A Review: Becoming by Michelle Obama

On Becoming

Up first – no one has paid me to write this review and I am in no way doing this for any connection to the Obama’s. I truly just love to read and in case you couldn’t guess – I truly just love this book.

Let’s start with that name. Obama. It carries weight of a [insert politically correct -ism] lens whether you want it to or not and regardless of any political, social, economic, or conspiracy theorist reasons that lens may argue, this book should be read by everyone. While not the most poetic novel I have read, it does drive home some very deliberate points about education, accessibility, and the intersection of race in today’s America – or perhaps, yesterday’s America. I do think I want more than anything for it to be ‘Yesterday’s America’.


There’s an age-old maxim in the black community: You’ve got to be twice as good to get half as far.

Michelle Obama, Becoming

Regardless – the novel spans her entire life, thus far, starting with her feet in grass outside of the DC home the Obama’s purchased after Barack’s presidential terms. Even just reading through those parts of her life controlled so heavily by protection details, armored vehicles, and service elevators – and remember, don’t stand near the windows or go outside in the open – makes me cringe. I could not have existed let alone thrived in such stifling constriction.

Perhaps the most interesting part of it all is how easy it reads. Due to my active AF imagination, I easily pictured her sitting in my home, leaning over the granite tops, her hands cupped around tea – or maybe I can convince her to try Nikki’s Sangria, allowing us to giggle through to the darkened evening. The entire book carries the same casual tone and conversational style that amazingly does not compromise depth. If someone had told me she had personally written it from cover to cover, I would believe – with the tiniest bit of envy – but I would without a doubt.

While that in of itself does not make it an entirely remarkable book, I would argue that same steady casual voice keeps the book accessible to everyone – in particular to those who need it the most. Without such, the book becomes less effective as an empowering social commentary and memoir.

There were girls in hijab, girls for whom English was a second language, girls whose skin made up every shade of brown. I knew they’d have to push back against the stereotypes that would get put on them, all the ways they’d be defined before they’d had a chance to define themselves. They’d need to fight the invisibility that comes with being poor, female, and of color. They’d have to work to find their voices and not be diminished, to keep themselves from getting beaten down. They would have to work just to learn. But their faces were hopeful…

Michelle Obama, Becoming

It is the voice of a mother gently offering the guidance of her own experience and courage. The same courage it took to offer her own strong and determined voice as a modern day quantifier for the minority struggle; some facets exclusive to women as a whole and some only to African American women.

Women endure entire lifetimes of these indignities—in the form of catcalls, groping, assault, oppression. These things injure us. They sap our strength…

Michelle Obama, Becoming

It is the voice of a daughter who takes us on a journey of love and grief only the special bond between Daughter and Father could create.


Seeing my dad on the stoop, I ached in a way I never had. My instinct was to rush outside and help him back into the warm house, but I fought it, knowing it would be just another blow to his dignity.

Michelle Obama, Becoming

It is the voice of an empowered African American Woman taking every opportunity she has before, during, and after the White House Days, to offer love and support to as many as she could – or as she puts it:

I hugged absolutely every single girl I could reach.

Michelle Obama, Becoming

It is also the book that should be on everyone’s reading list, young or old – black, white, or blue. Hers is a story of hard work and dedication, trials and triumphs. Shining in every chapter, these values help her through troubled waters in face of danger or loss and it is in these sentences that the true poetry of this memoir become – well, memorable.

Not only have I written this article about this book, I have also refused to shut up about it and sent a copy of it to every woman I could reach. I agree it is not a hug – but if a book were to replace a supportive embrace between friends, this book would be it.

Read on literary travelers, read on. Until the next review.

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Secrets to My Infamous Mane

I’ve got a lot of hair and luckily, I’ve always had a lot of hair. It’s been long, short, curly (for like a day…), and pink. Through good hair styles and bad ones (trust me, they were bad) I’ve fine tuned my hair routine over the last 20 years. And yes – you’ve guessed it. I’m going to share those secrets in a completely boring list complete with a set of Nikki-faces and accompanying hair styles.

1 – Stop. Washing. It.

For real though. Stop. I absolutely understand how every woman has different hair some oily, some thin, and some curly. But I truly believe that women (perspective here please) wash their hair too much. In all honesty, tree of trust here, I truly wash my hair in the shower once or twice a month. Yeah – I said it. Once a month. Dry Shampoo every other or every two days depending on what I’m doing is all I need. Luckily, the dry shampoo craze is exploding on pinterest so you can easily find these in any grocery store or cvs whatever thing. Spray (or sprinkle if it’s powder), rub with your fingertips, brush and style. Ta-Da. 5 minutes, tops. Oh – plus, artificial color will last longer the less you wash it. Can confirm: My hair was Pink Pony Pinkie Pie Pink.

