hyper-feminine. I knew some really amazing men (Exhibit A: my father).  So, given my opinions and limited knowledge of the concept, I could definitively say that, not only was I not a feminist, I believed the movement as a whole was unnecessary and silly.

There was no landmark occasion or big event that marked the turning point in my way of thinking. Ultimately, it came down to getting more education about the subject and being able to discuss it with well-informed people. It’s hard to pinpoint how exactly it came about, but by the end of my freshman year of college, I was a proud, nineteen year old feminist. What’s more, I still held tight to the things I thought and was in high school. Actually, the list in the last paragraph is accurate still today. And believing and being all those things, from high-femme to man-loving, was totally compatible with feminism! Gee, isn’t that neat.

And feminism, at its best, is not mutually exclusive with values like those I have – it celebrates the dignity of all lives, the equality of all people, and the belief that freedom from oppression is a right and a possibility. Those are my values. But alas…feminism is no longer one of them.

Here’s where I’ll leave a little intermission for you to Google a certain image, smugly proving to me that I am indeed a feminist. You know what, I’ll save you the trouble, here it is:

gallery_big_feminism_definition

For good measure, here’s another!

crazy shirt

Yeah…that’s not what feminism is anymore, folks. Denotatively, sure, but connotatively – NOPE.  And that’s why I no longer want to associate myself with the term feminism. Connotations and usages of words change and evolve; it’s part of the dynamism of language. That’s why you won’t hear me saying, “I’m going out to get some fags for the fire,” “Michelangelo’s “David” is awful,” or, “My shoe closet is full of rubbers and thongs.”  So yes, if feminism were simply “the radical belief that women are people too” or “the social and political equality of women,” I would totally be a feminist. But, as it stands, it’s something else; something that I’m not.  I hear the chorus now: “That’s not true feminism! That’s a bastardization of feminism! The thing you’re against is a misunderstanding of feminism (see Fig 1 and Fig 2)!” Sorry, but at this point, IT HAS BECOME SOMETHING ELSE. These so-called “bastardizations” and “misunderstandings” are the vast majority of feminist “discourse” today. The label has changed to a point where I can’t associate myself with it anymore. (If you don’t think that makes sense, read about a member of the Republican Party about 120 years ago and ask yourself if they would still want to identify as a Republican today.)

So, now I need to clarify a really major point that does lead into the crux of this post, but more importantly, it stands on its own as something that I believe with all my being. If I were reading up until now, I would be thinking “Wow, I’m so happy that you, a white middle class girl from Illinois, don’t need feminism. Sure, you don’t like it, so it’s useless. I can’t hear you over the sound of your privilege.”

That’s where you’re wrong. I might not call myself a feminist anymore, but nothing will ever change the fact that I am a member of the universal sisterhood. In a world where mass rape is a war weapon but not a crime, young girls – little girls, little children – are locked up like animals and sold as sex slaves, a uterus may well be a death sentence, and mothers see no problem mutilating the genitals of their own daughters, I can’t and don’t ignore the plight of my sisters. Those women and girls don’t belong to their oppressors; to the individuals and warped cultural elements that have claimed them – they belong to the sisterhood of the world. This sisterhood in itself is power, and that power can only be harnessed through solidarity.

But of every fifty “feminist” articles I’ve seen, thirty are lambasting Photoshop, fifteen are railing against high school dress codes, five are decrying the lack of social acceptance of body hair on women, four have something to do with Disney Princesses, and all of those find a way to mention Beyonce and a hashtag. Oh, the other one? That one, lone article that pops up talking abut ISIS’ brutalization of little Yadizi girls is the only one that feels like feminism to me. The rest are just…well, they’re stupid. My queen and spirit mother Simone de Beauvoir turns in her grave every time someone writes a feminist manifesto revolving around Meghan Trainor.

(Yikes, if I really wanted to sound like a snob, I would say here that I think everyone who wants to write a piece that could have “feminism” as a keyword has to read The Second Sex. Is it cool if I say I do totally think that but I know it sounds pretentious?)

Worldwide female empowerment is a priority, passion, and prayer of mine. But what feminism means in the American zeitgeist is not synonymous with worldwide female empowerment – it’s more of what I like to call uneducated Western white girl feminism. It’s the kind of drivel that minimizes and dilutes truly important women’s issues in America and the world. (American Black feminism, however, is a movement I admire – add Audre Lorde to my Queen Spirit Mother/required feminist thinkpiece prerequisite reading list please!

But, even movements that come so close to the ideals and convictions I hold have a few issues with me. The issue I really want to focus on is hypocrisy. American social justice cannot ask for equality and grow angry when it’s not offered a pedestal. Feminists can’t demand certain treatment from men but still find glee in getting away with being able to treat men in a poor manner.

American women are very close to gender parity, and I think that there are three steps that need to be taken before we more or less reach it and I feel comfortable wearing my feminist t shirt again, all three of which have to do with fighting hypocrisy. The first is to cease with self-victimization. It’s kind of tricky to articulate this, but I so often see and hear things that (American) feminists interpret as micro aggressions against (white) women, when in reality, they are very similar to things that these women would say to or about men without anyone raising an uproar. It often seems like feminists today look for “rage fodder” by focusing solely on female victims of gender-neutral issues. Before it sounds like I’m defending the poor ol’ white man – who has been and still is wildly privileged in this world – think about what I’m really saying. The closer we get to achieving equality, the need just becomes greater for women to start letting go of our own inferiority complexes. The more we need to refuse the urge to victimize ourselves. The more we need to see how we’ve proven our competence – hell, our excellence – now we need to start simply living it.

