Too Human

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First it was her legs, poked and prodded

Always something needed to be corrected

Another surgery, rounds of needles

She hated hospitals

“Am I Ok now?”

Onto the next one…

 

Young and blossoming, make-up had to be flawless

“Your hair’s not straight, let me fix it”

Outer beauty was the shield of protection against whispers and words

Of misunderstanding

And she had to be the one to keep it from happening

They saw through it, and they talked anyway

 

A few years later she went off to college

Sheltered and unaware of the culture

She had her independence

That was met with ignorance

Curiosity with eye-rolling

And going out with eye catching

 

It was the first time men seem to find her attractive

Flattering, but a little confusing too

She didn’t try too hard to dress

But the groping and comments never seemed to rest

There were things that they did

A way that people lived

It felt good sometimes

So she figured she’d roll with it

 

Real life came around

With many ups and downs

Most of which were out of her hands

So she did what she did to keep going

She had her body

Not a care that the scale dipped lower

Or that her stomach rumbled from hunger

Tired of being small and backed up against walls

She needed cheap relief and she got it

 

A timeline of sacrifice for perfection

Why is perfection worth seeking

if it means denying and losing who you are?

The church folks implore it’s worth trying for

Few speak against it being worth dying for

And before it was too late

She realized that the worry, obsession, and frustration

Wasn’t worth it anymore

 

This standard of grace is new

Four months in

Beginning again

Setting boundaries instead of casting blame

Walking around with a naked face, unashamed

Sharing her journey, when appropriate

Practicing awareness of feelings

Instead of just sucking it up

She is not a body, but has one

Also a heart, mind, and soul

She refuses to rush the process

Or be guilt-tripped for the sake of someone else’s ego

Surrendering it all to her Creator

She’s soft, yet powerful, like water

And water is part of being human

Some still say she’s too much, and that scares others

But maybe she’ll a little too human

Which not all know what do to with

But for this firecracker, deep-thinker, and people-lover

It’s more than enough

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After A Year

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Please don’t let us be late, I prayed, remembering how rushed and off-kilter I felt when we had all come together for the funeral. This was more of a celebration than a somber goodbye, but there was still a heaviness to the occasion that I had sensed even was we prepared the memorial garden. That morning, his twenty-third birthday, a fishing derby was held in his honor; I had originally planned on casting a line, but gave into the fears of getting hooked (literally) and my lack of patience that often accompanies it. I found more comfort in observing the soon-to-be dedicated patch of land and reminiscing on memories of Connor and our shared childhood gone by.

My family and I found seats underneath the small pavilion as musicians began to play a rendition Cole Swindell’s “You Should Be Here.” I’d heard it at Country Thunder a month before, the last place (and eerily the last day) that I’d seen Connor before the accident. I held a wad of Kleenex and my mom’s hand as the floodgates opened up rather freely throughout the ceremony, my heart breaking all over again hearing poignant words from my brother, his sister, and especially his mother. Perhaps for the first time since I got the news, I wept out of anger more than sorrow. Rest assured, I was in no way angry at them or even at God. If nothing else, I was pissed off at the world; a world that had only paused momentarily last year to remember a beautiful person. A world that kept trying to tell me in one way or another that supposedly it was time to stop grieving. A world that seemed to go on as life hadn’t changed, and yet so many of our lives had changed irrevocably. I wanted to scream at the world to go stick it where it hurts, and am tempted to do so now at its indifference toward tragedy, disaster, and injustice. But that’s for another time.

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The gathering came to a close with a take on Eric Church, whose music I love for a number of reasons, but will hold a special place in my heart because it was Connor’s last concert. I let go of any embarrassment about crying in public a long time ago; I don’t always see tears or weeping as indications of sadness, but rather a sense of depth to feelings that have no explanation. I feel deeply, and I love deeply.

Most recently, a popular blogger and pastor described it as the grieving one does after the funeral. The heaviness might lift after a while, yet the heartache still remains in the shadows of every-day life, ready to hit you in the most unexpected way at perhaps the most inopportune times. However, I’ve learned not to be afraid of those moments, to embrace them as they come and let them teach me what they need to. If a song comes up on the radio that sparks a memory, I’ll listen to it. I genuinely enjoy talking about knowing Connor and growing up in the backwoods of suburbia when it’s appropriate, because of how it has shaped me both as a kid and an adult. I’m grateful for the memorial garden, a place that I can come back to when I’ll no longer be able to come back to the house that I was raised in.

