Friday, August 27, 2010

what does a young feminist look like? do they need to have a look?

No, I don't think they need to have a look or that there is "a look," but rather, many looks. I'm not sure there are any specific requirements to being a feminist (in my mind) other than trying to be sensitive to gender norms, striving towards gender equality in all forms (language, politics, economy, etc.), and simply being aware that you will always have more to learn. While the last bit can be said about anything in life, I've found that it is extremely important in feminism - particularly because of all the intricacies involved in feminism. It's a movement that really attempts to include more than exclude, and in order to do that we have to continually hone our sensitivities and be aware of our biases as well as be open to criticism. We have to be willing to continually transform ourselves so that we can create more safe places with equal playing fields. I know, for myself, I have a lot more to learn about feminism and women's history - but I could also say that about a lot of other feminists, not because they aren't well read, but because there are so many variants to be considered and voices to be heard, that it'd be naive to pretend that there is ONE look to feminism. And I think that's perhaps what feminism is - being aware of how many oppressed voices there are that need to be heard, and trying to be sensitive to all of them so that they may be heard. It reminds me of a quote that I (of course) cannot fully remember nor find on google, that basically says: do not help me just to help me or because it makes you feel better about yourself, I do not want that kind of help; but if you are here to help me because your liberation is linked with mine, then come stand beside me and we will fight together. And I think that is something that should always be remembered.

Ask me anything

Missconceptions of Feminism

I used to make fun of feminists. I don't know why I did, but I did. I think maybe it was because I didn't know what a feminist was exactly, and that the extent of my knowledge of feminism was the copy of The Feminine Mystique my close friend Diana was reading (which I still haven't yet read). And something about it seemed trite and passe, unwelcoming - I had visions in my head, like many other people do, of angry women with unshaved armpits, burning bras, and waving spatulas very angrily trying to get every woman out of the kitchen. Regardless, as a high school student, I got the feeling it wasn't safe nor was it cool to be one.

I only knew two people who could be recognized as feminists then - and only one of them self-identified as a "feminist," and despite how popular she was, people gave her a lot of shit for it. So I never learned feminism, didn't even touch it with a fifty-foot pole.

I grew up in a suburban town right outside of Queens, NY that's full of Irish and Italian Catholics, bars, and a very small minority population. To the outsider, my hometown may seem like a pleasant non-threatening place - a great place to raise the kids. Today when I try to explain my hometown, it's hard to explain the almost sinister undertones of conservative politics that bled through even to children. Among the most popular boys in our high school was a frequent joke (a serious joke) that a woman's only place of belonging was the kitchen, as if they knew best for women: a typical hypocritical form of dominance when I know for a fact that at least one of them couldn't even tell the difference between a tampon and a pad.

And there will be one scene that always haunts me when I think of gender norms at my high school, and how typical they all were. Right outside the cafeteria window, a male is yelling at a girl - he grabs her by the hair and whips her around, dragging her out of sight still by her hair, until we hear a car door slam. Nobody flinches to even help that girl, a younger guy sitting near us says "that's fucked up." I frown. Nobody moves.

When I train to become an advocate for sexual assault victims years later, I will learn this to be a prime example of the Bystander Phenomena. And I don't know if I should liken it to the Kitty Genovese case where every neighbor had assumed the other person was going to do something about it, or if I should liken it to pure apathy or pure fear. My roommate I have now couldn't understand this. As I try to explain to her bystander phenomena, and explain that we breed a society that works against sexual assault and rape victims, she doesn't get it.

But why wouldn't they believe them [the sexual assault victims]?

I shrug, "the society we live in. It all comes down to a Virgin/Vamp dichotomy. There's this really great book that talks about it, Virgin or Vamp: How the Press Covers Sex Crimes, that I used for my Feminist Sociolinguistics paper that talks all about how there are 8 factors that tilt a woman towards a "vamp" and less believed."

"If she knows her assailant; if no weapon is used; if she is of the same race, class, or ethnic group as the assailant; if she is young; if she is considered pretty; and if she is in any way deviates from the traditional housewife-mother role."

"Listen," I say to her, "I had a friend who was raped her first semester at college, and when she came home to tell her parents, they blamed her - and this is on top of the fact that she didn't even realize what had happened to her was rape, somebody else had to tell her. And this happens all the time."

Girls don't realize they're raped, and then the girls that are raped are too afraid to speak out - because the police are intimidating and hinder rather than help, because the rape kits are invasive and evidently will just sit around and not be used for evidence. And it's scary considering nationally 1 in 4 women will be raped or sexually assaulted in their lifetimes and 1 in 7 men will deal with the same, and the statistics could be even higher because it's been noted that at least 60 percent of women don't report their rape. I'm not good with math, but I don't like the implications of those numbers.

And it all links together, and it shows in our government, in our language, and even our day to day actions.

