all that money

What are you going to do with all that money?

There’s been a lot of chatter about billionaires lately. Which itself is very funny to me because when I was a kid I couldn’t conceptualize what a billion dollars even is, and if I thought someone had that much money his face was on a Monopoly box. Now they’re this sketchy group of nerds that half the country is trying to take down a notch while the other half tears their clothes and gnashes their teeth at the thought. I’m not going to get too political here, but I have one question—what are you going to do with all that money?

It’s the question they ask lottery winners or Jeopardy champions on TV, and if you’re like me you probably have an idea of how you’d answer. That’s because if I were to be presented with a large sum of money, currently I would be saying “Well X amount will be going to my student loan servicers. Y amount will be going to my good friends at the credit card company, and with the $20 I have left I’ll probably get dinner.” That’s where I’m at, and that’s where millions of Americans are at.

But that’s just for a dollar amount that I can clearly allocate. $50,000 would be a life-changing amount of money to me today, but I can deduct line items from it and in a couple of days have completely depleted it. A billion dollars? I can imagine where I would get started, but after a week of house shopping and vacation planning I’d kind of be like okay now what? So when I see people like Bezos and Gates and all the others in the billionaires club with tens of billions of dollars to their name, I get itchy.

The point of money is to spend it, right? Because we designed our global society on this transfer of paper money for goods and services vital to life itself. Everything beyond what you need to survive is excess. And a little excess isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A lot of excess would not be that bad of a thing in my opinion, except when there are people who have nothing. It’s because of the state of wealth inequality and the sheer amount of poverty in the world that I really am wondering okay what are you going to do with all the money?

Bill Gates said in an interview last week, 

“Maybe I’m just too biased to think that if you create a company that’s super valuable, that at least some part of that you should be able to have — a little bit for consumption, and the balance to do philanthropic things.”

I think that’s one of the major points of contention over billionaires—people think “Bill Gates changed all of our lives with Microsoft, so he deserves all that money.” To that I say sure, credit where credit is due—but at what point is historical recognition, the eternal gratitude of humanity, and the sheer power of knowing you’re one of the brains behind modern technology not enough to compensate for your work? At a certain point the money that people like Gates accumulate becomes more than they could even spend on their own interests so why do they want to keep so much of it? They don’t carry their money around like a trophy. They’re not putting their literal cash on display for all to see. What is it for?

Money is not impressive. What do you get for being the richest person in the world? A pat on the back. Your name at the top of a list on a website or in a book? You will still be subject to the human condition. You can afford to have a better life than most people, and to these ultra-rich, I say go for it. You may have earned that at least! But the thing is—after you do all that, you still have so much left over.

I can understand one of these people saying “Well I don’t trust the government to appropriately use my billions,” as a reason to not want the tax. Because it’s a fact that governments can be corrupt and misuse tax dollars. But I also haven’t heard any of these guys offer up a better suggestion. Sure, Bill Gates does a lot of philanthropy. He even started a major initiative to encourage more wealthy folks to do the same, but it’s not enough. If you can change the world once with a computer, I don’t see why you can’t do it again with your money. 

There was this little period one time when I was a teenager where in the course of maybe two weeks my mom gave me $20 on two separate occasions, and both times I lost it. While I’ve rarely been in the position to be able to just “throw away” $20, much less $40, but losing this money was not detrimental. And to ration with my misfortune (or irresponsibility) I just reason that someone who needed it will find it. I was blessed to have the $20 in the first place, now hopefully someone will find it and maybe that will allow them to eat for the first time in a day. When you have enough for yourself, why can’t you take the gamble to see what someone else can do with your excess? Spread the wealth.

By The Way, I Forgive You

While I emotionally gear up for this year’s Grammy Awards, I can’t stop thinking about how proud I am of one of my favorite artists, Brandi Carlile. Her album By The Way, I Forgive You shattered me in the best ways a person can be shattered. I don’t like country music at all. Brandi navigates a couple of different genres, one of them being country, but her brassy roots put a soul so impassioned into her music and her lyrics that she transcends. I wanted to write about what this album means to me one because it’s full of important human lessons and notes on existence and two because I hope it will inspire you to listen to it if you haven’t already.

Every Time I Hear That Song

The opening track on this record might pack the strongest punch. Brandi croons the album title into this bittersweet tune. It’s thank u, next if thank u, next had a soul. Brandi says to her transgressor, By the way, I forgive you / after all, maybe I should thank you / for giving me what I’ve found / ’cause without you around I’ve been doing just fine. She’s learned a lesson here, and she’s grateful for that despite the pain she has suffered.  You feel the exact emotion she’s singing about—you love this person but they have hurt you so bad that it’s still hard to leave them. And she knows this person isn’t even really apologizing—I gave you all I had and got the worst of you—READ ME.

The Joke

I have to admit, this one took a few listens. It was the first single Brandi released ahead of the album’s debut. I loved it when I first heard because it showcases Brandi’s unbelievable vocal chops. But beyond that on my first listen, I wasn’t hooked. Then Obama put it on his 2017 list of favorites, and I had to listen again. And I was struck by the lyrics. It encompasses feelings of insecurity, oppression, all the nasty things the world can throw at you but then she embraces you and says the joke’s on them. And she took it further while promoting the song, explaining it’s not just a typical anti-bullying message, it’s political, too. Brandi said in one interview she was thinking about refugees in Syria when she wrote The Joke, and that becomes vividly clear when you listen back to the line, They come to kick dirt in your face / Call you weak and then displace you / After carrying your baby on your back across the desert. It’s an anthem.