We don’t live in a world of mind readers – no one we meet will know exactly how we want to be treated or spoken to. So we still need to let them know respectfully, but we need to let go of the temptation to be offended. I know, it’s a huge high to feel like you can make people walk on eggshells around you. This is why I took up industrial dance. But it’s something that we just have to let go.

The second change I’d like to see comes back to a huge bugaboo I’ve had about feminism forever. Woman is not a “second sex,” but as sweet Simone herself would tell you, men and women, generally, are different!! It’s not a bad thing! My ideas about this, like, the mental image I get, is a scene at the end of a Paxil commercial. A diverse group dances with streamers at an outdoor festival and goes out for brunch in colorful sweaters and then each goes to his or her separate loft to create a Jackson Pollock-style painting. We are a celebration of difference! If you’re a woman who identifies more with masculine qualities or a man who identifies more with feminine ones, great! You’re not an anomaly, you’re another attendee at the Outdoor Festival of Difference. Because – Simone, holler if you’re listening – individuals contain more difference than the groups to which they belong. I want women to feel empowered by being, I don’t know, nurturing! Emotional! All those dirty words. In that empowerment comes the knowledge that such “negative descriptors” are expressions of a uniquely feminine strength. And, the fact that men can and do have those qualities as well is just further proof that the feminine and the masculine aren’t male/female specific, but they are real and very different concepts that have a beautiful power to tie people together.

And, last and most importantly – be kind to the person in front of you. We can talk all we want about matters of equality and social justice, but these conversations are meaningless if we can’t see the trees for the forest. If we lose sight of what it means to listen to the individuals who come into our lives, to truly seek to understand and love them, then our missions lose meaning.  Change never trickles down, it trickles up, and the best way to effect change is to keep your sight on your own sphere of influence. It’s easy to rage about the shit going on “the world,” but it’s more important to make your own life an oasis in that sea of shit. Even though it might be more satisfying to go take a swim in it just so you can groan to people about those swims you’ve taken in shit. The world is an angry, aggressive place. Posting articles with pull quotes on social media, while informative, won’t change that, but taking time to cultivate true kindness in your daily life certainly will.

Bottom line: I love women, and I’m glad to be one. But it’s time to stop demanding power and to start LIVING our power and pouring our strength into those who don’t yet have the courage to do the same.

Another Sad Bitch

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I like living in America. Given, I am a white Protestant from a middle-class family, so it’s not really that difficult. I like having indoor plumbing, twenty grocery stores in a five-mile radius, access to excellent medical care, electricity, a car, a bachelor’s degree, a 500 square foot apartment all to myself, a laptop, dozens of shirts, and a mattress. I like that I never really have to worry about my female reproductive abilities being my death sentence. I like that I can be reasonably sure that no one is going to kidnap my family in the night and that I can take a bus home without having to fear it will be the last thing I ever do. On top of the cushy luxury of American life, I also happen to have a fun, intact, loving family, lots of friends, and a pet with eerie longevity. Oh, I’m also perfectly healthy. My limbs work, my organs work, all five of my senses are up and running, and the most serious ailment I’ve ever had was mono.

All this is not to sound paternalistic; I definitely take care to avoid the attitude of “poor non-Americans, they’re hungry and sick and their lives suck.” People the world over have vibrant, awesome, and fortunate lives, some in ways similar to mine, many in vastly different ways. I happen to be American though, and being so, I’m lucky to have a degree of health, wealth, comfort, and safety that many people in the world don’t have. But, by recognizing these privileges, I certainly don’t intend to degrade the quality of life of those who have not been granted them.

So, despite being, very much like Ariel in the first half of The Little Mermaid, the girl who has everything, why in the hell have I spent so many periods of my life feeling so depressed? Well, first of all, that’s kind of the thing about depression. It’s not (necessarily) being sad about something. Secondly, that’s also kind of the thing about not having too much to worry about – you start thinking about eternity and finitude and purpose. Yuck, right?

After my professionally-handled fling with adolescent depression fizzled out, I was never again officially diagnosed with a depressive disorder because I never went to see someone with that diagnostic power. I dealt with it the old-fashioned way: black eyeliner and Velveeta mac ‘n cheese. Here’s a fun tip for all you kids out there: if you have even the most cursory knowledge of emo and post-hardcore bands, you can easily disguise your depression as angst. Trust me, it’s much artsier, cooler, and more interesting. (Pause for collective eye roll.)

I didn’t go to counseling or strike up a romance with Xanax because I didn’t want to, for two main reasons. First of all, being depressed is so diametrically opposed to my personality and values that I still want to be able to convince myself it was all in my head. “Happy” was my first word, for crying out loud. When I was a baby, my parents would wake me up in the middle of the night on purpose because I always woke up giggling. As a kid, my mom described me to friends and teachers as being neither a glass-half-empty nor a glass-half-full person, but a the-glass-IS-full person. 90% of the compliments I’ve received about my personality have something to do with my cheerfulness, sense of humor, or optimism. I’m all about picking yourself up by the bootstraps, looking on the bright side, and choosing to be happy. So, if I’m depressed, what’s left of me? What identity do I have, other than being a hypocrite? Is there anything leftover that people will still like about me? It feels like I’m not only sad, I’ve disappeared.

Secondly, and more strongly, is the feeling of intense guilt. I desperately did not want to be another sad bitch with a perfect life. Sometimes, I feel like everyone around me struggles with anxiety, depression, and the like. It kind of scares me and makes me ask, what’s happening to my generation?! Why are we all so worried and sad?! I hated feeling like I was sinking into the quicksand of millennial ennui that I believed my sunny disposition could be the buoyant cure for. I felt so angry with myself 24/7 for being such a letdown, for being such a fake, for being so insufficient, for giving in. I felt like there was a hole where something was; something I would never get back.

