Carry Me Down

This past week I had the discomfort of making space for my grief. It was Semik on Thursday and that’s gonna take a minute to unpack. So let’s dig in, shall we? This story is one that I have never told in its entirety before, and may not ever do so again.

Semik is a Slavic tradition of memorial and rituals for the dead who were taken before their time. Think of it much like the Slavic version of Dia de los Muertos or All Hallows. Add in some ritual fasting and fertility festival and you have yourself one exhausted grad student.

I lost a friend to suicide a year ago this week. On the day of Semik, actually. Which made this year all the more potent. I had to sit with my grief and go through the process. And let me tell you-holding space for your grief is not only exhausting, it’s the only way to go.

Instead of my normally bubbly self, my field instructor mentioned my reserved silence. I told her what was going on and she checked in with me a couple times again after that. I gave my clients all I could and I went to work and survived. I made peace with my pain. I gave myself permission to cry. And that was the only thing I could do.

So why am I talking about it now?

Because I am human. And no matter what exactly that means, grief is a tie that binds. Everyone will experience it in their own time and manner. And being less than a year from my licensure as a LMSW, I know that if I can’t make space for authenticity, I can’t do my job.

So if you’re feeling broken. If you’re feeling overwhelmed. If you’re struggling with your grief, your sadness, your fear. You aren’t alone in these. You are surviving and thriving-whether it looks like it or not.

Grief can come down on you like a wave while you’re drowning in an ocean. It can crush you into nonexistence and bring you to your knees. It will grind you down.

I read once that grief is just love with nowhere to go. I’d add regret to that as well. And guilt.

It was June 13 of last year and I couldn’t sleep. I had tried everything but I couldn’t settle my thoughts. I decided to pull up some guided meditations to “force reset” my brain. I listened to a couple without much luck and then settled on a shamanic drumming meditation. I’d never done one before but figured I had nothing to lose.

In the course of this 30 minute meditation, I felt myself relax and begin drifting. I was coming to the end of the meditation and was somewhere between awake and asleep-that place where you know you’re not quite either but you’re closer to sleep than awake. And as I began preparing for the end of the recording I heard the words “Come find me.”

I ripped the headphones out of my ears and tossed my iPad across the bed. Instead of being in the place of tranquility, as I had been moments before, my heart was racing, my body surging with adrenaline. What had that been? Was it part of the recording? (I went back and checked much later-it wasn’t.) It took ages to fall asleep after that.

The next morning I had a message from a friend asking if I’d heard about a mutual friend. I said I had just talked to her, that we’d been discussing a new student group she wanted to start. He asked if I had checked my email. I said I hadn’t. So I logged in.

And there it was. A death notice. The night before, around the time of my meditation, our mutual friend had died by suicide.

If I could accurately describe the way the world moved from under me, I would. It was like the universe shifted a fraction of an inch and I had stayed still. I became nauseous and despondent.

Come find me.

Had it been her? Did I believe that? What if I did? What did that mean?

In the days coming I became so overwhelmed with the need to protect myself from further destruction that I hid every sharp object. I talked to every friend I had ever had a mental health conversation with. I made preparations for my own safety and sanity. I was terrified that this was something that would come down on me if I didn’t protect myself in every way possible.

And on the morning of her funeral, I couldn’t find it in me to go. I got a text from someone who had promised to be my moral support asking where I was. I said I was running late and would be there soon.

“You weren’t there for her in life, so you might as well be there for her funeral.” I said to myself. I got in the car and sped the whole way there. It was the first Catholic funeral I had ever been to.

I carried that guilt with me for a year. And this week, I passed it into the universe. I made peace with my grief and let go.

Tonight there was a lightning storm where I live. The first I’ve seen since I moved from Ohio.

Do I understand this as a sign? Sure I do. Because that’s who I am -the pagan girl who thrives in the storms, who is called She Who Guides the Water. Do I miss her? Of course I do. The third person in my life taken by suicide. The third too many.

Hold space for your grief. Give it a place to go. Don’t let it consume you.

We are all in this together, folks. Tomorrow is a brighter day. We just have to make it there.

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Nos cœurs sont avec vous.