Hold Out Your Hand

This one gets ya. Upon first listen, it’s the first super upbeat track on the record, but its lighter sound doesn’t mean it packs any lighter of a punch. Like The Joke, it rings as incredibly anthemic to me because of the way Brandi chants in the bridge: Deliver your brother from violence and greed / For the mountains, lay down for your faith like a seed / A morning is coming of silver and light / There will be color and language and nobody wanting to fight / What a glorious sight! / What a glorious sight! The song despite its cheerful sound is a prophecy of the days coming after these days of reckoning. When we’re all done with the violence and the hatred tainting our world and we find in our hearts to forgive those who’ve wronged us—what a glorious sight. That’s the biggest lesson, and it’s on the album cover: forgive. Ahead of the album’s release, Brandi wrote an open letter to a pastor from her youth who refused to baptize her as a teen because she’s gay. She wrote about the impact that moment had on her identity, and what it has taken to forgive this man. I had never thought of forgiveness as such a radical action, but in this world where someone can do something like that—say you’re not welcome because of x—it really is.

The Mother

I don’t have kids. I don’t want kids. But wow. Brandi paints the most beautiful picture of motherhood while managing to be honest about it. The first things that she took from me were selfishness and sleep. She acknowledges that having her first daughter, Evangeline transformed her life in the most inconvenient ways that doing such can. You lose sleep, things you loved, order and organization, but it’s all worth it. All the wonders I have seen, I will see a second time / From inside of the ages through your eyesIt stings because Brandi also acknowledges the hardships she has been through herself and that she knows her daughter will face. But she complements that fear with the hope and confidence that Evangeline will grow up to fight against the evils in the world as well—When we chose your name we knew that you’d fight the power too. Chills.

Whatever You Do

If I don’t owe you a favor, you don’t know me. This song ~attacked~ me from the first line but in a good way. What makes this song special to me is the way it kind of nuances that theme of forgiveness. Brandi waxes poetic on a few different struggles and how that kind of makes it hard to have a relationship. There are days when I change with the weather / To hold you in place would be wrong. The prose is nice because she doesn’t try to apologize for this. She acknowledges it as a fact of life, with love being the only thing that can mitigate that—I love you, whatever you do / But I’ve got a life to live tooMaybe that’s not the best interpretation of what she’s trying to say, but I think it is a fact that sometimes you love someone even though everything about your lives makes it difficult. You can walk away from it or you can kind of forgive the situations and embrace your loved one.

Fulton County Jane Doe

A wacky one. It’s not quite upbeat, but it’s not as much of a ballad as the other tracks. Jane Doe gets it bite from that feeling of being known, being accepted. Brandi’s message is very clear on this one—You’re more than Fulton County Jane—the imaginary “you” is this person who has been reduced to a noname. The idea of identity loss interests me because Brandi’s not saying this person has come to this place of lostness on her own accord, she arrived there by outside factors. Brandi in interviews talked about how the song like others on the album alludes to things like the opioid crisis and the global migrant crisis. She’s holding out a hand here, saying you’re more than a Jane Doe.

Sugartooth

I almost wish Brandi called this one “The Ballad of Sugartooth” because that’s what it sounds like—an old western kind of ballad that tells this story of a hero’s journey. This hero, however, is a tragic one. This is the other song I was just talking about that’s about the opioid crisis. That makes the song kind of hurt a little more because it doesn’t sound as sad and horrific as opioid addictions are. She offers an incredibly compassionate view of it though by kind of comparing addiction to someone with a sweet tooth. So many people dismiss those addicted to drugs because “they made that decision,” when that’s such a false narrative. Yes everyone can make the choice to try drugs, but whether or not you get addicted after one try is something far beyond your control. Nothing could tame him and nothing could hold him / He only took the pills when the doctor told him—we’ve seen the stories over and over of people who break their ankle and a month later they’re addicted to oxy, but the problem persists.

Most of All

One of the more personal tracks off the album, Brandi talks about her parents in Most of All. She reflects on what they’ve taught her, how they shaped her, and to remember what comes back when you give away your love. With the chorus here Brandi takes forgetting out of the proverbial instructions to forgive and forget. She understands that you shouldn’t forget when someone has wronged you, but remember what they give back to you when you show them love. If you show someone love and they stab you in the back, maybe you will come to be able to forgive them, but don’t forget what they did to you. But on the flip side…

Harder to Forgive

Brandi thought of everything on this album. With the penultimate track, she says yeah everything I’ve said here is a lot easier said than done. We want to say we forgive everyone, period. But she acknowledges that sometimes it’s remarkably difficult to do so. She offers, Sometimes I pretend we never met / Because it’s hard to forgive than to forget. We’ve all had that experience of just walking away from a situation because forgiveness kind of feels like a fix. If you forgive someone, that means things can be okay again, or so we’re often taught. So Brandi offers that solution of forgetting because sometimes people wrong you so bad you don’t want to have any hint that things can get better. But I think ultimately she’s saying you don’t have to reconcile when you forgive. When it all boils down, forgiveness is personal, and a choice that only you can make for yourself.

Party of One

This piano ballad closes out the album on a somber note. It’s deeply reflective and painful, even. I’m still kind of processing it a year after I first heard it. The song itself has such an insane body, that’s the best way I can describe it. The way Brandi’s voice kind of cracks when she belts, I am tiiiiiired. She’s talking about loneliness if you didn’t get that from the title. In doing a bit of research for this post, I learned she was reflecting on the loneliness she kind of experienced after the birth of her first daughter—something that came from what she called “internalized homophobia.” Brandi’s wife carried both of their children, and while Brandi is genetically related to her daughter Evangeline, she talked about how navigating motherhood in a same sex couple was an experience she had to kind of struggle through. To me it speaks volumes to the problem of loneliness in general that it really can change you as a person if you don’t work through it. And she does as we see at the end of the song she finds her belonging again and it ends on a bit of a lighter note.