Fast forwarding a bit – after a little time and a lot of introspection, reflection, prayer, and thinking, a change in environment and company, a significant decrease in stress, and a positive job switch – I’ve realized something. I am that happy girl. But I’m allowed to feel sad sometimes. I know; unreal, right? Multiple emotions – who’d have imagined?

This is the other thing about living in America. We’re obsessed with being happy and seeming OK. Present a nice face to the world, be happy and shiny, and if you’re gonna be a train wreck, please go home. Here, I’ll call you a cab. Well, looks like my job here is done. Byeeeee! Seriously, sadness freaks us the hell out. Don’t believe me? Think about the last five hundred million times you choked back your tears or said you didn’t want someone to see you cry. Why is that so bad?

First of all, crying is awesome. It’s like laughing. It’s a weird gyration your vocal cords do, and your face gets scrunchy and red, and you shake and look a fool. It feels amazing, it’s cathartic, it’s an outpouring of genuine emotion – it’s literally sad laughter. It also shows we’re soft and squishy and sympathetic, no matter what else we may be. I wanna see some staged crying group selfies posted on social media! We treat laughing together as a bonding mechanism, so why is crying reserved for the select few we trust and love the most? Secondly, we need to start normalizing sadness. Depression, of course, is more serious and powerful than sadness, so my point here isn’t that depression is just glorified sadness, so it’s okay, and we’re all okay! My point here is that no wonder depression, an illness, is so alienating and soul crushing – sadness, an EMOTION, is barely tolerated by our society, our friends, and even ourselves.

The sad, sucky truth is that, even though sadness should be the great emulsifier of humanity, friends sometimes abandon you when you’re down in the dumps because you are no fun. You may be prone to outbursts that only seem excessively melodramatic in retrospect. You probably make them feel bad because it’s hard to express insecurities (“I feel like no one truly loves me”) without sounding like you’re accusing them (“You don’t really love me”). Not to mention, there is a definite cultural script when it comes to depression. There are depression story arcs in TV shows and movies, lines we recite from the literature we’ve read on the topic, and slogan-y aphorisms we pick up from progressive web sites. But the truth is, dealing with depression in real life doesn’t follow that script. You realize that from inside the circle, but not outside it. Outside it, there seems to be a linear progression for how you help your depressed friend. If he or she doesn’t go along with it, well, then, there’s nothing you can do.

A pause to issue a PSA to any reader who may have a depressed friend: listen to them when they tell you how they feel. Believe them. It’s not fair for them to ask you to act as a counselor, to “fix them,” or to bend over backwards to indulge their every whim until they feel happier. But you still have a responsibility to that person. Just sit with them for thirty minutes. Ask them over for dinner. Be kind to them, for God’s sakes! If you see yourself about to have a staged-conversation, intervention-ish interaction with them (***IF THEY ARE NOT SUICIDAL, i.e. they have told you, I AM NOT SUICIDAL) – stop. Take a step back. Look at your choices. Are you listening to your friend? Are you expressing more love than anything else? Or are you following some worn-out, as-seen-on-TV cultural script where your friend is in denial, you yell at them “tough-love” style to get their head out of the clouds and seek help, utter a few gentle platitudes, then you hug at the end and your friend cries quietly and ashamedly and says “Thank you, you’re right!” and then you have brunch that weekend and they obsequiously thank you again and tell you how they’ve seen a counselor once and already feel so much better? It doesn’t work like that. That’s a script; it’s not reality. (If this sounds weirdly specific, there is a reason for that. But I think it’s generally pretty applicable.)

On what I hope and believe is the other side, I’ve learned a couple things. I’ve learned what brings me down, and now I will always make it a point to seek out only people who love my best qualities more than they hate my worst ones. I’ve learned to be okay with my emotions – embracing the crappier ones doesn’t make me a different person, it just makes me a person. It’s okay to feel things, it’s okay to struggle with the demand to always seem upbeat and chipper (because no one can do that for real), it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to not feel emotions in moderation only. While it is wise to turn to medication in extreme cases of depression (and always a great idea to snap up them vitamins if that’s part of the issue), I’ve learned to stop feeling like my feelings should be fixed or medicated. Most importantly, I’ve learned the true and immeasurable value of answering sadness with love. That’s what it means to be a human being living in community – holding up our fellow human beings, pouring out all we have even if they have nothing to give, being present through the darkness, meeting them where they’re at, trying to understand, and being there with arms outstretched and legs jumping for joy when they approach the light at the end.

So yeah. We’re all sad bitches. We all have joy in us, too. And bitches stick together.

Glitter Girl

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Working with glitter has taught me a lot about life. You waste a lot of glitter to get it where you want it, and glitter going to waste is sad. But you brush it away and have something beautiful. Plus, there’s glitter everywhere!
glitter forever
(Tip: if you’re feeling stressed just use MS paint to put your face against a backdrop of glitter!)

book cover
(The prototype cover of the memoir I intend to pen one day)

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Friends, in these frigid and often disappointing days, through the sighs of sorrow and futility, moving in and out of countless shivery mornings of waking up cold from loneliness and winter, remember this: Glitter finds a way. YOU are the glitter in someone’s life – even if you don’t know it.

My 5 Year Break from Dating

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That title again: no one has asked me out for five years. (The trick is to act like this was a conscious choice and not a horrifying discovery. Better to be ascetic than pathetic!)