The first time I really began to delve into feminism is when I landed in my third college, at the end of my first (of two) years there. When I found, rather than 1-2 girls, a steady handful of women who proclaimed themselves as feminists and openly fought for women's rights. It was safe for me to be a feminist in this environment, and so I explored it. I ended up being the Featured Poet and lead organizer of the open mic night at Take Back the Night that year, an actress in the Vagina Monologues, took every training offered by the local Sexual Assault Services Organization, ended up being one of the lead members of the college's Feminist Voice, helped with the Clothesline project, became a lead organizer of Take Back the Night again, helped with the first ever Four Corners Pride festival, and so on and so forth. Even the current President of Feminist Voice thought I was a Gender/Women's Study major, and within that one year I had left at that college, I became best friends with even the prior Feminist Voice president. To everyone around me, it seemed as if there was never a point in my life when I was not a feminist.

At one point in January I updated my facebook with a link to a bunch of articles pertaining to feminism, I joked in the comments section of the last one "Don't mind me, just clogging up your news feed with feminist news," and one of my friends made some comment like Same old, aren't you always updating with feminist news? To put this transformation in perspective, I graduated high school in 2007, which means in three years I went from being a person who made fun of feminism to being in a situation where I'd be the first name to come to mind of many people when they were asked about feminists on campus.

As I switched gears in this rapid transition, I found myself confronting my old view points and some discriminatory view points I had never even considered. The feminist as man-hater viewpoint (one I used to believe) certainly came into focus for me as I began discussing Take Back the Night in my Evolutionary Psychology class, trying to get people to come, and one guy turns towards me with a decent amount of trepidation in his voice, "So, can I come?"

"Of course you can, men are certainly welcome to join us in Take Back the Night..."

"I mean... you guys aren't going to beat me up or? I mean... I'm not going to be yelled at?"

"You'll be fine, I promise."

That guy never showed at our march into town for Take Back the Night, however there was another guy who did show up and as he carried the sign with me, he noticed I was wearing heels and felt the need to ask (in a flirty voice), "So, I noticed you're wearing heels. Do you consider them to be a sign of oppression?"

"... No. I like wearing heels."

Exasperation, I've learned, alongside with anger, almost becomes a common state for me when discussing feminism with many people who aren't feminists. Not only because of when you endure situations like these, but also because of when you endure ones like my friend Amelia does. Like when she happened to get incredibly drunk one night and reveal to a whole bar that she was gay. An innocent enough event until the boyfriend of the friend that brought her home notices Amelia's collection of feminist books on her bookshelf and comments, "Oh of course she's a lesbian, there's no way a straight woman would have this many books on feminism on her bookshelf." Oh of course not, because who in their right mind would support feminism?

And this situation is almost matched in ridiculousness to another time she experienced very recently where she was road tripping with a friend. Because when she stayed with her friend's family in Texas one of them had commented something like, Well you're a woman, so what does your opinion matter anyway. Suitably enough, Amelia had a mental breakdown that night, internally combusted, and flew home the next morning towards safer territories.

And these are the times you have to take into consideration that it's not that there aren't young feminists, but perhaps they might just be in hiding. In discussing feminism with a professor, he mentioned, You know, there are a lot of people who are feminists and just don't realize it. I've done this exercise with classes before where I ask them: do you believe women should get equal pay? And they all agree yes. Do you think women should have the same political rights as men? And they all say yes. Do you consider yourselves feminists? And then all of a sudden, there are a lot less yesses. They get uncomfortable. Yet, they just stated that they believe women should have all the same rights as men - but they won't call themselves feminists.

Now, however, unlike this group of college students, I can safely and firmly say I'm a feminist. And I hope that people everywhere, too afraid and uncomfortable to before, will be able to say the same thing about themselves one day too.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Women's Equality Day

Hello everyone! Happy Women's Equality Day!

In case you're too lazy to click the link or simply like consolidation,

What is Women’s Equality Day?

At the behest of Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY), in 1971 the U.S. Congress designated August 26 as “Women’s Equality Day.”

The date was selected to commemorate the 1920 passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote. This was the culmination of a massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women that had its formal beginnings in 1848 at the world’s first women’s rights convention, in Seneca Falls, New York.

The observance of Women’s Equality Day not only commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment, but also calls attention to women’s continuing efforts toward full equality. Workplaces, libraries, organizations, and public facilities now participate with Women’s Equality Day programs, displays, video showings, or other activities.

Bueno! Considering my knowledge on feminist history is very limited in comparison to many I know, this blog entry is going to be a little bit more whimsical than some of my other entries. But perhaps it's good to embrace the fun side of it since today is a happy day (even though we do have a long way to go)! So, two fun videos I came across and some fun facts about my relation to feminism (and I hope you'll share yours too in the comment section):

Now, fun facts about me (because I know you're so enthralled):


1. When I was a child, I apparently loveeeedddd Wonder Woman. Although, for some reason or another, I had problems with similar sounding words. I'd run around the house yelling, "WHEN I GROW UP I WANNA BE WOMAN WOMAN." My babysitter evidently tried to correct me that it was Wonder Woman and not Woman Woman but my parents thought it was too cute to correct.

