New Colossus

Twas the night before July Fourth, and honestly I’m not sure how to feel.

Do I celebrate freedom, when so many are in cages?

Do I celebrate democracy, when the popular vote didn’t win?

Do I celebrate liberty, when my rights are decreasing?

Do I celebrate the military, in which I have family serving?

Do I celebrate the pursuit of happiness, when I seldom see it?

Honestly, I don’t much feel like celebrating Independence Day. It feels a little too ironic and short-sighted. It feels like we haven’t come so far from where we were 200 years ago. And I guess that bothers me. But I think that there’s something to be said about the here and now.

A couple hundred years ago, my ancestors began coming to America. They were escaping persecution, famine, war, the plague and more. They wanted to start over. And some came with nothing. Some came with their families, some came with more. But one by one they all came. One or two had been here in America since time immemorial, but almost everyone came from somewhere else. They were met with uncertainty and fear. They may have treated others kindly, or maliciously, I don’t know.

For most of my life, I wondered about those people. About what it must have been like to travel to somewhere they had no ties and just start over. I didn’t know their names then, but I wondered what they thought about, how it felt, why they chose what they did. And I know that coming to Kansas wasn’t the same thing, but it has many similarities.

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I drove through the night, we had car trouble, we left so much of our stuff behind. We came here without knowing anyone here. We came here to start over, and to be educated. We came with what we could stuff in our tiny vehicle and said goodbye to our parents, friends, homes. I remember passing cornfields I’d looked at for decades and wondering when I would see them again. I remember taking pictures of places we’d worked, we’d visited, just to keep the memory of how things were. I remember leaving in the dead of night, knowing it would be a long time before I’d feel comfortable with my choices.

And when we got here, nothing made sense. It was like exploring a new place with no understanding of where anything was, who anyone was. We were alone here for three ish weeks. And it was the longest, loneliest three weeks of my life. School began and things felt more familiar. Ish.

All that to say, I didn’t come to Kansas because I was afraid for my life in Ohio. I came because I needed a chance at a better future.

I watch the news, as much as I can stomach, and I see the people coming to the borders, asking for no less than I did. Asking for no less than my ancestors did. And they are being denied. And it breaks my heart and boils my blood.

I am incredibly lucky to have had ancestors who took a chance on somewhere completely foreign. I am no less fortunate to have made my own journey for the same reasons. But the people coming today are being forced away, shoved into internment centers, subjected to all kinds of humanitarian terrorism. The difference between them and myself or my ancestors is one single thing. My ancestors were largely white and came from Europe. And that is not, in any way, acceptable.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

New Colossus, Emma Lazarus
The base of the Statue of Liberty

This is my anthem. This is who I am. This is the America I believe in, not the tyrannical, dictator-led America that everyone sees. I stand for the immigrant’s America.

 

On Settling

I had a conversation with my sister recently about college and about passion and careers. I tried my best to be a guiding voice, as much as I could be, but I also am very conscious that everyone must make their own mistakes. I know I would not be the same person if I hadn’t “wasted” my time or made the choices I did. So I try to keep that in mind every time I give someone advice. Usually, I end up giving myself advice and they just listen.

But talking with her really was like talking to a younger version of myself. She hasn’t decided quite where she wants to go to college, what her passion is, what she wants out of life specifically. And I can appreciate that on so many levels. (Most of which come from making those mistakes I was talking about.)

I told her that it didn’t matter what she chose to do, as long as she chose it with her whole heart. Because settling for anything less than your passion is killing everything unique and creative about you. That applying to college as a high school senior was doing something insane that would work out in your favor later. And with that in mind, I told her if she wanted to go out of state, do it. If she wanted to stay at home and commute, do it. If she wanted to major in underwater basket weaving, do it. And it doesn’t matter how long it takes you to get there, so long as you get there.

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I remember being a senior in high school and thinking that I had everything figured out. I would go into medicine, wear the white coat and then devote my life to saving kids (I wanted to be a Pediatric Oncologist-aka children’s cancer doctor). I thought I could do that, have time for hobbies and maybe, just maybe do something great with my life. I looked into all girl colleges, co-ed ones out of state, universities in Ireland. I literally wanted to run away from Ohio and never come back.

I never left Ohio. And I don’t really regret that as much as I thought I might. Mind you, Ben and I are looking for law schools out of state, but if we stay here, it isn’t the end of the world. High school doesn’t really give you the sense of “everything will work out”. Instead it gives you unrealistic ideas about college, and incomparably ridiculous amounts of unnecessary stress.