It’s important to note that I do not speak French, but I took the title from someone I believe does (and I Googled it to make sure it was right) but if it *isn’t* correct, someone let me know? I don’t want to be offensive.

I had to look up Bastille Day, because I didn’t really know what it was. Turns out, it’s an important celebration because of the French Revolution. So I can understand why there were loads of people out today in France. I mean, in my city, during July 4th, there’s a little thing we call Red, White and Boom which draws half a million or so people-all for an independence celebration. And yet, it wouldn’t have even passed my radar, had not one vile thing occurred.

Just a month ago, I was writing the words about pain and sadness and frustration because someone felt the need to attack a group of citizens. A few months before that I spoke of how my heart hurt for Paris, and how love would conquer hate. And here we are once more. Seventy-seven people lost their lives today while they were celebrating freedom in their country and I am sure that more people were wounded. The truck which plowed into people was fully armed, all the way to explosives and grenades.

How do you tell people that you’re certain that the will of the many will outweigh the actions of the few? I grappled with that for a while after Pulse. How do you preach words of love and acceptance while friends and family members vanish instantly from your life? What can be said to heal people who just wanted to enjoy time with their families?

Nothing.

No words can be said to spare the pain, or ease it.

I remember just a couple years ago, I was at the funeral of a childhood friend who had died by suicide. I remember feeling so shaken because I couldn’t find the words which accurately described just how I felt, or to remove the weight and pain from my heart. And I looked at his family and realized that I couldn’t say anything-because words didn’t fix anything.

Words will do nothing so long as that is all they are. Well-wishes can only touch the surface of the pain and sadness which are and will be. It is only when they are followed by actions-by the continued efforts to value and protect life that words mean anything at all.

You see, it doesn’t matter if you spend all day speaking words of love and peace if that is all you do. You must live the life you speak of. You must live it in every action. And even then, the reality is-it just might not be enough.

I know this all sounds a little bleak. I find that each time something of this nature comes across my news, I am both disgusted by it and empassioned by it. We are all suffering. Each and every one of us. And we have to help each other.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” -The Once-ler.

Heavy Hearts

To say that the recent events have no affect on my life would be a lie. Although they are not as personal for me as Pulse, I am a human being and as such, I find the amount of violence and death to be devastating. And let me say, I am sorry for the loss of life for all people-both in the recent attacks in the Middle East and the shootings in the States. Violence is never the answer.

I wrote the response to Mr. Sterling a couple days ago, and I know that it was just words. Words are how I grieve the failings of humanity. As a writer and as a student, we are taught to focus our thoughts into sentences and papers, as a way to combat ignorance. For now, that is all I can do: combat ignorance.

You see, it isn’t a simple answer and solution situation. Generalizations are one of the most dangerous tools humans possess. Not all feminists hate men. Not all men are rapists. Not all cops are evil. Not all people of dark melanin are bad people. I can think of two historical periods in which generalizations caused devastation on a massive scale. The first, as I’m sure most are familiar with is the Holocaust. Jewish people, Gypsy people, Gay people, people with impairments and others were taken away and massacred for being different. And it happened here in America too. It wasn’t Jewish people, people of Asian ethnicity or the slave trade I am referring to, although there were troublesome times there as well. It is the Indigenous population I am referring to. The systematic slaughter of people who were different.

I am just one person. And so are you. It is not wrong to want justice for crimes committed. It is not wrong to  hold police officers in high regards while also holding them to high standards. It is not wrong to ask for the law to pass just judgments.

The easiest way to make the changes we want to see in the world is to vote. I mean it. We vote on the people who are meant to lead us, to protect us. It takes not long at all (I was able to cast my ballot in the primaries in less than 10 minutes.) and it will affect you for ages to come. So with all of this in mind, I am going to implore the readers of my blog to use their better judgment.

I’m not telling you who to vote for. That isn’t why I’m writing. And that most definitely isn’t what I am saying. What I AM saying is that these incidents of violence and hatred and death will not cease if the person we elect as president is a hate-spewing, violence endorsing, racist, sexist, philandering, desperate monster. It will, should a person like that become president, become worse. And what happens when it is your children? Your parents or spouse or siblings? Will a presidential vote bring lives lost back? No. Will a vote stop all of the problems? No. But if you do nothing else, please, please make sure that the racism and hatred stops before it makes it to the White House.