2. I think my favorite quote by a feminist, because it carries so much weight, is "Your silence will not protect you." - Audre Lorde. I love it for trauma-related reasons but it also carries a great deal of political significance to it too, don't you think?

3. Upon buying an incredibly awesome bumper sticker that says "EVE WAS FRAMED," I had decided to strategically place it under the bitten apple logo on my mac laptop. A lot of people caught onto it and appreciated it, and I remain to be fairly amused by the placement. My fellow feminist friend, Amelia, now owns this laptop and carries it around with pride. I bought another EVE WAS FRAMED bumper sticker and it proudly sticks to my bookcase (an equally good place to put it I think).

4. I have a "Haters Gonna Hate" shirt if only because Jessica Valenti has that little guy struttin' away on her formpsring account, and because really, feminists have to deal with so many Haters.

5. When I was a child, Annie Oakley was my heroine. I begged my 5th grade teacher to let me write a report on her. I still think she is one incredibly badass woman.

6. The reason I got into feminism, ironically, was through a English class I took in Spring 09 entitled Rise of Raunch where we studied the impacts of porn upon American society. And, being an English major at the time, I decided to use that class to study how the words "slut," "cunt," "bitch," and "whore," could be used as sexually empowering words for women rather than derogatory words. I became so intrigued by this one final research study that I turned it into a SOC 499 Independent Study course entitled "Feminist Sociolinguistics," and wrote a 47 page paper on it. One day, I will hopefully write a book about this.

7. I model in my spare time - and while this can be seen as somewhat... hypocritical, I find it to be empowering. I use modeling as an attempt to truly focus on my body and its feelings, per se, so that I grow more connected to it. As a trauma survivor, it becomes easy for me to dissociate from and ignore my body. Modeling forces me to focus on my body and notice its strengths and weaknesses, and reinforces that its okay for my emotions and body to link. Naturally, I will and have run into photographers who do not have good intentions and have not treated me the way I should've been treated - and I never work with them again. And I would caution and advise other girls who want to get into this sort of thing to approach it the same way. Always always remember how valuable you are.

8. My dream, as many people know, is to work with sexual assault survivors and provide writing therapy for them - and hopefully, through this, increase awareness of sexual assault and change the language dynamics of how we approach a woman's sexuality. Essentially, the mission of this blog, my grad school studies, and my career.

Hope you enjoyed the random media and life facts! I would love to hear any of your stories, favorite quotes, favorite feminists facts, or quirky feminist tidbits! Happy Women's Equality Day!

Stream of Consciousness: Word, Body, and Politics


Not only is it Women's Equality Day (which I will post on later), but I have also been accepted into Goddard College as a candidate for a M.A. in Individualized Studies w/ a concentration in Transformative Language Arts!!! Things are IN MOTION and it feels awesome.

In that vein, this blog post is going to have a little bit more to do with my ambitions and my writing side. A little while ago, my friend Jess mentioned she was looking for people to write guest posts at her blog, Mal-diction: the literary bitching and moaning of an English graduate student, and so, I offered myself up since I used to be an English - Writing option major at my undergraduate college and still have strong ties to literature. However, I did it with a twist - while it's easy, with my background, to still snipe about grammar, syntax, and imagery - I wanted to share my newfound love of the intricacies and impact words have upon our lives with an audience who might appreciate them but not be aware of them. In short, I chose to write about what I used to call: "Creative Writing and Social Change," and what Goddard eloquently rewords as "Transformative Language Arts."

The post, entitled "Stream of Consciousness: Word, Body, and Politics" can be seen here at Mal-diction, but here's a teaser:

"While I was always aware of the importance of the subject I would eventually declare my major, it only came into my consciousness slowly. Step one: being a English-writing option major with a long, devoted history to creative writing. Step two: being immersed in grays. Step three: taking "ENGL 267 PERSUASIVE WRITING" and choosing to research and argue "A Million Little Pieces" by James Frey as a valid work of creative non-fiction that should not be disregarded due to fact changing. Beginning to study the impacts of trauma upon memory recall, and thus, memoir writing. Step four: declaring a psychology minor. Step five: working on my final research project for my "ENGL 417 RISE OF RAUNCH" class wherein I studied sexually-charged words attributed to and reflective of female behavior such as "bitch," "slut," cunt," "whore," etc. and how women could use them as a positive empowering source. Discovering how the word "cunt," for example, used to be used as a title of respect for women in Ancient Egypt - and how one girl took her experience being gang-raped and called a "slut" to liberate herself sexually.

Step underlying all of this: beginning to validate the sexual, emotional, and physical abuse I had endured as a child. And analyzing the way it impacted by body, my language use, and my perceptions of all of these.

I hope you head on over there to read it!

