violence police brutality

When Violence Hits You in the Face

Some of you may know that last December I fell victim to violence one evening I got punched in the face. On an otherwise normal rainy Monday night, I walked from my office towards the train station, a total distance of roughly 2 blocks. This evening I had items to drop in the mailbox which required me to cross to the side of the street opposite my train entrance. I stopped just before the corner as the light changed, and rearranged the letters to avoid getting them wet. I felt a hand reach under my knee-length coat and give my ass a little brush.

Two names flashed in my head: Tara, Baylie—two close girlfriends who live in the city whom if they ran onto me on the street might greet in such a way. I looked up, already almost smiling, looking around to see a familiar face. In the span of just seconds, confusion turned excitement turned confusion turned to fear. I locked eyes with a scruffy-looking man standing a few yards behind me, staring. I charged and started swinging my umbrella, hitting him several times in the head. I stepped back and watched him approach me and bring his fist to my face.

For whatever reason, the blow to my face was some kind of moment of clarity that also meant nothing. In the way I imagine life flashes before your eyes when you’re dying, the world slowed down for me in the brief moment that a stranger’s knuckles pressed to my cheekbone. I had told a friend earlier that day I was so bored, caught in a rut, and dying for excitement in my life. As I got punched in the face, my first thought was, “Finally.”

In the moments that followed, I looked around, panicked, confused, and ultimately waiting for someone to tell me what to do. Bystanders saw what happened—it was Midtown Manhattan at rush hour. It was almost too crowded for him to have been able to bring his arm back to hit me. People rushed around me and some watched, and I looked at some in the face and no one said anything. That I could hear—truth be told, I had headphones in for this entire ordeal and thus did not hear much besides Fall Out Boy while this thing unfolded. But no one came to my side, stopped to ask if I was okay, tried to stop the guy who did it. I continued southbound, he turned east. I dropped my letters in the mailbox then went to a coffee shop to wipe up the blood and get some ice on my nose. The barista was unbothered.

I went home, called my mom, and began to process this event. Everyone asked the same question: did you call the police?

For several reasons, calling the police barely even occurred to me as I stood in the rain with a bloody nose. It was rush hour. I was scared and wanted to leave the situation. No one stuck around to play witness. The perpetrator was long gone and would be further long gone by the time the cops came because again—rush hour in Midtown. And I just could not imagine standing there in the pouring rain or sitting in Taco Bell with a bloody nose waiting to tell the cops some guy they would never find just hit me because I hit him because I THINK he touched my ass.

But after further deliberation and as the attack settled into my bones, I started to think about justice. This man committed a violent attack on me. I acknowledge that that sounds really blown out of proportion, but at the heart of the event, that’s what it was. I knew that by definition this was a sexual assault, though I recognize and thank God it was “not that bad” on the scale of sexual assaults. The punch itself hurt more, and still, was not that bad—no broken bones. But still, yes, I recognize this was a random act of violence. But I also recognize that I responded with violence, and to this day I hate that about myself and about that night. At the moment it felt like the right thing to do like I had to defend myself. But the reality is, I still don’t know for sure I got the right guy, and it didn’t make anything better. I didn’t feel better about the assault. My nose didn’t hurt any less. The cops didn’t pull DNA from my umbrella. I responded to senseless violence with senseless violence.

So I just gave it away, but I did end up going to cops after a few days of deliberation. And as soon as the words left my mouth in the police station I started to regret it. For starters, I knew I did not want to send this person to prison. Even if I thought they would catch him, which I knew they wouldn’t, I could not morally send a person to prison as a response to that crime. Yes, something bad happened to me. That person did something bad to me. But I know that sending him through our so-called criminal “justice” system would likely make him worse off than he already was.

The one reason I felt compelled to report was of course to keep other people safe. If he was going around doing this to other women, yes of course I would be full of regret and wish he was put away somewhere. But the reality is, it’s not my job to punish that man for his sins. And I am smart enough to know horrible things happen in prisons, and horrible things happen to people in prisons and after they leave. I could not wish any of those things on a person that committed such a relatively small offense against me.

Further, the experience of reporting to the NYPD was laughable. For starters, I think they do only care about what happened to you if they pull up to the scene and decide for themselves. As soon as the words “a few nights ago” left my mouth the first and only question was “Why are you telling us now?” And it wasn’t just me. As I sat in the precinct waiting for officers to get their paperwork together to transport me to another station, a man came in to report his phone was stolen an hour ago. “Why are you telling us now? Why didn’t you call an hour ago?”

People are not exactly trained in emergencies. Or rather, we are trained in real emergencies—we know what to do if our building catches on fire or if someone starts bleeding from their eyeballs. But in these ambiguous emergencies—especially in a city like New York—there are not a lot of day-to-day incidents I would really call an emergency. So no, we don’t automatically think “call the cops” even those of us with the privilege to grow up without fearing police. Sometimes it’s just a matter of “Am I in danger enough to need to call someone?” And the answer is no. As for me, why did I wait days? Well, I had to have a moral dilemma about it, and those things take time. And frankly, I didn’t know any less information on Thursday than I did on Tuesday so again, it didn’t really matter to me.

