Posted in Changes, Family, Growing Up, Home, People, Stories

back in a small town

I was crossing the street to go into the office and a car beeped its horn at me. Instead of cringing from a catcall, I waved back at my childhood neighbor.

I never thought I’d be back in a small town.

I thrive on adventure. I want to eat sushi, try Ethiopian again, satisfy my curry craving. I want to leave work and be on an airplane two hours later, the wind carrying me halfway across the country to spend a weekend with a friend. I want a half hour drive to bring me to a cultural center for a festival or a theatrical performance. I want to disappear into a national park for days at a time or wake up at a trailhead hours before dawn in hopes of summitting a peak for the sunrise.

Instead, a half hour drive gets me to the closest McDonalds. I need to drive yet another 15 minutes to get to a town where there’s a Walmart. It’s a two hour drive to the nearest airport that will get me out of the midwest, at least three to get to one that has a breath’s chance of a direct flight abroad. I now live in a town where checks are accepted and often Visa is not. The library doesn’t allow you to renew or reserve books online. I may not have been catcalled, but there’s already been a marriage proposal.

And on Sunday morning? I walk down main street and hear my footsteps ricochet back at me. Not a store is open, even the coffee shop. A pizza joint will open for lunch, a gas station has a few tables out for the farmers to sip their dark roast. But surrounding the main square, there’s silence.

IMG_20170213_075346868_HDR.jpg

It’s the same world I left when I was 17. It’s the same world I was born into. And while so much has allowed time to pass it by, time has a way of catching up.

Mom used to read to my sister and me. I’d strain to listen in the car as she turned to the back seat to transport our minds into the world of Little Women or the Castle In The Attic.

Now it’s my turn.

As the day winds down and we tuck away check books and tax forms, it’s my time to pull my mother’s mind away from the mounds of estate paperwork. It’s my turn to read The Princess Bride and Jacob, Have I Loved. Sometimes she falls asleep, and I later recap what she missed. Sometimes I only finish a few pages, as we interrupt the world in the chapter to discuss the world in which we live. We talk about Dad. We talk about our relationships with our sisters. We talk about the Cramer clan, and how much I take after that side of the family.

Mom used to take care of me when I got sick. She’d tuck me in and bring me sprite and toast.

Now it’s my turn.

I bring her bowls and water, I rummage through the cupboards to find the appropriate medicine. I worry over her and beg her to rearrange her doctor’s appointment so I can accompany her.

Mom homeschooled me for a few years, teaching me that early foundation of reading ‘riting and ‘rithmatic. She and my dad explained the way the world works.

Now it’s my turn.

I sit with her in estate meetings and phone calls with businesses, taking notes, interrupting when needed and afterward explain to her any concepts she didn’t understand.

My world of adventure came grinding to a halt on November 19. My fast-paced city life of stories and people and passport stamps intertwined with high end coffee has been put on a backshelf while I try to help my family rebuild. In this time, I fiercely defend my mother, my sister, living life in a small town and tracking the sun around our big red barn.

Here is where I grew up, here is where I fled in search of my tribe, the people who spoke my language. My heart wants to vagabond, to explore the world with fervor. But I have a deeper purpose these days.

My first tribe was here. My parents always took care of me, my community always cheered me on.

Now it’s my turn.

IMG_20170205_170816507.jpg

 

Advertisements
Posted in Changes, Current Events, feminism, Growing Up, Lessons, NaNoWriMo, People, Time, Work

Activism: A Response

My original point in writing these blog posts was to stretch myself. I’ve learned a few things this week. The first and last three hundred words are the easiest, it’s the four hundred in between that have me dawdling and struggling. I don’t know how to not write from experience, even if that experience is second hand. And, to no surprise at all, writing is therapy for me.

I’ve always been an external processor. Whether it was talking to my mom at night before I went to bed, texting my best friend when something happened, writing in a diary, or ingesting far too much caffeine pondering the wonders of the universe during college, I need to say things out loud (or write them) to finally to put order to my thoughts.

I’ve been doing a lot of writing over the last thirty hours.

I sat in a coffee shop last night and found myself ugly crying in public as I wrote an email. The extent of the emotion was probably due to the fact I was running on three hours of sleep, but even this morning, well-rested, I welled up as I read the comments rampant across my social media.

It would probably be much healthier for me if I stepped away from the internet for a few days. But I can’t, because I feel like I have a job to do.

I feel like the next four years are going to be so much more on myself and my compatriots. Perhaps would should have realized the gravity of our individual influence long before this, but now we can take up our mantle.

I think about my Niblet. I think about my cousins. I think about the children starting elementary school.

I want you to grow up in a better world.

I want to teach you to not be afraid.

I want to teach you to be curious and full of wonder.

I want you to see someone who has a different skin color and to reach out and say, “Play with me?”

I want you to see two men or two women holding hands, and not think that it is shameful.

I want you to see a hijab or turban and want to ask questions, not alert security.

I want you to eat well and exercise, I want you to be healthy. But when you see someone who is skinnier than you or fatter than you, I want you to see their soul, not their body.

l want you to make eye contact with the homeless, and extend humanity to them.

I want you to listen to the words of the older generations and learn from them.