 

I didn’t mean for this to get so so long, but there really aren’t enough words to talk about how much I love Brandi and how much her music has helped me to do introspection through so many different scenarios in my life. Thank you, Brandi and all of your team for your art. Thanks for reading. If you made it through this whole post, you really should just listen to the album it’ll be quicker I promise.

little

The world is a big bad place. It always has been, and unfortunately it probably always will be. I want to say that all I think about is how to change it. How to make it better, how to make a more peaceful future for myself and maybe my children. It’s exhausting, though. Thinking about change is a tireless, and often fruitless effort. It’s a pipe dream we may never achieve. So I think about the little things. I shrink myself down out of the big bad world and I think about why I keep getting out of bed every morning. I think about my little two-year-old niece. I think about the way she calls out “Abba!” when she searches for my mother. I think about the way her eyes light up and she repeats in chant, “I-cream! I-cream!” if you dare utter the words. I think about the tight curls of her soft brown hair. I think about the way she scrunches up her face into a tiny scowl when you tell her it’s MY blanket. I think about how she puts her mini fists on her diapered hips and yells at me in complete gibberish should I challenge her authority. I think about my own perplexity on the day of her birth—of course, I know where babies come from and how they grow in utero and I try not to think about my sister’s involvement in all of that, but I think about the day a new human being entered the earth and the population went up by one and my heart grew in size by one hundred. I think about her excitement at the sight of bubbles floating around her. I think about how she throws herself on the floor in laughter like she just heard the funniest joke on the planet. I think about how unfazed she is by the world she inhabits. I think about the way she runs to her daddy and shakes her whole body in fear when I put a napkin over my face and proclaim, “I’m a napkin head!” I think about the way she sticks out a miniscule thumb in response to the question, “How was your nap?” I think about her wild bedhead. I think about the way she runs out of the bathroom announcing to the big bad world, “I poopied!!” as if the act had solved all of our problems. I think about the tantrums she throws, destroying everything in her path when she knows it’s time for bed. I think about how little and how fragile this tiny human is, and yet I think about how special and important she is and how the future may not look bright and it may look like it’s going to be big and bad forever, but sometimes it’s nice if we don’t think about that.

To Those Who Taught Me

On the first day of preschool, my mom brought me into KinderCare, and asked if I wanted her to stay or leave. I told her she could leave, confident that I was going to be okay. I then proceeded to stand in the corner, watching other kids play with their parents, and choking back tears wishing I had asked her to stay. But I was ready. I wanted to play and learn and be a kid that goes to school without fear, and thus my journey began.

I am about to do the most important thing in my life. I consider myself incredibly privileged to be able to do this, and I do not take lightly the sacrifices my family has made so I can do this. Graduating college has been my biggest dream for a very long time. There is no inspirational story here about a huge obstacle I had to overcome to get here. I have loved school for most of my life, and even on my darkest days, I have wanted to keep going.  But that perseverance was instilled in me from the people who greeted me at the doors of each institution—to those who taught me, thank you.

To Mrs. Terri Olexa, who was the first mother I had away from my home. Who put care and compassion into our kindergarten classroom while cultivating young minds. Thank you for being there when a boy punched me in the stomach.

To Mrs. Dawn Santello, who gave me my first shot at being a leader. Who listened when an ambitious six-year-old told her, “I have ideas for the classroom.” Thank you for nurturing my earliest inclinations toward excellence.

To Mrs. Betty Smith, who allowed me to say “This is too easy.” Thank you for giving me space to push myself, and thank you for pushing me.

To Mrs. Liz Seipp, my first cool teacher, who understood that sometimes third graders think they’re really cool. I thought I was really cool. Thank you for making the classroom a welcoming community for everyone.

To Mrs. Leanne DeTample and Mrs. Annie Overton, a pregnant teacher and her replacement, who combined to show me the importance of adapting quickly. Thank you for teaching me about science and entrepreneurship and making it an adventure.

To Mrs. Jane Fetter, who is to this day the reason I know every state and every capital. Thank you for creating a classroom full of versatility from macaroni brains to weaving on a loom.

To Mrs. Alice Keffer, who kept it real no matter what. Thank you for introducing me to journalism, and the important struggle of math.

To Mrs. Maureen Mutinsky, who ingrained everything I know about grammar. Thank you for taking the time and impressing the importance of commas and apostrophes.

To Mr. Scott Kleinman, who was the first Vikings fan I ever knew, and who brought my dad into the classroom. Thank you for that memory, and thank you for teaching me percentages.

To Mrs. Joan McCloughan, who taught me about Mesopotamia, and how to take good notes. Thank you for being the first historian I knew.

To Mrs. Jessica Heller, who turned Kool-Aid into a science experiment. Thank you for hands on learning.

To Mrs. Amy Van Treuren, who gave me the space to ask more questions, learn more, and investigate. Thank you for going above and beyond. Thank you for treating an 11 year old like a person, and letting me be myself. Thank you for being a friend.

To Ms. Maria Przechacki, who saw me as a preschooler and again as a tween. Thank you for growing with me. And thank you for the bikes.

To Madam Baille, who did not have it easy from me or my classmates. Merci pour votre patience (Yes, I used Google Translate).

To Mrs. Jo Ann Groeger, who was so passionate about health and fitness. Who always practiced what she preached. Thank you for having fun and loving what you do.

To Ms. Sara Hyer, who navigated a rowdy classroom with grace and focus. Thank you for refusing to give up on me no matter how many times I tried.

To Mr. Tim Prugar, who taught me to love history, question everything, and reach higher. Who challenged me every day to think for myself and back up my theories. Who gave me space to heal when I needed it more than anything. Thank you for caring beyond your duty.

