Thursday, April 2, 2015

Growing Up Fast: The Not-So-Tough Scary World of Adulting

I graduated in December with a triple major and honors and probably could have done a lot of different things or ended up somewhere making quite a bit more money, but by a weird series of highly fortunate events, I ended up at an abortion clinic. I love my job immensely and it's allowing me some of the most interesting, life-changing experiences I could have imagined for life after college. I could never have been happy as a paper-pusher trapped behind a desk all day. In fact, I did that for a little while, working on grant-making to support organizations fighting gender-based violence. Unfortunately, being the person who reviews the technical merits of an organization's ability to affect change is quite a long way from actually getting down in the weeds and doing something about it yourself. I hated it, not because it was a bad workplace, but just because I felt so detached from the very real battle I was fighting. 

It is with such great fervor and passion that I undertake this new job as the most concrete opportunity I have ever had to make radical, important changes to the very bedrock of out social construction. And I am desperately waiting to find someone who gets it. My family and friends are perfectly willing to put up with my bizarre obsession with rambling on about abortion or other reproductive health issues, but it is with the temperament of a parent towards a child who is persistently up to some odd experiment that is only vaguely interesting to adults. Because it is such a deeply engrained structure of my being to know that this - reproductive justice and gender-based violence advocacy - is the most important battle of my life, and probably the entirety of the 21st century in America, I cannot understand that everyone else doesn't seem to recognize it's importance. 

That isn't to say that people aren't supportive. Overwhelming people are more supportive than I ever expect. It starts with the cagey "Oh, I work at a doctor's office conversation," and as the listener demonstrated themselves to be a safe person to share the real story with ends with compassion and excitement that someone is doing this important work. From an elderly person at church who reveals his daughter works at an abortion clinic in Chicago, to a family friend that reminds me to always be careful because he knew an abortion doctor who was murdered, to an OB/GYN who is excited to meet me as a patient and refer her other patients to our clinic, reassurance comes from unexpected places. 

This in many ways mirrors my experience doing field organizing for abortion access. I think we sometimes fall prey to the false assumption that young people will be the biggest advocates for reproductive justice. While tabling at concerts, festivals, and conferences younger people often pass our tables by, I can only assume because for young people, they assume that since reproductive healthcare access has been comparatively easy for them, it is not a problem. It is older people, however, who, over and over again, come up and commiserate about all the work that needs to be done and how important abortion and other reproduce healthcare are. And then it is always followed by a story, a story of how they remember before 1973, and the horrors of having their friends die or become seriously ill or injured because of the practice of illegal abortions. 

I hope more of these people speak up. I was rereading the One in Three Campaign stories today and am just as compelled by their basic mantra as I was the first time I read them two years ago. As Susan Wicklund's book title powerfully reminds us, This Common Secret is shared by 1/3 of people with uteruses in the U.S. Only 1.7 percent of the U.S. population identities as LGBTQ and yet marriage equality is making waves all over the country (granted marriage isn't nearly the most important issues to most LGBTQ-identified people). If one quarter of the third of us who have had abortions talked about it, where could we be?

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

It's Better Left to Poets When the Words Think That They Know Us

It's quite surreal to watch someone you love watch someone they love die.

In many ways it's so removed – a person you've met a few times dying. The human loss in palpable, but it doesn't cut so deep, like reading obituaries. Yet you watch someone else feel that deep pain slice into them.

I've never cared much about death. I committed to the idea that dying is just that, your body will recycle back into the earth and consciousness ceases at the last breath and heartbeat. It's an easy place to live, really. Knowing this thing is inevitably coming towards you and that's the fucking end. It makes you live. One of my best friends was chatting with me about religion in high school and I explained my simple view of passing. She was aghast: "You mean you aren't afraid of dying?" She thought that was so liberating – to have the freedom to make what you wanted of a death. I've spent a long time hating the religious leaders that taught her to spend her life terrified of dying.

I also remember my mom talking about her relationship to dying. I remember her recounting a discussion with her agnostic father when she realized why people crave religion. It's so people can make sense of death. At it's core, I completely agree, religion's main purpose to to let people cope with loss. I don't know that giving people something higher to blame or hope of where the deceased is going necessarily does healthy things for humanity's ability to work through loss, but I can certainly feel the appeal of the idea.