I want you to befriend the person who doesn’t speak your language, and use your actions to communicate. (Oh, dear Zuzka, even eight years later, I’m still grateful for your kindness when I arrived in a foreign country, lonely and afraid.)

I want you to not be afraid of different opinions, but to realize you can ask questions without changing your position.

I want you to open your eyes to the needs around you, to defend the defenseless. I want you to have your arms be a safe haven against abuse, against grief, against ignorance.

I want you to turn off your lights, to reuse your bags, to recycle your trash, to bike instead of drive.

I want you to donate your books, and to not shame those who cannot read.

As an adult, I want to do the same. I want to reach out to you in love. I want to donate my limited dollars to organizations in need. I want to 
be an advocate, a safe haven, a source of justice. I want to buy products from ethical, sustainable companies. I want to use my voice to reach out through the darkness, and my words to encourage and strengthen.

Do you remember that the Statue of Liberty is inscribed with a part of a poem?

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.

Dear America, let us remember this. Let us remember that it is our responsibility to teach our children. It is our community. It is our planet.

Study constitutional law. Study business law. Study economics. Ask questions.

This world can be an ugly place. This world can also be a beautiful one. 

It’s time to be an activist. It’s time to use your voice… and your dollars.

Peace. Love. Coffee.

Posted in Current Events, feminism, Lessons, Love, NaNoWriMo

1000 words on 3 hours of sleep

I couldn’t write yesterday. I was running errands all morning, and then come my class ending, I was glued to the television.

As I sat watching the results roll in, someone handed me whiskey. I don’t often drink liquor, but I sipped on it and watched. I watched as my LGBTQ+ friends, my Muslim friends, my Latinx friends, my Black friends all reacted in horror, and I joined in with my disbelief.

I am so grateful for my Christian friends that have taken the time to share their views, who they voted for and why. I respect you, because you have thought out what you are saying. But I have seen so many who voted “for the babies” and for no other reason, and for that I grieve. I grieve because so many blame imported dark skin for terrorism, and I think of a Mexican friend who once confided that he never grows his beard out because he gets called a terrorist when he does. I grieve because you forget that Dylan Roof, Robert Lewis Dear Jr, and Adam Lanza were white. Micah Xavier Johnso, Rizwan Farook, and Omar Mateen were American citizens.

Dear Mr. President-Elect,

I did not vote for you.

For over a year, I have been reassuring friends from each and every minority group you have callously insulted that I believed in the American people, that no man who started an international incident the day he announced he candidacy could ever be the President.

I was wrong.

Dear President-Elect, in a time where our nation is divided, you won. Your party won a sweep of the entire legislative body. Congratulations: you’ll be able to squeak through legislation for two years at least. And while I disagree wholeheartedly with the vast majority of what you say, I pray to a God I don’t believe in that Congress will listen to the people. And I pray that the many, many white people who turned out to vote remember that it is only from a position of privilege that equality looks like oppression.

I pray that you create a panel of advisors who can speak frankly to you, and that you listen before you speak. I pray that we are able to hold you to a higher standard than “he didn’t screw up too badly on that one” – forget political correctness, I want a President who speaks with human decency and is humble enough to seek wisdom from experts in other fields.

Mr. President-Elect, I still believe in the American people.

I still believe that we will stand up with our brothers and sisters. I believe that We the People will fight for equality, justice, and for people who look and think differently to not fear for their lives as they walk through the streets.

America is not a middle class white man.

Dear President-Elect, I pray you see the great and beautiful thing we call this country and realize that we can be “great”. But that greatness comes from within. Invest in math and science. Invest in exchange programs. Invest in encouraging your people to think outside the box.

I did not vote for you.

But I still believe that the people of this nation will turn to their neighbor and say, “Brother, I am with you.”

You’ve lost the popular vote to one of the most unpopular establishment politicians, and yet won the electoral college. So listen to your citizens. Listen to our cries for equality, for love, for a fair shake. Listen to your advisors, listen to your people. You wear a heavy burden now, and without middle ground this country will only grow more and more divided.

The sun is up, and the world still spins. As I sit here, sipping coffee in a cafe, I look at the variety of people around me. This is my country. These are my neighbors.

“But see, America is the best country in the world!”

That superlative is dangerous. It lets us be lax.

You think we’re the best?

There’s 123 countries that classify themselves as democracies. There’s 21 countries that believe the ability to criticize the government is a fundamental democratic principle. There’s 61 countries that have a GDP per capita of $30,000 or more. There have been 70 countries with a female head of state. The WHO, while admitting their research is flawed, still ranks 36 countries ahead of the US in healthcare. In math and science, our education system has 28 countries ahead of it at the high school level. We don’t even crack the top 30 for nominal commitment to human rights – frankly, the stats on this link are maddening.

Our country is far from the worst it could be. But tread carefully when you tell me we’re the best.

Who knows, President-Elect Trump. Perhaps you can make American great. But you’ve got an uphill battle.

And here’s what I get to do.

I get to call my legislatures. I get to talk to the people that have been elected by We the People. I get to say, hey, this thing matters to me. I get to love my neighbor, giving the coat off my back if you need it more than me. I get to provide safe haven in my home if I see someone who is scared. I get to be a voice for the voiceless. I get to donate my limited dollars to organizations I believe in. I get to vote in the midterm elections. I get to teach children how to treat people with respect. I get to meet people from all across the board, to ask them questions, and to understand their mantle and stand with them in solidarity.