To Ms. Nicole Revere, who was relatable. Who understood the struggle of being 14, but never let that get in the way of learning. Thank you for giving us a break.

To Mrs. Jenny Kessler, who is still a mystery to me. Who might be the coolest teacher I’ve had. Thank you for bringing me into art, and remaining critical with a sly smile.

To Mr. David Kelly, who was a character. Thank you for letting me shine as brightly as I wanted.

To Mr. Daniel Van Lieu, who had the most hilarious classroom I’d be in before college. Who never took himself too seriously. Who saw the curriculum, and said there are missing narratives. Thank you for going off script, and teaching me how to write a single moment.

To Mrs. Lisa Quarry, who trusted my ambition, and harnessed my drive. Who didn’t shy away from bringing down the hammer, but never judged anyone in light of it. Thank you for introducing me to yearbook.

To my sign language teachers, who had probably the most difficult classrooms I’ve ever been in. Thank you for showing me the importance of accessibility.

To Mrs. Milissa Neirotti, who was always clear and ran her classroom like a tight ship. Thank you for never letting me fall behind.

To the Colonel, Mr. Charles O’Brien, who scared me, but who has such a kind heart. Thank you for seeing my potential when I lost sight of it. Thank you for teaching me the importance of attention to detail.

To Mrs. Lynn McNulty, who is an incredible historian. Who was the first teacher to bring world news to world history. I’m sorry I didn’t give you my best, but thank you for giving me yours.

To Mrs. Julie Davis, who gave me my second shot at geometry. Thank you for making math fun, while being one of the most brilliant women I know.

To Mr. Gary Brown, who really tried to motivate me, when I didn’t want to. I’m sorry I slept in your class every day. Thank you for trying regardless.

To Señorita Noelia Straight, who endured. Thank you for welcoming me into the world of Spanish.

To Mr. Marty Hoban, who was different than most of the teachers at Hun. Thank you for being yourself at a place that often made it really really hard.

To Mrs. Cheryl Beal, who displayed a passion for literature and its place in the arts. Thank you for your openness to teaching how we wanted to learn.

To Señora Melissa Dorfman, who always cheered me on in the classroom or the halls. Gracias para todo quatro años.

To Mr. Ryan Hews, who felt passionately about student-centered learning. Who taught unfiltered the parts of American history many others sugarcoat. Thank you for bringing history to life in a real way.

To Mr. Bob Groover, who also struggled to get me to want to learn in his classroom. Thank you for not giving up on me, when I gave up on myself.

To Mr. Matt Ator, who was the new kid when we met. Thank you for pushing me, despite my contempt for Algebra.

To Mrs. Joan Roux, who is elegance and intellect embodied. Thank you for insisting that my writing be better.

To Señora Jennifer Mitchell, who may have caught the last of my teenage angst. Thank you for your patience and for giving me a chance anyway.

To Mr. Allan Arp, who was always a friendly face. Thank you for teaching me how to paint, and about color, and thank you for not letting me give up after one try.

To Mr. Tim Pitts, who was on his way out when he taught me. Who packed a huge punch into a semester-long course. Who taught me to question my government, and my politics. Thank you for being always groovy.

To Ms. Aruna Chavali, who would be my last science teacher. Who showed me the importance of empowering women, who empowered me. Who was always authentic. Thank you for teaching me about force in more ways than one.

To Mr. Aaron Bogad, who let me be a diva for a moment. Thank you for showing me the importance of political art when I didn’t even fully understand it.

To Mr. Ryan Brown, who should teach everyone math. Who is unbelievably intelligent and multifaceted and humble. Thank you for your approachability, and thank you for helping me get it.

To Dr. Lucie Knight-Santos (أستاذ), who is one of the most impressive teachers I’ve had. Who taught me something completely new with immeasurable patience. Thank you for boldly bringing me into a whole new world (not ~totally~ meant to be an Aladdin allusion).

To Mr. Jonathan Stone, who would be my final math teacher. Thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone.

To Mrs. Lisa Yacomelli, who is simply a fun person. Who brought context to literature, and helped it make sense. Thank you for bringing me Frankenstein and teaching me how to dance.

To Mrs. Rachel Cooper, who has such a gentle spirit. I’m sorry senioritis hit me hardest in your class. Thank you for being flexible and versatile.

To Mrs. Radha Mishra, who believed in me, and listened to me, and wanted me to succeed. Thank you for helping me do just that.

To Mrs. Heather Walsh, who empowered me and trained me in the world of journalism. Thank you for never ceasing to support me no matter the deadline.

To Mrs. Jessica Brimmer, who took on a role in an incredibly challenging moment. Thank you for never shying away from that while allowing me to continue to be a leader.

To Mr. David Bush, from whom I am lucky to have learned. Who never fails to bring a smile to my face. Who taught me to get my hands dirty, to look at things differently, to go against the current. Who is so much more than an educator. Thank you for bringing me into art, thank you for helping me see the world, thank you for loving me.

To David Peritz, who is a well of knowledge. Thank you for welcoming me to college, and never coddling me.

To Mary Morris, who is a remarkable person. Who pushed me to put any and every emotion into my writing. Thank you for taking a chance on me, and reminding me what my passion is.

To Michael Granne, who brought energy to law. Who taught me what reductio ad absurdum means, which I use more than you’d think. Thank you for your wisdom.

To Persis Charles, who is charmingly witty. Thank you for Reds.

To Carolyn Ferrell, who is the warmest professor I’ve had in college. Thank you for presenting voices we don’t always hear. Thank you for your guidance.

To Eileen Cheng, who is a brilliant historian, and always makes you question what we call history. Thank you for bringing me into academia, and helping me understand how to do research.