I find peace in knowing that his family is my family, that I will forever be connected to them and others through the life and memory of an amazing man. I hold close the traditions we’ve created to celebrate him, and those we’ll create in the future. To some it seems morbid, or refusing to let go, but for me it’s a way to create beauty out of something beyond tragic.

I cry. I reminisce. I write. I pray. Grief teaches you so many things, many of which are talked about in the most cliché ways. But if nothing else, the last year has taught me to lean in and be fully present, even the midst of a weird combination that is both pain and joy.

Yes, he should be here. And while not in the way any of us would want him to be, I believe that he is.

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Getting Wonder Woman All Wrong

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She was motivated by compassion rather than revenge.

Her strengths were not by chance, but by proper training and preparation.

She did not want to hide, nor did she want attention. She was simply fulfilling what she felt called to do.

Chills scattered across my skin as she grabbed her shield and began climbing the ladder out of No Man’s Land.  She rose up and began to run forward in cinematic fashion, deflecting bullets off her wrists in the process. I was so overcome by the power and awe of these singular moments that tears formed in my eyes and poured onto my cheeks. I had come across an article headline where many admitted to crying during this particular scene (and others), but didn’t read any further for fear of coming across spoilers. And while it is wonderful that strong female characters have been brought to the forefront in action-adventure, there’s another reason, a personal reason to celebrate the incredible film and story that is Wonder Woman.

In my teens an early twenties, I proudly called myself Wonder Woman in Real Life, though my only vivid interpretation is the most recent summer blockbuster. I’d seen various references through the old days of Cartoon Network, but never knew her story within the context of any comic books. It was a lot of assuming and creating a definition in my own head based off her title alone. I desperately wanted to be strong, fierce, and independent; not for the sake of being a heroine, or doing what was right, but merely proving people wrong. It was a defense mechanism, a way of communicating that underneath a sweet (and perhaps naive) exterior, there was a badass not to be messed with.

And one could argue that the fictional Diana Prince is similar, but the difference between her and I has been a matter of pride.

She never had to proclaim who she was in order to make a statement or have an impact, nor did anyone have to point her out in dramatic fashion in order to shape her identity. She allowed herself to be helped and advised in adjusting to the outside world (even when the majority of the responses to her requests were “NO!”), leaning on her male comrades for support without total dependence. Her relationship with Steve is not a back and forth of who saves who, but it more so revolves around what they teach one another, about partnership, grace, and the harsh realities of justice and evil. And as I’ve dug deeper and reflected on what this film has meant to me, I realized that perhaps it’s not just social media, loneliness, and ignorance that’s slowly killing us. Rather, it’s also individualism.

The reasons for “every person for themselves,” are plenty, from the fear of coming across as needy/codependent, to the fear of rejection and abandonment. I’ve always been, and still am slightly terrified of being too much, and have assumed that’s why people tend to disappear out of my life every so often. It seems like when it comes to lending a helping hand now a days, there’s a bit of a debtors mentality, where if you do something for someone, then they automatically owe you (or vice versa).

And so we do everything ourselves, or at least we try to in order to avoid pain, disappointment, and betrayal. Whether it comes from society or otherwise, we’re either pressured or expected to dig deep within ourselves and by ourselves for that which is beyond comprehension. We dig and we dig until we’ve become hallow shells, resentful and isolated from what we were created for.

Love. Connection. Community. Building each other up instead of tearing each other down.

I believe that love comes not from within, but from God above. And I believe that we learn to love ourselves through experiencing aspects of God in other people, both women and men.

The first time I heard that God loved me was from a man.

Had it not been for the men I’d met during college, I wouldn’t have begun to understand what loving myself meant until much later. They accepted me and didn’t judge me, even in the midst of bad decisions and mistakes.

And not too long ago, a man whom I very much care for, admire, and respect said to me, “You’re one of the strongest and most resilient women I know.” He then continued, “I wish you could see in yourself what I see in you.”

But I think that’s what relationships are for, whether they’re platonic or romantic; again, to show us what we’ve been blinded to by impossible standards.