2 – Learn your braids, people.

And don’t get frustrated with it either. Braids take time to learn just like anything else. Practice it and watch some you tube videos. They are amazing in the Georgia summer for getting hair off your neck AND make perfect up-dos for fancy-ass weddings and stuff. Some of my favorites are: Dutch Boxer Braids, Fishtails, Infinity, and Three Strand. Having long hair means being able to do different things with it. There are tons of different styles out there that can fit your particular hair type, I promise. Take some time to learn them, and walk out with some amazingly fly hair.

 

 

3 – Use the Product that works for you

For that past few years, I have been walking the crowded aisles of never ending hair products looking through the bright colors, new and old brands, and endless catch phrases of mostly false advertising. Remaining optimistic that I would find a set of or even one product that could help my hair do what I wanted it to do, I probably have spent hundreds of dollars on hair products that I ended up throwing out after using once or twice. I’ve tried every brand there is (or at least it feels like it) with very little success. BUT – that one success is worth all the crap I’ve put in my hair over the years. For me, knowing what I want my hair to do (stay where I put it and stick to itself) was the first step to success and sadly, recognizing this and then trying products that actually do exactly that took me longer than I’d like to admit. (BTW – I use texturizers).

4 – Pick your Brush

There are at least ten different brushes that you can buy at target. Some come in packs, some are round and bristly but which one is right for you? Honestly, using a million different brushes has really only taught me that I can’t use every brush made. The round ones with intense bristles are for blow drying and since I don’t have the arm strength of an Amazon OR an hour to blow my hair dry, these are useless for me. Keeping my hair free of knots is super important so I tried the flat paddle brush for a while and I must say that it worked. However, it also made my hair frizzy, separating each strand from it’s friends and encouraging my more lion based looks. Finally, I settled on a wide tooth comb or a wide toothed pick. These combs get out my tangles without adding a lot of volume (something I definitely don’t need) and don’t pull out nearly as much hair as any other brush I’ve used.

5- Let the Mad Scientist in you out!

Hair like clothes, makeup, or anything else you use on the daily requires experimenting. Perhaps because I have a STEM degree, I incorporate experiments into my every day life (don’t even get me started on my plant experiments) and my hair is no different. I try different things all the time and for the most part they fail. Always learning from each failure has enabled me to tailor my hair care down to something that not only works extremely well for me, but also makes it easier to maintain the mop on my head with ease.

Lastly hair forlorn ladies and gents – be patient. Getting your hair exactly how you want it and to be skilled at making it so every time takes and lots of failures. Don’t give up and may the Nikki-Hair-Gods be with you.

 

 

 

 

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Death to Treadmills

Alright – I love working out and being physically fit. This is a well known fact among my friends and if you’ve had the wonderful pleasure to be my friend, I’ve more than likely dragged you to the gym with me at some point. Or at least – made you listen to my obsession with Crossfit or High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). In the most recent months though, I’ve taking a bit of a break from physical exercise to focus on getting other areas of my life up to speed. With the strides I’ve made in those areas, I’ve started working out again and it’s been about four months of (mostly) steady gym attendance. And here is what I’ve learned, some of which has honestly surprised me.

I will never get on a treadmill ever again.

Nor will I take the obnoxious amount of time to run any distance as part of my exercise routine. Running has always been and is still presented as this easy effortless thing that all athletes and physically fit people do. And it was definitely in my head that a fast runner is a good athlete or at least, running is part of being physically fit. I have, with some work, let go of this idea and have exclusively excluded it from my physical fitness. Because running sucks and is actually quite difficult to do for an extended period of time without hurting yourself. Perhaps, if you grew up running like playing soccer or field hockey, it’s not that bad. But for the rest of us, it’s awful. The more I didn’t run (whether on a treadmill or not) the happier I was about my workouts. Now, don’t get me wrong here. Including a cardio based exercise in your routine at the gym is not optional but there are tons of ways to get your heart rate up to where it needs to be and only one of them includes getting on a treadmill to run. My personal favorite is rowing for ten minutes. Rowing is not only a really great exercise to bump your heart rate up, but also work your entire body with ease. Jumping rope is my second favorite (double unders anyone?). Look, the point here is, fuck running and go have fun doing something else that gets your heart rate up.

Workouts don’t have to kill you.

I think one of my biggest complaints about Crossfit is that every WOD is designed to deplete you. While this produces amazing results and can get quite addictive over time, for someone who is coming back after an eight month break pushing your body to the extremes of Crossfit can be extremely detrimental. For once, I wanted to feel good about going to the gym AND functioning afterwards. I wanted to build muscle, gain definition, and still be able to play with my puppies later that night without wincing in pain when they tug too hard. Instead, I started doing very isolated work on particular muscles with lighter weight and more repetitions. This not only allowed me to feel accomplished after a workout but also move through the somewhat mild soreness that occurred allowing me to do things like pick up a heavy cast iron pan with ease.