To Tim Kreider, who might be the classiest man I’ve met. Who is effortlessly cool while remaining annoyingly humble. Thank you for your work, and thank you for giving me time with mine.

To Cindy Gorn, who is a true Sarah Lawrence person, if such a thing exists. Thank you for opening my eyes to the world of inequality all around me. Thank you for being an activist.

To Sandra Robinson, whose expertise is unmatched. Thank you for showing me a world I never would have uncovered otherwise.

To Wen Liu, whose insane intelligence is only matched by her charm and effortless cool. Thank you for making me rethink my own thoughts.

To David Ryan, with whom I got incredibly lucky. Who is the most unrelatable person in anecdote, but the most significant writing teacher I have ever had. Who inspired me and awoke a voice I didn’t know I had. Thank you for listening, and for caring, and for believing in me. Thank you for showing me why we write.

To Jerri Dodds, who is an enigma. Who is ferociously academic while remaining insanely tender and warmhearted. Who pushed me to ask more questions and nuance the answers. Who took me under her wing when I decided Islamic Art might be a cool lecture. Thank you for inspiring me and advocating for me, and teaching me to advocate for myself.

To Angela Ferraiolo, who might be the most patient teacher I’ve had whose class I never slept in. Who is hilariously clever and made the most difficult language fun to learn. Thank you for not running away in fear when I cried on the third day of class, and thank you for letting me try something new.

To Sally Herships, who is incredibly talented. Who’s never afraid to give it to you straight. Thank you for tuning my ears.

To Lyde Sizer, whose academic prowess was originally intimidating. Who knows so much, but still questions everything, and is always eager to learn from her students. Who works endlessly to ensure her students’ success. Thank you for inspiring me when I thought I was tapped out.

To Kanishka Raja, who does not let me off the hook, ever. Thank you for giving me one last shot at being an artist.

To the classroom aides and substitutes, to gym teachers and principals, to those without whom schools would fall apart, thank you for never letting me stop loving to learn. To my educators, thank you for building me, and knocking me down, and building me back up again.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Life After Softball

When I was in high school, I played on an incredibly competitive softball team that in my four years never hit all the right spots to win a conference title. Every year we’d get to the semifinals or the finals and just blow it. During one of these dramatic games where girls were crying or visibly frustrated with the game, my coach said, “There is life after softball.”

When I was a freshman in college, I walked onto a team that was building. We were in our final provisional year of Division III competition, and I joined the first ever recruited players to build the program. In that year, I quickly became the only pitcher, one of a handful of the team that had ever played softball before college, and one exhausted player. Our season record was 6-26. That’s 6 wins and 26 losses, many of those by more than 10 runs. It was one of the most physically and emotionally exhausting seasons of my life. And about halfway through the season, I turned to my coach and said, “There’s life after softball,” to which he replied, “No there’s not!”

Today I begin my life after softball. Yesterday I finished my senior season with a pair of devastating losses keeping my team out of the playoffs. And I could write a book about the experience of playing college softball, the experience of playing softball at this school, the experience of making most of my college friends through this team. But I am going to reflect on my life and what I have given to this sport, and what this sport has given me.

I’m a lifer. I have been playing this sport since T-ball, not taking a season off since then. I really don’t even know what spring is without it, and I’ll let you know next year how it goes. It has been and will forever be apart of who I am. I cried more than I thought I was going to yesterday because I realized I’m not just closing a chapter in my life with this team, but I’m closing this subplot of what has really been my entire life, and it literally feels like I’ve had a death in the family. I know there might be a future in playing beer league or coaching for me, but there will never be anything like what I’ve been playing all these years.

Softball was a huge part of the relationship I had with my dad. He was my coach for many seasons, and even when he wasn’t the official coach, he was coaching me. And that didn’t even hit when he died nine years ago. I mean, it did literally because he was coaching my little league team and someone else’s dad had to step in, but I kind of obviously was more focused on losing a dad than losing a coach. But in reflecting on this big softball thing, I started remembering those last few months with him. I remember crying in the car after I was put on the “B” team for middle school softball. I knew I was good enough for the “A” team, but the B team needed a pitcher (I realize just how ridiculously presumptous that sounds). I sobbed at the thought of playing with girls I deemed worse than me, and missing out on the glory of being on the “better team,” and he comforted me knowing I would be a leader and learn more about myself this way. I remember being annoyed when he came home from the early coaches meeting with maroon uniforms when I instructed him to get a color that would match my red cleats. I remember running laps for him when I got cheeky at practice one summer. I remember him pushing me to throw a hundred pitches a day, and me finding any excuse to avoid doing so. I remember going to Dick’s every season and picking out new equipment and the thrill of it all.

One summer, my dad picked me up from practice and asked how it went. “It was great! I haven’t been hitting well, so Coach Tom made me just hold the bat out while he pitched it at me, and then I could hit again! It was awesome!” I was ecstatic. My dad smiled, “Ahh well then, maybe it’s time someone else coaches you.” Puzzled, I asked what he meant. He just said, “There’s only so much I can teach you before you have to learn from someone else,” and he left it at that. My smile faded. My dad had always been my coach from the stands, even if he wasn’t in the dugout. He came before any coach, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way.

So here I am, nearly ten years and probably as many coaches later, trying to figure out how to say goodbye to this part of me. I don’t think there’s a moral here. I am very sad. I have gotten so much out of softball. I understand people better, I understand leadership better, and I know the importance of patience. I could tie in a lot of metaphors about striking out or running everything out or being on a team, but I don’t want to get preachy about sports and how they make you a better person. I’m just going to move forward and keep on swingin’.

