Tag Archives: life

Carry That Weight

It isn’t often that I watch a tv show that actually truly affects me, much less one that does so in a positive manner. Game of Thrones got me all fired up when they once again used the rape of a female character to unnecessarily advance the arc of a male, a plot device created by the show that wasn’t in the books — and don’t bash me friends, but I won’t watch it anymore, and that’s my choice. Mike and Molly spurred on a conversation with my grandmother (it was her favorite show) about how the jokes they made at the expense of LGBT persons were not acceptable. Two Broke Girls? Well, that show is all over the place as a mockery of feminism, even though you think it would be the opposite. 
This summer though, I found a different sort of show called The Bold Type. The Bold Type is Freeform’s latest entry into the adult market. I encouraged my friends to watch it, and I coined it as a fun example of how woman can balance work and sex and just generally being female while being amazing, a great example of how sexy can also fall under feminist, and vice versa. Yes, it’s a younger show. Yes, it can be a bit fluffy. But damn can it hit on the issues. My favorite arc of the season, and I’m not even sure favorite is the right word here, was the immigration storyline involving a lesbian woman facing deportation who was not allowed to be a lesbian in her home country. It was hard hitting, honest, and true–things I look for in a show that tend to make shows without fall flat on their faces. Favorite until last night anyway. 
Last night’s episode was based on the personal art/performance piece, Carry That Weight. If you read my blog, I’m sure you’ve heard of it–I have a pretty specific audience. A college student named Emma Sulkoicz carried her 50 pound mattress around the Columbia campus every day, pledging to do so until the man who raped her either faced justice, was expelled, or left campus by some other means. Her attacker faced no charges, and Emma carried that mattress until she graduated. Along the way, others would help her carry the weight so that she wasn’t alone. I wanted to write my critical thesis about Emma, as we were in school in the same city at the same time with a similar pain, but I didn’t–which seems silly now. 
My roommate and I were sitting on my bed last night watching the season (series? I hope not!) finale of The Bold Type, and I knew right away what the girl in the park with the scales of justice represented. The main character, Jane, pitched an article idea where she would interview this girl for the magazine (the show is based off of the woman who work at Cosmo), but her editor, Jacqueline, was resistant. “You have to do it right. It’s a sensitive story. I don’t know if you’ve grown enough to do it right.” In an effort to get attention back on Mia, the survivor, Jane installs a webcam in the park. Jacqueline was taken aback: “But how does that help? Who is standing with her?? Who is supporting her??” The comments of online viewers to Mia’s pain just weren’t enough. At the climatic moment of the episode, Jane and her two best friends go to Mia and stand with her. In this version of the project, the girls could not take the weight for Mia because they were not survivors. Jacqueline, however, could, (a fact I predicted much earlier in the episode) and did, with silence and grace (while I hugged the stuffed pony that lives in my headboard). At the end of the episode, Jacqueline allowed herself to be interviewed for Jane’s story. Jane asked her how it felt to discuss something she had never discussed before, never reported, and if she had ever gotten back to normal after the rape. Jacqueline replied: “You find a new normal, and it works so well that sometimes you don’t even know that it’s not. And I don’t think I realized how much of the weight I was still carrying.”
This episode is important to me for so many reasons. First and foremost, there is zero time devoted to the violence–it’s all devoted to the living. To the after. To what it’s like to be a rape survivor in a world that continues to move on like nothing happened; to survive when time has stopped for you but goes on for everyone else. It’s important because we, the survivors, are out there. We are riding the train. We are walking your dogs. We are serving your coffee. We are writing in blogs. We are normal, but we are not “your” normal, because that normal is gone for us, and we live in the world that someone else made for us. So we go on, like Jacqueline, and we shape that world to be the best we can, to be our new normal, to hopefully be even better than what came before. 
I like to think I’ve done that. But what came to me last night was the reminder that I am clearly passionate about this subject and do not do enough to serve that passion. I ran from my book because it scared me. I ran from writing because I don’t want to write about anything else, not in the same way I write about this. 
I am a survivor who carries my own weight. And I’m happy in my life. I love my job, I love my dogs. I love writing, even though I’m not doing it so it SEEMS like I don’t. But I want to do more. I want to use my new normal to help others make their own new normal; I want to be that person, even though it’s a completely unrealistic idea, who makes sure that no one else carries their weight alone. I can work with dogs and understand their pain, sure, but I cannot let that be enough for me when there is so much more to be done. 
I don’t know other survivors, not in person, but I’d like to find them. I’d like to share the weight, theirs and mine. I’d like to finish, really finish, my book, to show the weightless that we are out here and we are okay. To help them understand that they too can help us carry the weight. 
We, the survivors, are out here. We are out in the world, and we are normal but also not normal, because we are our own normals. So why are we not these new normals together?
PS, Y’all should watch this show. 