Squats and Deadlifts are the most important exercises you can do.

Mattbear and I went to the gym last week with a time crunch. So we did 5×5 (5 rounds of 5 reps) of back squat and then deadlifts. We were there for a total of 35 minutes focusing only on those two exercises with weight that was manageable but not exactly light. And it was the best workout I had had in weeks. I barely even broke a sweat but I felt the strain of my muscles alluding to the difficulty of the lift without destroying my ability to pick up the keys I dropped later in the day. DOMS did set in the next day but nothing I couldn’t stretch my way through. Spending so little time at the gym focusing only on two exercises made me realize that those two are the most important ones I should make a point to do more often. Various other exercises like leg press, leg curls, extensions and even lunges improved drastically from just one workout. And the best part? It only took 35 minutes and I barely broke a sweat.

Resting between sets is important.

Having been a Crossfit fanatic for a while there, I was very conditioned to not resting between sets. Or if I was ‘resting’ it included some time of low impact cardio like burpees or box jumps. And while I have to fight my urge to bang out 10 or 20 burpees between sets, taking the time to rest has enabled me to make enormous gains quicker than I thought I would be able to sans injury. My rest periods are usually around 30 to 50 seconds long but I take that time to reset my form, breathe through my diaphragm to increase oxygen to my muscles (and brain), and last but not least, jam out to the blaring tune in my ears. Because, if you have to lift weights it might as well be to the rhythm of Brittany’s Work Bitch. She does have one thing right: if you want a hot body, you better work, bitch.

 

These things combined have transformed not only the way I workout but also the way I think about exercise. While I was focusing more on a HIIT centered routine, I could tell the longer I stuck with it, the more I dreaded going to the gym before I just stopped going altogether. Adding in these few tenants has enabled me to rediscover how much I love to see what my body is capable of. Plus, the more fun working out is, the less I dread doing it. Duh, Nikki. Just, Duh.

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Discovering my Indian Kitchen

I love Indian food, hands down the best and most flavorful cuisine I’ve ever had. A close second is Thai, which perhaps lighter than Indian food in some ways, carries over the same flavor notes. I wish I could remember the first time I had Indian food and I do think that the first time I tried it I didn’t like it. The more Indian people I met, the more I ate it and then a secret growing love triangle happened.

I’ve been cooking and baking for my entire life, one of the perks from that pesky immigrant family I talked about earlier. My Nanna taught me how to roll meatballs and cook pasta so early that I couldn’t even guess when I learned it. Nights we weren’t at Nanna’s for dinner, my parents cooked all the time. We had tons of different vegetables and meat some that even now, I savor.

But, cooking on your own is an entirely different beast than being around it all the time. My mother and father just know how to cook as if they sprung up in existence as good cooks, or at least that is how it seemed to me. I don’t even remember seeing my mother learn to cook, I think the most I saw her doing was refer to her hand written recipe book so she could emulate a great dish she made. However, it has dawned on me in recent days that I was watching her learn every day because cooking every day is how you learn.

While I think I progressed in my adventurous cooking experiments and study more quickly than say someone who hasn’t ever cooked in their life, I have begun to find (and revel in) a challenge; Indian food. Growing up, we did not cook with spices like cumin, coriander, or curry but they have come to be my favorite to cook with. Now, I’ll be the first to say that sometimes, my experiments go very wrong but as I tried to cook more Indian I realized that I was beginning to understand the spices more and more.

At first (and few times after that), I followed a recipe and not ‘Yeah, I chopped some ginger peel into some sort of chunks even though it said finely dice’ kind of following. Sorry to say it but size matters, especially with some of these ingredients. When I was comfortable enough to not follow the recipe to a tee, I found that not only does the size of the vegetables/spices involved matter but the preparation mattered just as much, if not more. Ginger for example is quite spicy when raw but when sauteed with garlic, the finer the dice, the sweeter it will be adding a whole new dimension to the dish. Lemongrass is also a great example of preparation although I’ll admin that lemongrass is more a Thai leaning.

Learning these flavors and unique combinations has not only been fun for me (and good for my partner’s belly), but also taught me a whole breadth of new recipes that I can trust to always be delicious on almost anything, when cooked correctly. Coriander and cumin always go together for example and when rubbed on meat then simmered in coconut milk with curry paste for a long time on low heat, it is divine. And I get it, there are tons of curry paste out there but this will literally go with anything (have to add in my except fish clause) In fact, I am convinced that combination of yum has a tenderizing effect on meat, especially game which is present in a lot of Indian dishes already.