I know a lot of response videos have been made for rallies, but this is one of the ones I have watched several times over. I hadn’t meant for this post to become political, but I guess it has.

Misha Goes to a Trump Rally

It Got To Me.

I’ve got a blog scheduled for tomorrow (first time I’ve scheduled one!) that goes into detail about what I will speak on tonight. Tonight I am blogging as a mental purge. As usual, you can ignore it, or you can read it for what it is-me stumbling around, searching for answers. Today, though, I’m going to try something a little different. I present to you:

A Seed

I passed by the garden of the no longer living, their flowers an ashen pillared stone. I hear their whispers call to me, the wind bringing the weepings of those passed on. Regret thickens the air around me, my breath turning to crystals in my chest. A hand reaches out for me, the keeper of the gate claims I have no right to pass through. “Please,” I whisper, “I have already died while I lived. The feelings claimed me, the bondage of my emotions pulled me through the depths and I ceased to be years ago.” He eyed me wearily and nodded, his expression relaxing.

“It is so for many.” He sighed, the sweet tobacco smoke caressing my cheek. My path opened and I could see a single plot of earth undisturbed. My feet glided, the pain in my heart weighing down my steps, until I could barely move them. I reached my reservation, the tension in my body forcing my gaze skyward. I lifted my hands higher, the heavens leaning into my touch. I felt the sorrows of the years form rivulets on my cheeks, washing away the body I had outgrown so many years ago.

“Why?” My heart roared. “Why was I alone for so long? Lost in the ocean, I perished amongst the apathetic and the unconcerned. My blood was spilled for far too long, the agony never being relieved.” The sky above my split, lifting my chin as high as it would go.

“You had to enter oblivion to be made new.”The rumblings of sadness reached my ears just before the cleansing rain. With the last of my awareness, I watched the scars on my wrist become barky ridges. I closed my eyes at last, the sweet peace overcoming me as I’d begged it to for years.

What I had hoped for in death was given to me in life. The world which sought to bury me alive didn’t know that it was that very thing required to bring about the greatest transformation.

tree woman.jpg

(Image Credit: Willow, at Wallpaper Up)

The story came before I found the photo.

The Day the Music Died

I began today as I do many others: pensively. It was a still, quiet morning and there was something almost melancholy about it. I opened Pandora, as I usually did and for the very first time, American Pie was in my playlist. I’ve heard the song before (obviously) and I’ve read about the secret theories behind it, but I never really thought much of it. I sang along, as best I could, and when it got to the part that says:

Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.

I raised my drink, like I was toasting the sky and sang it anyway.

The thing is, the music did die today. But let me tell you why.

Ms. Eileen Ruffing was known as a steadfast music educator who instilled discipline, passion and work ethic into each of her students. Spending decades of her life as a musician and as an instructor, she maintained the utmost professionalism of any human being I have ever known. Her classes were run with a strict policy and it was impossible for you to get away with something wrong without one of her characteristic eye rolls.(It was like she could see through her closed eyelids-you knew you were in trouble.)

She not only ensured that four grades of students had multiple concerts each year for years, she ran a middle school jazz band as well as privately coached students for Solo and Ensemble (a competition event). She was a clarinet by nature. This is the blurb offered by her church: (It’s an option for lessons.) “Band for fifth through eighth grade students with Mrs. Eileen Ruffing. Mrs. Ruffing was the band director at Highland Schools for 35 years and retired in the spring of 2015.  She is a clarinet player and brings with her an enormous amount of personal talent and experience as a band director, and is a long time Saint Vincent de Paul church member.” She was active in “pit” music sections for the Mount Vernon theatre programs. She was involved in several “band” camps at the University of Wooster, as well as at the high school she taught at for 35 years.

Cleveland-Indians-Logos

(She had a poster in her office of the Cleveland Indians for as long as I can remember.)

I remember the very first day of fifth grade band. It was a little before-right when we were signing up for our instruments. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to play-I just wanted to play music! I remember she asked me if I remembered how to  “bite down” to play a clarinet. I thought I did, but I bit my top lip instead of bottom and she rolled her eyes at me and said “No. You’re biting the wrong lip.” I felt so embarrassed! I eventually chose flute, and stayed with that for my high school career-although I did learn other instruments on top of that. She was there for every performance, gave me my first solo and was my biggest supporter when I decided to become field commander.