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I’ve had to fight battle after battle since the day I was born. More recently, it has been the battle to overcome stereotypes, establish a career, and live my own life. A battle to let go of anger and allowing my heart to soften toward my family history. And now, a battle with a disease that threatens to land me in the hospital, and perhaps even take my life.

Since coming to terms with it three months ago, many have asked me how they can help or support me. Most days I’m not entirely sure, but I do know that it goes beyond just getting me to eat, or encouraging me to take deep breaths when I feel like going back to an unhealthy physical behavior. It’s a lot of patience, especially as I’m still in the midst of trying to get some kind of professional help. It’s grace when I ask obvious questions or bitch and moan over silly things, portraying myself as self-absorbed.

But mostly, it’s letting me know that it’s OK to not be a superhero. That I’ve got this, and we’ve got this.

There is part of me that will always be a fighter, stubborn and willing to kick down doors if need be. If that wasn’t the case, I wouldn’t have lived past infancy. But I’m practicing and allowing myself to be soft: Instead of “I’ll show you!” it’s, I’ll show you what I have to offer. Rather than getting angry at those who don’t understand, I seek to gain a better understanding of both myself and others. And rather than putting up walls, I choose to set boundaries. It’s still in present progress, and I can’t say whether or not I’ll fully get there.

But the best way to get healthy is to start getting real. No cape. No lasso or tiara. Just an open heart and willingness to see what wasn’t there before. One day at a time, one foot in front of the other.

Deep Skin

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To some degree

My life has been about my body

Fixing pieces with needles and surgery

Braces for my legs

Had me walking like a robotic contraption

Than attempting to perfect with the ‘right’ hair

Painting my face with acceptable colors

Wearing clothes that enabled me to blend in

Or at least try

 

A college student, naïve should have been my middle name

Rape culture seemed foreign and distant

I did not consider myself a target

Because I did not see myself as sexy or beautiful

I was just trying to be human, to be me

But my twenties showed me the difficulties

Being groped in dimly lit bars

One bragged about “ripping” me “in half”

If he could bed me

I never let anyone past my apartment door

But I beat myself up

For not standing up

 

Post-grad was another picture

Dating without reservation

Where hormones and desire took precedence

It feel natural and right in the moment

Always followed by doubts and questions later

I never voiced what I truly wanted

It felt silly at the beginning

Like forcing each other into a pressure cooker

So I let it roll, and eventually rolled into the deep end

Where I no longer had to wonder

Yet such experiences were anything but

Heat of the moment, nothing more nothing less

Where they disappeared like ghosts

Flinging me into depression

And debating regret

 

But I’ve kept going

And out of many, there’s only been a few

Who don’t beg me for some kind of stimulation

We talk like adults

I feel seen and heard

The others don’t really know me

And I question my responsibility

Whenever the same scenario plays out

We meet, we kiss, and then he leaves

Me asking, “What could I have done differently?”

I resent being the one to always apply the brakes

Or to have that role

When they have a voice too

 

It’s a lot to take on

As I work toward loving my body

And keeping my insides from destroying it

I need to openly communicate that I’m not just skin and body parts

I have them

But I also have a mind

A soul

And a heart

Which is challenging

When living in a culture that values what is initially seen

Over what is seen in time, and with patience and grace

I won’t fully blame myself

Or the guys that buy into stereotypical bullshit

But if I am more than just what magazines, media, and even doctors say I am

I have to stand my ground

And live that out

When I make mistakes

Grace upon grace upon grace

On Weakness

 

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“What’s your biggest weakness?”

I answer the usual: procrastination and intimidation

Anxiety that leads to impulsiveness out of insecurity

Second guessing myself

Overthinking and overanalyzing

Some will say compassion to a fault

And therefore, not knowing my own worth

Self-centered and stuck in my own head

 

The world practices individualism

A culture of being on your own

Don’t rely on anyone else

Chin up and buck up

Don’t let them see you cry

If you do, you’re not “man enough”

Or too much and not enough in general

 

Yet what is weakness if it speaks to truth

And your truth

Showing emotion

Being open and vulnerable

Sensitive and aware

Needing affection

 

What is weakness

If it means simply being human

To not be perfect, but perfectly flawed

It keeps you in check, a reminder that you don’t succeed without help

To change what you can, and surrender what you can’t

To grow, get better, and become stronger

So why is weakness so terrible?

