when all is said and done / 2016.

We all do a balancing act between our personal and public lives. On a global scale, this year has been tough for so many different reasons. It’s hard to say whether this year is cursed or not, or if all years are like this and we’re just being ~dramatique~. Either way, it’s been hard, globally speaking. And it looks like it’s only going to get worse from here, as Donald Trump clatters into the White House in January. So, fun!

New Year’s is easily the most stressful holiday – it’s an arbitrary line between one year and the next, when in reality, one year ends and the next begins every day. The internet’s looking back on 2016 (I saw someone make it into a horror movie, which was extra but also funny) and I couldn’t help but look back on my own year.

Which, on a personal level, was one of those years where a lot of stuff happens. I did a lot of traveling, made new friends, and met my girlfriend. For the first 4.5 months of the year, I was in Italy, drinking wine, taking trains to faroff cities, and stuttering through Italian 101. Even though I look back on it fondly, my second semester abroad had a dubious beginning, because I was unwilling to let go of how great 2015 had been.

In the beginning of 2015, I had to go to my school’s home campus for the first time, and spent January and February in kind of a depressed fugue, hating it all. But I broke up with my boyfriend, the snow melted, and I started going to the gym. Everything looked up fairly quickly. Even though I had a summer job at an insurance company, which I hated every minute of, the fall semester ended up being fantastic. I got to live with two of my closest friends in the world. And I made the decision to study abroad again based on the fact that they were both going to also be in Europe – one in Dublin, one in Barcelona.

I’m not saying that I closed my eyes and pointed to a map, but essentially, that’s what I did. I ended up in Perugia, enduring cold temperatures and a surprisingly rainy winter, wondering why the hell I had chosen to come there at all. I had been having so much fun at my home campus with my friends. I liked my classes and professors. I was getting involved. So being in Perugia, where I didn’t have any friends and had no clue what was going on, felt like a total displacement. I cried to my mom on the phone every night for the first week, saying that I should have been in Barcelona, with my best friend from school, or at the home campus. It felt like that was where my life was.

I was lonely. Lonelier than I’d been in a long time. I started to make friends, but the friendships were new and fragile, not as rich as the ones I had back home with girls I’d met during my first semester abroad. The weather wasn’t what I had expected it to be (Italy is a Mediterranean country, right?!) and traveling didn’t turn out to be as easy as I had hoped. I didn’t speak any Italian. At all. I felt utterly unprepared.

As the weeks wore on and I continued to be in Italy, it became increasingly clear that being unhappy wasn’t going to change my situation at all. My friends and family were thousands of miles away. I was alone – grocery shopping, walking home from class, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner utterly alone. No one was coming to my rescue. No one was going to hold my hand through this.

So I held my own hand. I started to meditate in the hopes that I could use this newfound loneliness – and freedom, if I squinted – to become more chill. It didn’t work that well, because my mind kept wandering which frustrated me endlessly. But the fact that I was trying made me feel good. I bought a notebook and took it everywhere I went; I wrote a poem about a sunset that made me cry, which was…a weird moment. But that cry was necessary, I think. I started experimenting – a little – with cooking. I went to a weird cafe where I sat on a lumpy velvet couch, drank hot tea, and watched what they were playing on the small TV – which was weird videos of men in fur hats doing decidedly strange things. At one point, one of the men rode another man into space.

It felt good to help myself. I didn’t have to worry about anyone else, just myself, so I did what would make me feel better. And slowly, it did help.

Until I went to Dublin. I was there for less than 48 hours with the two friends I had lived with in fall 2015. I had missed them so much, and seeing them was great until it wasn’t – until I was sobbing at a train station in Italy because I was going back to Perugia, and the loneliness. Seeing my friends had helped only in the short-term, but I was on my own again, with just my backpack and my shoes. I ended up writing this poem as a response to the uniquely awful experience of crying alone on a train platform in the middle of nowhere, Italy. Oh – and it was Valentine’s Day.

I met myself on a train platform.
I asked where she was going;
She said she doesn’t know
Funny, I laughed —
     Neither do I.

After a moment she decided
She knew after all.
“I’m going to find myself,”
She said,
And it sounded as good a destination as any
So I marched Converse to ticket booth
And asked for a ticket to me.