Back to the precinct, after I told two officers what happened and their eyes widened realizing I was, in fact, a “Special Victim,” I sat in the lobby for two hours awaiting police transport to SVU. It’s not actually called SVU in real life, but it is a team of detectives who investigate these vicious felonies. And their office is way downtown, and no, I was not allowed to escort myself there.

At one point when one officer didn’t know why I was sitting there, they announced across the entire precinct that I was a “special victim” and my stomach wretched at the thought of a woman surviving a rape or worse sexual crime sitting here having cops shout about it to anyone in earshot. Sensitivity does not exist here.

When I finally got taken downtown, learning on the way just how poorly these people in uniforms know how to even navigate this city they’re supposed to protect, my meeting went quickly. A detective took my statement, and introduced me to a virtual lineup.

When the attack happened, I saw the man’s face for probably 5 seconds in total, and each second his fist blocked my line of vision more and more. Needless to say, I didn’t get a great look at him. Another reason I didn’t call the cops when it happened: he was Black. Not only could I not identify him, I was not about to tell the cops to add another “unidentified Black male” to their hit list. Yes his Blackness and my inability to identify him much further from memory were facts, but I’m not stupid. I know how cops abuse those two facts and ruin lives.

The detective pushed me hard to remember any identifying factors even down to the color of his hat. I did my best. He plugged all the things into their database and presented me with a stack of matching profiles. He emphasized that the perpetrator very well might not be pictured, and that this was more for me to find similar features or the off chance that he was in the stack. The features I recalled were generic: Black, average height, average build, a little gaunt, grayish stubble. I think he was wearing a beanie. I clicked through dozens of mugshots of middle-aged Black men. None made my nose quiver so I assume his picture was not in the stack. Still the detectives did surprise me with their efforts, and they called me back a few days later to meet with a sketch artist.

The sketch artist was by far my favorite cop, if I had to name one. But in his office, again I was presented with a stack of pictures. This time it was just their collection of mugshots—Polaroids from what looked like the last several decades. The point was for me to find features that looked similar to my perp’s so I could show the sketch artists and he could come up with a composite sketch. All the detectives acknowledged the slim chances we would ever find this guy, but they certainly make it look like you are the guest star in this week’s Law & Order, and they will, in fact, find this guy. I know this is probably not everyone’s experience. And I’m not saying that to say it was a positive experience for me. I’m saying the whole time I was shocked that they did put in this much effort, and also I wish they didn’t.

I’ve never been called back to the police station to identify the guy, so I’m sure they didn’t find him, and again, I’m okay with that. What would it solve? I’ve thought about what I would want to happen—I do believe in justice and that this person committed an injustice against me. But what punishment would be appropriate? This is clearly a person that needs some kind of reforming. Judging by his appearance, I did assume he was struggling with homelessness—why? Is there mental illness at play? Has he himself been the victim of abuse? A victim of violence? He didn’t attack me in order to hurt my career, he didn’t take my money, he didn’t even intend to really physically hurt me in the first place, I don’t think. But something happened in his life or in his mind to make him think it was ok or he was entitled to touch me, and sending him to prison was not going to change that.

All of this to say, I hate violence. I hate to see it, and can personally attest that despite what it looks like in comedies, getting punched in the face is really not fun. But this interpersonal violence is really just a symptom of the systems of violence producing more and more violent actors. The cycle has to stop somewhere, and it stops with a victor. By that I mean, the night of my incident, I stopped the cycle of violence. He started by touching me, I continued by hitting him, and then stopped it by walking away after his final punch. He was the victor that night. But I restarted it when I went to the police. Because the police is an institution that by definition perpetuates the cycle of violence—both interpersonally in the single acts of police brutality we’ve all seen too many times, and systemically through their contribution to the prison industrial complex. By introducing the police into my relationship with this perpetrator, I guaranteed that the cycle of violence would continue should they ever identify him. Yes, I am hoping and confident they won’t.

Why do I support rioting? Because the powers that be have proven time and time again they will not stop the cycles of violence they perpetuate. If there are so many good cops, why haven’t they stepped up to stop the cycles of violence they witness in their communities? If it’s only a few bad apples, why do we keep finding them? Black people have been the victim of so many systemic cycles of violence for far too long. There are two options: we roll over and continue to be the victim or we fight back and try to stop the cycle of violence. Right now, that might mean doing a little violence—if you can even call it that. Burning a building, robbing a store is simply not the same as shooting a person—even if the bullets are rubber. Stealing from companies that routinely rob people of labor, wages, and ideas is simply not the same as macing and beating people.

To people who only support the police use of force for people committing crimes, I beg—what does that solve? Sure, a person blinded by pepper spray might have trouble getting away with a free pair of sneakers, but who benefits from that? The sneaker makers? Then why do they have insurance? And how much of the profit from that pair of sneakers is going to the person who stitched on the logo? It just never fails to amaze me how “good” cops are at stopping crime when it’s theft or vandalism or loitering, but never when it’s mass murders or sexual assaults. “Well Kamaron, how can they stop a crime they can’t predict?”