My first exposure to death, at least that I am very aware of was a hamster. I informed my father before I went to bed that my hamster was about to die. He didn't take me seriously and put me to bed. My hamster was dead in the morning. I didn't experience that as a loss so much as being annoyed that I was right and hadn't been listened to. I got a new hamster. Years later my guinea pig died. We had been on vacation and someone else was supposed to be taking care of the pets, so again I experienced mostly anger at the person I perceived to be responsible.

Then the dog that I had grown up with died. My parents got Dinah long before I was born and I was sad, but mostly disconcerted, having never lived in my house without her. I remember my father being the most emotional I think I have ever seen him though as he wrestled a boulder out of the grave he was digging by my swing set. In many ways I think he needed that boulder – it was something to do and something to be mad at.

Maybe shortly after or maybe shortly before one of my friends got into a car accident with her older brother and died. That simply. One day she was in class with me the next morning my mom was waking me up telling me about the newspaper headline. At school I stood in a circle with some other close friends who wanted to pray. It is the only time to date I haven't felt horribly awkward with people praying – somehow then it was sweet, and comforting, and necessary. I went to her funeral but didn't think I could handle the viewing. One of my friend's fathers drove us and I remember him complimenting me on my dress and hating him for saying it. It wasn't a day I wanted to feel pretty. Courtney and Dustin will forever be close to my heart.

Next, I remember one of my grandma's best friends dying. I knew Nancy had been just as inspired by her as everyone likes to tell you they are by dead people but really wouldn't have said that before they died. That always bothers me. We pretend people who have passed away were always saints on earth. It isn't true and them being dead doesn't mean we have to pretend they were. Wouldn't lives be a lot more special if we accepted faults but we able to really engage with the things we loved and hated about someone. Nancy was every bit as amazing as any eulogy might hint and her incredibly memory should stand apart from others. We found out Nancy died during the fireworks show on the 4th of July in the rain. We sat in the rain and watched the amazing display and cried. Fireworks always look different to me now – not bad, just bittersweet. Fireworks will always demonstrate to me Nancy's amazing spirit and be a celebration of that life. Nancy's memorial service was the first time I can remember crying out of pure sadness, not being angry or in pain, but sadness.

I've certainly had other run-ins with death, but those are the ones I know shaped me.

A magnificent woman died this morning and even though I've only met her a few times, I can tell that her spirit, like Nancy's was special. A woman who dropped her life to take care of her family and at height of chemo sickness was cracking jokes and playing with a toddler and will forever be in my heart for keeping the person I love safe and sane through some of the darkest moments imaginable.

If we let it get this far
We might as well follow through to our destiny
But if it's written in the stars
Then we should throw it all away
What are we waiting for?

It's better left to poets
When the words think that they know us
And they're floating right below us
And they're hoping we can swim

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Making Choices

Hey there, I haven't written in a while, quite a long while. It's been a time of finding myself again, choosing the battles I want to bring to your screen, evaluating how public I really want my life to be, sorting out career goals, breaking relationships and rebuilding them, and being a witness to struggle and victory. It has been a hard year for us here – watching a friend tangled in the confusing and painful web of an abusive relationship; watching another essentially lose their father; a third, fourth, and fifth redefine themselves and create new spaces within and without; a sixth stagnate, somewhere in between. Throw in some deaths, course scheduling, graduations, and fire alarms and you've pretty much got it.

But I have also spent a year learning about myself.

Anyone that knows me know one of my least favorite activities ever is making choices – I won't choose what to eat for dinner, what to wear, or where to go. In my Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Theory class last week we talked about the difference between feeling born into an identity and having your experiences shape you into that identity. Some people spoke about how they feel their experiences have made them who they are and others talked about having always felt different.

But me? Am I who I am because I have always been this way, or did 20 years of fighting for a "me" shape what they would ultimately become. My class decided that it is different for everyone and both experiences should be respected.

Not me. I don't want to defend or justify who I am or how I got here or that it might change. I have no fucking idea whether I was born me or became me, and, frankly, I don't care.

The last year has been about choosing to not choose things and just be present and experience them. I learned that I don't want to be the center of attention – I enjoy bearing witness to the experiences of others, but I also wonder from what spaces I can do that. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Let's Talk About the Word Vagina

So you know those people that like to say something just to get people's attention? Sometimes they do it in a really cool way and sometimes they do it in a really annoying way. I work for a woman that does it in a cool way. In a, I just said something kinda messed up but it's something that you might say/just said so why is that, kinda way.