Eminem Takeover: Festival Season Has Never Looked So Shady

Music festival season is nearly upon us, and I like many other fans have been following lineup announcements like opening gifts on Christmas morning. But this year, Santa, or in this case the producers of festivals, seemed to all have the same idea: Marshall Mathers.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Eminem as much as the next guy. His bars occupy a lot of space on my workout and motivation playlists. I have appreciated every “return” Eminem has made to the charts, and welcomed his growth as an artist, despite being fonder of the original Slim Shady. But when it came to the announcements of these music festival lineups—Coachella, Governors Ball, Firefly, Bonnaroo, Boston Calling—seeing Eminem’s name appear in the largest letters on all the posters frankly bored me. Now certainly, I was not planning on attending all of these music festivals, if I could even afford to, but seeing the repetitive headliner bewildered me.

If I were to compile a list of the greatest artists of my generation, Eminem would likely be on there. But if I were to only pick one artist to play at every music festival, it wouldn’t be him. I don’t know that I could do that if given the chance, especially not if I was to be attending all of these festivals. Eminem’s latest album, Revival, debuted at number 1 on the Billboard 200, but only spent a week there. The album dropped in December of 2017, which likely contributed to its absence on notable year-end “Best Albums” lists, but I, for one, am still not seeing the merit of giving Slim headline spots at 5 major music festivals across the nation. Are the festival powers that be shoving Eminem down our throats? It kind of feels like it. Every year there is some overlap and in some years, an act has been the headliner at two festivals or so. But as far as I can tell, nothing like this has happened since Outkast reunited in 2014 and headlined Coachella, Governors Ball, and Firefly.

I asked my friend why she thought this happened with Eminem. She offered, “Because of what he did at the BET Awards.” Ahhhh. My friend was referencing the now notorious moment from October’s BET Hip Hop Awards when Eminem freestyled a roast of Donald Trump. It was a viral moment that coming from anyone else may have incited a tweetstorm from the President. But it didn’t. Eminem did something spectacular and unlike a lot of white artists by telling his fans outright, “If you’re for Trump, you can be against me.” The president did not respond. There are a number of speculations on why, but I think we all know the real reason—Eminem is a white man. That’s really all there is to it.

So while I think Eminem’s move was commendable, it still leaves me wondering if this is what earned him a spot headlining all these festivals. Does Coachella pick its artists based on activism? It’s unlikely. And if that is the case, if these festivals decided on Eminem because they think it’s a slap in the face of the presidency, I would advise them to think again. Yes, Eminem has picked his side and does not align himself with Trump, but if organizations are also trying to align themselves with the Trump resistance, it seems there are better options. Artists of color, artists who have been anti-bigotry since before the 2016 election, women, LGBT artists, Muslim artists, artists from “shithole countries,” the list of those better suited to stick it to the man is endless, and I appreciate the effort, but Eminem is not at the top of my list.

There are a number of different criteria for festivals to pick their artists, but the choice to have Eminem at all these venues baffles me. I’m underwhelmed musically and politically. If music festivals were really trying to take a stand, Slim Shady should probably sit down.

Women, America, and Selective Revolution

As a student passionate about American history, I read about all of the movements that have pushed this country to become better and better. I keep running into this issue, though, of the reaction to the American Revolution vs. nearly all movements that followed. I continue to be amazed by the amount of stubbornness in this nation. Why was the War for Independence the only revolution that was okay?

Simple— we got lucky.

We all know the story. The colonists, fed up with British taxes and ready to be a sovereign nation, overthrew their government and won the war to earn that right. Of course, it was not that simple, and the men that started the movement knew by doing so, they were accepting a noose if they were to fail. But they didn’t. Lucky for us, they were successful and thus we spell color without the u.

But the nation as we know her today was not born in 1776. In fact, she wasn’t really close to how we know her for another ten years. Yet, I am afraid the way the new Americans treated rebellions after their own was a red herring for the next two and half centuries.

First of all, the way Colonists treated their rebellion was not exactly justifiable in my book. While I am thankful for their efforts because of the outcome, I’m not sure it needs to be glorified the way it is. They quite literally held guns to the heads of men who did not want to participate in their acts of treason. They exiled them out of a country that was not yet theirs. No one pretends like this was a peaceful protest, but we forget when celebrating our Independence that it started as a protest.

Fast forward a century, and we are in the midst of the Civil War. Of course, I am thankful that the rebels this time were not successful, however, I have to question the legitimacy of Lincoln’s actions and the war that ensued. Weren’t the Confederates just replicating the Colonists? If they wanted to be on their own (granted, for horrific reasons), who was to say that they couldn’t? I suppose this is why war breaks out instead of peace talks, but it is so interesting to me that in a nation that celebrates the rebellion that founded it, why did we suppress any rebellion that followed?

The people in power get to decide if rebellions will work and when. Every movement that changed legislature or systems of government had to be accepted by whoever was in power. The first Women’s Movement did not turn into a war, but it changed some of the systems that oppressed women. The Civil Rights movement was closer to a war in the streets, but still did not go nuclear, and changed some of the systems that oppressed black citizens. The Women’s March was in no way a war, and hopefully will not turn into one, but the people in power have to make a change, but I am afraid they are too stubborn.

I’ve been processing the Women’s March for the last 24 hours and trying to make sense of everything that is happening in this country. I could not march because of travel, but I felt so empowered to see so many people standing together for equality above all else. Yet as soon as I go online, all I see is unrest. Not that I expected the march to defeat sexism and save the country, but I wish the opposition would see the issue here.