All in all – discovering my Indian Kitchen it not only an outlet for my creativity but also a source of pride. Leftovers of lentils and curried lamb will fill any space with a scent belonging to centuries of an entire culture and continent.

 

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What My Immigrant Family Taught Me

You know – as the granddaughter of immigrants, I have always been proud of my heritage but as immigrants, my family had not lost sight that we are American. My brother and I grew up here and learned that we were Americans first before we were immigrants or Italians, or Germans (I even have some French-Canadian in me). We spoke to our grandparents and parents about their experiences, coming to a different country to pursue a different life as potential refugees and non-native English speakers. They came here with hearts full of hope and dreams that one day, they would be Americans. And so – we became Americans.

Being an American has been a struggle for me, to be honest. I have reveled in my heritage since I can remember being nothing but proud of my family and where we came from. My grandmother, a German immigrant, worked in the same department at Macy’s for as long as I can remember, finally retiring in her 80’s. My grandfather with his children started their own business in New Jersey and worked to raise their sons and daughters in a stable economy where they would be given undreamed of opportunities. I look back at my family history (as far back as I can) and I think, what is more American than that? But, what did the word ‘American’ truly mean to me as a white college educated woman?

My experiences have been shaped by their hard work and commitment to a better life that I cannot have anything but an open heart for any persons, refugee or not, that want to come to America and define what it means to be American. Perhaps, for too long we have hidden behind our privilege and forgotten what ‘America’ was founded upon and the corresponding shining golden light it cast upon the world in a time of supreme oppression.

Now it seems that America will find itself in the shadow of someone else’s light while they fight our own modern flavor of oppression. To see my country make such drastic moves that can only be categorized as Anti-American directing us retrograde in comparison to the rest of the free world is heartbreaking and shameful. Americans who can trace their history back to a name in the Ellis Island Book of Names or perhaps to long lost relatives on other continents should not forget how they became Americans. Somehow, a whole generation (multiple generations, even) have forgotten that their families and their ancestors were immigrants, willing or unwilling.

We all need to take a moment and remember where we, as a people, come from. We need to remember the grievances we committed to others during that struggle for Freedom. We need to acknowledge our wrongdoings and welcome utter kindness into our life, for all people, just as the Natives did to us – oh so long ago (but not really that long). This isn’t a debate on who is to blame for the deportation of jobs or the motives behind the war on women’s bodies or the threat of extreme terror. This is a call to practice kindness and acceptance among our friends, our enemies, and everyone else in-between. That is what I learned being American is about and that is what we need to remember most in this desperate time of looming socioeconomic crisis.

Let us teach the world what American can mean again – just how my immigrant family taught me what ‘American’ meant to them. Kindness and acceptance isn’t a one-time deal, it cannot be an ideal that we preach but don’t practice. It is the intent behind all of our actions and how we move through the world with every choice we make. This is the hard work taught to me by my family who came to this country looking for just that, kindness and acceptance. The accompanying picture is of my fridge where I have collected photos from my family and my partners’ family to look at every day so that we as individuals and as Americans never forget not only where we came from but also the invaluable lessons taught to us by them and how we must make a point to actively practice those teachings every day.

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A Review: Barkskins by Annie Proulx

Recently, my partner and I ventured on a roadtrip up from Georgia (US) to Boston with various stops along the way. I enjoy roadtrips more than anyone I know, having made that trip more than twice in the past few years as well as some lonesome trips out west. Perhaps what I enjoy most of all is knowing how all the roads connect together and discovering new ones. Upon suggestion of the fated Atlanta-Boston trip, my partner groaned his way to agreement and I think, now that it is over, he was pleasantly surprised by how much he enjoyed himself. With two puppers in the car and a potential grumpkin, I knew that an audiobook would be the perfect solution.

Before we set out, I started Annie’s Proulx’s ‘new’ book titled Barkskins. While I have enjoyed all of the Annie Proulx I previously read, I was a little hesitant about this one in particular. Spanning generations from 1693 in the Canadian woods to modern day Chicago, it caps out at 713 pages. Now, I’m the last one to shy away from a marathon read but this pick in particular was possibly more than I had bargained for. And it was the beginning of the book that lead me to suggest it for roadside listening with my partner, who enjoys the difficult hobby of woodworking.

Annie Proulx’s exemplary use of the English language in gliding sentences that could seem a song on the wind drew him in immediately and we enjoyed most of car ride there and back within the story of multiple generations and their tree-tied fate. Beginning with two immigrants into ‘The New World’, we followed the duty-ridden story of Rene Sel and Charles Duquet, uneducated workers from France who upon arrival at the Canadian shores find themselves aghast at the vast and unending forests.