As I hinted at in my Valentine’s Day post, I suffer from a pretty chronic case of datelessness.

After a fairly successful three years of high school dating, my longest teenage relationship fell apart a week before my senior year. I was devastated, and my heart was broken. When I think back to that August, my seventeen-year-old, 110-pound, cross-country-star self curled up on my pink bedroom rug, sobbing inconsolably, clutching the cell phone that had told me it was over, I just want to time travel and hug myself and tell myself to cheer up because I was so skinny! Seriously, being skinny did help me feel better eventually. But, so did empty carbs, leading to a lifestyle of chubbiness that I dwell in yet today. But, I digress.

So, my senior year of high school, I felt pretty lonely and sad. I was already wondering if I would ever meet a guy who really loved me, brought out the best in me, and had fun with me. But, that magical word, ringing out like a fanfare of hope, kept my eyes fixated on the romantic magnificence of the future and took my mind off the dull disappointment of the present: college. Drawing ever-closer, college was that glimmering promise that things would get better and my dreams would come true. There was no question in my mind that my future husband was preparing for his freshman year at the same college I was preparing myself for, or maybe he was already enjoying the fun and freedom of college life, hanging out in his dorm all but waiting for me to arrive. I took it as a given that everything would happen for me in that department; it would just fall right into place.

It did not. I might as well have rolled around in maple syrup and garbage my first day on campus and started speaking only in Pig Latin for all the male attention I received. I did not have a single boyfriend or get asked out on a single date all 3.5 years of college. The closest I got was a gentle rejection. Yep, you read that right: that was the CLOSEST I got. (Don’t worry, though, in retrospect I realize that that situation turned out for the best.)

That disappointment occurred second semester of sophomore year, and after that, I more or less admitted defeat and realized that the dream of love was really just a delusion. What happened?! If someone had told me in 2011 that I would be sitting here in 2015, a college graduate who not only lacks a fiancé but also has a five-year gap in her dating resume, I’d stand up and punch them out, ‘cause they’re all wrong. (Yes, that’s a modified P!nk lyric.) Of course my main objective in coming to college was to receive a top-notch education and to let my intellect flourish, but I also jokingly-in-my-phrasing-but-seriously-in-my-intended-meaning let people know I came to college to get my MRS degree.

Full disclosure, I actually did not thoroughly know the meaning behind an MRS degree. (Although, even if I did, I probably would have said it anyway – until like a year ago, I really enjoyed lying just for a shock factor; literally, just to dumbfound people. Yes, I have left a trail of dishonesty and incredulity in my wake. I am proud of it, but those days are behind me now.) I knew I would technically be getting my MS degree because I don’t want to change my last name if I get married, but that sounds like something having to do with multiple sclerosis, so the misnomer was A-OK with me. But, I thought it was otherwise accurate because it just meant that you want to get an education and a long term lover. Like, that you want to do both. I didn’t think that was crazy. Like, look at me, I have a 4.0 AND a 9.5, if you know what I’m sayin’. Apparently though, it actually is a very sexist and outdated term meant to demean the educational abilities and vocational aspirations of women everywhere. Don’t you hate that, when you believe the best of some phrase and then it turns out to be oppressive? When will we be in a place as a society where we can safely assume that commonly heard figures of speech aren’t pejorative?

Ugh, anyway, here’s the part where I let you know that there’s nothing wrong with me. I hate that I feel self-conscious about wondering if people are wondering what’s wrong with me, mainly because when they find out how long I’ve been single, they probably ARE wondering what’s wrong with me. Besides like, being your standard-issue flawed human being, though, there’s nothing wrong with me. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I’m a total catch. I’m smart, funny, interesting, and pretty. I have hobbies and I like to do fun things. I’m a very kind and moral person. I love making out and I have a cute butt. I’m super dateable. I could absolutely take this time to blame the oeuvre of the college I chose to attend for my single streak – like, I REALLY could, you have no idea – but I won’t. I’m not going to take the stance that I’m too good to date any of the hundreds of dudes around me or claim that I’m a victim of my environment. I just have yet to fall in love.

I know now, though, that being single these past few years, despite the fact that it was contrary to all my most deeply-held wishes, has been the best thing ever for me. Sure, I get lonely sometimes (I’ll help you out here, I’m using that as a euphemism for “horny”) or actually most of the time, but I definitely needed to learn about myself, about the qualities that I would value in someone, and about the type of person who would value me. Not to mention, I had to learn how not to want it so bad (“it” meaning a relationship, pervs). I still do want a great dating relationship, and it’s totally fine for me to want that. I am a very affectionate, cuddly person, and it can be hard not having an outlet to fully express those attributes. But, at the same time, we all walk a fine line between two excesses: indifference and desperation. I don’t expect anything good to just fall into my lap, but I’ve stopped being excessively, overtly eager to have the goodies. Coming across as just a smidge more indifferent than you really are is actually a quite powerful weapon against both personal disappointment and scaring others away. You can only force so much. Relinquishing control was a tough lesson I’ve had to take to heart. I think the mere fact that I am pretty embarrassed to recant feelings I had as recently as two years ago speaks volumes about how far I’ve come.

These five years have afforded me the opportunity to do my own thing and develop as an individual. They’ve taught me that I can thrive and be happy without a manly embrace (LOL). I can still feel desirable without being the object of anyone’s desire. Most of all, I’ve learned that all my plans can fall flat, and it’s not the worst thing in the world. Real-life sweetness grows in the cracks of my shattered daydreams.