Exactly. Crime is predictable. We have the data, we have the research. We know what lowers crime rates and what raises crime rates. The police and the powers of white supremacy are ignoring it because it weakens their power over Black people and people of color. Call me a radical, call me paranoid, but this is the fact. Communities where people are engaged and supported see far less crime—and it’s not because some police force came in and rounded up all the criminals. It’s because some teachers, some mentors, some leaders got together and said okay these people are struggling how do we help them before they find poor coping mechanisms such as…violence?

Enough.

When This is All Over I’ll Be Angry Then

A couple of weeks ago (lol) I started to wonder when our “quarantine” behavior just becomes our normal behavior. From the moment Americans started social distancing and staying at home, the major messages I started to see from the Positive Vibes Only™ section of the internet included: “Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over missed workouts or extra snacks. This is a pandemic you’re trying to survive—forget all the nonsense of looking Instagram-perfect.” All great messages.

But at the same time, we’re in the middle of a global crisis, one that will only end if people do what they’re supposed to do. So when people aren’t doing what they’re supposed to do, it’s difficult not to judge them, at least for me. Still, it’s a pandemic—most of us did not know what it was like to live with any kind of restrictions like the ones with which we’ve been living. How could I expect an entire population to just change their lives in a snap? Well, I did it, so…

I’m trying not to be angry now, in the name of survival. Spending most of your time between four walls with no one but your reflection shockingly does not leave a lot of space for bad energy. But it does give me plenty of time to see and think about everything happening all around me.

As with my other posts addressing this crisis, I have to acknowledge my privilege. I have the privilege of having a job, a home, and food to eat. My job was largely unaffected by the crisis, and the crisis, in fact, has been somewhat good for our business. Therefore, while I have been uncomfortable, upset, and annoyed with the whole pandemic, I have always acknowledged the privileges I have had throughout. In the grand scheme of things, COVID-19 has been a minor inconvenience to me.

That being said, for those of us not financially or physically affected by the pandemic, we are allowed to gripe. It’s hard. It’s new and different and scary, frankly, because we acknowledge that today we have the privilege of health as well. But that could change with the next trip to the grocery store. For me it did change with an afternoon run that broke my ankle and took the privilege of total ability out of my reach for the time being. It’s fine. I’m fine. This is fine.

We can gripe, but for the love of God can we calm down? I’m saying “we” to be nice when I really am pointing a finger at some of the behavior I have seen during these uncertain times.

Thankfully, I do not know anyone personally who has been protesting in the streets for businesses to reopen. But I sure do know some people who have been really loud about what I—as a fellow privileged person—would consider minor inconveniences. I know folks who complain about having to stay inside, yet they are also outside and at places or visiting friends or having driveway parties or what have you.

People I know have lost a little business, and that sucks I won’t take away from that. But some of those same people also still have a business and know they will have a business when this is over.

You know I love to think about history and imagine what it would be like to have lived through some of the crazy eras of time. Sometimes I struggle to think about being a person in history who would have had to do something. Like if I were an 18-year-old boy during the Vietnam War—would I have tried to dodge the draft? Would I have known the war was an imperialistic disaster? It’s likely I would have had to act.

This blip in history is not even really asking most of us to act, yet here some of you are acting out like you want to be the next Donkey of the Year. I can’t believe if we make it to 2080 I’ll be telling my grandkids about how I survived because I decided I could do my nails at home.

“Were you brave grandma?”
“Well kids, it was hard. But by the grace of God, we had Instacart.”

Seriously. It’s been said that this disease has been “The Great Equalizer” and then that was quickly rebuked by the fact that we told everyone to “go home” when hundreds of thousands of people don’t have such a thing. Not only has this exposed the wealthy for their gross gluttony, it has also exposed the way they cannot handle minor inconveniences.

Controversial philosopher Kylie Jenner once theorized that 2016 was the year of “realizing things.” As it turns out we have not stopped realizing things since 2016. Things have happened that have appeared unfamiliar, but more or less nothing new has occurred. They have felt new because they have happened with new lenses available that have exposed sometimes hidden meanings.

What I’m saying is wealth inequality is nothing new. But when you have millions of people unsure about how they’re going to pay rent, while you have other people complaining about the cell reception at their beach house, it’s very easy to realize that wealth inequality exists. Racism is nothing new, but when a novel virus starts infecting Black and brown communities at disproportionately higher rates, it becomes pretty easy to realize that racism exists.

Likewise—selfish, greedy, unsympathetic, and ignorant people have always existed. But when scientists beg them to stay home for a few weeks for their own benefit and the benefit of others, I quickly realized how many of those people I know.

It is true that our governments have failed us. It is also true that a lot of the people griping about the restrictions put those governments in place.

When I started writing this George Floyd was still alive. Black Americans and some others were still mourning Breonna Taylor or raging over Chris Cooper while thanking God he’s still alive. Yet when the videos of Floyd’s horrific murder began flooding my timelines, it occurred to me that people all around me were realizing that we aren’t kidding when we say they are killing us in the broad daylight.