The air was intensely aromatic. Fallen needles muted their passage, the interlaced branches absorbed their panting breaths. Here grew hugeous trees of a size not seen in the old country for hundreds of years, evergreens taller than cathedrals, cloud-piercing spruce and hemlock. The monstrous deciduous trees stood distant from each other, but overhead their leaf-choked branches merged into a false sky, dark and savage. (4)

Thus it begins in those trees with these two men, Rene with his commitment to duty and Charles with his keen sense of opportunity, each overcoming their own unique obstacles as the story unfolds. Proulx intertwines the stories of these two men with the culture of a Canadian native tribe called the Mi’kmaw. While I admire her dedication to historical truth the novel itself pays homage to the supreme tragedy of white settlers claiming native land for their own and it sparked within me a true sense of loss for these people, confused and starving with no culture or space to truly call their own.

Barkskins also follows the success and failures of a logging company built by Charles Duquet and his following non-blood related generations. This, one of the more interesting parts of the novel to my partner, was fascinating for me as well. Proulx not only builds a successful company through the hard work of her characters but also takes the unusual leap to place non-traditional archetypes in positions of power; a brilliant woman so supremely ahead of her time, and a pragmatic closeted gay man who dared to try to live the life most fulfilling for him despite the deadly risk. These were in fact most refreshing and something I did not expect to be explored within the outlined eras but fit perfectly within Proulx’s writing.

I did however, notice a point in which the novel seemed to come to it’s natural end and I wonder if Proulx herself paused at the end of that sentence. The rest of the book seems like an afterthought from an editor saying, it can’t just end like that. But I rather like to think it did end right there and the rest of the family relatives faded into the distance of unwritten history like so many of the unheard ancestors of our modern world.

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Post-Truth; Word of the Year, 2016

There has been a growing knot within my stomach as of late. I walk into work from the parking deck, across the little Buckhead village of high rises and always look ahead of me into the mirrors that line my work building. These mirrors are tall and always clean, so I can see what or who is behind me on my soul death march. Being hyper aware of my surroundings (who is around me, where are there cars, where is there an exit, etc.) is only because I don’t trust the intentions of others. While I trust in my government to enact and enforce laws that protect me from harm, I know these are only precarious safe measures that could be easily discarded by a cognizant choice of another (barring any true accidents). And so, my personal safety is within my mind at most times, especially out in public.

But this knot grows every time I look in the mirror after the previous day’s headlines or after reading the latest tweet from the president elect. My insides tighten with anxiety and fear for the oncoming four years of chaos. Everyday I walk into work, get my coffee, chat my coworkers, and listen to the latest headlines while I start my day. Short blurbs echoing intense issues are rattled off and the knot tightens.

‘Trump slams EU after Brexit’

‘North Dakota proposed law would enable vehicular manslaughter of protestors’ 

‘Pence proposes to relocate media from White House’ 

‘American Intelligence points at Russian Hacking; Trump denies claims’ 

‘Nightclub shooting in Cancun leaves five dead’ 

‘Four thousand US Troops land in Poland, welcomed with ceremony’ 

‘American embassy may move to Palestine’ 

‘Texas proposed bill classifies abortion as a felony regardless of Supreme Court’

And guess what – those are all just today’s headlines. Today’s. The question within my head for at least half of these are; is this true? Are these headlines true, are these stories real? Headlines like these above are rife with sensationalism, hidden agendas, and a small echo of a past drenched in violence and inequality. The knot tightens.

When does this anxiety become fear? Is it when I look over my shoulder constantly for fear of getting hit by a car without the driver suffering any ramifications? Is it when I can’t trust what American media is printing? Or, is it when I am forced to give a still birth to my long dead baby? I am scared. I am scared for half these come from the elected leader of my country who will have to swear to protect my rights and freedoms as they must swear to protect all rights and freedoms of every American citizen. But what happens when the definition of those rights change? What happens when I am not protected by my government anymore?

The knot tightens as I see these changes building up and evaluate what they mean for me, my fellow Americans, and the future of the free world where to be human is to be free, in all ways. And I think, even in the next four months I could see a huge upheaval of what it means to be an ‘American’, or a ‘woman’. Fear is belching up out of these partial truths and I am perched with nauseated apprehension to see the day it breaks.

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My Unborn Daughters

I’m sorry but I thought this was America; where women and men are equal and free, where there is a defined separation between church and state. Clearly, the bricks are being laid to contradict what America has stood for. Clearly, this is more concerning than just a four year election cycle.

Let me back up and present House Bill 1134 for Indiana State Legislation. It’s synopsis is as follows:

Protection of life. Repeals the statutes authorizing and regulating abortion. Finds that human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm. Asserts a compelling state interest in protecting human physical life from the moment that human physical life begins. Redefines “human being” for purposes of the criminal code to conform to the finding that human physical life begins when a human ovum is fertilized by a human sperm. Makes other conforming changes.