I’m so grateful for these formative years where I really had to focus on what I want, where I see myself, and what it would look like to live out the reality of me. And, I was able to think through all of these things without having to consider another person’s future as well. I’m very excited for a time in my life when “my future” by default becomes “our future,” but as I’m learning how to be an adult, I actually feel very glad to be going it alone for a bit. With a serious partner or spouse in the mix, two dreams have to be negotiated, and I think that beginning adulthood with those two separate dreams at odds can run the risk of one dream getting lost or forgotten or being forever undiscovered. Don’t get me wrong: I’m beyond happy for my friends who are graduating with fiancés or serious boyfriends. Those relationships are now an integral part of my friends’ dreams, and they get to test the waters of independent life with someone whom they love enough to share their lives by their sides. That’s so beautiful and amazing. What I get to do isn’t worse or better than that; it’s equally and differently great. I get to say yes and take chances and get a fridge to myself and become more of the person I’m on the trajectory to become before I get to start shifting that trajectory to move alongside someone else. I get to be Allison, whatever I want that to mean, and whoever she turns out to be, she’s a total dream girl.

And when some stranger turns out to be a soul mate, I am gonna eat him alive.

Bye, Bye Li’l Pawnee

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This week, NBC’s Parks and Recreation wraps up its seventh and final season, and my heart is on the brink of shattering. You know how they say, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened?” Well, in a day or so, i will be ignoring that adage with aplomb as I dissolve into a puddle of sentimentality.

Parks and Recreation is a show that really gets me every time. It makes me laugh out loud and cry out loud at heartwarming and heartbreaking moments. It’s a hilarious and tender sitcom that’s focused on the humor and hardships of loving others unconditionally and striving tirelessly to make the places we live the best that they can be. It demonstrates how these two little things can truly make the whole world a slightly sweeter, kinder place. Pawnee is the home of some of the most selfless relationships and the most dedicated servanthood – even people as polar opposite as Ron and Leslie or Tom and April can cultivate friendships and facilitate the greater good despite drastic pesonal and ideological differences.

Parks and Rec rocks because, unlike so many other shows, it’s nice. Sure, there’s some raunchy humor, crude language, and the argument that all the characters are basically functioning alcoholics has been made. But it’s TV, and this is 2015, so who cares. The point is, the humor of Parks and Rec doesn’t arise from dysfunction or disaster or unkindness. The characters we root for are ambitious and loving. They want good things. They work together. Their goodness is never the butt of a joke or an obstacle to success. And, every time we watch these characters fall, it’s only a matter of time before they rise to a greater triumph. Even the caricatures are loving, even gentle satires – as much as we hate Marcia Langman, we know we all also kind of love Marcia Langman. Parks and Rec celebrates the indomitableness of the only things that really matter: friends, waffles, work.

Leslie Knope, of course, makes Parks and Recreation the perfection that it is. The Office went on (albeit less well) without Michael Scott, but Parks and Rec would have died without Leslie Knope. (I will just never get people who say that Parks is a worse, less funny Office knockoff. They’re both great but…so very different.) This sounds VERY inflated, but dang it, it’s the truth: I see myself in Leslie Knope. I really relate to her. Both her shortcomings and her strengths remind me of me. In Amy Poehler’s hilarious, warm, and wonderful book, Yes Please, Amy writes about a realization that she and Parks co-creator Michael Schur came to regarding the relationships the characters have with the single-camera “mockumentary” style. Around Season Two, Leslie kind of stopped acknowledging the cameras (aside from talking head scenes). Amy and Mike wondered if this was believable behavior from a bureaucrat, someone who always has to be hyper-conscious of public perception and reputation. This led to a breakthrough about Leslie Knope’s character: she is who she is no matter who’s around. The things she thinks and says in private are the things she thinks and says in public.

Basically, I like to think that Leslie Knope is me if I stopped worrying about the cameras. I know it may seem silly, but I’m forever grateful to everyone who had a hand in the development of Ms. Knope. She reminds me in so many ways of the person I know myself to be and the person I am when I let my insecurities take a hike. When I’m feeling very April Ludgate, I know I can watch an episode of Parks and Rec, and somehow, Leslie will add her voice to the chorus that reminds me what I really believe in.

I think the best way to put into writing everything Leslie and the rest of Pawnee have taught me is to make a list of every time Parks has made me cry, so grab some Kleenex and some NutriYums, because here we go.

1. S2, Ep24: “Freddy Spaghetti”

Back when Ben was still a bad guy, Pawnee had shut down. Ron Swanson’s wildest dreams were coming true: he was a member of a committee dedicated to slashing government expenditures, eliminating employees and programs, and cutting down on bureaucratic waste. Then, Chris announced his plan to fire Leslie Knope and Ron’s glee was gone. His comeback to Chris’ insistence that every department will lose a Leslie Knope gets me every time: “No they won’t, because the other departments don’t even have one to begin with.” Not only is this an awesome instance of a deeply loyal friend – as inflexible as Ron characteristically is, he puts aside his fundamental convictions to go to the mattresses for Leslie – it’s also a reminder of Leslie’s deep dedication to something she believes in. She works 10x harder than she has to for her department, and it’s because she loves the work she does and the people and the town it serves. That’s something to aspire to.

2. S3, Ep7: “Harvest Festival”

Not only is this one of the funniest and cleverest episodes of Parks and Rec, it’s far and away one of the most heartwarming. At the end of the episode, April and Andy love each other, we rejoice at knowing for sure that Li’l Sebastian is safe AND that there’s a li’l sumthin-sumthin between Leslie and Ben, and the Parks Department is safe and intact. When the camera pans out to show the beautiful Midwest day, Harvest Festival in full swing, I cry. Hard work, faith, pluck, and passion won the day. Believing in pipe dreams pays off sometimes.