In the meantime, some other fun English-related tidbits:

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

I found out I evidently write like David Foster Wallace (by entering in my guest blog post from Mal-Diction), who according to Wikipedia, has been heralded as "one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years." This clearly means when I get around to publishing a book, I'm going to revolutionize the world as we know it. :P Or at least for a little while.

I've also, this morning, adopted a word at, a website designed by the people behind the Oxford English Dictionaries who are eager to keep older words in circulation so that they don't die out.

In case you are curious I have adopted (and am thus attempting to bring back into circulation):

1. tortiloquy: (n.) dishonest or immoral speech
2. essomenic: (adj.) showing things as they will be in the future
3. omniregency: (n.) state of complete authority
4. resarciate: (v.) to make amends

Words are so fabulous. I hope you join in on the mission.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The "Trauma Feminist": Addendum on "What is a Feminist?"

Excuses and Explanations Regarding My Absence and Lack of Feminist Posts
This section is bolded in case you want to skip over my excuse-making and get right to the meat of the post...

Ever since I've written my initial What is a Feminist?: A Discussion on Discourse entry, I've felt a little guilty. For multiple reasons.

Let me state that I never mean to offend anyone due to my own ignorance on a matter (although, of course, ignorance is prone to offending). And that this blog is not only reflective of my viewpoints on feminism and what I've studied, but what I'm currently studying and trying to understand. I've only, honestly, been acquainted with feminist studies for a little over a year now - and in that time, I've not taken one gender/women's studies class. Which makes me feel like more a feminist-hobbyist-dabbler-late-bloomer sort of deal. A handful of women I worked with at Feminist Voice (club on my old campus) were genuinely surprised I was not a Gender/Women's Studies major with the amount of time I tried to devote to these issues in my spare time (an interesting concept when you note my schedule this past year), and by the end of the year, I was surprised too. However, I was determined upon graduating, and figured I could make it a plan to study in the future. And I certainly do plan upon it (hi grad school, please accept me) and am trying to do so in my spare time now. In the meantime, I'm sure I unintentionally offended a few. Which brings me to my second point.

The second reason I feel incredibly guilty is that I actually did follow through with the criticism on the entry. I may be stubborn and defensive, but I try to be open-minded. And when I talked about things further with a few individuals, things began to click into place for me more. And then I never updated about it. And I entered what Hyperbole and a Half would call a guilt-spiral. While what initially held me back from updating about it was sheer busyness/preparation for moving across the country became something bigger when I finally began to settle in. I kept thinking to myself: "Isn't it a bit late to be updating with discussions you had a month ago?" My mother (and a handful of other people who know me closely) have noted I have this amazing capability to be extremely critical of myself in a way that no one else would ever expect of me, and I feel like it was one of those situations. I was very disappointed in myself for not keeping up with this blog, and so, just winced about it internally every time I thought about going back to the blog.

I've also done the stupid thing of "once I get a job/once I'm done catching up with all the job applications I should be sending out, I'll totally update my blog again." When you are unemployed for awhile, you learn that applying for jobs becomes a full-time job and so I have no idea why I set myself under this delusion that the work of applying for jobs would end. Which is why I reshifted my priorities yesterday and why you will see a lot more blog entries.

And so, I would like to take the time to thank whomever anonymously asked me that question about my blog via Formspring. You've pushed me past my internal little wince-hump, and hopefully things will go more fluidly from now on.

The "Trauma Feminist": An Addendum

As mentioned briefly amongst my litany of excuses up there, I did do some follow-up on my initial entry that did seem to spark some polar reactions. I know several women I'd talked to after writing the entry turned to me as if I feel this way too! I'm glad someone else said it! And then there were other women who came to me and said, "It's a fine line, Victoria. I know you don't mean to sound offensive, but you're bordering the line of sounding like one of those white feminists who just doesn't want to deal with race at all - and I know that's not you. Can we meet up in person and talk about it?" And then some women completely ignored making a comment out in the open, but instead had slight reactions towards me elsewhere to display they were displeased.

So, acknowledging all these factors, I pondered the dynamics of what to do next now that I both a) had a chip on my shoulder and felt very much like a lost, confused deer and b) felt mildly justified since I clearly wasn't the only one feeling this way since a handful of women had come up to me going "I feel this way too." So, I decided to take up my friend, Dawn Haney, who said to me, ""It's a fine line, Victoria. I know you don't mean to sound offensive, but you're bordering the line of sounding like one of those white feminists who just doesn't want to deal with race at all - and I know that's not you. Can we meet up in person and talk about it?"

And so, a few days before I left Colorado completely, we did. It's funny, because in retrospect I'm not sure she actually said anything completely different to me than she did in the comments. And yet, I walked away feeling like I had a much more sound grip on how to approach it than I felt I did before. Which perhaps fuels into Dawn's hypothesis that something about how the internet and blogging lends itself to dissidence, unchecked opinion, and some sort of general rage. I'm really really poorly rewording what Dawn had said to me quite eloquently in person. Regardless, it seemed having someone to react off of and repartee with in person was a lot more effective for me than typing a long rebuttal comment and waiting, trying to understand and trying to not be offensive and trying to make my own points.