Maybe instead of hiding in shame

One can focus on turning their weaknesses into strengths

In The Valley (Life Lately)

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About a month ago, I began waking up and struggling to get out of bed. I’ve been in funky throes before, but never to the point of complete exhaustion and not being able to think straight. It hit me without warning after unexpectedly losing my job and choosing to do something that I can’t say I regret, but in hindsight it had more of an emotional impact than I anticipated. Over the past several weeks, I’ve had to come to terms with some heavy stuff all at once; being formally diagnosed with depression and anxiety was a relief, having sensed it all along and now finally being able to address it. The health of my body has been a tougher pill to swallow, not because it was a surprise, but because I had been denying it for such a long time. For now I’ll say that it has a lot to do with a lack of appetite, along with the ability to keep food down when I do eat. I don’t want to hide anymore, and I’m slowly opening up to my closest friends and family regarding both situations. And whether I’m on the road to recovering or learning how to manage certain things, I want it to be for me, so that’s why I’m only sharing so much at the moment.

Yet even among those that I know, I’m not sure how to adequately describe what I’m going through. The circumstances are atypical, at least in comparison to the way that the issue is portrayed in Hollywood and the media. And because of that, I wonder if I even have the right to talk about it out loud. By merely looking at me or looking at pictures, you wouldn’t guess that there was anything going on. There have been accusations of dramatizing the circumstances or discussing the subject to get attention, and that is not something I would stoop to when it comes to something that can potentially kill me if I’m not careful. It’s unfortunate how it still comes down to looks; one has to “look” sick or be at death’s door in order for their struggle to be taken seriously.

I can’t say how I feel about it all right now, specifically identifying with having an illness or a disease. I would much rather call it a weakness; a weakness that was the result of wanting control in the midst of chaos, and the fear of losing control if I ate too much or didn’t exercise enough. And yet, I ended up losing control anyway, where it psychologically ran wild for two years. I don’t see this as another notch of shame to add to my belt, or another layer of baggage that will supposedly make me hard to love. I’m actually grateful that I’m coming to terms with it sooner rather than later, as though God gave me a lifeline rather than letting me nearly flat-line before I asked for help. It feels like a major (and hopefully a final) step in dismantling this tough as nails exterior/persona that I portrayed in order to protect myself. It’s already teaching me a lot spiritually, and I’m leaning on my faith more than I ever have in a long time.

I’ve been asked about support, and truthfully I’m not entirely sure what that looks like. I’m going to both a recovery group and individual therapy, though not as often as I would like. I don’t expect anyone to fix me, nor do I want them to try to, because I don’t need to be fixed as much as I need to be fed (literally and figuratively). I need patience as I navigate how to think differently so that my stomach can accept nourishment. I need compassion (NOT pity), as I walk and stumble as I figure out what kind of treatment is best for me, and what allows me to be healthy. I need to get out, spend quality time with people I care about and have deep conversations. I need to experience adventure in new places, taking road trips and be spontaneous. I need hugs and physical touch. More than anything, I need to be encouraged not to hide anymore. Hell, that’s how I got here in the first place, because I isolated myself and the pain eventually manifested itself on a physical level.

I’m not broken, but I am human. I want to be an example for others, to show that you can face adversity with both grit and grace. I’m not going to wait for the light to just magically show up in order to start healing, but to be a light myself. True strength is not self-reliance, but being able to admit that you cannot do it on your own.

I am strong.

I am brave.

I am resilient.

I am loved, and worth loving.

And by the Grace of God or come hell or high water, I am going to be OK.

For anyone who is out there struggling, regardless if you can relate to this or not, so will you.

We got this.

That Place

 

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Monday Morning wakes me

The sun instead of an alarm

I’ve gotten used to sleeping a little later than usual

Instead of up and going, I lay there debating

How to move when my body doesn’t want to

 

An aftershock due to a loss of money (and routine)

A decision made in the same way week, not regrettable

Yet affecting me emotionally more than I originally anticipated

Ultimately, it’s the disconnect from those that I care about

Isolation

The need to hide everything

 

This funk is not unusual

Now accompanied by an absence of hunger

And motivation to actually feed myself

[Anything other than wine, coffee, and chocolate, because comfort]

Too thin, they say

Don’t waste away, they say

But what if I did?