3. S3, Ep9: “Fancy Party”

The freakin’ look on April’s face as she walks down the aisle. Love really awakens the softie and the believer in all of us. Oh, and Crying Bonus Round: April telling Leslie she loves her. I know it, you know it, we all know it, but hearing her say it…it’s such a beautiful moment of a person willingly leaving her comfort zone of expressing feelings to make sure that someone important to her feels loved.

4. S4, Ep8: “Smallest Park”

I feel like this episode should be an across-the-board tearjerker. We all are somewhat-to-extremely familiar with the crazed, sad desperation that Leslie feels regarding Ben. Unfortunately, in real life, when we love someone from afar but believe they don’t feel the same, we’re usually right. But Ben loves Leslie! YAY! Such a “love wins” moment. When Leslie chokes back tears as she tells Ben she misses him and thinks about him all the time, after apologizing to him in the most humble and honest way, I reach for the tissues. It’s hard and increasingly rare to be so genuine and raw with someone. This scene kind of nails what it feels like to do that. And the all-encompassing joy when Ben responds with a kiss is too much – it’s the best possible result of the most vulnerable, soul-baring declaration someone can make.

5. S4, Ep10: “Citizen Knope”

When the Parks Department and Ann pull together to give Leslie the unforgettable present of a gingerbread city hall and tell her that they’re her new campaign squad, I can’t handle it. Friends help friends achieve their dreams – that’s what happens here, and that’s what Leslie does every day. When Leslie tells the gang that she won’t let them put their lives on hold to help her run for city council, and Ron asks her to name one person in that room for whom she hasn’t put her life on hold, Leslie holds it together better than I do. I love how, even though Leslie has an extremely busy life, she gives the most amazing and thoughtful gifts without expecting anything in return, but her friends show how much they appreciate her through reciprocal gestures anyway. Leslie’s friends sometimes feel smothered by her caring, but they don’t roll their eyes and push her away – they see the love that Leslie has for them and feel grateful for her. Being able to not put yourself first for one second, especially in the context of a friendship, is a super critical skill to learn. It’s so heartwarming to see a rad group of friends who’ve nailed it.

6. S4, Ep22: “Win, Lose, or Draw”

LESLIE KNOPE WINS! When Ann tells Leslie she won, Ann is so ecstatic, and it’s not even her victory. Happiness for another’s triumph, achieving a lifelong dream, being surrounded by loved ones and supporters – what’s not to cry about?

7. S5, Ep5: “Halloween Surprise”

If you don’t even feel a temptation to cry happy tears at this one, what’s the deal with you?!?!! Go thaw yourself out. This barely needs to be said, but I’ll say it anyway. The proposal scene, from start to finish, is a cry fest. Two good people who have consistently been passed over as not sexy or cool (the Susans of the world) find each other and want to share a life together. Ben and Leslie = relationship goals.

8. S5, Ep14: “Leslie and Ben”

Basically, the same reasons as #7. “I love you and I like you.” SWOON.

9. S6, Ep6: “Filibuster”

An unlikely tear-inducing episode, but believe it or not, it is for me when Leslie realizes that even though her filibuster will result in her being recalled from City Counil – i.e. her dream will die – it will also prevent the disenfranchisement of many citizens. In her early `90s roller skate getup, she looks so determined as she points her finger and says “No one keeps people in my town from voting. Not on my watch,” and then Ben smiles so sweetly and proudly at her. I tear up! I do! A big fear of mine is people perceiving me as stupid or vapid because I’m nearly always going around in the equivalent of a themed birthday party outfit. Floral dresses, high pitched voice, lipstick – yep, it’s all there. Plus, I have a fun-loving, kind of silly personality. I’m afraid that this means I can’t be fierce and scrappy and courageously smart at the same time. Or if I try, that people won’t take me seriously. But, there’s Leslie Knope, defending democracy in roller skates.

10. S6, Ep12: “Ann and Chris”

This is not just sweet, soft tears. “Ann and Chris” means full. On. SOBBING. “Oh Ann, you beautiful sunflower. What am I gonna do without you?” I’m gone. This episode should have been called “Leslie and Ann” because they have one of the best television friendships of all time and seeing it end was PAINFUL. Ann and Leslie were perfect friends for each other. But, this episode gently reminds me of two things. First – “That one pinky promise launched a friendship so amazing that it takes 103 scrapbooks to capture it.” Friendships can happen when you least expect to find them. Keep an open heart and an open mind, and the angry stranger at your public forum could wind up being your soul sister. We never need to feel like we’re “done” making friends, or that there’s no one else out there who could know us and love us the way we long to be known and loved. Second – yeah, people go away and lives evolve. But that doesn’t have to change a thing. Love knows no distance or barrier. Even as our hearts are breaking, we can still enjoy a nice stack of waffles at JJ’s Diner.

11. S6, Ep19: “Flu Season 2”

“Well, I’ve got some good news for you, buddy.” Uh, Leslie and Ben are starting a family? Did you really think I wouldn’t cry? LOL you don’t know me at all!

12. S6, Ep22: “Moving Up: Part 2

I haven’t watched this episode for a while because it’s not on Amazon Prime yet. (Hey, some of us have to choose between Netflix and free shipping. I’ve made my choice.) But it definitely made me cry. That’s all I have to say about this for now, which is lame, but I would have felt dishonest leaving it out altogether so…moving up and moving on!