What she essentially said to me in person is pretty much what she said to me here:

"I do want to say something about my understandings of women of color's frustrations with feminism, particularly within the sexual assault and domestic violence movements. Let's look at your statement above: "Come on, we're all women fighting for women's rights, can't we all just get along? As if the patriarchy doesn't tear us apart enough, we seek to tear each other apart?" The problem for women of color is that they are hearing the exact same thing from the men in their lives: "Come on, we're all people of color fighting for our rights, can't we all just get along? As if racism doesn't tear us apart enough, we seek to tear each other apart?" Women of color get pushed to "choose" between allying with other women or allying with other people of color. It's an impossible choice. One of the things that I've learned from women of color is that this impossible choice is *traumatic*. When I start to see the multiple oppressions faced by people as trauma, and their reactions to these oppressions as trauma reactions - it makes more sense. I know about anger, and that when I finally find the words to express my rage it comes out like a volcano. I know how healing it is to have someone validate my rage as real. On the flip side, I know how pissed I get when a man says, "You should tone down your rage" or "I've been hurt too, why do you have to make it a man/woman thing?" In my experience, it's *especially* as a trauma feminist that we have to listen carefully to the infinite kinds of traumas experienced by people. When I do that, I find some of my fiercest allies among women of color who just want to be validated. Just like you and me."

But perhaps there was one word she used with me in person that she didn't write in that comment that made all the difference for me: safe.

She told me that when women of color are expressing their anger about these situations to me it's because they feel safe to express it to me, around me, in my company. If they didn't feel safe around me, they wouldn't be expressing this rage - they express this rage to me because it is one of the safe places [feminism] they can. They are looking for me to understand so that I can help make more safe places for them.

Explained in these terms, with the word "safe," it all made sense to me. I reflected upon the struggles I've had personally with my own PTSD, and how much safety has made a difference. Around my mother and girl friends who know me closely, I've had no problem venting and yelling and unintentionally taking things out on them when really I'm just frustrated with my own set of emotional problems and want them to understand because I feel safe around them.

In contrast: zoom in on me trying to get my own student-constructed major passed in front of an Older White Christian Male, and he starts demanding, But why is Creative Writing and Social Change so useful that it could be its own major? Couldn't you just do the same thing with an English program? A Journalism program? and as he goes on with his battalion of questions, stern and defensive, encouraged by the school administration to not let many of these SCMs get passed... I shrink into my chair, the words clustering behind my tongue. I can't say anything. While I could normally roll off a whole list of reasons why Creative Writing and Social Change deserved its own sector of studying, my mind went blank. Something in me got triggered and threatened. I felt small and instead of being the strong, opinionated Victoria I am and try to be, I began to cry. I left that meeting feeling wholly defeated, embarrassed, ashamed of myself... and angry at the bottom of it all for the man who just made me feel like this.

I didn't feel safe there. And I couldn't be at a place to emotionally feel safe there where the other person had the same demographic setup of another person who had repeatedly traumatized and threatened me in the past, and similarly, this person didn't try to understand me either. He just yelled at me about how he couldn't understand.

An uncanny resemblance?

Fortunately, in that scenario, I had a small handful of teachers willing to go to bat for me - partially believing that yes, creative writing and social change should be its own area of study... and partially afraid that if this didn't get passed, I would follow through with my promise of dropping out of college entirely. Similarly, Dawn saw what I was doing and tried to be the medium to help me understand the validity of another branch of feminism, and why it has metaphorically "dropped out" to have its own viewpoint heard.

I'm aware that that metaphor is on the border between "awful" and "awesome." Just roll with it? Please? Haha.

Point is: I appreciate when my friends keep me in check like this. And I've now gained a different perspective on how to approach feminism and feminist discussions. While I may not be overtly aware of how all of my biases may manifest, I will now ask myself, as a Trauma Feminist, does everyone feel safe in this discussion? is someone shying away from the conversation or getting angry with the conversation because they do not feel safe? and most importantly, what can I do to make this a safe environment for everyone to speak and be heard?

All in all, actually, this tends to remind me of a quote from a book that I've never read, but that which one of my closest friends tends to love dearly: Let Me Stand Alone: The Journals of Rachel Corrie.

"In second grade there were classroom rules hanging from the ceiling. The only one I can remember now seems like it would be a good rule for life. 'Everyone must feel safe.' Safe to be themselves, physically safe, safe to say what they think, just safe. That's the best rule I can think of." (13)
- Rachel Corrie

why are your blog and formspring one in the same? Are you still planning on focusing on issues of gender equality? Do you feel as if you have drifted from that aim at all?

My blog and formspring aren't one and the same. I don't link all my answers from my formspring to my blog, just ones that are relevant to my overall mission. I do still plan on focusing on issues of gender equality, but I also stated in my blog that I would be addressing mental health/emotional issues, non-profit issues, and language issues. I.E. Anything I feel helps me on the path towards my main goal of one day establishing a non-profit based on providing writing therapy for sexual assault survivors.