Pretty unconstitutional right? Right. I predict that this bill won’t actually make it into legislation due to it being very clearly unconstitutional but this is nonetheless alarming. My brain is almost still trying to overcome the shock of reading such a proposed bill introduced into state government. Not only does this go against the legal document of the nation but also has some very disconcerting implications for the act of reproduction itself.

Let’s look at how reproduction works – short recap, I promise. Sperm fertilizes an egg and because this is 2017, this simple sentence can mean a variety of different things. Obviously, the most traditional is a biological man and a biological woman (where everyone has all of their parts…) have unprotected sex that results in sperm infiltrating an egg. Which by definition of HB-1134 is when human physical life begins. In this scenario, the human body (let’s continue with this example) can do multiple things; the egg grows and is carried to term, the egg isn’t within the uterus and it needs to be surgically removed before death of the woman, the egg is naturally expelled from the body for a wide variety of reasons (also called a miscarriage). These are all viable and naturally occurring paths of what ‘pregnancy’ can mean.

Okay great – now that we established that… Introducing this bill in fact actually criminalizes two out of three of these naturally occurring processes. I mean, criminalizes them, with a full investigation and a possible verdict of manslaughter encompassing the full legal breadth of what that word means. This bill indirectly takes parts of the naturally occurring reproductive process in which the woman is entirely powerless to stop or prevent (if assuming no contraceptives where used, hell, even if assuming contraceptives were used), and turns it into a felony punishable by jail time and a fine.

What are women supposed to do? Not have a uterus or eggs? But any of that is beside the point. Why would a Christianist (yes, I am using that word instead of Christian), take something that is supposed to be absurdly treasured, celebrated even (talking about a child here) and turn it into a shameful, terrifyingly act of murder? Now – outside of all the aftershocks pressed onto women’s minds and bodies, I believe this one bill is part of a bigger plan to impart stricter state based laws around the definition of life and a woman’s body.

This will be struck down as soon as it can be, I am positive. In fact, I am not even interested in seeing how it fares. I am more interested to see the house bills that descend upon us after this one. Each one getting less and less draconian, changing words just enough to seem less restrictive when compared to the last but nevertheless, restrictive. Until the day comes where a bill is introduced that is just vague enough to skirt around the Roe V. Wade ruling and put a Christianist foot in the door; just enough to pry it open and start the immense challenge of unraveling women’s rights.

I have been privileged to have grown up with all of my rights intact but I worry about the generation of women coming up now around this turmoil that teaches they are lesser for not wanting children, or murderers for wanting to abort a product of rape. I have been fortunate enough to see and experience my government fighting for my right to choose who I marry and whether or not I add to the world’s population. But my nieces and younger cousins, they don’t have that luxury anymore. My fights have been for equal pay, marriage equality, and supporting my african american brothers and sisters for their right to life. I am afraid the youngest generation of women will have to fight – once again – for their right to choose what happens to their bodies in one of the greatest upheavals of adopted American cultural values we have yet to see.

It is things like this that make me so supremely sad for where America is going after where it has been. Reading these words and being afraid for my unborn daughters in a country where I have always been free is unsettling, disheartening, and one of my deepest fears. And I think to myself, ‘No – this can’t be. I live in America where I am valued for my gender and celebrated for my differences. I don’t live in a society where a woman can’t show her face, have access to sexual pleasure (don’t even get me started on Female Genital Mutilation), or marry without a patriarchs permission. Right? Everyone – Right?’

Please someone tell me America’s daughters will be safe from the beginning the of end; Where women are second class citizens and the value of an unborn baby regardless of origin, is higher than our own.

 

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This Sticky Place

I guess maybe in some ways it is a seed of avoidance, planted by someone else, budding within me and spilling a small amount of black vile into my mind. Inequality amongst friends – also sounds like an oxymoron – can happen, much more often than I know. There are wage disparities, family differences in wealth and comfort, education levels, and probably many different things that I cannot even fathom – me, barely having friends at all (Don’t be dismayed, I like it that way).

But inequality to the point of jealousy, how often does that happen between friends? Logically, newer friendships are more susceptible to such a thing, right? Older, more refined friends have crossed boundaries that render jealousy a flighty feeling soon overcome by expression and support for each other. I can list out tons of things I posses jealousy over especially with my closest friends. One of them – spouting social ease and comedic relief I will never even dream of achieving, another – being so financially secure and savvy that my goal is to try and follow their example.

This jealousy is different though. It’s mixed with a lot more insecurity and baggage. For one thing, it’s in the workplace; which being a woman in technology has it’s own struggles outside of any potential green monsters. But when there is female rivalry (is this even a thing?) within an incredibly small and very new department, the tension is palpable. The line has been drawn and one of us has stepped over it.