That’s the surprising difference

It’s not sadness

But indifference

Almost hopelessness

 

Is it better to go through the motions?

Just ride it out

Like I would a physical sickness or virus

Or do I drag my ass around in an attempt to normalize this ball and chain?

Especially when “self-care” feels like bullshit

Take a shower before noon

Exercise

Eat some damn food

Despite the gagging and stomach cramps and overall fatigue

SMILE, they say

Little victories lead to betterness

Oh fuck off

But instead I just say “fuck life”

 

And I know it’s bad

When I don’t want to write

My saving grace

My soul’s escape

Or read

Without my thoughts going off in a million directions

Podcasts and sermons make me fidgety

What do I talk about in therapy?

 

I pray for strength

The ability to get through it

But I’m more concerned for the people around me

How to tell the truth

Without being a burden

When they’re all scattered around the country

And even the world

I don’t need shame or to be scared into getting help

I need support, though I can’t say what that looks like exactly

A hug or a listening ear goes a long way

Or just know what’s going on

And don’t tell me you can’t unless you’ve tried

Don’t run away unless you’re taking me with you

 

This blackness, this thing is scary

But I’ve spent far too long in speculation

It’s time to get some answers

Though it might a long road

Please be patient with me

Educate instead of assume

Ask questions instead of giving quick fixes

This is not your fault, and it’s not mine either

I’m human, not broken

Unconventionally Feeling

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It’s a choice, a destination, and the only “good” emotion within the spectrum. It’s something we pursue not for the sake of enjoying life, but in order to avoid dealing with the realities and complexities that come with it.

Perhaps the concept of happiness has become a total cliche. 

Why can’t you just be happy?

As a young girl, I didn’t know the answer, and still have a hard time with it now . I look back and see the irony, as this kind of question usually came from those who were miserable in their own circumstances or couldn’t deal with their own pain, and therefore put it onto me. But still that one phrase followed me around like the plague, to the point where I started to resent my feelings, emotions, and even my personality for not being able to automatically plaster on a smile.

The fog started to lift as I began my freshman year of college; I had a sense of belonging, a group of friends, and was no longer in the thick of dysfunction. I was fully alive and present to what was happening around me, and I held onto it to where I can still recall most memories. But slowly, the spark began to dim, and I didn’t know why or what it meant. I went to therapy and took time to sort through a hefty amount of baggage, but even after five years of doing so, the heaviness is still there most of the time.

 

It comes in Small Pockets and Waves

Being a writer makes me observant and detail-oriented. I love things like coffee, wine, and pasta. I go on walks a lot, and it’s amazing what thirty minutes to an hour outside (or even just exercising) can really do for me both physically and mentally. There’s nothing like the excitement of a hockey game, or a somewhat long hug where both of us don’t want to let go. I’ve rediscovered the joys of singing to my favorite songs and not thinking too much about how I sound, and if my body feels inclined, I’ll go ahead and dance. Candles are calming, especially while reading books when I feel like yelling, “ME TOO” because the author seems like he or she could be a kindred spirit. I have a sweet tooth the size of Texas and will stop at nothing if I’m craving chocolate or ice cream.

But it’s not just about me; I share memes and funny pictures because I’m hoping it might make the other person laugh the way I did. I’ll send interesting or quirky articles because they remind me of that particular friend, and in a way it’s my way of saying, “I like this about you and I’m glad we have this in common.” I do get a little self-conscious about going overboard, but I’d hope that that person would tell me if they didn’t appreciate it.

Feelings are often momentary, which is why I refuse to wait for reassurance that it’s safe to let myself enjoy something, or wait to see if the other shoe drops. Even if I only have it for a certain amount of time, that’s time I might not get back or have a second chance at.

It might seem unbelievable, mostly because I do these things by myself. Therefore, not everyone sees when I’m in a good mood. But it’s there, and I shouldn’t have to constantly document it in order to prove it.

 

The Darkness Exists

It’s a black cloud that often manifests itself in the form of depression and anxiety. I can’t say if I have either or both and to what extent, but I can sense that they’re there. Whether they’re professionally diagnosed or not, mental health conditions make constantly thinking positive a little bit complicated. I experience what I’ve begun to call “dark moments” that are either triggered by something, usually on social media or loud arguments. Not too long ago, I sat in my bathroom thinking that my friends and family would be better off if I just disappeared out of their lives, or at least didn’t come back for a little while. I felt unwanted. I wondered if I mattered. I nearly convinced myself that I was worthless and unlovable. I wrestled with texting friends that I sensed would understand, but I didn’t want to worry/burden them on a Saturday night while most of them were busy. And I didn’t want to be a bother if it would only last for a night as opposed to a period of days.