13. S7, Ep4: “Leslie and Ron”

To clarify: every episode of the Farewell Season has made me cry because I don’t want Parks and Rec to ever end. But this one in particular…oh wow. Nostalgia is like cry porn to me. I could watch a photo montage dedicated to a total stranger and I might tear up. Watching Leslie and Ron reconcile so beautifully and having one last hurrah in their old stomping grounds just kills me. The Camel! The stock photo of breakfast! The land mine! What a sweet reminder that no matter how much things change, we still have the memories and the opportunity to always keep the people with whom we made those memories involved in our lives.

Thanks, Parks and Recreation, for being something that made me laugh when nothing else could. Thanks for believing that being the best you can and doing the best you can is possible. Thanks for celebrating the possibility of going above and beyond. Thanks for making a show full of flawed and unlikely friends who do good things for each other and for the community. More than anything, thank you for reminding me time and again that I’m someone warm, positive, smart, and dedicated to idealism – and there’s nothing naïve or ineffective about being that way.

Leslie and Ben and Ann and Chris and April and Andy and Tom and Ron and Donna and Garry. How can I ever forget them?

Dumb Phone

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I’m literally (not using that word colloquially; this is LIT-trally true) the only person I know who doesn’t have a smart phone. I have a black, regular phone with a QWERTY keypad, which most people assume is a placeholder while I’m waiting for my new iPhone.

It’s kind of funny to me how my basic cell phone is so uncommon that it’s actually a conversation piece. A lot of people comment on the fact that I don’t have an iPhone, and then ask if I want one. The honest answer is no! I really don’t.

Overall, I’m not much of technology person. Obviously, I use technology; I am living in the world of today. But I’ve never been much for “streamlining my life.” I like more old-timey things, even if they are clumsier and take up more space. I prefer books over tablets, board games over video games, sketchbooks over photography, and writing on calendars over setting a phone alert. That being said, my microwave broke for one week and I thought I would starve to death, I’m addicted to watching TV, and I sleep with my laptop. So it’s not like I’m an enlightened ascetic, far-removed from these earthly shackles of materialism. Still, I take a little pride in being technologically retrogressive enough to use an iPod Nano. Wow, that sentence was ridiculous. There is NOTHING quaint about a playing-card-size thing that holds 2000 songs. It’s not like I carry a gramophone in a backpack when I go running. But, you’d think my iPod was a surgical bloodletting kit the way people are like, wow, I haven’t seen one of those in AGES, as they turn it over with awe.

I’m only 21 years old, so it’s so weird to me how a thing that I consciously remember being hyped up and advertised as a “the-future-is-now-can-you-believe-it” product is now so antiquated. We all remember the iPod advertisements: it was a brilliant campaign because the dancing, neon silhouettes allowed every person to put her or himself in those dancin’ shoes. Everyone wanted an iPod. The kids who had one were so cool – I still remember sitting in study hall, glumly listening to the All-American Rejects from my LAME MP3 player. Now, less than a decade later, the iPod is a relic.

This, to me, is reflective of so much more than just the exponential growth of technology in the 21st century. It’s exemplary of America’s true colors. The number one theme that emerged as a constant to me in my years studying three centuries of American literature is the American drive to always be moving forward. We’re like a goldfish – short-term memory of twelve seconds, just keep swimming, whoa, where did that plastic coral come from! From the essays of John Locke to The Scarlet Letter to The Great Gatsby to Gilead, the quintessential American protagonist is a person who truly believes, recklessly and wholeheartedly, that he or she doesn’t have to be defined by the past. What happened last week is old news; it doesn’t matter; tomorrow is the thing. America is forever Scarlett O’Hara standing on the hill that looks down on Tara, forever Dean Moriarty believing that life is out there on the road. We are all Citizen Kane and Don Draper and Lana Del Rey. We can go somewhere else, be someone new, and forget the rest.

In one sense, this is awesome. Past mistakes should never define who you can become, things you didn’t choose – nationality, race, gender, sexuality – should never be limitations, and tragedy is more powerful when we allow it to cloud the brightness and possibility of the future. I’ll never forget the Saturday after 9/11 when Mayor Giuliani went on Saturday Night Live and told the cast, crew, and audience that the show must go on because America had never needed it so bad. Lorne Michaels asked if they could be funny, and Giuliani replied: Why start now? That’s what indomitableness looks like. But, in another sense, this always-forgetting can be dangerous. “Can we?” should never have precedence over “Should we?” It’s only by finding a way to unite who we were with who we are and who we will be that we can be whole and self-possessed people. There’s nothing cynical about gravitas. I personally think that America could use a little more wailing and rending of garments. I’m a huge fan of blind optimism, but the world is kind of hellish. I think with just a drop more of somber realism, the United States might be able to really be the beacon of light and hope that it wants to believe it is. But what do I know; honestly, that’s just my loosely informed and utterly vague opinion that I wholeheartedly believe in. You see there? Blind optimist. I love it.

So, in a real and tangible sense, the rapid gadget evolution of the past fifteen years is exemplary of America moving forward. But, statistics aside, what we consider “standard” technology today fantastically and simultaneously indulges the twin desires of having a self-created image and a hazy here-and-now. I don’t think that any invention has ever allowed people to live out a future-oriented mentality to the extent of the smart phone.