Right now, I've notably been addressing more mental health issues. The only reason there's been more formspring updates and less content is because of the stress I've been under with my move (settling in, trying to find a job, etc.) which isn't very conducive to writing or reading. I've been bookmarking a lot of stories from women's media sources and definitely have a handful of blog entries lined up that I plan on getting to within the next few days. Especially because of that blog carnival tomorrow ;)

I will actually be writing an addendum post tonight on my "What is a Feminist" post. And then will begin my draft for the wonderful "THIS IS WHAT A YOUNG FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE" blog carnival tomorrow. I certainly appreciate that you're reading along, though, and am glad you brought this up. Hopefully, as this blog matures, the intertwining of these issues will be done more flawlessly and cohesively, so you can see where I'm coming from.

Thank you for the question!

Ask me anything

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

what is passion?

I think I love this question if only because no one's asked it of me before and it's so intrinsic to my nature. Brilliant. Let's hope I do a good job of explaining it, rather than feeling speechless in approaching it because it's such second nature.

Passion is being beyond boundaries, it is effortless and freeing. It is the natural you. It is indulging yourself in what really motivates you, excites you, engages you, makes you happy. It is irresistible. It is the part of you that will never tire, always aching for more. It is hunger seeking satisfaction, always. Is is steady in its searching, although perhaps intense. It never surrenders. It wants, it loves, and it never abandons you even in your darkest times. It wants you to succeed, for passion will liberate you and give you meaning, place you truly within your own life force. And it wants you to feel its presence and use it with all your best intentions (as your passion will always have this in mind). It is electrifying, stimulating, and symbiotic. It aims to connect everything in you that remains loose, unconnected, frazzled, and beaten down - it aims to make you healthy and whole, satisfied.

Ask me anything

thoughts on marriage?

I think marriage is great for the right people. Let me elaborate: I'm a really cynical person when it comes to relationships, and especially marriage. The statistics speak for themselves: 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, and evolutionary psychology taught me most of them end within the first 5 years, and then even more within the first 10 years. However, I'm also a sentimentalist, and I've seen cases where people are married for years upon years and are still in love with each other - and I think that's awesome, and that those cases are a sign that marriage can truly work. Perhaps my opinion on marriage then is that it should be more respected than it is: recognized for the importance it was originally given, that you are bound to it and this person for life (and that that should be taken seriously rather than lightly). Or maybe people need to grow more patience with each other and really work to solve their problems as the years come along. I couldn't really fairly say, as I've never technically been in a relationship.

Personally, I think if the situation were to arise for me, I'd prefer a civil union. I feel like it'd be more honest - that while true love remains through all the tough times and the changes, not all of us find our true love the first time around even if we think we do. I like the flexibility of it - and with this divorce rate the way it is, it almost seems like the more honest option. But I also think the right to get married should be open for anyone who wishes to get married, and that the fight against allowing gay marriage is ridiculous.

Ask me anything

Writer's Block; Finding the Right Way

The next few blog posts written here will perhaps seem a bit confessional, but I promise they completely have to do with the mission and integrity of this blog. And I hope they can be of some use to other people as they are generally experiences I would not wish to repeat and would not wish anyone to blunder upon.

For the past year and a half, I worked as a writing tutor at Fort Lewis College. It is perhaps the job I loved the most out of all the jobs I've had. Not specifically for one reason or another - for to say I didn't love my other jobs for certain reasons would be a lie. However, I loved this job particularly because of how naturally it came to me. How soothing it was.

It was second nature to me: to consistently re-work the phrasing of my own articulations, to analyze the details in a definition, to expand my vocabulary. To help others with it was a true joy - it trascended me. It was: let's help you get a good grade, let's make this essay sound awesome, let's put your concept into something that sounds beautiful. One could say my love of reading fueled this, as it's been shown how much reading enhances vocabulary. Even in arenas as trite as the SATs, I realized how easy word acquisition was for me. How once you become an avid reader, it becomes easy for you to assimilate new words into your vernacular - you begin to look at words as a small thrill, an ambiguous challenge. The meaning of it becomes derived from the sentence(s) surrounding it. Meanings breed within you until one day you realize you're talking with words you barely even realized you knew - ones you perhaps heard someone use in a conversation or a commercial or maybe ones you saw in a summary of a book... Or does that just happen to me? Either way, it was catharsis.

And I couldn't even tell you how exactly it registers as catharsis to me - either because it was something I knew and loved, or simply because of the level of neurosis that was required in successfully attempting it. The structure, the beautiful hierarchal decadence of words to choose from. The specificity, the elaboration - how easily a phrase could be remembered, a political speech passed down for decades, what quotes are regurgitated for their ingenious articulation. For me, it was simply too easy to see how words controlled the very functions of our beings and our place in the world, how things got passed on. Words were (and are) seductive to me: they could make or break you. Audience, point of view, etc... It was all formulaic.