I was a new commander, and I found out that some of the band members I commanded were doing things that I perceived to be dangerous. I was so upset that I had to be taken aside by the color guard coach. She said, “You know, you’re not the only one who cares that much.” And I said “I know. I just worry so much. I love my friends. I don’t want them to get hurt.” And she said:

That’s how much Eileen loves you. You’re all her kids. But she’s the reason you became commander. She believed in you and you’ll be okay.

I never doubted my abilities to command after that.

So as I sit here, reminiscing about the wayward flute player I was, I’m reminded of the great things about having such a wonderful woman as the one who introduced me to music. Music was the one thing I turned to when times got hard. It’s still my first line of defense. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that the music will always find you in your time of need. And so, as your eyes have closed one last time, I offer these words as your soul joins those who have come before.

And I would liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did.

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(This is her several years before I met her. I knew her when her hair was salt and peppered with the stresses of the education system. But I’ll never forget her laugh. It may have happened rarely, but it was something that remains.)

International Women’s Day

Ah, today. My favorite interest group day during my favorite interest group month, as part of my favorite topic to discuss. I love being able to talk about women and their cultures, ideals and abilities. I’d thought about doing an interest piece about the Jenner/Kardashian news that’s been popping up, but then I thought-isn’t that kind of defeating the purpose of International Women’s Day? And I thought about doing a Hillary Clinton feature, and about women in power, but she’s already “equal” in many ways. So what do I want to talk about today? Mental Health? I could. Unnecessarily gendered goods? Possibly. But I think at the heart of today, there are two concepts which really embody what I want to focus on: respect and equality.

I had to read a book for one my classes (Women and Democracy) called “Companeras: Zapatista Women’s Stories”. A zapatista is a member or supporter of a Mexican revolutionary force working for social and agrarian reforms, which launched a popular uprising in the state of Chiapas in 1994. (Thanks, Google!)

zap

I know that seems kind of “old” news, but the story is actually really inspiring, and some of the quotes from the book are just phenomenal. The main point, from my understanding, is that the indigenous people of Chiapas wanted control over their own land, their own resources, and wanted the government and military powers to remove themselves. The women, although also heavily involved in this movement, went about things a little differently, collecting themselves for the ideas of equality, freedom and opportunity. Some of the quotes from the book are:

where indigenous communities have taken their destiny into their own hands, where villages find solutions to their economic problems by working collectively, where community members walk proudly…

The dignity with which these women carried themselves, set against a backdrop of centuries of racism and exploitation…

I know they seem a little disjointed, but the quotes themselves are part of the larger ideal of what I was explaining before. The next thing, is the outcome of this movement (specifically on the women’s side. This is the Women’s Revolutionary Law of 1994.

  1. Women, regardless of their race, creed, color or political affiliation, have the right to participate in the revolutionary struggle in any way that their desire and capacity determine.
  2. Women have the right to work and receive a fair salary.
  3. Women have the right to decide the number of children they have and care for.
  4. Women have the right to participate in the matters of the community and hold office if they are free and democratically elected.
  5. Women and their children have the right to Primary Attention in their health and nutrition.
  6. Women have the right to an education.
  7. Women have the right to choose their partner and are not obliged to enter into marriage.
  8. Women have the right to be free of violence from both relatives and strangers.
  9. Women will be able to occupy positions of leadership in the organization and hold military ranks in the revolutionary armed forces.
  10. Women will have all the rights and obligations elaborated in the Revolutionary Laws and regulations.

This next quote comes from a book called “Decolonizing Democracy” and I think it has the best potential to be a slogan which I will print on everything. It talks about when the (Indian) government should be doing for its people. I think it’s applicable to ALL governments.

dec

and at the same time provide safeguards for the fundamental rights of individuals and groups living in this country and for safeguarding the fundamental rights of minorities

So I was thinking, about all the women who have fought for their rights, their freedoms and their ability to live their lives as they see fit. I thought about all of the stories I had been told about female naval officers, pirates, warriors, samurais, wordsmiths, protesters, politicians, activists and leaders and realized that there is so much that has been done for women, by women.