This is our America. These are our people. Hey, friends, standing in a place of privilege: it’s time to reach down, and pull others up. Let’s not tear each other down. Let us make each other better at the grassroots level, and knock on your neighbor’s door to say hello.

Because like it or not, we actually are Stronger Together.

 

Posted in Current Events, Musing, NaNoWriMo, People, Wishes

another political rant

I can’t help it. I have to keep talking about politics. I’ve spent the last year and a half semi- to fully-immersed in a scene that I’d only vaguely cared about previously. Now that we’re at the climax, I’m almost bubbling over with the

I was two months too shy to vote absentee in the 2008 election while living as an exchange student on the other side of the world. So in 2010, I voted in the midterm election based mostly on what my parents talked about. For those of you who aren’t aware, that was the vote which ousted the Iowa judges who had legalized gay marriage in my state. By the 2012 general election, I had started to question the status quo and was going through a personal crisis. I was aware of the Republican candidates that came tromping through my university, but was out of the country during the caucuses and didn’t pay much attention until the general election.

Then things all went downhill. I changed my voter registration to unaffiliated and started glowering at the nonsense people were saying, wondering if anyone had ever taken a civics course. Mr. Olsen, my high school government teacher, would have never allowed anyone to pass his class with the amount of misinformation being propagated.

I was deleted on social media this election cycle.

I did not delete anyone.

I was furious sometimes at the things I would see show up on my timeline. I would shake my fist and go find one of my usual debate partners and vent about the inaccuracies and assumptions. I would see an article posted and delve into the sources, trying to decipher to conclusions drawn. Sometimes I would agree, sometimes I would roll my eyes at the bias. I would wander around the aisle, asking questions and demanding answers.

I am an unaffiliated voter. I did not delete you.

I’ve complained about the echo chamber before, of the dangers of being too tightly wound in a circle of like-minded people. I’ve complained about Facebook’s algorithm before of showing me more and more of the same things I’ve been clicking on until I believe that everyone must think exactly as I do because I never see articles that contradict me.

And so I keep you. I keep you even though I disagree with every argument you make, every meme you share, every article you post.

I keep you because I can be wrong.

I keep you because I want to see what you think.

I keep you because I want to see what you say, and see if I can challenge my own point of few.

I want to be able to understand where you’re coming from.

I want to be able to listen to someone who thinks differently than I do, and restrain myself from trying to bring you over to my side.

Call it a lesson in patience, and one that I don’t always succeed in.

But here’s the other thing.

January 20, 2017. We’re going to have a new President.

We’re going to have new members of Congress.

The world is going to keep spinning.

I’m going to keep being noisy. I’m going to keep advocating for the things I believe in. I’m going to keep voting, keep donating, keep volunteering. I’m going to do everything I can to make the world a better place.

And part of that? Well part of that means keeping you as part of my world.

Maybe on Facebook we’ll post contrasting debates, but sit down for coffee and talk about the illness your daughter is facing, how you’re applying for a program, or the trip you have coming up. We’re going to live in the same world, occupy the same space.

I may disagree with everything you say.

But we live in this country together.

I want to know what you’re going to say.

I want to know what you believe to be true.

I want to know where you get your information.

I want to know why you think one way or another.

What about you? Are you going to listen to me? Are you going to be able to sit down and have a reasonable, intelligent conversation?

Or will you delete me, because I say something you don’t like?

Will you insulate yourself, so that the only propaganda (because don’t fool yourself: that’s what we fill our minds with, no matter how much we claim to “research”) that you ingest is the propaganda from your favorite sources?

Will you allow the anger that you feel rise up in you when you read my contradictory posts to become so vehement that you sever our connection completely?

I’ve hidden the most frequent political posters, don’t get me wrong. But that was because they were cluttering up my feed to the point where I couldn’t see my friend’s wedding pictures, or recipes, or the less active friend’s thoughts on public affairs. I’ve hidden no one specifically for their beliefs.

Would you defend my right to disagree with you? Would you defend my freedom of speech? Would you acknowledge that I’ve done research too and drawn a different conclusion? Would you believe that I can be on the opposite side of the spectrum and still love you?

Like I said, I’ve been deleted this election cycle. I’ve tried to maintain a middle ground, reaching out to both sides to understand where they’re coming from. And with some, I’ve had phenomenal conversations. With others, the instant I bring my opinion onto their post, I disappear from their connections.

It is what it is.

I’m tired of trying not to get deleted you when I disagree with everything you say, because I’m the one you accuse of being too concerned about political correctness, without ever finding out what I think is actually important. So here I stand, and I hold my breath for one more day.

Because at the end of it?

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” -Evelyn Beatrice Hall

Happy Election, everybody.

 

 

 

Posted in Current Events, Musing, NaNoWriMo, Time

a noisy year, you are

Whenever I’m babysitting a child under the age of about six, I’m careful to quickly avert my gaze if they ever trip or bump into something. Children, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, are notorious for reacting based on how their audience responds. If the young’un doesn’t think I saw what happened, they tend to evaluate how they actually feel instead of crying because they think that’s what they are supposed to do. If they continue playing, I know it was a minor bump. If they cry, alrighty, that actually hurt or scared them, let’s see what we can do.