I’ve found in recent years I’ve become much more sensitive to graphic violence. I recognize this as a positive thing because it reminds me that I am still soft and human despite years of desensitizing. But at the same time I’ve become more sensitive than I ever was before social media. Scary movies though unrealistic have become more difficult to watch—though I also acknowledge scary movies have gotten a lot darker thematically. I digress.

Seeing George Floyd’s murder on video, and seeing the still image of the cop’s knee into his neck made my skin boil. But further, seeing the outpouring of people I know clicking retweet or like or share so so fast on these images. Did you even process it? Something has happened that is good—at least in my circles, fewer people are denying the truth of such a video or the relevance of such an image. But something horrible has also happened that has made a lot of those people very comfortable to continue dispersing those images carelessly.

Further, it occurred to me that suddenly a lot of people recognize racism when they see a white man kill a Black man on video. However, those same people could not recognize it weeks ago when they learned COVID-19 has infected Black people at a higher rate than white men. Racism wasn’t a problem if it meant we could “return to normal” and go back to not tipping enough at restaurants that employ so many Black and brown folks.

I’ve written incessantly about the Civil War and how bloody it was and how such mass mourning reshaped America. Across four years of fighting, over 600,000 people died in the Civil War. In just around 4 months, over 100,000 Americans have perished from this disease. But if we don’t mourn them, nothing will change.

The Chronicles of Quarnia: The Cryin’, the B*tch, and the Wardrobe

Let the record show that I do not live alone. I have two roommates, one of whom has been in the apartment for the duration of the coronavirus lockdown. She’s nice and we get along fine, but truth be told we met on Facebook and have not yet become friends who hang out together. All of this to say, it has felt very much like I live alone, sometimes going days without even seeing my roommate, just hearing her footsteps. 

When I moved in I had the luck of moving into a furnished room. The furniture, however, left much to be desired and my ever-expanding collection of clothing wore out the dresser long ago. Despite my passion for shopping, furniture is one of those areas of expenses that doesn’t really give me that shoppers’ high I crave. At least it didn’t before I was trapped in my apartment for three months. But before that I dreaded spending money on something I actually needed. A new dresser would not bring me joy. I couldn’t get any fun out of it. It’s like buying band-aids. 

Thus the first dresser I bought was the cheapest $60 I could waste.  It took me forever to build, did not meet my space expectations by a mile (because I also disregarded the reviews), and it fell apart almost immediately. That begrudged dresser would become a raggedly upcycled shoe rack.

I don’t know about you, but spending nearly every hour of every day in my home has inspired me to upgrade my home. It was time to stop staring at a dresser that was missing the front of the bottom drawer. I put on my big girl pants and started shopping. Picking out an Ikea dresser that fit my budget and my needs made me excited about transforming my little space. I’d built Ikea furniture before—and I’d built a dresser before. I knew it wasn’t a walk in the park, but I was prepared for the challenge. 

The instructions adorably suggested two people work together to build this dresser. How discriminatory! Without a partner and the appropriate space, frankly, I set out to build a new home for the threads I love. 

Ikea instructions are so simple they’re easy to overthink, I think. Or maybe they’re just bad. There are minimal captions which is infuriating. Sometimes the pictures will say it’s not the tiny screw that looks like this, it’s the tiny screw that looks like that. I think two of the hundred parts were labeled which was a fun puzzle. But I got the frame together in just under five hours. Finally it was time to put the top on, and when I realized it was not smooth sailing.

Building furniture is kind of like doing sudoku. You can get away with little mistakes in the short-term, but they will reveal themselves in real-time. The 9 looks like it can work in that box but when you move to the next column you’re going to see trouble.

The instructions told me to insert eleven no. 118331 screws in the top piece. But I only had 7. I searched high and low for the missing screws, but resolved that Ikea must not have sent them and I could live without. The top didn’t fit right on the frame. Shifting and shoving, I measured and raged how could this possibly not work? Sure there were missing screws but could there also be missing holes? I went to bed, deciding to take a break and look at it with fresh eyes in the morning.

It kept me up for a little bit. Where did I go wrong? What’s the missing piece? When I returned to the instructions the next day, I swear to you they had changed from the night before. Allegedly, I put four of the 118331 screws in holes actually fit for the 603440 screws. Thus getting the top on was screwed. 

Filled with a rush of relief that I was not, in fact missing pieces, I worked through the rest of the instructions. Another five hours later I had completed nearly every step once incorrectly and then correctly. Put every drawer track on backwards.  Nailed the back on the front. And awoken anyone in my building trying to sleep in on a Saturday with my hammering or my expletives. 

But to see this beautiful dresser assembled and in place made me feel invincible. Lonely and invincible. “I can’t believe I did this by myself” met “I can’t believe I just had to do that by myself.” I’m still waiting for this dresser to get up and dance for me or something to just really make all the sweat and tears worth it, but I do appreciate finally having a proper place to store my bras.