A few days after that, I went to a birthday aperitivo for one of my friends. After some sangria and a strawberry colada, I found myself dancing through the cobblestone streets to a gelateria with Kayla (who is now my girlfriend) and two other friends. Inside the gelateria, I picked up a paper heart left over from Valentine’s Day and asked if any of them wanted to be my Valentine.

Kayla said she did, and a few days later we were on our way to Florence to begin our complicated relationship. (Note: we didn’t go to Florence with this express purpose, but shit happens.) The Florence trip – February 20-21 – marks the end of my Homesickness. (Homesickness with a capital H as a permanent state of being, versus homesickness, which involves a passing sigh or two and possibly a tear shed every few weeks.)

It’s not super hard to figure out why my Homesickness went away. I was beginning something new and exciting with Kayla, and I didn’t have a lot of time to worry about the fact that I was in the “wrong place” when I was worrying that I would get drunk at the wine tasting and tell her I was like, super into her, or something embarrassing.

The moral of this is not that romance will cure all ills, because it won’t. But what did happen after Florence is I started going places more. I would meet Kayla and get gelato. I’d ask our group of friends if anyone wanted to get dinner. I went on weekend trips with my new friends. I spent hours laughing in Kayla’s kitchen, making spaghetti with meat sauce and eating raspberries.

So bad shit ends. It always does, it’s in its nature, thank God. And whether you have to meditate your way out of it, or start kissing a pretty girl in an Italian sunset, or write a whole bunch of poetry until results, you’ll find a way through.

I left Italy at the end of the semester, and Kayla flew back to Colorado while I returned to Pennsylvania. She visited me, then I visited her – twice. This summer I also went to Mexico and California. I took a lot of solo plane trips, which I’ve grown to hate a little less than I did in January. I wore out my old shoes and had to buy a new pair, which was its own little tragedy. I felt independent, zigzagging the continent alone a bunch of times.

And then after all that traveling, I came back to my home campus after 9 months away. Remember – this is the place I’d spent so much time missing in Italy. But my living situation was new, and most of my closest friends were gone. I was ambivalent about my classes. I found myself spending a lot of time alone… Again. My girlfriend was doing the same thing over a thousand miles away, in Boulder. I missed the past and all that jazz.

But I’d learned my lesson. I decided to start going to counseling, which was free so why not? It was a relief to finally address my anxiety and OCD with someone who wasn’t a blank journal page. I spent long hours in the library reading. I started watching Buffy and going to the gym again. I threw myself into classwork. I went places with my new roommates. Thanksgiving break came faster than I thought, and I got to see my girlfriend after 100+ days of separation. Then finals happened and the semester was over. I’d survived.

So, 2016 was weird for me. It was a good year, ultimately, even though I had to chase my own happiness all alone several times. And if I had to sum it all up in a nice bow and say how I changed, what I learned, etc – which I don’t have to do, but I’m too sentimental not to – I’d say that it’s this: Your life is wherever you are – it isn’t something you can accidentally catch a plane away from. And the past is best to be left alone. Don’t think too much about it and don’t compare your life now to your life then. You aren’t who you were then anyway. You’re new and cool and you can definitely find a path to your chill, no matter how many Italian hills you have to climb to get there.

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on the election and creativity

I’m at home, trying to breathe.

Tuesday night was a slow sucker punch. I won’t soon forget it – shaking as the results came in. Watching Stephen Colbert lose hope. Crying in the bathroom, looking myself in the eye, trying to understand what was happening. Failing. Getting a text from my mom – don’t worry! It’ll be okay!

It was a slow trauma, one I was unprepared to face. I was blindsided. This clown, this joke, this bad headline, this disgusting news story, was approaching 270. My glass of wine didn’t help. I sat shaking on the couch, wondering if I would ever be able to stop.

At Florida we lost hope. We started to bargain. By California, it didn’t matter. Our country was gone.

Or, to be more precise, the country I thought I lived in had been proven to be a fairytale. It wasn’t real. Maybe it never existed.

I fell into a fitful, shallow sleep that night. I woke several times. Each time, it was still real.

On Wednesday, it rained.

On Thursday, the sun returned. The country was protesting. There were words to write. Chants to shout. Art to be created.