Children have pretty short attention spans.

So do adults.

Let’s just take a moment to think about how absurdly noisy 2016 has been.

The Zika virus. The Brussels terrorist attack. The Summer Olympics in Brazil. The Orlando nightclub shooting. North Korea launching it’s largest nuclear test yet. Brexit. The US Presidential circus. The Baby Boomer celebrities starting to die in droves. Standing Rock protests. Alton Sterling and Philando Castile followed by the Dallas police shooting. Flint. Flint, Michigan was declared a state of emergency this year!

It’s been brutal.

For the less dire:

The iPhone 7 release. Pokemon Go. Finding the gene linked to ALS. The Cubs win the World Series. Leo finally won an Oscar.

It’s been busy.

The world is constantly turning, and we are constantly learning. Sometimes I wonder if we learn so fast that we remember nothing. Kind of crazy to realize we still have almost two months left in this year, huh?

According to legend, and perhaps even fact, on April 18, 1930, the BBC looked at the world around it. They then turned around and declared, “There is no news to report today” and proceeded to play music for the duration of the broadcast. Can. You. Even. Imagine?

My alarm goes off in the morning, and as I go to shut it off I swipe through Twitter stories and Facebook notifications. I drive past emergency vehicles with lights flashing on my commute with NPR catching me up on the latest stories in my state, country, and world. My mom forwards me newsletters from her financial advisors. My friends text me asking if I’ve seen this, heard about that, we really need to talk about the nonsense of this over here. Even making small talk with a cashier turns into tidbits about the storm due that evening or the animal shelter opening down the street.

I feel like everything around me is news.

It makes it so easy to forget, and to realize that just because my world moves on, keeps on spinning and absorbing new information doesn’t mean that these stories stop. Cubs fans will probably be celebrating for another 108 years. Families are still mourning the loss of their loved ones. Protestors are still being jailed in North Dakota. And dear Lord, we still have two days left of this never-ending election.

And yet, in three days we’ll be talking about Black Friday. Actually, come to think of it, I’ve already seen an article or two about various malls remaining closed until after midnight and REI has already sponsored a few ads for “opt outside”. So look, didn’t even have to wait for one monster to fade into oblivion for another one to start rearing its ugly head.

When I was a kid, I somehow discovered that one of my favorite authors, C.S. Lewis, died on the same day as JFK. Even in my youth, I just knew that the creator of Narnia wouldn’t have been given proper recognition for his life and death because the world would turn its eyes to the popular, handsome president. Just now, when I googled their names to make sure I was remembering it properly, I realized that Aldous Huxley, author of monumental Brave New World, also passed away that day. Sounds a lot like 2016, eh? Who gets top billing? Who does the world care about the most? It seems like we only have the mental capacity to deal with one tragedy at a time, even though each of these men shaped society significantly. I’ve known several people whose birthday fall on 9/11 – their day of joy spent a solid decade eclipsed by mourning.

Everything is a constant battle for attention, a constant demanding for ratings, for clicks, for shares and likes. It’s an eclipse: what is bigger, shinier, more tragic, more shocking. We tear into people’s lives and demand they give up their privacy for our curiosity, demand answers to questions we had no business in asking. But funding for our cause only comes from the circus, legislation for our protection only comes from making noise, and the rise to fame or infamy comes with this sacrifice.

So here comes another story, here comes another insight, here comes someone with only the vaguest connection to the center clamoring to be heard. But it’s not enough, because there’s always something new. Even today’s brightest color can’t compete with tomorrow’s glitter. We move on, we forget, we are constantly sampling but never satiated. We form opinions based on headlines and get in bitter fights because we think we know better – all the polls say so.

The headlines are like the children. They make a noise and then look around to see if we’re watching. If we give them no heed, they’ll move on. Children have short attention spans. So do we. The media reacts to us: giving us more of what we beg for. This isn’t interesting enough, this isn’t new enough, this isn’t controversial enough.

Oh, dear 2016. You’ve been trained well. Every time we respond to your desperate cries for attention, you give us exactly what we ask for. You give us more pain, more divisiveness, more curiosity. As we roar in anger, you give us more and more. We have become the monster: we’re looking in a mirror.

Oh, you have been brutal.

But that’s exactly what we asked for.

Perhaps, just once, CNN will come on air.

November 10, 2016: There is no news today. Please enjoy the music.

 

Posted in Changes, Current Events, Dating, Lessons from the Church, NaNoWriMo, People, Stories, Time

play the game (for “Rochelle”)

How am I supposed to live without you
How am I supposed to carry on
When all that I’ve been livin’ for is gone

Rochelle angrily pounded the space bar, forcing the YouTube clip to stop Michael Bolton’s crooning. Finding the music popular from when she was born was supposed to be a distraction, not something to force her back into melancholy.

She let her head fall back on the lovesac and watched the fan blades spin lazily. One glow in the dark star that had held on defiantly to a wobbly blade for over a year traced a white streak in her vision. She wondered what had brought her to this moment.

You need everyone’s eyes just to feel seen behind your make up. Nobody knows who you even are. Who do you think that you are?