I don’t want to be misunderstood here, the person in question deserves to be on the other side of the that line, and I don’t (or is that my brain telling me lies again..). Hence, the reason for my jealousy. Before this toxic greenery, we were fast growing friends with tear breaking laughs and mischievous office shenanigans. But again – the line has been etched between us where she stands on one side and I stand on the other. We each have been working to stand on her side of line in our careers (I, longer than her) and I am happy that one of us has broken through.

On a lovely walk with my partner and pups, I was passionately explaining how because one of us is over the unseen line, there are limits to our friendship. He gave me the ‘Nikki – you cray’ side eye but I still believe this to be true. Before, we worked tangentially next to each other but never on the same project. We spoke to each other of our troubles and obstacles but also celebrated with one another in our each respective wins. Now – our work is intertwined where a failure or mistake on my part will directly affect her success and her word will also trump mine, as she is the product manager  and I, BA. There is built in this dynamic, a set of rules that places her decisions and her words above mine, and how can that be an equal bearing friendship? I am more than happy to be friendly with her – joking and laughing as needed. But the time/place for a true friendship of trust, vulnerability, support, and compassion cannot exist in this sticky place we have found ourselves in.

I am sad for that – for I saw the potential to share another’s true self with my mine and connecting beyond what can now only be a friendly co-worker.

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Don’t Cry.

‘Don’t cry.. Don’t cry.. Just, keep it together…’ 

These words, I share with a close friend of mine. We have each sat across from our respective bosses and thought, ‘Don’t Cry’. Of course, in a professional setting, those words should be easily contained and dealt with because people – women in particular- shouldn’t cry in the workplace where emotion is tightly controlled and regulated.

But there we were, trying not to cry when our bosses revealed emotion invoking information. It’s not that our work wasn’t good enough, or that we didn’t achieve our goals with excellence that caused us to sit in front of men who were in charge of our professional lives. It was because (at least partly) we were aggressive and determined, because we speak our mind, because we were women.

Let’s hold on a minute here. How can I possibly know it is because I am a woman? What objective evidence do I have to support this claim? Is there clear and concise examples of being treated unfairly because of my gender? No of course there isn’t. Gender discrimination in the workplace is nothing as clear cut as that, and it won’t ever be. However, the *need* for evidence is in fact an argument in itself.

Is it not true that my perception tends to be my reality? But what a tricky track to jog alongside. Are my experiences of being treated unfairly how I am perceiving my world, or is it objectively true that I am being discriminated against. Perhaps, I actually am quite terrible at my job. Perhaps, I’ve gotten this far by sheer luck of the draw and I don’t know how to do my job at all. Maybe I am just really pretty and that’s why I make a lot of money… My mind will come up with any answer other than the one that leaves me mostly powerless.

Let’s say that I am quite competent at product management (hardly an overstatement when I’ve tripled my salary in four years). Then why in the past few companies I’ve worked, they have refused to promote me into that title? Is it because I am ‘too aggressive’ or determined? Is it because I am honest regardless of who’s feelings are in jeopardy? And finally, is it because I am a woman? Having to ask these questions is one of the pillars of feminism and it leaves the women all over the world effectively powerless.

What am I supposed to do if my professional hindrances are because of my gender? I can’t change how I present, I am -if anything- a woman and I wouldn’t want to hide that or disguise it in any capacity. While on the other hand, I *could* be less aggressive. Ah yes – let’s sit quietly in the corner and do what the men in charge tell me to (I can’t even roll my eyes hard enough). And I get it, I’m an employee; I should be aligning my goals to my bosses goals and the organization but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t speak up in meetings with a conflicting opinion or bring my experience to the start-up table where seasoning is hard to find. But also – why change how I move through the world just because my current employer possesses an aversion to it and therefore me?

This question, at the root bearing the professional lives of young women everywhere is: Am I being treated unfairly because of my gender or am I actually incompetent? This is at the heart of today’s American feminism. Patriarchy and the suppression of women in the workplace is a very tangible experience for many of us and the doubts/struggles induced by the constant cultural gaslighting makes our perception of it even more skewed (because how real can those experiences actually be – it’s 2017, women have rights!).

So – I cry in the bathroom with the water running over my face, within the cocoon I call home where my emotions can hide until the next work day which will forever begin with: Am I being discriminated against because of my gender or do I actually just suck at my job?

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Dragonflys

Sadly, inspiration strikes at peculiar times and doesn’t last; hence the true meaning of the word. Using inspiration to write scenes or snippets is often how I have written for years which, I think is a strong indication of why my writing hasn’t gone anywhere. Writing only when ‘inspired’ or ‘creatively lit’ can only get your words so far.