On the Fringe

When you’re alone and life is making you lonely
You can always go downtown
When you’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry
Seems to help, I know, downtown

The first time I remember hearing those words I knew I was a city girl. It was a credit card commercial that shows a young woman in the city seeing her life change before her eyes as she racks up credit card debt and acquires such beautiful things. Such a simple commercial that used a simply classic song made me long for such a magical life I knew was only possible in the city.

All my life I’ve lived somewhat on the fringe of New York. Growing up in Central Jersey, the city was convenient, but not necessary. I remember a few trips when I was a kid to see Broadway shows, but my family was never one to spend a lot of time in New York. I savored those little trips seeing the lights and that feeling like anything can happen.

It’s so cheesy but it’s so absolutely true that New York is a magical place. Being on the fringe, it both dulls and illuminates the sparkle. Ironically as I approached college I thought I wanted to be a California girl. I fell in love with the idea of living by the beach and getting açai bowls after yoga, but California respectfully declined. I wouldn’t quite say I settled for New York—I was and still am glad I made the choice—but at the time I thought maybe it wasn’t the dream.

Spending my college years even closer to the city but still maniacally on the fringe (just extend the subway into Yonkers—it’s not rocket science), I fell deeper and deeper in love. It was by no means an easy relationship. I got lost and angry with its “simple” grids. The cost of living never failed to shock me. The challenges of breaking into any industry in the city broke me more times than can remember. 

But I found spots I loved. Enjoyed stretches of Central Park I walked between my internship and my boyfriend’s apartment. I ran into people I knew from this life or that one. I settled in and soon found myself at home in the city. 

And yet when I finally moved in, I still found myself on the fringe of the New York that exists in mine and the rest of the world’s imagination. In one sense, I do live in the “Real” New York—older building, rich culture throughout the neighborhood, grit. But this also means that I live in the affordable New York, which is relative.

I love my neighborhood, and I love that it retains its authenticity against the squeaky clean WeWorkified Manhattan. But the reality is you don’t get that same “anything can happen” feeling when you walk up my street. I often walk up my street and wonder, “Am I going to be stabbed?” (It’s not that bad. I have never actually felt unsafe in my neighborhood, but I have seen some rather unsavory things that would make a stabbing less than shocking.) 

Despite what my mother might tell you, when you walk through the parts of New York that you see in movies and on Sex and the City, you are far far less likely to be stabbed. And if you are stabbed, Lady Gaga’s doorman will probably call an ambulance for you.

All of this to say, the beautiful and dreamy and spectacular New York is real, but it is devastatingly unattainable to so many people. And thus, I have in some sense “made it” but I continue to live on the fringe of this magical city which presents a perplexing complex when faced with something like this pandemic

The photos of “empty New York” do not tell the full story. My neighborhood has been all but bustling as usual. Every time I go out I see people loading off buses, heading to the subway, going about their days mask or not. I’m not saying they’re all ignoring any orders to stay inside, I’m saying these are the people who don’t have that privilege. 

This is where they live—the last “affordable” neighborhoods in Manhattan, which also are the ones with the highest rates of infection on the island. Manhattan itself, the wealthiest of the boroughs, has the lowest infection rate. If the disparities weren’t plainly obvious, look at the ways the NYPD has already begun policing these different parts of the city. 

I’m no New Yorker. I’m a proud Jersey Girl at heart, and it is the greatest privilege to be able to live and be trapped in this city, even on the fringe. But I can’t help but question what it means to be a part of the New York community when the divides are this disparate. 

Now more than ever I wish I could forget all my troubles, forget all my cares and go downtown.

If You Always Do What You Always Did…

My mom will be pleased to read that some of the things she has said to—or in some cases drilled into—me have stuck with me into adulthood. This she has said both to me and to her own mother on countless occasions: “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” 

A quick google search found that quote attributed to author Tony Robbins, along with Albert Einstein and Henry Ford. I’m not sure where my mom first heard it (and no, I didn’t bother to ask), but it clearly stuck with her as she passed it on to me. I would be inclined to believe it came from an innovator like Einstein or Ford because it expresses the idea that if you keep doing the same thing, you’re going to keep seeing the same result. 

Sure there are more details involved, but you can imagine Henry Ford standing in the factory saying, “Ah murderation (or some other old-timey exclamation)! If we keep building one car at a time, we’ll just keep making one car at a time and it will take lifetimes to see all of America driving automobiles!” or something to that effect. And thus, the assembly line was born. 

My mom has so far not heeded this advice when I’ve come to her in shambles because I haven’t been able to revolutionize an industry. But she does present it when I come to her and say, “I have x problem and it’s not getting fixed because y.” The y is usually some person with routine patterns that need to change or some job that needs to change or some habit I’ve created that I need to change. In essence, she cuts right to the point. No nonsense, no frills. If you can change it, you have to—if you want the result to be different.

Why in the world could I possibly be writing this when we’ve just had two mass shootings in 24 hours? I can’t possibly put two and two together.