She pursed her lips ironically and bounced her head in time to Mike Posner’s slightly more modern tune. She thought back to her early college years, dancing with her roommate around their apartment with cats darting between their feet and candles glowing all around the kitchen. “It’s probably because you think you’re COOLER THAN ME!” They’d sing at the top of their lungs.

I’m gonna drop some cash, only got twenty dollas in my pocket

Macklemore’s boom resonated through her chest. Was that the time when things started to change? Was that when she started to get angry at everyone she had called friend for the last four years?

Hellooooooo, it’s me…

She couldn’t do it. She slammed her laptop closed on Adele’s sepia gas stovetop.

The boy. So brief, so wild, so beautiful. He was the one that got too close when she was about to shatter. He was the one that found her right as all the years of hiding who she was, what she really believed, came bubbling to the surface. He was the one who stepped into her world right at the wrong moment.

She hated him.

She loved him.

He wasn’t enough for her, she was too much for him. These opposites pulled each other into a circle of gravity, whirling around each other, the attraction becoming too much until they collided with cosmic power.

And now all she had left was a black hole.

She was cold.

The new men who filled her bed were placeholders. She pushed them out her door at three a.m. and collapsed in a drunken stupor. When morning came, she would brew herself a full pot of Folgers and debate pouring Bailey’s in each cup. She would sit at her table, slouching over the steam and inhale the scent of coffee while she waited for it to cool. She would delete the texts from the night before, praying that by deleting the electronic record she could delete the memories.

She’d drag herself to class, hair clipped back, make up on point, a tasteful scarf wrapped to cover the hickey her latest lover had left. She’d make small talk with coworkers, and beg forgiveness for not joining them after shift for a drink. Rochelle would return home, pulling her cat into her lap.

“Love me,” she’d tell it, stroking it’s soft fur. The cat would glower and struggle away from her grasp, finding a ball of paper on the floor to bat around. She’d pull out her phone and find the app, the orange flame tempting her. Left, left, left, right, left, left, left, right, MATCH. Keep swiping. Left, left, right, left, James has sent you a message. James it was.

Got a long list of ex-lovers
They’ll tell you I’m insane
‘Cause you know I love the players
And you love the game

Taylor, Taylor, Rochelle sighed to herself. I’m dying to see how this one ends, too.

She wondered where it had all gone wrong – or had it always been wrong? She thought of her sister. The one who had always come into her room, stolen her things, touched her… Rochelle shuddered at the memory of her sister. Their mother had never believed Rochelle, and even now couldn’t understand why she refused to be in the same room, why she refused to forgive her sister.

She thought of the church she’d found herself a part of. She thought of how she’d changed for them, dying her hair back to it’s natural color after the black started to grow out instead of keeping it rebellious. She thought of how she moved in with them, reading her bible and striving to learn the lingo, to say all the right things and volunteer with them and be at the church every time the doors were open. She thought about how when she tried to open up, to share what was really going on, how Emily would shift uncomfortably and offer to pray for Rochelle, or how Miranda would go off on some Christianese rant. One day she called her out on that. “What does that even MEAN, Miranda? Do you even know what that MEANS?”

She’d run away, moving into an apartment in another city with Emily’s sister. Rochelle learned very quickly that Amy was even worse, and when they tried to have conversations about current events, it would quickly devolve into nonsense, and Rochelle would storm away trying desperately not to scream about how stupid she found her roommate.

All her friends were getting married. The three-three-nine method, Rochelle thought wryly. Single for 23 years, then “court” for three months, engaged for three months, and nine months later… hello family. Was there no such thing as a healthy friendship one-on-one with boys? Apparently not, she muttered. It’s marriage or running away and doing exactly what I’m doing. That’s it.

She lived alone now. After an entire lease of fighting and anger, and oh that stupid election, how could Amy actually believe that godawful candidate was genuinely a good human being? She’d finally escaped. She was alone. Was it better? Was she going to be free?

They say I’ll never be the poster type, but they don’t make posters of my kind of life.

She picked back up her phone, Elle King demanding freedom in the background, and kept swiping, pushing the thoughts of That Boy further and further into the abyss.


“Write a story for me?” My friend texted me. “I don’t care if it’s real or fictional.”

This is for you, love.

Posted in Home, Lessons, NaNoWriMo, Travel, Wishes

you let go

I didn’t think I owned much. After I’d left my apartment in Iowa, giving away my table and chairs, my dresser and couch, I’d moved to Denver by myself in a minivan. That was my standard: I can’t have much if that’s how I started, can I?

I’m falling into a point of my life where I want own nothing but what I can fit in my Sentra. A few changes of clothes, a few dishes, a book or two. As I’ve started pushing my earthly possessions into the storage closet in my parent’s basement (sorry, Mom) I’ve realized how even with moving frequently and often from one bedroom into another basement room, I’ve managed to accumulate quite the collection of useless items.

There’s so much stuff. A pair of pants I never wear because they fit me funny. Mismatched socks, some with holes in them I keep meaning to throw out. Mugs with chips in them because I’m too sentimental about where they came from to throw them out. A mini ironing board that I use once a year when I’m in a hurry and forgot to pull my shirt out of the dryer right away. An old college textbook that I thought might be useful someday. A stack of papers from a volunteer program I did three years ago.