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She Used to Be Mine

I like to think there are infinite versions of each of us out there, that our lives split every time there’s a major decision or event and create this other us, the one we never see. Cheryl Strayed calls these the ghost ships, and by that she means the lives that sailed away from us. 
A lot of things have happened in my 32 years. Some I’m proud of; some I’m not. Some were good; some were not. It’s a sticky map. Had I not joined the Christian youth band, I wouldn’t have met my future husband. Had I not married him, I would never have had a child. Had my child not died, I would not have gotten divorced; I would never have gone to college. Had I not gone to college, the events of my third year wouldn’t have happened. But on that same coin, had I not reached out to T, to D, to M, I may not have emotionally survived that year; if I weren’t in school, I’d never have known them. I would never have met N, who taught me what it really meant to be a writer, a teacher, but most importantly, a learner of things. We can do nothing, go nowhere, if we can’t learn. I get that now. I’m learning. Had I not, I’d never have gone on to move to NYC. I wouldn’t have a masters degree. I wouldn’t be a dog walker. I made choices. I survived events. I’m here now. 
When asked what the pivotal moment of my chosen ghost ship is, I struggle to put a finger on it. The first, I think, was that night in the youth coffeehouse sixteen years ago where I said yes. It put me on the path to everything afterwards. The next was losing my son. Am I happy with either of these events? No. But would I change them, knowing it would without a doubt change where I am now? I don’t have an answer to that. Of course I want my son to be alive. But was his death an answer to the question I never had the courage to ask while married?
“Am I safe here? Is this the right choice? Do I deserve more than this?”
If I hadn’t asked, where would I be now? Do we have to lose in order to gain?
I could be so many different people had I made different choices, but everything that has happened to me has gotten me here. Everything that has happened to me has built me into the me that is now, the me that is mine. Every bruise, every scar. Every hurt. Every tear. Every smile. Every hand offered, every hand taken. 
On to the next. To the next. To the next. Grateful for every next step. Good and bad. Beautiful and horrible. 
We like to think of our lives as black and white, life and death, but really, they’re just building blocks to the next plane. The next ship. We can never transfer; we are stuck with the ship we have. We need to make that count. Do we make that count? Do I? Am I mine?

It’s not what I asked for. Sometimes life just slips in through a backdoor and carves out a person who makes you believe it’s all true. And now I’ve got you.

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On Being Old and Alone

It is interesting to make the switch from crying about what happened to crying about surviving what happened. It is more interesting still to do it alone, and to realize that what happened is the reason why, that you have made yourself alone.

I think that I used to be greatly saddened by my experiences. Not to say I’m not still. Some of them are quite sad. But now it’s more sad to be through them and be alone. I don’t want to be that. Alone.

I think that I will write a lot of books. I don’t know that they will all be published. But some will. These are the kind of books that will tell a story, that will rock a world like this one (Bastard Out of Carolina) has rocked mine. But they will be banned. They will be a story that people will want to silence. Some day, probably many years after they’re written, they will finally be taught. People will read them and learn from them. And then they will want to burn them or stab them with pointy stick. But the stories? They will be.

However, I think I’ll be alone. I do not really know how to love another person. How to really let a person in. Not to say I don’t try. I know how to CARE. I care about the friends I have, but they are all far away. And there’s no time. There’s not enough time to touch base. To talk. To really connect.

People become writers in order to tell stories. But it’s lonely, to be a writer. We make writers groups. (That we don’t go to). In the end, we write alone. I am a writer. And I want to tell my story. But I don’t want to be alone. Yet, I make myself this way. Three classmates invited me to the bar. I didn’t go. I joked that if they went on Friday, I would. (I wouldn’t.) People talk to me, and I say stupid things in response. I am horribly socially awkward and shy, and I let myself become this way. I let my experience be an excuse to be alone.

They say writing is a solitary profession. That’s the truth. But it’s something that we have to work hard to change. We need to make time. We need to go out. We need to make new stories. I don’t want to be old one day and realize that this story is all that I have.

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On Graduating College

Today I graduated from college.

I don’t think it’s quite sunk in yet, this idea that the college door has closed. I didn’t cry as I drove away, and I completely thought I would. And now, when I look back and try to reflect upon the experience, I find that I can’t. I’m stuck, so pardon me if this takes a cheesy or melodramatic turn.

My first college experience was me auditioning to be a vocal major at UW-Whitewater. I was seventeen years old. I was accepted, which was exciting. But the problem was that I didn’t find out until it was too late; the acceptance package, with my housing and scholarship offers, was buried in a large pile of mail that I never received because I was away for the summer. The day I came back and got the letter was the day before everything was due. At that point, it seemed easier to just ignore it—neither accept nor decline—and just give up the college dream. So I did. I did what a lot of people do after high school graduation; I joined the workforce. In retail.