I couldn’t find a way to convince my sister of this, and that’s okay. She’s got to find her own path. But in the end, I think that what I said was the only thing I could have said. Because I didn’t know it then, and I wish I would have.

You have to commit to an entire lifestyle when you pick a career. And if you want to live to the fullest, you’re going to need to find out what drives you enough to make that easier. Anything less than your passion isn’t living-it’s torture.

I’ve decided on a few proto-ideas about what makes a person passionate, that I will be honing throughout my life, so maybe if I have kids, I will be able to help them more than I could do for my sister, but for now, that is what I will leave her with.

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What do you want out of life?

What do you want your typical day to be like?

What things can you not do without?

What things do you not want to do without?

What are your hobbies? Favorite classes?

Who are your role models? Why?

Who are your favorite teachers? Why?

What do you want out of your career?

What will it take to make you happy?

What would you do first if you were given a super-power?

What kind of super power would it be?

Oye.

I posted earlier today about compassion. It seems that the world is lacking in that at the moment. My news feed is so full of cranky, bitter, nosy stuff and darn it, I’m trying to be happier. So. I find myself needing to drum up a little happy magic of my own.

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And that’s just what I shall do. So, for all you there who are following this little blog of mine, I say thank you! You’re all a delightful part of my story and I appreciate you all (even if we haven’t had the chance to interact yet.) And now, for the .gif heavy blog post of mine destined to make you smile.

Hedgehogs are just adorable.
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otter (Seriously, too cute!)puppy.gif Puppies for dog lovers.cat.gifLion-kitty for cat lovers.

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Thanks for stopping by. Hope you smiled!

You Cannot Possibly

There is a professor, whom I have not had, but I will try my hardest to before I leave campus. He speaks with an accent that I cannot identify, but there are no malicious thoughts that pour from it. Several times a week he will bring in chocolates or donuts or the like and pass them out, or leave them for people to indulge in. Upon asking why he did so, the man answered,

“I’m collecting favors.”

He of course laughed about it, and as I said, he is in no way bitter about life. But when asked for a second time his answer was a little different.

“You cannot possibly be having a bad day when there is chocolate.”

And I appreciate that. I may not always take what is offered, but I can say that they way that he cares about the wellbeing of the office, the way that he seems so chipper all the time, that infectious spirit makes all the difference. 

I remember watching a video interview of a woman who was in a camp during the holocaust, talking about how her mother was able to bring two pieces of chocolate to the camp for her and how she ended up giving her piece to a pregnant woman after she birthed her child. The woman was later greeted in life by that very same child who then in turn gave her a piece of chocolate. I remember watching intently when the woman said her mother told her that she would save the chocolate for a moment when they really felt hopeless.

It would seem that perhaps there are a million reasons in which to bring chocolate into a moment: to regain hope, strength, to lighten the mood or to bring joy to someone. But I think it is the act of giving with the intention of making someone smile that has the greatest meaning.

  

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!)

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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.

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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.

 

The Day I Was Honest

I’ve held onto this post, mostly becuase I couldn’t give it all it deserved. I had to be in the right frame of mind. I’m not entirely sure it’s today, but I think I’ve got a good grip on what I want to say and I think it’s a lovely way to open the new calendar year.
Last semester (and thusly last year) I had a lot going on, as we’ve discussed. I had just transferred to the big city, made new friends, was working on establishing myself in the ways of the world. And I began to blog seriously. I watched this video today of an interview with Jada Pinkett Smith, which I absolutely loved and the idea came bubbling up in the back of my head. That’s why I’ve decided to blog on it today.

In the interview, she was talking about how to balance your life. That’s something I really struggle with. I live too much in the future and not enough in the now. I think about how to fix the problems I may encounter and not so much on how to prevent them. So when she said “focus on yourself. Do what makes you happy.”I really felt like we were approaching a revalation. Her argument was that if you do not find a way to keep yourself in balance, to take care of yourself, you will look to others to do so. You will blame them for sacrificing your entire life for them and not getting happiness out of it. And it blew my mind (metaphorically, of course). 

Now that you’ve had some background info, on to the actual point.

Last semester is by far and away not the first time I’ve had to take sick days. I’ve had bronchitis, strep, the stomach flu and a host of colds throughout my life. But I don’t skip irresponsibly. I take pride in my ability to attend school and work with punctuality and integrity. But last semester was the first time I was honest with myself. As I was crafting my email to my professors for the day, I began to reason out what my excuse for missing class was. Was I suffering from a 24 hour bug? Had I awoken with a flat tire or a low battery? Had I merely slept in? And I realized that I needed to stop kidding myself and respect myself as much as I respected the professors.

 

 

Good morning!