Somehow I keep carting them around, address to address, state to state.

I now have in my possession less than a dozen outfits, a few blankets, and my computer. That’s about it.

I now have the ability to pack up my life in a heartbeat. Ten minutes, and I can be on the road with no trace that I even existed. I don’t own pets, merely adopting my roommates’ or friends’ animals for the brief moments we share space.

I think I expected owning next to nothing to be more freeing than it actually feels.

I’m a nomad, so my heart has always been ready to go. While I had more of a physical attachment than I was aware of, the emotional connection has always been held with loose fingers. It’s something I’ve encountered with many travelers: we’re quick to befriend, but just as quick to move on. People will ask you how long you’ve been traveling together, and you’ll admit that you just met twelve hours before when you joined in the same walking tour.

You become accustomed to living out of a suitcase for a few weeks or months at a time. Your four shirts are quickly melded to the exact contours of your body, no matter how often you’re able to find a washing machine and soap. But it doesn’t matter, because those four shirts see so many sights and absorb so many smells of so many cultures. The more you absorb, the less rigid you become.

You learn that you’re not always right. You hear how other countries, other religions, other families operate. You adopt some of their world, and they adopt some of yours. Or you toast each other and your differences, knowing some things won’t change. But it doesn’t matter, because you realize on the other side of the table is a human being, not the enemy.

You start holding on to less.

You hold on to fewer strict opinions, more open to discussion and ability to change.

You hold on to fewer languages, realizing the fluidity body language and how your brain won’t recall the right word at the right time.

You loosen your grip on time, allowing for change and fluctuation, last minute ideas and new companions.

You let go of the determination that something you know is the best or the worst, as you come to appreciate the nuances of home and away.

You start demanding that others speak with respect and facts before making blanket statements.

You let go of the concept of home, because there are people and places that hold your heart all across the globe, scattered like dust in the wind.

I own so little. I hold on to so little.

Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Is it just fine in this precise moment?

It is so easy to accumulate. It is so easy to continue to carry things around that have no worth, whether it’s a broken lamp (I just need to find a new pull string!) or a relationship (we’re not that bad for each other), a job (but what would I do if I left?), an apartment (yeah, everything’s gross and it’s really expensive, but it takes so much work!).

I’m so young, but I’m learning the weight of value. Who do I value? What do I value? When I live in a six foot by four foot space, what is worth so much that I am willing to sacrifice those inches? When friends are a dime a dozen, which relationships do I value enough to fight to maintain when I’m “out of sight, out of mind” and have to make an intentional effort?

My external environment now matches my inner self. Perhaps now my inner self will do some spring cleaning as well. Perhaps I can let go of the past, both the good parts and bad. Perhaps I can begin each day in peace and fresh beginnings. Perhaps I can empty myself and go in to each morning in each city with eyes wide open. Perhaps the past can remain there, and only the lessons follow me into the future.

I have no possessions.

I have nothing holding me down.

Defying gravity.

It’s time to find color in the earth instead of my wardrobe, vibrancy in real relationships instead of the fleeting. Hold on to what has value, release what holds you back, create beauty in each moment.

I didn’t think I owned much. But now I want to own even less.

Now I just want to own myself, to take accountability for my words and actions, and then to move on in freedom.

Live simply.

 

 

 

 

Posted in Current Events, Growing Up, Lessons, NaNoWriMo, People, Wishes

Beauty and the Ballot

“That’s it!” I’ve seen friend after friend exclaim. “I’m not going to vote in this election. I can’t support either candidate!”

I get it, I do. Two of the most unpopular candidates in history are running for the highest office in the land. I understand your resentment, your confusion, the distaste and distrust. Heck, I unfollowed half a dozen of my Facebook friends because their incessant posting about both candidates had me riled up every time I was online. (I wish I would have done that ages ago – my stress level has dropped drastically in the last two weeks.)

This cycle has nearly doubled the amount of negative voters than were in the 2008 election – that is, voting against one candidate rather than for another. Everyone is angry and tired and in disbelief at the circus we’ve been dragged into. Both sides of the aisle are astounded that the other candidate is even vaguely considered viable. “She’s a liar! A security risk! The emails!” “He’s got paper-thin skin! A racist/sexist/every-ist! Tax returns!” “She’s too embedded in the system!” “He’s been bankrupt four times!”

So far, we’re on the same page, right?

I’m still going to vote. And you need to, too.

If you want to leave the presidential part of the ballot empty, feel free. I genuinely won’t fault you.

But…

You are given a big ballot. A ballot that includes Representatives, Senators, amendments, propositions, and local issues. It’s difficult to believe in such a heated election cycle with all the media attention focused on the top ticket level, but those down-ballot choices will make more of a difference in your every day life than the President.

The President will most definitely matter on an international stage, but unless s/he has the same party as the majority in Congress, doing anything domestically is going to be like pulling teeth. (A member of Congress has to introduce a bill, so whatever your candidate is promising, s/he still has to have allies in Congress that can push through opposition in both houses. Hence the desperate need for bipartisanship… and a realization that you can socially be on one side and fiscally on another, so even having a majority party doesn’t mean they’ll always support you.)

So it’s back to you, dear citizen. It’s time to remember to look local.