But the fact remains that 1 in 3 girls (in developing nations) will be married as children.(girlsnotbrides.org)

One woman every hour in India will die a “dowry death” (death caused by a dispute in her dowry) (timesofindia.indiatimes.com)

The average life expectancy for a woman in Botswana is 33 years (America is 78). (Penguin Atlas of Women in the World, 4th Ed.)

68% of women in Bangladesh suffer (or have suffered in domestic abuse situations. The U.S. spends over $1 BILLION in domestic abuse related medical costs EACH YEAR. 28 cases are reported in Thailand each DAY. (Penguin Atlas of Women in the World, 4th Ed.)

2% of women in Sierra Leone die in childbirth. That number is .01% in Canada (That’s 1% of 1% or 200 times less than Sierra Leone). (Penguin Atlas of Women in the World, 4th Ed.)

40 MILLION girls are missing from the world’s population due to son preference (most of these girls have probably been abandoned for dead or murdered). China makes up 30 million of that total. (Penguin Atlas of Women in the World, 4th Ed.)

Ohio (where I am from) has the following statistics on sex trafficking:

-More than 1,000 children are trafficked around Ohio each year. This number does not include adults. (ohiobar.org)

-Only 289 cases were reported in 2015, most of whom were US citizens. (traffickingresourcecenter.org)

Up to 700,000 rapes occur in the United States each year. In Japan, only 5 of the 104 gang rapes reported had convictions in 2005. In Burma, marital rape is not a crime unless the victim is under 14. (Penguin Atlas of Women in the World, 4th Ed.)

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So, although today is a day for celebrating women globally, we also need to be severely reminded that we have to fight harder, fight faster, to protect those very same women. We are half of the sky and we must hold each other higher. The first step, is education. To be aware is the only way to help.

 

Words like Vomit

Hi everyone! Thank you to all of you who tuned in for Metamorphosis Monday, and for looking at my analysis of the Kesha case. Today I want to get a little preachy, a little personal. So why did I title my blog “Words like Vomit”? I’m going to be blogging today about bodily autonomy. First, we need to get a couple definitions out of the way though. (This is where the title comes in. You all have ideals about their meaning, and the opposite belief is like bile in your mouth.)

  • Pro-Life: opposing abortion and euthanasia
  • Pro-Choice: believing that a pregnant woman has the right to have an abortion if she chooses
  • Pro-Abortion: in favor of the availability of medically induced abortion
  • Autonomy: freedom from external control or influence
  • Super Tuesday:  a day on which several US states hold primary elections.

A little note from me: I’ve done my best to keep myself respectful and neutral. But if I’m going to be honest with myself, I have to look at my biases, be sure to examine pitfalls in my argument and speak from my heart. Therefore, I will talk to you all as equals, and not as children (or AS a child). My beliefs are my own, and may not be yours. That doesn’t make them invalid, it just makes them different. Until the age of 19, I was extremely pro-life. And then I realized that I could be pro-life about my own actions without needing to be choosing the destiny of someone else. From the definitions above, you can see that you can be pro-choice without being pro-abortion. And that’s my stance. I cannot pick the life for someone else, and no one else can pick my life for me. So let’s get down to bodily autonomy: the living versus the dead. Also, my future blogs will feature other things, not just political ones, but you know what they say about passion: it’ll consume you.

As always:

jmo

What happens when a person dies? Apart from the very biological parts of what really happens, there is a lot that people often do not think about until they are forced to. Burial or cremation? If burial, what kind? Were they an organ donor? Did they have any religious beliefs which might determine their final wishes? What were their final wishes? How would they feel if someone from a different religion, different geographic location, different socioeconomic standpoint came in and told the family members what they could and could not do with the body of their loved one? How would the loved ones feel?

Let’s start someplace different. How do you know someone is alive? Is it what they do? A certain age? Or is it something else? According to the Encylopaedia Britannica, life is defined as matter that shows certain attributes such as responsiveness, growth, metabolism, energy transformation and reproduction. The Catholic Church defines life at conception (when sperm meets egg).