This year has been tiring from the start. The sky has gained a lot of bright stars, but our world feels just a bit emptier for their absence. The passing of Leonard Cohen has been nearly eclipsed by the screaming aftermath of the election. A lot of incredible artists have left us in 2016, leaving a gap for us to fill.

Since Tuesday, the first question on my mind has been what now? What can I do, every day, to protest? What can I do to say no to this election, to Donald Trump, to hatred and fear? How can I make a difference as just one person with little money and barely any resources?

The answer lies, as it often does, in art. Words. Creativity. Expression. These are the things that I would take onto the Ark with me during a flood. They are what I would arm myself with to march into the Apocalypse. The pen is mightier than the sword, as they say, and  “no” can be my sword, I can whisper love into the world with a poem or a song.

This isn’t the end of the story. Maybe this is the beginning.

Once upon a time, there was an evil man…

#heterosexualprideday

Ah, the hashtag.

Used from the banal:

#girl #pretty #blessed #party #partylife #philly #philadelphia

etc. etc. etc.

To the useful:

#giveelsaagirlfriend #nowomanever #givecaptainamericaaboyfriend

Hashtags can be used on Twitter to create a conversation, occasionally – once in a blue moon – an important conversation. But today? Today, they’re being used to make everyone seem a little more dumb.

The hashtag #heterosexualprideday is trending, and the entire thing has brought up a discussion that, well, like a heterosexual pride day, just doesn’t seem necessary.

There have been some great responses, giving the hashtag just as much flack as support, it seems, which is solid. For example:

Then there are just some dumb responses:

Well, @cartoonjunkie1 (CJ… Can I call you CJ? Have we reached that point? I assume we have), and everyone else who genuinely believes that Heterosexual Pride Day should be a thing, I feel kind of sorry for you, and kind of scared of you. Scared because not long ago, there was a horrific hate crime committed against the LGBTQ+ community. That’s why we have to have gay pride, that’s why we have to all stand together, so that in holding our hands and raising them up high, we’re telling each other that we aren’t alone, it’s all going to be okay, and we’re going to get through this.

To shift attention away from the community that’s hurting and mourning, a community who needs support from those who have the privilege of not being a part of it, that’s rude. And it’s scary. And it’s hurtful. And it needs to stop.

on pride, guns, and the usa

I’ve been putting off writing a blog post since I woke up yesterday morning to the news about what happened in Orlando. I’ve gone through the gambit of emotions – shock, dismay, anger, grief. Now morning is here again and I’ve had the chance to sleep on it and things are slowly going back to normal. I wonder, though, if they ever really can – especially for members of the LGBT community, the world has become suddenly a scarier place. We got marriage equality last summer and this summer, we’re getting shot.

Hate crimes have always taken place in small numbers, but persecution on such a grand scale is something of the past in the Western world. Or so I thought. There are other places in this world you can’t hold hands or kiss in public, as an openly queer person, without being punished by the law. And while my heart breaks today as it always has for the LGBT community in places where they must hide out of fear, my heart now breaks anew for LGBT people in my own country.

uganda pride parade

The 2012 Pride Parade in Uganda, one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be LGBT via

The shooter was, according to his father, enraged after seeing two men kissing in Miami. What kind of horrific culture of homophobia has been fostered in our own backyards that such a thing – seeing two men kissing – could set off enough anger in a human being that he would go into a gay club and kill 50 people?

Of course, it isn’t that simple. It isn’t just the two men he saw that drove him to do this. It could be any number of things – it could be the open bitter hatred for the LGBT community that gets expressed every day by radical Christians in our country, or public figures on the right, or even just every day people who make homophobic comments on the Internet and in person. All of these groups have been extra loud lately amidst the “bathroom debate,” which has gone on far too long and become far too big of a deal. People have said awful things and I’m sure I don’t need to highlight them here, because everyone’s been seeing and hearing nothing but opinions on either side of the debate. But the fact that it’s given lots of people the opportunity to emerge from the woodwork spewing hate has created a crackling negative energy that surrounds our whole country these days.