We also forget that puberty and hormones play a role, or the fact that life ebbs and flows. It impacts. It changes. And it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to stay the same throughout the years that follow.

 

A Different End Goal

There’s a lot less pressure when it comes to setting a goal to feel good and/or whole, as opposed to reaching a destination based on circumstances or expectations. One is not required to have a sunshine and rainbows persona in order to take care of themselves and ultimately live a healthy life. Rather than looking at the glass as half full or half empty, it’s possible to give thanks that there’s even water in the glass. And you have to do these things for yourself, rather than trying to fit into someone else’s ideal of who you should be or how you should feel. No one should ever have to prove that they are “OK” despite what they have to deal with, nor should they have to prove that their pain and struggle is valid.

But in retrospect, a lot of it has to do with the type of person I am I’m a deep feeler and have a tendency to both cry and laugh pretty often (and easily, might I add). Sometimes I genuinely wish I could switch it off like the rest of the world seems to do, because at least it would be easier to blend in and therefore not seem like a lame duck. I’m told that I’m better off for it, yet am not always sure myself.

Everybody handles their own sense of well-being differently, so I get when those on the other side of the fence become frustrated if someone they care about seems constantly down and out. But rather than asking about why they can’t seem to get it together, ask how you can help them and support them with whatever they’re going through. In my experience, I do get particularly emotional (waterworks and all) when I’ve been holding things in for a long time, and have no idea how to talk about any of it without fear of being judged or condemned. Having a safe space (for lack of a better phrase) or a listening ear is much better than a to-do list of how I should fix myself or the situation.

If nothing else, l want to be free to live in the moment when those good moments are present. For instance, I’m prone to start giggling or smiling at incredibly random times, usually because there’s something that reminds me of another something that happened previously. This is usually in public, like at a grocery store or while I’m out walking, and an (unnamed) family member will jokingly warn me that everyone else probably thinks I’m crazy. That might be true to an extent, but if it helps me to smile and not feel the weight of the world for a little bit, then that’s a small price I have to pay.

Despite the exclusivity, at the heart of things I’m beyond grateful that I allow myself the ability to feel, whether it’s happy or sad. Not everyone can say that, and what’s worse is not all will allow themselves to experience it.

You don’t have to choose between being Tigger and being Eeyore. You can teeter-totter between both, and chances are more people do that than they’re willing to admit.

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When You’re The Adventurous Type

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I was raised to be an explorer

Curiosity drove me, though fear lingered

The depth of the water

How high I could climb

Whether or not I had the courage to jump

Sink or swim

Hit the gas

Sometimes I said yes, sometimes no

 

I pushed boundaries and defied odds

Away from home

Miles of walking

Late nights on a dance floor

Chugging beverages with bleary eyes

With best friends and almost boyfriends

Memories that can’t be described or explained

Writing, loving, and living

Proving some people wrong

With a cap and diploma in hand

 

Then the concrete jungle called

One which I was determined to conquer

The city streets that felt like a playground

Yet an exclusive club of high-rent apartments and living

That I could not access fully

I did my best

Chasing a dream

Seemingly bound by placement of family and pride for my roots

A place I swore I’d never leave

But now I’m not so sure

 

I can feel another space calling

A wider berth

Where I can still do the little things I’ve always wanted

For the first time

Driving down a back road, going over the legal limit

Sipping tequila and/or whisky at a dive bar

Sitting on a rooftop and watching the sun rise

 

Or things I haven’t done in a long time

Looking at the stars

Wine tasting

Staying out all night

Karaoke

Eat seafood

In whatever unfamiliar town I can find

I want to grow and challenge myself

Not to discover who I am, but embrace it

Wild like fire, calm like the wind

A plethora of this and that

Perhaps not belonging just in once place

But everywhere

 

We’ll see

For now, let me satisfy my taste of kicking back

Yet going all out

This is my adventure

Want to join me?