Vote down-ballot.

In Colorado, one of the issues that is near and dear to me is Prop 107 and 108. I’m an unaffiliated voter, which means that unless I change my party affiliation sixty days before the caucus, I am not allowed to participate. Millennials are more and more falling into this category: one that doesn’t identify completely with one party or another. In the state I’ve called home for two years, this means that unless I know which side I’m leaning more towards a full two months in advance, I’m not allowed to participate in selecting who will go on to the general election.

This year of all years should prove why that’s a headache to a humanist. Also, I’m from Iowa, where you can walk in the night of, register to vote at the door, and participate in the caucus. I was more than a little bitter that I didn’t realize this rule was different in Colorado until 7 weeks before the caucus here… a week too late to do anything.

Oh, and the other part is voting to change the Colorado caucus into a primary. Just FYI.

See what I mean, though? This is something that matters. To me. On the ground level. You know what else is on the Colorado ballot? A right-to-die amendment, like in Oregon. Renewing a tax that funds everything from the Denver Arts Museum to local theater troops. An adjustment to the requirements for amendments to the Colorado constitution. Introducing a first-in-the-nation single-payer healthcare system. Raising the minimum wage.

Oh, look. The state is attempting to put some pretty hot-button issues to the vote. Did you know about that? Are you really that upset at the political madness going on at the national level that you don’t want your voice to matter at the state level, which is going to affect you more immediately and intimately?

And there’s another thing:

You can be anti-Hillary. You can be anti-Trump. You can be pro-democracy.

Did you know that after only 5% of the popular vote, third parties are eligible for funds from the Federal Election Commission? Take a peek at these other parties, see if there’s one that you actually do agree with. Your vote could bring funds for 2020, and bring more parties into lower positions (even the mayor of your own town!) simply by bringing attention to the fact that they are there.

Now, I’m of the personal opinion that we need two drastic changes to our election process. I think we need to tweak the electoral college, and I would adore introducing ranked voting.

Ranked voting would allow for voters to escape the “lesser of two evil” conundrum we find ourselves in every election. Yes, it would cost more money to implement ballot counters to read these results, but in the end, you can vote in good conscience for Gary Johnson or Jill Stein and not feel that a vote for someone you like is actually a vote for the Republican or Democrat that you hate. It would make it more likely that someday a third party could take the position of Commander-in-Chief.

Since that isn’t likely to be implemented anytime in the near future, my other plea is for the Electoral College to have one slight adjustment. Again, I’m from Iowa: a state with a relatively small population. The Electoral College is something that makes sense to me, because it forces presidential candidates to care about my state after they’ve won our first-in-the-nation caucus. What I hate about it is the “winner-take-all” requirement of all but two states. Remember how Al Gore won the popular vote and lost the election in 2000? That’s why. Maine and Nebraska are much closer to accuracy, although allocating by congressional district still allows for gerrymandering. Proportional allocation though? To both have the winner of the election accurately reflect the will of the people and give the smaller states a voice? What a wild concept! (Forgive the sarcasm… it’s been a draining year.)

I’m not going to deny that this is by far my most involved election cycle, watching every debate and actively seeking out economists and political scientists and people smarter than me to give me their viewpoints.

But as I look around at my compatriots, I think the reason why Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders soared to the forefront of media attention is exactly what the rumors stated: we’re tired of the same-ole, same-ole. We’re a generation of communication, of the internet, of the ability to have answers at our fingertips while still choosing to remain locked into Facebook’s algorithms of feeding us more of the same until we live in an echo chamber. We’re bored of being told that how it has always been is how it must always be.

We’re tired of the establishment. So let’s make a change, even if that means that we vote for a future a bit further away than January, and a result a bit closer to home than Washington.

 

Posted in NaNoWriMo

Space

She hunches her shoulders, desperately trying to minimize her height. She always finds the window seat on the bus and makes sure nothing spills out from her bag which she has tucked beneath her legs. On the airplane, she never uses the armrest, squishing herself uncomfortably as she carefully uses her thumb, to turn the page of her book, passing it from one to the other instead of reaching to the top of the book for a more efficient movement.

In her apartment with roommates, she organizes all her belongings in stacks so as to take up as little room as possible. She uses just one shelf for her food in the kitchen, one half a shelf in the bathroom for her toiletries. She was grateful to finally have her own bedroom, meaning she didn’t have to rearrange her bookshelf and dresser to take up as little room as possible in a shared space. Sometimes she parks several blocks away so that she doesn’t have to parallel park and risk being too close to other vehicles. And the laundromat, she finds a corner chair during a quiet hour and prays that no one needs to use the rest of the machines while she’s in there.

When she goes into work, she carefully arranges her purse and lunch together, hiding them as much as possible. When it gets too cold, she tries to find the most unobtrusive place for her winter coat – one selected because it wasn’t as poofy as the others. She often stands with her arms folded, trying to wrap herself into a tinier package.

When renting a room for a weekend, she slips in and out of the bathroom at odd hours so as not to disturb others. She cooks simple meals to spend as little time as possible in the main rooms, and if someone comes home while she’s sitting on the couch, she’ll disappear into her quarters.