There are lots of things that we could do in the wake of this tragedy. I remember that after Sandy Hook, I thought things would really change. I had faith in our country and our lawmakers. I had faith in everyone who called themselves Americans. I had faith that the slaughter of innocent children would force everyone to unite and make a significant change. I couldn’t imagine a world where a man walks into a building with a gun, shoots 20 children, and nothing changes.

So in the wake of that tragedy, we decorated our Christmases with conversations about mental health, violent video games, and gun control. And when the New Year came around, we all went back to school and work and moved on.

Some states changed things. Most didn’t.

It sickens me to my core, as it should sicken you, that there are people in this country who would rather protect their freedom to own a gun – an outdated freedom, one that no one in our free country needs – than keep the children of the United States safe.

So here’s what will happen: we’ll talk about the shooter’s religion. We’ll talk about his mental health. We’ll wonder if he played violent video games. We’ll talk about homophobia. And in a few days, weeks, months, all of the above, there’ll be another shooting. And another. And another.

In this time of grief and mourning, as we in the LGBT community try to find our voices and words to say, we must remember that it is important above all to speak. We must not allow the national dialogue to stray away from the issues at the heart of what happened. We must be loud and constant and tell our lawmakers, neighbors, the whole world that the United States will not tolerate such acts of terrorism and homophobia. The year is 2016. We cannot be a country that allows for these tragedies to happen again, and again, and again. We must put pressure on the levee until it breaks, and let our freedom, our lives, our voices as a community pour out like water. We must fill the country with our protest, our heart, and say that we will not be killed, we will not allow anyone to be killed.

This should not have happened. But how we move forward from here can save thousands, millions of American lives on our own soil.

Sign petitions. Join protests. Call, write, tweet, and email your local politicians. When the election comes, fill Washington DC with people who might work toward greater gun control. Don’t sit down. Never sit down until the children of this country, the minorities of this country, every single person who has ever walked into a movie theater, a shopping mall, a school building, a college campus, a gay club in this country is safe.

Visit http://everytown.org/act/ for some information on what you can do to join the fight.

“Gay Pilgrimage”

Hey guys! I hope your weeks have all been LOVELY. I’ve been a little absent this week because my girlfriend is visiting from Colorado, so of course I’ve been trying to soak up as much time with her as possible. We’ve been pretty busy and we’re about three-quarters of the way through her two-week visit.

For Memorial Day weekend we went to the beach with my family. We’ve gone to Rehoboth every summer for years, and if you’re from the East Coast, you might know that Rehoboth Beach is the “gayest beach”. A few years back my mom and I were exploring the town and we stumbled upon an LGBT bookstore called Proud Bookstore. At the time I was closeted and confused, so we left, but I’ve been curious about the place ever since. Each time I’ve found myself alone on the boardwalk I’ve wandered up and down, searching for it, being too nervous to look up the address and pretending that wasn’t what I was looking for.

Now I knew that I had to go back, as like a pilgrimage to my younger self who had been too nervous to go in and explore this part of who I was. It was actually so cool, and while there were a lot of things angled to gay men, the parts of the store that were devoted to women loving women were especially enjoyable. There were books that told stories about lesbian couples, photographs and postcards and magnets and greeting cards and sex books and advice books and on and on. This is my girlfriend with a little flag we found.

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All in all the place was really cool and we agreed that we’d never felt quite so able to be open anywhere before. I think it’s important that there be more LGBT-geared places that aren’t bars or clubs. Bookstores and cafes and restaurants, places that are geared to the LGBT community, should become more common, because it’s so important to have a place you feel you truly belong and aren’t judged at all.

So, to my younger self who was afraid to go into the bookstore and explore what it really meant to be part of the LGBT community: when you’re twenty, you’re going to go in with your girlfriend, and you’ll browse the books and talk and laugh and be completely comfortable, and you’ll wonder why you were ever afraid of this part of yourself. Just wait.

Music Monday

I’ve been obsessed with this song, particularly this version, for the better part of a month now. It got me through finals and the end of my semester in Italy, and two weeks’ traveling through Italy and Germany afterwards as an emotional wreck because I’d had to say goodbye to my friends and my girlfriend. This song will forever remind me of that time, the bittersweet end of the semester but the rush of traveling to new places and seeing new things.

Midweek Meditation: Dogs

My girlfriend jokingly told me to make the first Midweek Meditation about dogs and I laughed but then I remembered something that happened earlier today.