In general, the opposing side of events like the Women’s March are from people who continue to pledge their allegiance and patriotism to this nation. I do not understand how they see a difference between the women marching and the Boston Tea Party. In my history class, we talked about how the taxes on the colonists that allegedly pushed them to revolt were on objectively not that extraordinary. The thing we ignore, though, is that a colony of people felt oppressed. Were they themselves guilty of oppressing much larger numbers of people? Yes, of course, but that’s a whole other rabbit hole. Regardless, the colonists felt oppressed and they decided to do something about it.

We, the women and men who march, feel oppressed. We are not whining, we are not throwing a hissy fit. We feel oppressed, and we want to do something about it. You who oppress us do not get to decide whether or not we feel oppressed. That’s not how feelings work. Also, it’s not just a “feeling,” it’s a system. If the opposition had facts or evidence to support the idea that we are not oppressed, perhaps we would not be marching. The British could have pretended that the colonists had nothing to feel oppressed about, but they knew they were wrong so they fought back. Our oppressors know they are wrong, which is why they are fighting back with nonsensical tweets and “alternative facts” or whatever other circus acts they put out.

Maybe this won’t turn into a revolution, but I hope it does. It’s not about being conservative or liberal or green. It’s about being a human and acknowledging that we are all humans. And though the signers themselves did not believe it, this nation was allegedly founded on the idea that we are all created equal. The colonists felt unequal, and the British felt attacked, but they did not stop fighting.

Neither will we.

Noise

I have this weird form of claustrophobia where it only affects my well being in super specific conditions. The fear that makes my heart race and breath irregular appears whenever either the use of my feet or my ears is compromised. The feet is just one of those comfort things I think is somewhat normal. I can’t sleep with my feet under the covers or in socks, and footie pajamas give me angina. I just like to know when the boogeyman reaches out from under the bed I’ll be able to kick back and maybe poke his eyes out with my toes.

The hearing issue is different, though. It is affected in even more specific situations, but also in the metaphoric sense. For example, I can be driving by myself and blasting music with no problem. But if I’m in a car with other people and music is blasting and someone tries to have a conversation, it feels like the walls are closing in. Or if I’m in a group and we’re trying to decide something and everyone is shouting ideas in a competition to see who can be the loudest, a part of my soul starts screaming. I just have this real sense of panic whenever there’s too much noise I can’t control.

I bet you thought this was going to be a political rant. Surprise, it’s not, and you’re welcome. I know we’re all tired of hearing about it. I am going to speak to that, though. I am excruciatingly tired of it. All I wanted was for the election to be over so we could carry on our everyday lives, but something unprecedented has happened, and everything has changed and no one really knows where to go. Or so it feels. It feels this way, at least to me, because there’s so much noise. It’s not even two-sided anymore. Everyone wants everyone to do something differently and we’re all just screaming at each other trying to be the loudest. We can’t even claim we’re the most correct because who knows what correct even looks like. I just want it all to be quiet again.

And even that, I’m told is wrong. I know it’s wrong in the sense that we should not continue to be complacent with the systematic issues like racism and sexism, but I can’t help but wish we could be complacent because at least it was the devil we knew. It’s funny because we know that with Hillary the world was not going to get better overnight. It may not have even improved much in four years. We know under Obama things got better but surely a black president did not do much for racism, and a woman president would likely do the same amount to fix sexism. But at least we knew they were trying. Trump isn’t even officially president yet and it seems someone picked up America and started shaking it like a snow globe. I want the snow to settle so we can see what’s going to happen. I know he’s the bad guy. I loathe that man, but it’s so loud in this country right now that I don’t even know what’s going to happen.

 

The Mean Reds

In his masterpiece, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote wrote, “You know the days when you get the mean reds?…The blues are because you’re getting fat, and maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re just sad, that’s all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you’re afraid, and you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Do you ever get that feeling?” I have that feeling.

It’s 12:30 on a Sunday night and I was thinking about that book, that quote, and the Holly Golightly character. She is admired as the essence of class in her little black dress, but anyone who’s actually seen the movie or read the book knows she’d be institutionalized if she was a real person in the 60’s. She’s nuts.

I hate this character trope. She’s the manic pixie dream girl we all hate to love, but what happens when we become her? You think things aren’t going your way because you’re just too flighty and too tied down to the mundane musings of everyday life. You get the mean reds.

I’m suffocating. I love everything that I’m doing. I love my classes, my school, my activities, but when I let everything settle and I look at what’s in front of me, I get short of breath and wonder if I’m doing anything at all. My stomach is in knots thinking about the future but doesn’t untangle if I think about the right now.

It sucks because I know that I’m not depressed. I feel blessed that I don’t have the type of chemical imbalances that make people feel this way all the time, but what do I do when I feel this way? When I’m not “bad” enough to be medicated, but I’m not “good” enough to not feel like this today? I want to slap Holly Golightly because she’s being ridiculous and making everyone else miserable, but then I realize I’m doing the same thing. I’m watching myself do it, but I can’t slap myself and tell me to stop.

But I’ll get over it. It’s just the mean reds.

xoxo,

Kam

My Body Story

Before continuing, I want to say that by writing this I am not trying to inspire anyone. I am not trying to convince you to love your body even though you should. I am not making a plea to society to accept me the way I am. I am writing how I feel about the bones, the muscles, and the fat that I have been blessed with for over 20 years. This is my body story.

There’s this half-serious joke in my head where I attribute the shape of my body to a summer I call “the summer of bagels.” In my memory, there was a summer where my mom worked every day and left me and my older sister Kassidy home alone with a dozen bagels a week for the whole summer. We have talked about this and recognized that there is basically no way this could have happened because I have two other siblings and at the time a dad who should have all been home during these days. But in my memory, it was me and Kassidy every day until my mom came home from work around 3:30. We would get up, make bagels with butter, Kraft singles, and garlic salt; take all the cushions off the couches, build a fort, and watch the Lion King. Every day.