To reduce the sentiment, there is a scene in White Oleander where Astrid talks about her mother, Ingrid, being a writer and how she "could agonize for hours ver whether to write an or the." And there was something so compelling about that.

However, there's a breaking point to it - the irony of irones. You can't think about it. For god's sake, do not think about writing the perfect draft your first time around - I would always tell people that, "Don't think, just write." And actually, I think I got that perfect little summarized bit of advice from the movie, Finding Forrester, but it seems so apt. The more you think about your wording, the structure of your written intent, etc... the more it seems to fall to shambles. Because writing is about feelings. And freedoms definitely don't follow convention, so why should writing?

Write it first, then think about it.

Yet, ironically, I became unsynchronized. For all the papers I edited, I knew I hadn't written a creative thing in months (and now, for over a year). For everything interesting thing I read, I anxiously would realize how long it'd been since I read a full book. Something had changed.


My college experience could be described, at best, as a strange and erratic occurrence. I graduated in three years after transferring twice and attending three different colleges (and somehow, amongst all this, took a semester off). I took 44 credits within my last year and worked a minimum of 10-13 hours a week. I left my initial college with its hippie agenda to only fight to construct my own major at a college in Colorado. To add to the fun statistics: I've lived in four different states in the past three years of my life.

How does this all add up? And what does it have to do with the sudden disappearance of my complete connection to writing?

Environment. It'll make or break you - and my writing and reading, two of the things I love the most, began to reflect that this past year.

I spent the first 18 years of my life in New York, and feeling extremely bitter about the bitterness surrounding me, I decided I needed to leave the state. I couldn't handle my hometown, which happened to be located in one of the most expensive counties in the United States - and I was disgusted with how pampered a lot of kids my age were, and was also annoyed with their mindless self-indulgence. It all felt horribly fake to me. And it was this set of feelings that led to my second mini-transition in life: going to Hampshire College in Massachusetts.

Hampshire College is a private liberal arts school located in the valley of Western Mass, and has a reputation for being ridiculously liberal. There are no grades, no tests, no majors, and no credits - instead, it advertises a self-designed curriculum and a supplementary system of "Divisions (Divs)" to keep their accreditation. Having spent most of my high school years feeling being shoved into situations I didn't like that usually involved a mass amount of standardized testing, and trying to get into the county's one public arts school for Creative Writing (and failing), I thought: "this school is perfect for me! I've always known exactly what I wanted to do!" And sure enough, I got in, and everyone (even the Hampshire alum who interviewed me) thought this would indeed be the perfect school for me.

I lasted one semester there, my sanity unravelling to such a dangerous extent that my friends were begging me to not go back (the only thing that really did tempt me to go back was being accepted into a 300 level poetry class taught by Martin Espada). And so, I was in limbo, living in NY again for a month with my friend and her family as I prepared for a move to Chicago, where my mom had moved my senior year of high school.

I lasted about only half a year in Chicago before moving to Colorado in what would be the most delusional pseudo-masochistic thing I have ever possibly done to myself. While the two years I spent in Colorado were rich with life experience and were likely more good than bad, I can't help but regret them a little - in the sense that I wish I knew then what I know now. But that's likely a typical human dilemma.

How did you end up all the way out here [Colorado]? I would frequently get asked. And I always cringed before offering up the answer. I felt the true no frills answer made me look pathetic, and I always have hated the idea of my own vulnerability and/or naivety. But here it honestly is: I found out about Fort Lewis College through an ex who was supposed to go to Hampshire College (and whom I met through Hampshire), but lacked the financial resources to do so. When I ended up hating Hampshire College and he ended up not going, we were pseudo-long-distance dating, and he kept trying to persuade me to come out there. I finally caved and gave the school a chance and ended up liking it. I had decided to not stay in Chicago for personal reasons, and needed to transfer somewhere - of the three schools I applied to, I was accepted to two (one in Chicago, the other: FLC) and was rejected from the other. It seemed I was going to Fort Lewis - but, when I broke the news to him, he broke up with me.

Like an idiotic wounded gazelle, I trekked forward unto Colorado anyway, trying to ignore the limp I was carrying with me. The next two years could've been equivalent to my experience at Hampshire, except in slow motion. At Hampshire, I had a lot of problems with the people surrounding me (at the college specifically), and at Fort Lewis, it was the same thing - I just didn't realize it. People at Fort Lewis all seemed so laidback, happy, fun - and yet, I found myself completely... disinterested? annoyed? The thing that was so persistently on the surface kept dragging me away from the thing nagging at me from beneath they surface: they were all running away from their problems just like I was. The only difference was - they ran away from their problems with partying, drinking, marijuana, and a mysterious amount of shoplifting - and I dealt with my problems by writing epic-length poems, going on walks, and talking about my problems persistently to anyone close to me. This isn't to say I never tried their way - it just never worked for me, something that was reinforced while I was there.