But it’s bigger than that. I know we are not the same country we were when Columbine happened. Or Virginia Tech. Or Sandy Hook. Things have changed, albeit on a microscopic level, but things have changed and I won’t pretend people aren’t doing anything to change the routine of gun-related tragedies. But we have to understand that on a macro scale, the effort to end gun violence has remained mostly the same. You don’t need to be a policy expert to see that. Why? Because we’re getting the same result. Either we’re not changing the right things or maybe we just aren’t changing anything.

Take it outside of gun violence, and I keep begging the question: why are we as a country doing the same thing year after year, election after election and expecting different results?

When I was in my last semester of college, I had a painting professor give us a prompt to think about and eventually paint about. He gave us with no context this quote: “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” I didn’t google it at the time—I’m not sure if we were explicitly prohibited or if I was just lazy—but I now know where it comes from and that alone will give a lot of folks all the context they need. But the class discussion illuminated for me the meaning that whoever is in charge is not going to be taken down by the same means that they were put in power. The actual reference is a book by civil rights activist, Audre Lorde.

If defeating Trumpism™—or however you choose to define the chaos everyone is seeing in this country—is the goal, then the strategy we tried to use to beat it in 2016 is obviously not going to work. Yet here we are trying it again. Maybe if we just vote harder this time…

I don’t mean to sound so pessimistic about the future and the work that some leaders are doing to combat hatred as well as the other issues like climate change, healthcare, and immigration. But I find it truly mind-blowing that we have really just gotten so comfortable with the idea that the America where people aren’t in constant anger if not fear and sadness will reappear (or, for many many people, appear for the very first time) if we just keep doing the same routines. 

I will put it in writing: I would love to see a revolution in this country. As a historian, yes I think it was something of a remarkable bureaucratic feat to create this nation at the time of its foundation. To be able to fight against the strongest military in the world and with no legal right and a noose on the line to say “We want this freedom and we’re not going to stop until we get it,” is really bold. 

There is no difference between what the founders did 243 years ago and what a group of determined individuals who band together, go against the grain, and refuse to quit can do today. We take the American Revolution for granted because we think that should have been the only one. 

Yes, that common phrase people say Jefferson said about every generation needing a revolution, is mostly fake. But he did say, “What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance?” He’s actually talking about Shay’s Rebellion—a relatively small uprising over, go figure, taxes—which turned out to be a major catalyst for the writing of a small document known today as the Constitution.

I’m going to try not to go down a historical rabbit hole here, but this example kind of nuances the thesis of “always doing what you always did.” The rebellion mirrored the Revolution in that these farmers felt they were being taxed unfairly, and they took physical action to get a say. The major change here was that they were farmers and not wealthy men leading the charge, and they were thus swiftly defeated. So to that end, it proves the point that doing the same thing won’t work. But they did see a changed result in that their protest made the people in charge realize the Articles of Confederation weren’t going to work.

From this example, we understand that a revolution in the traditional sense that Americans understand it probably won’t work. But we need to understand that the revolutions that work focus on the technical definition of a revolution: a dramatic and wide-reaching change in the way something works or is organized or in people’s ideas about it. 

There is no revolution so long as we’re using the same systems that built whatever it is that needs to be changed. There will be no real revolution until we change the entire way we think about how our government works.

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.

What Have We Learned

2018 has quite literally felt like one of the longest years of my life. I’ve probably said that in some form every year for the last 3 years at least, but this one was particularly chaotic and thus felt like an eternity. But what have we learned? It’s been such a transitional year for me that it feels like I’ve lived three separate lives this year. And through it all, I’ve picked up a number of life lessons I thought I’d share.

I started the year as a senior in college interning at a fashion magazine. I was more broke than I had ever been in my life, but enjoying my final semester of college. Then I spent the summer interning at The Daily Beast, which was kind of like big-girl-job purgatory. Not because it was a bad experience, but because I had entered into adulthood in terms of working a 9-5 job and being out of school, but it wasn’t permanent, and I still went in every day with what felt like a sign on my back that said “intern.” And not because I was treated as such there, more just because I knew the whole time it was temporary and I spent a lot of time applying to other jobs and worried about what would happen when the internship was over. And now here I am finishing out the year as a full-time employee at LendingTree, enjoying the full benefits of paid time off, health insurance (granted, I’ve yet to actually utilize either of these literal benefits), and a level of job security I did not know before.

One taught me love, one taught me patience, and one taught me pain…I type that in jest, but that lyric really could be used to describe the different roles I went through this year. My glitzy fashion internship was more or less a bust. I threw so much money at the MTA just trying to make it a worthwhile experience, and at the end of the day, it wasn’t. I don’t regret doing it—I did learn what it’s like to work at a fashion magazine (yawn), and that some celebrities who will not be named give excruciatingly boring interviews. I can’t say for certain that the gig at ELLE allowed me to pursue my next endeavor, but I have to acknowledge that it didn’t detract me from my trajectory. I went into my next stint at The Daily Beast with the feeling that I had a minuscule amount of journalism experience.