I bring up this summer, because in my head this must have been the summer I got fat. That’s what makes sense. Bagels make you fat, and it was after that summer that I started to see myself as such. It was around second or third grade, and I started to realize that the other girls I was friends with didn’t have to pull their pants up to cover their belly buttons. I started to think about dieting. I started thinking “next summer I’m going to run every day and be thin.” I’ve had that thought every summer since then, and have never gone through with it.

First it was the juniors section. I started wearing “juniors” clothes in 4th grade, which I thought was really cool because I felt like a teenager even though I was only 10. I didn’t fully realize that it kind of meant I was bigger than most girls my age, but I didn’t care then because the Juniors section was way cooler than the “Girls” section. But 4th grade brought the challenge of a new school with a lot more kids. In my town, there are 4 elementary schools that are Kindergarten to 3rd Grade, then everyone goes to the Intermediate School for 4th-6th Grade then Middle and High School. In 4th grade I realized I was no longer a big fish in a small pond. I was a fat fish in a skinny pond. On the first day of school a popular boy told me to “go back to the zoo,” and I realized I had become an outsider overnight.

By 6th grade, I had befriended all these popular kids, and become somewhat popular myself. The only thing I was missing was the clothes the popular kids were wearing: Hollister, Abercrombie, Aeropostale. One reason was my family was just kind of against spending so much money on such cheap clothes, but the other reason was the clothes weren’t made for girls my size. One time at the mall, Kassidy and I wandered into a Hollister and before the cologne could hit our lungs, my dad pulled us out by our necks saying We don’t shop here.”

Middle school wasn’t hard for me. I thrived in middle school. I tell everyone I know that I was really popular in middle school as if that’s something to be proud of. No one ever called me fat, and if they did it was because I had called them something much worse.

High school was where things got really tricky. I had a really hard time adjusting to private school. And I gained weight to show for it. Softball season came and I tried on my uniform and sobbed. The pants didn’t fit. I had to buy my own pants and felt like I was sticking out like a sore thumb.

At the end of a season of warming the bench, my coach broke the news to me. She needed me to lose some weight this summer.

I had and still do have a lot of respect for her. And I accepted what she told me as correct. I needed to lose weight in order to get better at softball. She handed a workout plan to follow that summer. My sister was also getting married at the end of the summer and as the biggest bridesmaid, I wanted to fit into my dress a little better, so I started the plan. I stopped the plan maybe a week into it. But I started dancing instead. Not “real” dancing, but playing Just Dance on the Wii in my basement. It’s a killer workout. I played religiously. At the final fitting for my sister’s wedding, I had gone down a size, and the seamstress congratulated me.

I returned to school with a newfound confidence. Not because I had lost a ton of weight (I didn’t, really) or changed my size ever so slightly. Sophomore year was the year I started to love myself. I started to learn not what clothes looked good on me, but what clothes I liked to wear (and that looked good on me, but that’s not the point). It was around this time that body positivity started to be this radical new trend. Seventeen Magazine started their Body Peace Treaty, teaming with celebrities to make a pact to love their bodies no matter what they looked like. I can’t say that that is what I needed. I didn’t need Demi Lovato saying “I love my body so should you,” for me to love myself. Or maybe I did.

From there, I only got better. I grew into my body and just started to figure it all out. The end of high school and beginning of college continued to teach me about this vessel I inhibit. College softball taught me about the incredible feats I can put my body through, and my body will still thank me. A love of fashion and growth of the plus size industry has taught me that style literally does come in every size. I still get frustrated sometimes because mainstream retailers are still hesitant to diversify their sizes, but I find ones that aren’t afraid of big girls, and I give them my money instead.

This turned into a longer story than I intended, so I’m a little sorry for that mainly because I haven’t said what I’ve wanted to say yet and I’m still figuring it out. I just want people to know that I don’t need sympathy or special attention. I’m not afraid to be fat. Fat has this awful connotation that too many people in this society seems to be afraid of, but I’m not. I used to pray every night that God would let me wake up a size 3, and every morning I would rage against him, but not anymore. Some days I pray I can wear shorts without fear of chafing, but you know, it’s a part of life.

I was told kind of my whole life that I have to fit a certain mold or do things a certain way because of my size. When skinny jeans first got popular, my whole family mocked me for even thinking I could find a pair in my size. But I haven’t worn anything else since my freshman year of high school.

What I hate is when I make a comment about my body like having fat thighs and people rush to my defense. I appreciate the thought, but I don’t need it. Contrary to popular belief, “fat” is an adjective not a death sentence. I hate when skinny girls complain about being fat becuase it makes me think, “If you think that’s what fat looks like and it’s so ugly to you, what do you think of me?” Not that I need everyone to think that I’m so beautiful, but when it’s your friends, it makes you wonder.

I’ve been thinking about this post for such a long time, and I’m kicking myself for not writing it sooner because now I’m afraid I haven’t done it justice. I’m just so tired of people trying to stand up for other fat people. I think there is a lot of fat shame in society like there is a lot of racism and homophobia and other prejudice that we can’t seem to eradicate. I don’t have to defend myself to anyone, but I am going to love myself unconditionally and unapologetically.

I’m healthy. I’m very active—not that those things matter to anyone except me. What I really want to say is I don’t think I needed all the outside inspiration and I don’t think I can inspire anyone to love their bodies the way I do mine—they have to figure it out on their own. I know people look at me and wish they had this confidence and I want to tell them: you do. You just have to find it inside of yourself. Mine was here all along I just had to tune out a lot of negativity. I hope you’ll do the same.

I’ll end with a few lines from my favorite poem, “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

xoxo,

Kam