She’s so desperate not to take up space. She’s so desperate to slip by unnoticed. She’s so desperate to not be a bother. Even her words are captured by her tongue before they slip past her lips. Silence, she whispers to herself, don’t get in the way. Other people are more important, you don’t deserve to be here, you don’t deserve to take up space.

When there’s pain, when there’s anger, when there’s loss, she won’t speak. She traps them inside herself and feeds the monster inside her. But no one must know, she reminds herself. No one must know the bitterness that grows. I must be silent. I must not take up space.

Oh, she says words, certainly. She laughs, she joins in storytelling, she drinks coffee and Moscow Mules with her friends. On the outside, no one would ever know. No one sees how desperate she is to not take up space. She says “yes” just often enough that no one realizes how often she says “no”, withdrawing from the world and hiding behind the curtains, beneath the bedspread, breathing in the sour scent of her unwashed body, the oils from her hair causing breakouts on her forehead and cheeks while she binges on yet another Netflix original series.

She becomes denser, each time she pulls herself inward. Her soul becomes harder. Do not take up space, she admonishes herself, and packs her spirit closer and tighter. Do not be a bother, she lectures herself and she pulls in the anguish and tears. The blackness, the drowning, no one must see. She withdraws her true self, and paints on a beautiful façade, one that won’t draw questions because it takes up so little space and is just bubbly enough to be ignored.

Sometimes, someone tries to reach inside, to see beyond the mask. But her soul is packed into such a tiny space that it’s a fruitless endeavor even if they do manage to scrape off a tiny piece of truth. Desperate for validation, she’ll even give just a bit of herself. But it’s so minuscule, so little reward for so much work. So time and time again, they give up. See, she whispers bitterly to herself, no one cares. You take up too much space. Hide it, make it all disappear.

She feeds on the loneliness, and it in turn consumes her. She wonders how others do it. How are others allowed to take up space? How are others free to do as they please? Why are others vibrant and larger than life? Why not her? Why is she the one who is too much, too big? Why must she rein herself in? The darkness cascades over her, even on the brightest of days. She reads stories and watches movies where the protagonist finds peace, and a happy ending. Why not her? Why are things always falling apart around her? She tries so hard not to take up space as to minimize the damage, but time and time again the shrapnel seems to find her.

Years pass in a cycle of better and worse, times when she feels happy, and times when she drowns in her own mind. She’s suffocating. She needs space. She needs to give herself permission to take up space, to say that it’s okay to use her own kitchen, to not confine her life to a twelve inch by twelve inch space of floor. But it’s so hard. Years of compounding her thoughts and feelings have spilled out to the physical manifestation, and she whispers to herself, “I’m too much. I take up too much space.”

She feels alone, and despite feeling like she’s too big, finds there’s no one around her because she’s pushed them all away. She has the space, but is too afraid to let go and fill it. She doesn’t remember what it’s like to join space with others, to feel alive together and be more together. She’s all alone, and yet she cries, “I take up too much space!” The echoes bounce off the empty room.


If you or someone you love are thinking about suicide, please reach out. This wiki has a list of many resources that are available for phone calls, emails, texting, or online chats.

This piece was written for NaNoWriMo and is a combination of experiences from dear friends of mine, along with some of my own. I couldn’t bring myself to finish it with a happy ending, because for many people battling depression, they can’t see the ending at all, let alone one being happy. Some are able to fight their way out through therapy, others through medication, and some struggle their entire lives. All I can ask if you feel like you are losing a friend to depression is to not lose hope. And to those of you that are there right now: I love you. Please, take up space with me.

 

 

Posted in Backyard Tourism, Bonnie and Clyde, Changes, Stories, Time, Vagabonding

independence day

The United States celebrates Independence Day on July 4. As of this year, I have my own Independence Day: July 3.

That was the day Ben told me he was moving back to Michigan. My favorite colleague, my trainer, my friend. I told him he wasn’t allowed to drop off the face of the earth, and we started sharing our plans for the future. Me, leaving Denver in a year to start buying one-way tickets and doing seasonal work. Him, live in Michigan for a year and start a business.

We should take a road trip, we decided. A week of wandering.

Erick, our mutual friend, joined the conversation.

No, we decided. It’ll be longer than that. Let’s make it the “Great American Road Trip”!

It was all still humor. All still a half formed dream that would never come to fruition.

I don’t remember who said it first, but someone suggested, “Let’s buy a bus!”

We started looking it up.

The joking stopped.

“Wait, are we really doing this?”

We awkwardly shook hands as a trio. Yes, yes I think we are.

The last two months have flown by. We incorporated Ben’s business, got a joint phone plan, talked to insurance agents, bought an RV, and drank a lot of tea.

Today, I hugged Ben tightly as he climbed into our Breaking Bad-eque RV and began his nomadic trek to Michigan.

I’m not sharing this article with my ten followers on Facebook. I’m allowing it to be open, published. The world can see it if they look hard enough. But my soul is quiet right now as preparations begin in earnest for me to begin vagabonding.

The story will be here. Someday in the future, I want to be able to look back and see what I was thinking. See the journey. But keep it quiet from my audience, while the trepidation still lingers in the shadows.

I will go. I will nomad. I will vagabond.

But while those plans form, while states separate us, I will remember it here in the silence.

Because I know it’s real: I have my independence day.