Taking Off My Headphones

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With a portable CD player, I often ran out of battery every time we traveled; headsets were the norm, although I remember how they always broke in one way or another. Jumping on the iPod bandwagon in high school, I typically used it on the bus, or sitting on my swing-set for hours as a form of relaxation and escape. I liked that earbuds were becoming popular, but the Apple brand seemed to be the only ones that wouldn’t fall out when I put them on.

In college, I scuffed up my second generation Nano from carrying it around campus so much, and went through several pairs of those tiny speakers because they were either getting worn out or crushed in my backpack. I would honestly just walk to class or work out at the gym like I was in another world, daydreaming about all the things that I wanted to do or whomever I had a crush on at the time. There were a lot of playlists involving John Mayer, Kesha, The Glee soundtrack, and 80’s power ballads.

As my final semester progressed, I started to leave my beloved device at home; I realized how silly I looked wearing a shit-eating grin for no apparent reason, and most likely came across as unintentionally rude when my friends tried to say hello or have a conversation, and I didn’t respond because I couldn’t hear. I accumulated many scrapes and bruises from tripping and falling (i.e. not paying attention), and received the occasional dirty look due to bumping into random people on the sidewalk. Yet I also wanted to take everything in and appreciate all that was Iowa City, because come graduation I wasn’t going to have it anymore.

As I ride a lot of public transportation in order to get around, I choose to challenge myself beyond just being hands-free. I make a point to thank the conductors and bus drivers for making getting from point A to point B as easy as possible. If I’m at a store where there’s a cashier or barista, I’ll ask them how their day is going. The goal is to always take as many opportunities as I can that allow me to engage with the world around me, especially if it’s uncomfortable at first.  And most of the time, it is.

It’s enlightening to say good morning to fellow walkers passing by in the neighborhood, or to give someone a genuine compliment and see just how much it makes them smile. I’ve discovered that meet-cutes still exist, and that you can flirt on the CTA without being a creep.

Yet, it’s just as disheartening when you want to start a conversation, but you don’t want to yell over Bruno Mars or the latest TED talk. Sometimes I’ll notice that nearly everyone around me is staring at a screen, like it’s a shield from all the apps and online games that we’ve seemingly become addicted to. Shortly after the election, I witnessed a situation between two women where one used a racial slur against the other because her baby was being too loud (giggling, not screaming or crying). I was wracked with guilt over not having done more than just tell the shocked young lady to have a good day before getting off at my stop. And it’s tough wanting to be kind, but to not put myself in a potentially dangerous situation when sitting near someone who’s drunk or looks like they’ve been taking some kind of substance.

I’ve been practicing, but I don’t always get it right. As a partial introvert, I understand those who don’t have the energy to make small talk after a long day. For some, their commute is the only alone time they have before going home to a house-full of kids or roommates. If you can’t communicate much during the day, it’s normal to want to return text messages or personal emails as soon as you get the chance. And as it goes, sometimes we just do things out of habit. If you want to change your habits, you have to figure out why you have certain ones in the first place.

When it comes to being in public, my hunch is that it has to do with fear; the fear of giving someone the wrong idea if we give them the slightest bit of attention. The fear of ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The fear of being alone with our thoughts, and having to face the possible truths that come with them. These fears are valid, but what good will come of allowing them to dictate how we interact with our surroundings? You can ignore the person making crude/sexual comments about your body, but that’s nothing compared to standing up for your humanity, with dignity. You can get pissed at the person attempting to talk your ear off, or calmly explain that you’ve had a tough day and that you’d like to be left alone.

We can’t backtrack and act like technology doesn’t exist, or wish that it would just disappear. We need to learn to deal with it, to peacefully coexist instead of making it the enemy. You don’t have to completely unplug, but at least start by turning the volume down or wearing one earbud and leaving the other one out. If you’re going from one place to the next, focus on doing something positive (like smiling or holding the door open) rather than just avoiding taking out your phone. It takes baby steps, and at first it feels really weird, like you’re missing a limb or you have this wide open space to contend with. I’m still not entirely used to it, and I find myself mindlessly scrolling from time to time. A lot of it is generational, because I remember what it’s like to grow up without being attached to something at all hours, so that makes it easier to take a break from it.

I want real, face to face connection, and I’m not ashamed to say that I need it. If that makes me an old soul and a lone wolf, so be it. I’m willing to be a leader in order to feed myself.