I will not be in class today. I need to take a mental health day and will return to class tomorrow. Thank you for your understanding.

Best,

Michelle BB.

For the first time in my entire life, I used that excuse. I’ve always been ashamed to, like it was some sort of cop-out excuse for being lazy. But it isn’t. And in fact, when I returned the next day, my professors went out of their way to make sure I was alright. Two of them even stopped by the office where I work and made it a point to see if I needed anything. They didn’t see me as a lazy, incompetent student. They saw me as an individual who responsibly needed a day to regroup.

  I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at their reactions. Mental health has been quite a large topic lately, and I was taking a bunch of anthropology classes, so they all understand the value of psychobiological health. And as I said, I do not skip irresponsibly. There is always a reason-a real reason. But it got me thinking. How can I stand here (or sit) and tell you all that we need to take steps to mental health help and then be ashamed of the fact that I have to use that reason myself? Why was I ashamed in the first place?

Because it still carries the connotations. I don’t want anyone to see me as weak, unbalanced, incapable. I fight hard for people to see the bright, driven, passionate individual that I am. But I guess I got caught up in being a super heroine, without flaw or needs. And I viewed my own mental health as something along the lines of an excuse to be used as a cover up for the fact that I didn’t have the motivation to do something. That isn’t even the case. But I’m glad I learned that. Because mental health isn’t separate from physical health. It’s a facet of the same diamond. I was scared that my professors would use that against me in the future. But all that happened was me finally letting go of the fear and replacing it with the statement “I have to take care of myself-holistically.” And once I did that, I think I managed to do just that.

  So thank you, Jada Pinkett Smith, for reminding me that I do indeed need to find my balance and stop sacrificing myself away. No one else is responsible for my happiness and health.

Hindsight

When I was in high school, there happened an event that has stuck with me ever since.

I was the field commander of the high school marching band. It was the best thing that could have happened to me, honestly. I took my job very seriously, regarding each of the band members and color guard as members of my own family, who I would defend to the death (I was very theatrical back then). Anyway, part of my duties was to ensure safe transport of persons and equipment post game. Our instruments were hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. So I would holler out “Band coming through!” And other things, like “Watch out!” And “Excuse us!”

 

(This is basically my podium/ladder-basically huge)

 The event happened one home game my first year commanding (I was commander for 2 years-the first in school history, I believe). I was VERY passionate about my job, but also very polite and I was trying to get all the band and guard members into the school without damaging anything or anyone. Carrying my “ladder” (it was a platform I conducted from which was more than twice my size and a workout all its own), I was announcing our departure when a group of our school’s football players came up from behind me and yelled “No one gives a shit about you band faggots.” And I do not think there has been a single moment in the history of who I am that I contemplated murder more seriously. I think I could have wafted my ladder at him (and yes, I know exactly who he was) and it would havebeen a blood bath. Thankfully my director saw and heard what had happened and talked me down. If I recall, I had to stay after the game because he was telling me about how some football player wasn’t worth my future. I fumed about it for days.  And when the football player came down to the band room to apologize to the director (but not the rest of us), I saw red once more. If it had been a band member, we would have been crucified! How dare he just get off with some shitty apology! Make him pay, dammit!

  

But this story doesn’t end there. Fast forward to the last day of the year 2015 (so today-6 years later), that same football player and one of his cohorts is playing Call of Duty with my husband. They know who he is, but none of them know who I am, other than his wife. So my husband (who was in the band as well) asked if they remembered that incident, as well as a couple others. And they did. I held no hopes that they might have changed, fully expecting them to make more slurs and laugh about it. My opinion was so low, even after over half a decade of separation that I expected them to be the same low-life people they had been before. And after six years of holding that grudge, I got my apology. 

  

So, there was enough time in 2015 to see to it that I learned one more lesson. I spent a good chunk of time today thinking about the implications of the entire event. How is it that I try so hard to hide the mistakes I made in high school from the me I am now, so that people judge me (and you know they will) based on the person they see before them and not the one from before-but would not extend the same courtesy to someone I barely knew? Why did I expect him and his friends to not change what-so-ever, but to have seen nothing short of a revolution in myself? What did that say about me?

And as I look at the clock, watching time pass by, I have a smile on my face. I cannot condone his actions, but my own are no different. I had originally started this post as a declaration of how we are all pressured into being unique but also conforming. And what I learned was that those are the struggles which have defined my past. I’m going into 2016 with a keen awareness that maybe I need to do more to be a kinder person, to keep less stereotypes, to open my heart to forgiveness and the pursuit of happiness. Because one of the only things that is more liberating than”I love” is “I forgive”.

  

Time may change me, but I can’t change time.