She casually used the word "pussy" in class the other day. It didn't even phase me. It was whatever; we were talking about virginity double-standards in Southeast Asia. She's a sex-positive feminist sociologist, what did you expect.

But half the class freaked out. And then we digressed into a conversation about the etymology of the word "vagina." To which I said it means "sheath," to which the class was aghast, to which I had to Wikipedia it to prove that, in fact, "vagina" comes from the Latin "literally 'sheath' or 'scabbard'."

Look I know I'm not the first person to mention how fucked up that is, but seriously, that's so fucked up. Its not even the comparison of vaginas and scabbards that bothers me so much, but the implied correlating comparison between penises and swords (though, apparently, technically the word "penis" comes from the Latin for "tail").

Regardless, penises are not violent tools of pain and overpowering those who are less well trained, prepared, and informed.

What a disturbing metaphor. Maybe we need a new word, not that I particularly like "pussy," but mostly because I have an aversion to cats. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Perfect Storm

It is an intriguing talent of the cosmos to always make everything happen at the same time, even when it seems like it shouldn't. I was very pleased with my schedule this year after syllabus week because my classes all managed to have pleasantly spread-out schedules as far as work load. A paper at the beginning of November, mid November, late November, early December, much better than last semester when I frequently had two or three ten-page papers due within hours.

As per usual, however, the universe is an expert at conspiring against everyone and I'm in for two papers, a presentation, a panel, an interview, two extra shifts, one extra staff meeting, two swim meets, two quizzes, a discussion, and an RA application in the next few days. And an optional stress management session for my floor. And today, it rained, and we all know how I feel about that. Well played, universe, well played. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Reevaluating MBTI

My dad's side of the family gets together every two years for a week-long reunion. I think they're crazy, but it gave me a good way to make time and my development growing up. I can remember myself at each reunion and it gives me a plot point for who I was at different moments in my life. I

t helped that my aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents had extensive rituals for systematizing all of that information, from lists of all of our clothing sizes and interests, scrapbook pages, measurements (height and weight), and to a bi-yearly reevaluation of where we stood on the Myers-Briggs test.

ENTJ. I have always tested an ENTJ. Always. Like, massively, dramatically, unquestionably ENTJ. Extroverted, intuitive, thinking, judging.

Last August, Ben and I started dating. Two weeks after that, I took the MBTI for work. I was an ENTJ, barely. I was almost an INTJ. An E to and I. An E, the part of that status I have always held most dear, taken the most pride in. There were only ever two Es at family reunions, my mother and I, the odd-balls of the group for sure. That E that put off my family for so many years started to retreat.

I'm not sure why I've always been so attached to that extrovert status. Maybe because I never really was and I was trying to grab at something I thought I could be because I kept testing that way.

When I took the test last summer someone pointed out that the introvert/extrovert dilemma isn't about how you usually spend your time, it's about where you draw your energy. Maybe that misconception is why I always tested an E; I have always tried to be busy, spending lots of time with friends and getting involved in my community.

But where do I draw energy? Increasingly over the last two years my energy comes from being alone (or virtually alone, because in many ways I consider being with Ben, being alone). The moments I am sitting in a dark room, writing a terribly self-assessing blog posts, are the moments I live for.

Perhaps as my life gets busier in terms of school and carer planning, it is nice to be calm and safe and quiet and alone.

And I think, increasingly, I like that. 

Shutdown Schmutdown

What the hell does a government shut down even mean really? The zoo animals are still getting fed, wars are still being fought, and congress is still having a crisis.

I live in the capitol city and I'd just like to put out there that not a who lot has changed.

I am NOT saying that that isn't a problem. I'm saying that's a horrible reflection on what our government gets done on a normal, non-shutdown day. In case you were unclear, it's very little. That's a lie, a lot of paperwork gets done and a lot of other bureaucratic mumbo-gumbo, but in our daily lives, little of what the federal government fights about trickles down to us.

This isn't an argument about the size of government, either; I don't much care how big or small it is as a general figure. It is an argument about effectiveness. We are doing less than the Do Nothing Congress, and for that, we should feel terrible about ourselves' utterly ashamed that we can't shut up about whether we are conservative or liberal and get some shit done, like, oh, maybe not defaulting on our debt and tanking the American economy.