So while people at Fort Lewis had large parties and talked about... whatever average college students talk about at parties, I kept in my own bubble knowing that if I was extricated from it, I'd bore everyone else at that party around me by talking about things like writing and feminism and school. While they went bouldering, skiing, and climbing, I cursed out the winter weather from inside my rear wheel drive car and practically heaved my way up a tiny mountain going "I GREW UP ON SEA LEVEL. I WAS NOT MADE FOR THIS. oh thank god we're at a resting point." While they had fun, I began to ambitiously load up my credit level, going "I need to get out of college. Wherever I transfer, I will inevitably hate it. It's just college. I need to be done with college." Plus, I was kinda a little done with Durango.


And thus, continuing in my theme, I enrolled in 44 credits my last year of school while working a minimum of 10 hours a week, ignoring everyone who called me "insane." It took about two months into the year for everything to come crashing down - homework assignments became laughable, going to class was questionable, migraines and nausea were persistent, and I literally started screaming and throwing books against the wall. Not only did I really hate school at this point (as I really had my whole college career), but I hated that it was destroying the things I loved. That I couldn't look at a book without thinking of a deadline. That I didn't have the time to write anything other than something that was going to be judged and handed a letter grade. That I was so nauseated and had such pain from the stress, my migraines were chronic and lack of nutrition dropped me down to 103 pounds at 5'6". I took an incomplete in one course to only spend my winter break working 20 hours a week and doing the work to get the credit for the course, completing a 47 page paper on "Feminist Sociolinguistics." And then propelled myself into basically the same schedule the next semester, minus four credits. Which then lead to hospitalization due to severe insomnia, continual sickness, and "crawling towards the finish line" as my therapist put it.

I'm still detoxing from the experience. To sound even more insane than the aforementioned paragraph, I still do not regret my decision. I needed to be done with undergraduate studies and Durango, so I finished it - at a pace I would recommend to no one else other than me (and I wouldn't have even recommended it to me). The environment was all off - ever since some trauma that occurred my senior year in high school, I began to see things more fluidly and it became stressful for me to adhere to deadlines and the type of structure an undergraduate education promises. I found it hard to relate to people who ran from all their troubles when I realized I needed to stop running from all the trauma I had endured throughout my life and face it head on, so I could actually emotionally mature. And in the intensity that is me: PTSD, anxiety disorder, bipolar, borderline ME - that meant, all or nothing. So I threw all my emotions in... to end up, months later, still really emotionally depleted. It was evidently a bargain I was willing to make.

How is any of this relevant?

I now live back in Massachusetts again - ironically in the same area Hampshire is located. And this time, it's relieving. The two years I spent in Durango were years I spent realizing the problem wasn't me, it was what I was surrounding myself with. My emotional intensity isn't a problem: it's surrounding myself with people who can't handle emotional intensity that's the problem. My workaholism isn't a problem: it's about finding the people with the same work ethic as mine so that we can positively support one another for both the good and bad sides of workaholism. I had a lot of situations in Durango where people felt the obvious solution to my problem was that I needed to party or go to a gym or do this or that. No, the obvious solution to my problem is I need to live in a positive environment that encourages, fosters, and excites the person that I am rather than draining it and telling it to not exist.

I feel the need to bring this up if only particularly because it has a lot to do with what I'm struggling with trying to start a life post-undergrad, and a lot to do with what a lot of my friends are struggling with when it comes to making decisions: "do I follow my passion or do I follow what's logical/economically feasible/expected?" Having spent weeks in MA applying for over at least 50 jobs at this point and not really hearing back from anyone, it's safe to say I've grappled with this issue still. Until recently. Last week I was randomly and excitably put into the second round of elimination/interviews with two different nonprofits in CT. I sat on this for the weekend, and then decided to take myself out of the running for both positions. Many people, who are watching me struggle a lot financially lately, can't help but wonder WTF.

In making this decision, a strong factor was remembering a quote I had read somewhere about telling if you had a positive or negative relationship with a person. It said, think about how you feel after you leave hanging out with a person - do you feel energized, excited, refreshed? or do you feel drained, tired, depressed? If you feel the former, you're in a positive relationship. If you feel the latter, you're in a negative relationship. Seems simple enough - but I don't think many people take that into consideration when they're making decisions, largely due to a perceived "obligation" in one sense or another. I realized that in taking these jobs, based off what I knew from them already, that I would leave feeling emotionally drained and stressed, something I don't need after this past year. It didn't seem worth it to me.

"I'll go bankrupt for my passion," is what I concluded to myself and other people.

Emotional needs are just as important as physical and financial needs. And everyday, I try to remind myself and other people, that even logically you will likely end up being more successful following your passion than doing anything else you might be settling for. There's a difference in attitude. And that attitude can make or break you.

Use me as a walking, living, breathing example. Listen to what your body and heart are saying you really need. Do what feels natural.