My time at The Daily Beast did a few things for me. It made me love the news a little bit more and hate the news a little bit more. Part of that was just the timing, I mean I don’t know if there’s a news cycle that anyone really wants, but the one I worked with this summer was absolutely not it. It tapped into levels of empathy I didn’t know I had while exposing me to a vast list of things I do not understand. It challenged me to learn more while drawing on my education. In terms of hard job skills, I picked up a couple at The Beast, but I learned a lot more about myself that I’ll get into in a moment.

And here I am now just over a month into my new job at LendingTree. I won’t say more than I can about what the experience has been, but it has been positive. The corporate world is insane and I’m not sure I love that aspect of it, but my office is homely and my team has been incredibly welcoming. I have the satisfaction of knowing I’m where I’m meant to be right now.

So what have we learned?

Probably the biggest lesson I’ve taken out of this year is knowing when to be selfish, and doing it. I spent way too much time this year in my professional and personal life waiting for someone else to make a decision for me, or tell me what I want, when I absolutely could have and should have taken the reins. I always thought I was a selfish person until it was important for my well-being that I be selfish. It was hard (because I’m obviously super selfless). But I had to take a good look in the mirror (and get yelled at by my mom) to say, “Kamaron, you should be doing better.” Which brings me to my next lesson.

Patience is not just virtue, it is the virtue. Each of the jobs I had along with just being a person this year was a constant reminder to have patience. But with that, I also had to give myself a kick sometimes and say I’m not going to sit around waiting for this or that. I did and you do at some point need to say “Here’s what I can do to change this,” and then do it. There will always be factors you can’t change, but the ones you should change aren’t going to change themselves. Sorry to get preachy, but that was experience I really went through in my job search. Patience kept me a little bit sane when I sent out dozens of job applications that would get no response. Patience kept me from committing a crime when I would hear back from a job 5 months later letting me know I’d been rejected. But I also changed my resume or my search approach probably ten times throughout my process. I refused to give up half because I literally couldn’t, and half because I knew something good would come out of it.

One lesson The Daily Beast did reinforce for me was to have the confidence to speak up. I consider myself an outgoing person, but I am deathly shy especially when I know I’m in no position of authority. My defaults to thinking no one wants to hear my ideas because I’m just the intern or I’m just the assistant, or I’m just Kamaron…and I do regret the amount of time I spent at The Daily Beast not sharing my thoughts. It really just took my supervisor saying, “You should speak up more,” for me to be like “Oh they want my input.” Realistically I should have had the confidence all along to know they hired me for a reason and that I was a voice they wanted at the table, but it took a push for me to actually speak up. By the end of my time, my supervisor was applauding my ideas because some of them were actually good.

The final major lesson I’m taking away from 2018 is the greatest of all that I have now just ruined by tying it to a played-out cliché. Yeah it’s love. Wow, did Kamaron grow a heart in 2018? Kind of! I didn’t need to learn how to love, but I did start paying extra close attention to the way I show my love. Through all of the ups and downs of the year, I clung so tightly to the people in my life who make it all worth it. I went through a period in the year where I felt like I was being a really bad friend because I knew I didn’t show love the way my friends did for me. In some ways, I literally couldn’t—like when some of my friends show me love by paying for me to come out with them when I can’t afford to. But there were plenty of other ways other friends would show me love that I didn’t reciprocate for no reason.

I had friends on campus who without fail whenever I saw them, would offer to be there for me if I needed help with anything. Friends who consistently complimented my outfits or pictures online and in person. Little things that would make me smile or make my whole day, but I wasn’t doing for them—with no excuse. So I decided I needed to make an effort to show the people I love that I love them in whatever ways I could, just because I could. The real lesson here was realizing, these people weren’t doing these things for me because they had to, or for any ulterior motive. They just wanted to let me know that they love me and care about me, and I learned it is so special and important to let people know you love them in this way. Just in your every day interactions. It sounds kind of stupid now that I’ve written it down and I do feel like the Grinch character here who had to learn basic human affection, but progress is progress!

That was my 2018. I lived, I learned, I loved. Came, saw, and conquered. The what’s next question is big and open-ended for me right now, but that’s a good thing.

Happy Holidays, and a very Happy New Year

xoxo,

Kam

What to 2018 is the Fourth of July?

Like baseball and American pie, there’s nothing more American than loving America. You don’t even need a reason at this point, just subscribe to the Trump Doctrine™, “We’re America, bitch.” Okay, you don’t have to go that far. But This July, like every July, we’ll set aside our differences for a day to watch fireworks and eat hotdogs and settle in to worship our lord and savior, George Washington.

But in 1852, Frederick Douglass challenged this holiday in delivering what would become one of his most notable speeches, What to a Slave is the Fourth of July? In this oration, Douglass outlines the whole—at that point brief—history of the United States and applauds the courage and fortitude of the founding fathers. But in doing so he calls out the hypocrisy of this foundation that promoted ideas of freedom and independence while upholding the institution of slavery. He proclaimed,  “Fellow citizens; above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions! whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them.”