Combing through my GBs of half finished or even a quarter started documents, I have accumulated countless of misfit pieces that would appear to have no meaning and no home. They are samples of what my imagination can do at few and far between times deemed ‘appropriately inspired’. Riddled with incomplete ideas and rhythmically beautiful sentences, they are only delicately crafted scenes. I struggle with picking them back up again, embodying the same attitude and eloquence that is already on the page.

Most of my characters aren’t even complete in my head. They have one or two displayed traits and most likely, some sort of troubled backstory (who said the writer doesn’t bleed into their work?). And I uncover them sometimes, revealing new pieces as I go, if I get the opportune chance to pick up the end strands and start weaving again. But it almost never is easy.

I have one completed short story. One. Which hey – more than some people right? This particular story I’ve been working on for years having started it during my first year at Agnes Scott (ah, good ol’ Transfer Bitch). And it’s been declined for more contests, publications, and peer reviews than I can count but shit, it’s my one story. It took three months to complete it and apply polish with feedback, helpful or not. I remember thick and fast tears falling as I wrote the last words alone in my dark dorm room and how different I felt afterward. Even sharing it for workshop later that week, I felt distinguished from my peers having told this story. How silly that seems now, looking back…

Silly or not – I felt different from my classmates. Not exactly better than, but different. A theme that has pervaded throughout the obstacles of my life, rather like a dragonfly humming above the salmon as they migrate with the current. A feeling I cannot shake and still struggle to embrace despite the closer and closer I get to finding ‘my tribe’.

I am growing to see that writing can be my place, where the conversation between the writer and the reader is quiet, contemplative, and unique; where difference is rewarded and treasured. A place where readers and I can at least share a basic interest: reading.

 

 

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On Being a Closeted Writer

I guess there have been multiple times in my life where I’ve been in the closet for different reasons and then consequentially have had to go through the painful but enlightening journey of stepping out of said closet. My first experience of said closet, and the coming out thereof, maybe would have to be Sarah. But even before then, I think I had my own way of coming out of every closet that I put myself into. Even when, described as such, it isn’t really just a closet but a discovery, or an archaeological dig that must be eradicated of it’s emotional dust in the most precarious and sheltered way. That’s how all people learn things about themselves right? They secretly sweep at an enormous fossil with a hand sized brush to expose one jagged edge at a time, keeping it hidden until more is revealed..

I could go on, but why? This isn’t how people feel or think or anything. This is just me (INTPs unite!), coming out of my self-constructed closets. Writing in particular has been one of those closets for years.

There have been selected people, amounting to more than I’d like to admit over the past fifteen or so years, but still only selected people that have read my writing. And this has been with careful intent and sacrifice on my part, because being a writer was never an exposed faceted edge until now. I’ve released more writing to more people in that past year than I ever have in all the dark dank hours of closet writing. Recently – I’ve come to a crossroads and it has been this inevitable fork in my life that inspired me to write more than I have ever done and let myself cast it out for the internet’s eyes. Which – honestly, has been quite an easy endeavor.

Having a job that steadily and increasingly pays not only the minimum on my debt, but rather huge, staggering chunks of it at a time, is a gift that I cannot begin to be adequately thankful for. Money related stresses are, one of the heaviest weights to bear in this society of America and one, that when lifted, grants immense emotional freedom to the point of previous unknown and disorienting boredom. My mind began to wander freely into places where previously, I didn’t have any left over energy to go. A strange sensation, even just trying to describe it on paper, indeed. With everything changing in small but very noticeable ways, I turned to my words and dove into the blank tunnel I now had to explore.

Words flowed uninhibited and precisely about my imagined worlds, some rooted in reality, others not. There was so much of it at times where I wouldn’t move for hours, ignoring all the physical needs of an earthly human body for I, was elsewhere. Upon review, I was indeed proud of what I had written and feeling safe enough with my partner and best friend, I willingly and excitedly shared. Then, with their encouragement, I shared more and more of my words to more people. And Thus, my writing closet truly and finally opened.

Propping the door ajar has erupted within me, questions I didn’t think I would ever ask. Because, being a writer isn’t a thing, you know? With steady money, regular work, and cogs of a business; All of which is what I’ve ever known a job to be. Being a writer isn’t a job then, so what? Well, I need a job. So what is being a writer? Do I need a job… how do I make writing into my job?

That was the key question; how do I make writing into my job. Well, here it is. Write, write, and then write some more. Then wait, and write, and eat and write, and go to work and write. Every day, until you stumble upon ‘the end’, however long that takes. There are tons of steps after that (oh right – money is nice), but this is where it begins. This is where I begin as a writer.

I’m going to stumble and fall; I’ll have some successes and some immense failures. Maybe a book, maybe not. /shrug, why not try?

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