I worked retail management from 2002 to 2010 in a wide variety of jobs—Walmart, gas stations, pet stores. I bounced back and forth, never able to settle into any management position for more than a year or two. I just wasn’t happy. I was not meant for a career path that equaled continuous abuse. I talked frequently about going back to school, but I never did it. I even went to Gateway a few times to inquire about the process, but I never followed through. In 2008 or so, I actually filled out an application. I made an appointment to see someone in advising, but then I was called away to work. I was on a merchandising trip to Madison, in charge of a complete store renovation, when my phone rang. It was my then-husband:

“I think I’m going to quit my job,” he informed me.

“What?” I asked, dropping the pack of D batteries I had been hanging on a peg-hook. It was funny he would bring this up, because I had just mentioned to him the previous week that if I were to go back to school, I would need to scale back.

“You make enough money to support us, and I want to focus more on travelling with the band. Getting into music and such.”

“Oh, really?”

“Actually, I’ve sort of…”

“What?”

“I already quit.”

I decided then that I wouldn’t go back to school. Not then. It wasn’t the right time, but then, there might never be a right time. I returned home and I worked in retail for two more years. Until our son died. 

Losing my son made me question my entire life. The time we get on Earth is short, relatively speaking, but I don’t think I really understood that until I lost Carter. It occurred to me then that I really could die at any time. The time Carter got on this planet was close to nothing, but I had already had twenty-six years at that point. So as I spent early 2010 both dealing with his loss and watching my marriage explode (and then disintegrate) around me, I realized that there had to be something more. Rather than sit around and let my husband control me, I chose to go out and find that something. 

Find it, I did. 

When I was in grade school, I was the annoying girl that no one liked who got head lice and never got invited to anyone’s house. When I was in high school, I was the girl with the eating disorder who asked too many questions and didn’t have any friends. When I was in the church, I was fulfilling a specific set of expectations that weren’t my own. When I was married, I was fulfilling his wants and needs and putting him before myself. I was always less than everyone and everything else.

College taught me that these things were not okay. College taught me that I am not just one thing, but many. That I do not have to obligate myself to one specific person or thing, but whatever things I choose to. That I do not have to censor myself or act in a certain way or be confined to one mode of expression. College taught me that I can be anything I want to be. When I first came to Parkside, I was terrified of the university as a whole. I wanted no part of anything extra–I just wanted to go to my classes, do my work, and come home. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I’m not big on people. I’ve been hurt; I don’t trust people much anymore. I was very unconfident in the beginning of the semester, and I really didn’t believe I could do anything. In the back of my head, I entertained the possibility that I would fail at school. But, despite many events over the course of the past few years that could have led me astray, I didn’t fail. It was quite the opposite, truthfully. I’m leaving at the top of my class, a fiction editor for the campus literary magazine, a tutor, a member of the Dean’s Advisory Board, completer of research studies, and a general student extrordinaire. Best of all, I have friends. I have met both professors and students that I hope to remain friends with and stay in touch with for a long time to come.

For the first time, I believe I can honestly say that I am happy with who I am. One of my very first college essays, a reading response to “The Ones That Walked Away From Omelas,” states it well:

“I had to make my own happiness. I had to walk away from my friends, my things, my money, and my life as a whole. True happiness doesn’t come from the church. It doesn’t come from having a lot of things or a lot of money. True happiness, much like success, comes as however we personally define it. Right now, my happiness comes from being successful in school and in the work that I do. This will evolve. In five years, perhaps my happiness will come from being involved in a new romantic relationship. A few years down the road from that, maybe my happiness will come from having another opportunity to have children, and the opportunity to raise them up in the way that they should go.  I will achieve happiness, and I will go on from that to find yet another level of happiness. This is the definition of happiness. In essence, it is always changing. We will be happy for a while, but then we won’t be anymore. We will need more. When that happens, we will need to find a new way to be happy. I have learned that we can never put the responsibility for our happiness on other people. The responsibility for our happiness lies solely on our own shoulders, whether it is through our actions, our relationships, or our belongings. Am I happy now? I suppose I could say that I’m content. Am I getting closer to happiness? I think I am definitely beginning to find my way.”

While I am sad to leave Parkside, I am also excited for the new beginnings that this ending will bring me. If I am this strong a person coming out of undergrad, I can’t help but imagine the strength, the gifts, that grad school will bring me. College gave me the gift of me—and it’s a gift that will keep on giving, and a gift I will never, ever have to give back or apologize for. I am excited for the future, excited for what is coming, and excited for this life that is mine for the taking. I never would have found it had I not gone back to school. I never would have found myself.

I believe that my son is somewhere, watching me on this day. I believe that he is proud of me. Not because I graduated college. Because I did it while being me. So thank you, Parkside. Thank you all of my fabulous friends, my professors, my “people.” You are all amazing. 

Finally, finally, I am me.

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