Nearly two centuries later, I’m thinking the same thing. We have come a long way from the slave trade days, but we continue to live in a country that prides itself in moral superiority and unfettered Freedom without a whole lot of supporting evidence. We have Freedom*

*Unless you’re black and run into the wrong cop, or a child migrating illegally, or a refugee seeking asylum or a woman looking for a job with fair wages and protection from harassment, or trans and trying to use whatever bathroom you want, or a kid trying to go to school without being gunned down, or, or…

So I beg the question—what to 2018 is the Fourth of July?

It’s okay to be proud of where you’re from—America or anywhere. But it’s also okay to be critical of where you’re from at the same time. It seems as though somewhere between Douglass’ oratory and now we lost that multitasking ability. Now when someone critiques America it has to fall on one side—liberal or conservative—and it often ends with the critic being called anti-American. Lest we forget that the Fourth of July celebrates a time when a bunch of guys got together and decided to critique their government (with guns!).

Liberals critique the government all the time—now and when they had the White House. Sure if we could quantify the critiques it would likely be more now, but I digress.

When liberals critique things like gun laws, police brutality, hate crimes, they get called any number of the classic slurs—snowflakes, libtards, PC police, sons of bitches, etc.

Often we’ve seen liberals get called socialist, communists, and other labels that insinuate that they are un-American because of their politics and their critiques of the government. Those persecuting liberals—or anyone who opposes the government for that matter—forget so quickly that this nation was founded on protest. We had no right to declare independence (we had no right to even live on this land, but that’s another essay). The colonists frankly got very lucky that they won the war because as we know, they all would have been hanged or exiled had they failed.

When individuals do something like kneel for the national anthem or plan a die-in at a grocery store, regardless of their true intention, none of these people have said it’s because they’re against America. Because that’s crazy. If anyone was so against America that they’d put their careers on the line, I’m fairly certain they would leave. Maybe that’s extreme, but have you ever had a disagreement with someone above you? Did it mean that you hated that person? Most of the time, no.

This goes both ways. Conservatives have an idea of what their America is to look like. Some of them think they’re on track to make this America “great” “again.” Their America is similar to the America of American Dream fame—a place where anyone can make it with the right amount of pluck and determination.

To conservatives who celebrate America every day, but especially on July 4, I ask what are you celebrating? There is a long list of incredible Americans who do globally inspiring things. And there is a long history of America doing great things and being a great nation. But it’s not all good, and it’s not a bad thing to acknowledge that.

If your favorite football team doesn’t win the Superbowl every year, do you still cheer for them? Of course. But you as a fan and supporter of that team might want to question why the team isn’t winning the Superbowl every year. Maybe the coach doesn’t know enough about football. Or maybe the players need to work better together as a team. Regardless, you shouldn’t keep cheering them on and pretend that winning the Superbowl every year isn’t the goal. If that’s not the goal, why are they playing?

To that point, I compare the idea that America is an exceptional nation and a leader in the world. We were founded on this principle that we will be a city upon a hill with all the eyes of the people upon us. There are a number of issues with that ideology, but for the sake of example, we’ll say this is the goal of the United States—to be the best and serve as an example for the rest of the world to follow. The fact is, the US is not winning the Superbowl right now, so what are we doing here?

If you are proud to be an American, you better be ready to back that up. Are you proud of the way we are ripping apart immigrant families? Are you proud of the way we lead the world in gun-related deaths per year by an exponential margin? Are you proud of ignorance? Are you proud of intolerance?

I’m not encouraging the other extreme, though. Walking around in shame for our nation is not exactly productive either. Like most things, American pride is best served in moderation. That doesn’t mean it should only be reserved for holidays, but I mean there’s a lot more to be proud of when you’re critical of yourself and your government. We have to be able to admit when we’re wrong, and we must be able to offer an explanation when we still think we’re right.

Freedom is the perfect example of this. We have a lot of freedoms to celebrate, I will never deny that. On the global scale, there continue to be too many nations where the freedoms we take for granted are not guaranteed. But that doesn’t make us perfect. It’s a privilege we should recognize especially when critiquing our government, but it doesn’t justify other oppressions. Just because Jim Crow ended doesn’t mean black Americans are in the clear, as we all should know by now. Just because we’re supposed to have Freedom of Speech doesn’t mean we should stand by while individuals use that to promote bigotry and hate. And just because we are a capital ‘F’ Free country does not mean we should be complacent in the crimes being committed by our government.

The 2012 opening of my favorite show, The Newsroom rings true to this day. Jeff Daniels delivers an eviscerating commentary on why America is not the greatest country in the world, and he doesn’t do it by calling for ‘civility’ or attacking either political party. He calls on us to wake up and go back to our roots of being brave, informed, and vigilant. I negate the argument that there is a period of time in the past that we need to aspire to emulate, but there are aspects of past periods we should look to. There are aspects of this country that do make it great. But we cannot and should not keep pretending that this nation is or ever was perfect. The goal is a ‘more perfect union.’ We have to try harder.

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’.