So already, we have an issue with science v. religion. Which is right? I’m not the one to tell you. Sorry. But while we’re on the subject, I’ll tell you about a class I once had, over that very thing. It was a philosophy of science and religion class, and in it the professor handed us a picture of the world’s leading religions. I’ll pass it on to you all, but I’ll also add in the numbers.

Religion_distribution

pf_15.04.02_projectionstables8

Do you want to know what those numbers mean? It means that no matter what religion ends up to be “right”, a majority of the people will be “wrong”. Think about that for a minute. Suppose you are a religion which preaches “eternal hell” for all non-believers. You are not only NOT the majority, but you have just sentenced millions (billions?) of people to die. Interesting, no?

So for the sake of morals, let’s say I choose science. That means that until much later in the cycle, an abortion is just a cleaning out of cells.(Michelle, that’s harsh! Don’t you know fetuses can feel and hear and stuff?) Lets break down this one, shall we? Most abortions happen before week 13 of pregnancy. What happens to fetal growth and development by week 13? Let’s look. It’s all just implantation and cell division until about week 6. Do you wanna know how big that fetus is? The size of a lentil. How big is that? It’s this big:

lentil (That’s a quarter.)

By week 10, the fetus has skin, has lost its tail and can move it’s little limbs around. By week 12, “brain” development has reached a point where reflexes are possible. The fetus is the size of a lime. How big is that? It’s this big:

lime

Okay, so now that that’s taken care of, let’s return to the dead. Three (or more!) states have what is called “Death with Dignity” laws. That means that, providing an individual meets the correct criteria, that individual may choose to die on their own terms with medical help.

The court case of McFall v. Shrimp ruled that while you may not agree with someone’s actions over their own body, it is legally within that person’s rights to do with their own body what they choose-even at the expense of saving someone else’s life.

Medical doctors are not allowed to remove perfectly good organs from deceased people to use in patients who need transplants if the deceased did not agree (before dying) to be an organ donor. That means that a dead person has more legal rights to the organs the no longer need than the 4 year old who needs a heart, or the 30 year old dad with 3 kids who needs a set of kidneys. A living person must choose to lose their organs when they die, or they cannot be taken from them. A dead person’s wishes must also be acknowledged as far as “disposal”. If they state in writing that they wished to be cremated, then those among the living must comply.

So what does this have to do with women and pregnancy and abortion? (And more importantly, Michelle, I thought you said you weren’t pro-abortion!) It has everything to do with women and pregnancy and abortion, and yes, I am pro-choice.

sinner

If we afford protection to the members of our society who choose to keep the fully functioning, completely healthy organs the have with them when they die, and we cannot force someone to do something with their body that they do not want, then that has to be universal. THAT’S my point. It doesn’t matter if you are pro-anything. If you do not afford the right to have the choice to make decisions about your own body, then you cannot reasonably argue that a dead person should be allowed to keep their organs when they would be better used with those who are fighting to live.

And that also means that if a patient with a terminal illness, in a lot of pain, simply wants to be at ease, to die before they can no longer keep themselves alive, they would not be able to do so, because their choices would be stripped away.

Interesting how life and death have so much in common. And I’m not saying that religious people have everything wrong. What I am saying is that if people cared so much about life, perhaps they should try a little harder to protect and foster the life that is already fighting to hold on instead of being preoccupied trying to run the lives of women that they haven’t even met.

And for those of you on the fence about all this, let me provide some facts about the types of women who get abortions, to put to bed the stereotypes you have in your heads.

Half of all pregnancies are unplanned, and half of those end in abortion.

  • 57% had some college education;
  • 88% were from metropolitan areas; and
  • 57% percent were low-income

Women who obtain abortions represent every religious affiliation. 13% of abortion patients describe themselves as born-again or Evangelical Christians; while 22% of U.S. women are Catholic, 27% of abortion patients say they are Catholics.

Half of all women getting abortions report that contraception was used during the month they became pregnant.

Research indicates that relief is the most common emotional response following abortion, and that psychological distress appears to be greatest before, rather than after, an abortion.

Source: http://prochoice.org/education-and-advocacy/about-abortion/abortion-facts/

Here’s a chorus from the song “What It’s Like” by Everclear

God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes
‘Cause then you really might know what it’s like to have to choose.

And why did I bring up Super Tuesday? Because the only way to change the course of the country is to vote.