The self-created image is pretty commonly discussed. There are probably dozens of articles out there dealing with this issue. Thanks to social media outlets, even the most boring, creepy loser can make himself seem fun and interesting with the right filter or status updates. The loneliest, most insecure misfit can make herself seem bubbly and well-liked with a few well-timed group selfies and humorously self-deprecating “forever alone” posts. Everyone gets to be his or her own spin doctor. This is how catfishing happens, this is how pedophilia flourishes, this contributes to teen suicides that crop up so unexpectedly, this is how less social media-savvy people start to feel terrible about themselves. Real people hide behind the Elusive Carefree Cool Person. The saying still holds: your reputation precedes you. But in this case, your reputation exists on the social media accounts that you yourself monitor. I think that this is why realness and authenticity in real life are so rare – if I realize the funny thing I said in real life was really dumb, I can’t unsay it; but I can if I just post it on Facebook. Dumb jokes are endearing, and I hate that people have forgotten that.

That’s part of the reason I really don’t want a smart phone. I don’t want something that will make it easier for me to perpetuate the ideas I have of myself. It’s good to have healthy self-knowledge, and I think I do, but I also like seeing myself through other people’s eyes. I want people to make discoveries about me as they get to know me. I don’t want them to be confused because something that they’re learning to be true about me, face-to-face, contradicts something I portrayed myself as on an app or a website. Social media makes it easy to say that our biggest flaw is being awkward, or something safe like that. Oh, if only. I don’t want to be friends or lovers with someone who believes that that could be my biggest flaw, even on day one, because it’s not. I want to spend my time with people who come to see my faults, which I’m too ashamed to list here because they’re so much more destructive than “awkwardness,” and know how to call me out on them in constructive ways and help me be better. If you only know social media me, you can’t help me be better because social media me is one big, fat, overgrown ego who recoils at criticism and is enraged that anything about the image I created for myself is imperfect.

The other, bigger reason that I’ll stick to my slider phone is that I love that my here-and-nows are here-and-now. If I’m presented with something beautiful – a meal, a skyline, a sunset – I’ll remember it. If it was beautiful enough to share, I’ll tell someone in person, and the moment will be beautiful to them too because it has the stamp of my perceptions and it’s experienced through the cadence of my voice. It becomes a memory of the beauty that has passed and of our relationship that endures. I never want to run the risk of creating beautiful moments, I want them to happen to me; to thrill and surprise me and startle me with how suddenly they tumble down. Magic never gets lost in reminiscence. I like remembering things, and I like memorizing things. I had this professor(an older man, I’ll guess he’s around 70) who had almost every single Emily Dickinson poem memorized, not to mention whole paragraphs of dozens of other novels, whole chapters of scripture, and who knows what else. People who have so much committed to memory are becoming increasingly rare, which makes me sad.I want to have beauty like that in my brain. I don’t want to rely on a little box in my pocket to pull it up for me when I want it.

If I’m at the concert of my favorite band, I’m dancing to the music and enjoying a live experience (which, by the way, is the point of a concert). I’m not holding my phone up, creating an inferior version of a YouTube video that already exists and BLOCKING EVERYON’S DAMN LINE OF SIGHT. I’m just enjoying being there. I can’t help but think when I see people recording concerts on their phones, you’re never going to watch that. You’re only recording this so you can post it somewhere and make other people feel jealous that you were here and they weren’t. but in doing that, are you really here at all?

If I’m lost, I’ll find my way. I’ll ask someone or use my common sense. Or maybe I’ll just make sure to plan ahead (an important, often overlooked part of future-oriented living). Believe it or not, you can get lost in a city like Chicago and find your way without the use of a smart phone. People did that for centuries. I did it last month. You’ll be fine.

If I’m gone from home and I don’t know the answer to some piece of trivia, or a memory lapse is driving me crazy, I’ll just think about it for a while. I’ll enjoy the experience of wondering. Then, when I get home I can open my laptop and Google “when Britney Spears shaved her head” or “name of Freaks and Geeks actress” or “song that starts duh duh duhhhduhduh” or something equally life-altering and earth-shattering.

I like not having a smart phone. I like being able to just live my life and enjoy it without that little whisper always lurking behind me. I’m never looking for things to Instagram, never wondering if I should SnapChat something, never thinking about some stranger from Tinder, never looking up the solution to a problem before I’ve even given myself a chance to solve it. I am who I am, I am where I am. I don’t want to come off as preachy here because I’m definitely not saying that my way is the only way. Like I said, all my friends have smart phones, and i don’t think that they’re all self-obsessed, vacuous phonies.(I don’t hate smart phone users! Some of my closest friends are smart phone users!) I’m just saying that given the culture we’re already immersed in, they can really just jiggle the keys to a door that leads right down a slippery slope. And I think that, with so many things so easily accessible, not all of them constructive, it’s so important to take a step back and really consider the ways we spend our time on our phones and laptops. Are they replacing the time we should be spending with someone in person? Are we cyber-connecting with people more than actually connecting? Are we hiding behind a mask of falsity or anonymity to foster unhealthy or unkind interactions? Do we care more about perfecting our image than we do about becoming a better person? Are we letting the desire to broadcast and boast about our lives overshadow the plain and simple joy of just living? Reluctantly, I think a lot of us – even us dumb phone users – have to answer yes to a couple of those questions.

In the legendary words of Natasha Bedingfield, “Release your inhibitions, feel the rain on your skin. No one else can feel it for you, only you can let it in. No one else, no one else can speak the words on your lips. Drench yourself in words unspoken, live your life with arms wide open. Today is where your book begins, the rest is still unwritten.” I fully believe that. But let’s make it real, and together, and not something construed and constructed to glorify ourselves. The rain is fine the way it is; it doesn’t need a Valencia filter. Just enjoy it. Close your eyes and think about all the people who are already experiencing the sound of the drops, the fresh smell, and the sights of the misty afternoon without you ever touching a single button on your phone. Something doesn’t have to be posted or even acknowledged in order to be shared.