I was sitting on the couch and my dog was next to me on the floor. I was twirling my earbuds around in circles from my finger and they accidentally hit her in the head. She winced and I, of course, had a guilty breakdown over it, climbing off the couch to apologize to her and tell her how much I was sorry and that I still loved her and didn’t mean it. But she just licked my face happily like nothing had ever happened.

And, honestly? If we could adopt half of that forgive-and-forget attitude that our dogs have, do you know how much happier we’d be? We should let what people do to us be like the wind and we’re the trees, it bends us but doesn’t break us, and then it moves on and leaves us.

Of course that’s easier said than done. When someone wrongs us it’s easy to add it to a list of the ways we’ve been mistreated; eventually we have a long list. And we use that list for so many things. We use it to justify our own wrong actions against others, or the reason why we are the way we’re more ___ than we should be.

If we could learn to be more like dogs and not only forgive but forget what’s been done to us, especially the things that were earnest mistakes or one-time transgressions, especially when the person deserves our forgiveness, do you know how much better our lives would be?

Sometimes I feel so heavy with the weight of what other people have done to me. So today I’m going to be more like my dog. I’m going to set it down and walk away from it. If you have a lot of things that you’re still upset about that you should have let go long ago, join me this week in trying to let go of it – truly let go of it. Not just forgive it. But forget it, too. Like a dog would.

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Quote of the Week

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” -Carrie Fisher

 

I’ve just completed my junior year of college; I spent two of the four semesters studying abroad.

The reason I went to London 1.5 years ago wasn’t just because I really, really wanted to live in London. (I mean, that was definitely a huge part of it – come on, it’s London.) I also went to challenge myself, to not just step out of my comfort zone but to break it down with an axe and stand on the broken shards.

And yes, it was very out of my comfort zone. In the weeks before leaving I had panic and anxiety attacks over it, and the only reason I didn’t back out was because I had a strong enough resolve and I knew that I would regret it immensely if I did. Every other instinct in me, however, was screaming TURN BACK! DANGER AHEAD! I wrote list after list of the reasons I wanted to go; I woke up in the middle of the night to write encouraging letters to myself; I went through all the “worst case scenarios” and the “what ifs” until I was blue in the face. The people I spoke to on the program prior to leaving were all excited, while I was hyperventilating in the car after my graduation party.

I made it a point long ago, when it became clear to me that lots of things terrify me, to not let anxiety get in the way of me living the best life I can. I’m lucky in that my anxiety isn’t debilitating, but it is there, and it does make big things like studying abroad seem like an insurmountable mountain, or the Cliffs of Insanity from the Princess Bride.

London came and went, and with it came lots of teary Skype calls, homesick mornings and nights, and even a couple of Tube rides spent trying desperately not to cry. The day before my first big solo(ish) trip to Italy, I went in and out of anxiety attacks all day with fear for the upcoming trip. It wasn’t easy. In fact, London was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

But once I got back to Pennsylvania, I decided to head back out into the vast and terrifying world. Before going to Italy, things were a little smoother, because everything becomes less scary the more you do it. (See also: flying on planes and taking trains alone.) Still, when I got there it took me a few weeks to settle in. I was happy to be in Italy but it wasn’t what I was expecting. I didn’t have the close support system that I did in London, I felt much more on my own and much more unprepared. I didn’t even speak Italian, something I had barely factored into the preparation and decision-making. (Kids, don’t be like me. Actually stick to using Duolingo before you leave instead of just saying eh it’ll be fine because look: it will not be fine unless you make it be fine.)

So my point? I was afraid before London. I did it anyway. I was afraid before Italy, and I did it anyway, even knowing from experience that it would be difficult.

Like the great “Princess Leia” would say: stay afraid, but do it anyway.

Music Monday

The kind of album you want to listen to on a rainy spring day as cars drive by on the street. Or on an early summer night when your window is open but the fan is off and you can hear the crickets tentatively begin to chase away the last tendrils of the winter chill that spread across the grass. The piano and voice blend together and the simplicity of the songs, the way they blend into one another, makes this a good one to listen to all together, while you close your eyes and sit back, let your mind wander to whatever corners of the world it wants to.