Ever Since New York

4 jobs, 3 apartments, 2 years, 1 city, 0 regrets. I slept my first sleep as a NYC resident exactly two years ago. Some days I feel like I’ve lived here forever, then someone will ask me for directions in an area with non-numbered streets and I remember in New Yorker years I’m still a baby. The past two years have taught me a lot about myself and the world. The past two years there’s only been a short time I thought I was in the wrong place. Now I’m not sure if it’s because I have an apartment I love in my favorite borough filled with creativity, have a job that challenges me, have roommates that I consider friends, have been focusing on personal expression, or because I’ve grown closer with friends I’ve known for years, but I don’t feel like I just live in New York anymore. New York feels like home.

Today reinforced that feeling when we decided to throw an impromptu Memorial Day party and I was able to cook and barbeque and open our home to a diverse group of people (made even sweeter when people commented that my signature cookies were better than Levain). It was a heartwarming day.

(P.S I made a Spotify playlist of all the blog titles here. Thought I’d post it here in case people didn’t make it to the end of this post…it’s long.)

How I Got Here: The Short-ish Version

I first visited NYC in seventh grade and felt the allusive “spark” we’re told to spend our lives looking for and I knew I needed to come back. There’s written documentation in my eighth-grade reflections that coming here was always my plan (and I love a good plan). I thought about taking the easy road and following my friends to Chicago where I’d have an easy and predictable life, but easy and predictable are a few of my least favorite things. After a summer getting a taste of what staying in the Midwest would look like while I interned at Kohl’s, my affinity for NYC was confirmed. I’m not sure I believe in soul mates, but I think Brooklyn is mine.

I moved to NYC with an unpaid internship into an apartment in Manhattan where my wall was made from a curtain – and I was ecstatic. This was the beginning of a much bigger story that’s still in progress. I started with an event planning company and quickly realized this was not the internship that was going to get me a full-time job. To make money, I was waitressing at Dylan’s Candy Bar, a sometimes miserable but formative experience. If you ever want to learn patience I advise serving tourists and rich New Yorkers at a sub-par restaurant.

My first big decision came five months after my move – I was offered a full-time position at a large ad agency in a role I wasn’t excited about and simultaneously offered another unpaid internship that was exactly what I came to New York to do. As these things usually go, I knew in my gut I should take the internship because it was exactly what I said I came to NYC to do, but it would mean working seven days a week for at least three months and still not making a salary.

I ended up taking the internship and learning my first few major lessons: always go with your gut and without risk there is no reward. I worked extremely hard, met some of my favorite chefs, saw the New York hospitality industry from the inside, and learned a ton. It was a great internship that turned into a great job, but a little over a year and an election cycle later, I knew I needed to do more. My new and current job just won public affairs agency of the year from Holme’s report and every day I’m challenged to be my best.  Job I enjoy, where I can learn and grow? Check.

I have also moved more than the normal person in two years for a few reasons. The first included a mouse and desires for a room with a wall and to live where I originally intended – Brooklyn. After a drama filled few weeks we found a place and it was going well. Until the bed bugs, and the slightly nutso roommate, then the flies, then the cockroaches, then finally once we were officially signing a lease for my current place, the mice. That apartment’s issues were coupled with a horrible management company. I feel like just because of those 11 months I could consider myself a real New Yorker. Now I’m settled in a place with wonderful roommates, enough room to cook, enough room to host people, a walk-in closet, and a 2-year lease. Apartment close to the location I want with all of the amenities I want? Check.

All of these New York experiences have made me a stronger woman. I have had to call and fight for livable conditions, negotiate salary, accept a lot of stupid decisions. I’ve also beome more comfortable standing up for what I believe in, and actually standing in practice not just in my head. I read Jessa Crispin’s “Why I Am Not a Feminst” this month and it might be my favorite book of the year thus far. I was also recently watching Sex and the City and Carrie said something that connected a few ideas from Jessa’s book with living in New York. Carrie said “In New York, they say, you’re always looking for a job, a boyfriend or an apartment. So, let’s say you have two out of three and they’re fabulous. Why do we let the thing we don’t have affect how we feel about all the things we do have? Why does one minus a plus one feel like it adds up to zero?”  After two years I have two out of three and feel like a lucky anomaly but the sentiment rings true for many as a result of what women are taught to value the most. Below I’ve gathered a few of many thoughts from a couple of my favorite chapters from the book. I could write so much more, but I’d end up just paraphrasing or rewriting the entire book here.

The Fights We Choose

“There is a difference between outrage and having standards.”

This makes me think of how I started calling people out on their vernacular in college in an effort to stop equating language like pussy and bitch to weakness and rudeness. Jessa’s point in this chapter was that we can’t react to every individual problem with an extreme response like firings and boycotts because that solves only that particular problem . We have to think about the root cause of why people are saying what they say or else we’re just wasting energy.

For me and my peers a lot is just colloquial. It’s so subtle it takes finesse to even explain why the word pussy is offensive. I had a conversation at brunch recently and was asked if it was replaced with a masculine word how I would feel. I would feel the same. I remember vividly having conversations about taking the word retard and gay out of daily conversation because of the people it offended and undermined. I now rarely hear people use them in daily conversations. How we speak is how we feel is how we act. These subtleties need to change so weakness is not associated with either gender, only true physical weakness. There are plenty of negative words in the English language, trust me we don’t need to use these. At the same brunch I also found out that a friend now calls his roommate out when he uses the above vernacular and when they’re around me they’re more aware of it, that’s a start. Another common theme I’ve run into through my readings: change the conversation, change the reality.

This article from Fortune with a list of Chrome extensions meant to address some of this bias crossed my path today. I’d be interested to see how it could change people’s perception.

Men Are Not Our Problem

“Men can and must participate in this project. For that to happen, we must reimagine our relationships to and with men, as well as our ideas of who men are.”

I’m going to start this section by thanking the men in my life. Two in particular who I know for certain have helped New York change from pitstop in life to home. I knew Alex and Mike from college. I was somewhat close to both of them throughout all four years, but never in the exact same circles. The past few months I have leaned on them both for various advice and support alongside our adventures and they have been my rocks. So, a special shout out in my blog is their reward…exciting.

The point of me thanking them here is that we as women and as an entire society have to rethink the relationships between men and women. I still hear people say that men and women can’t be “just friends” (see above it’s definitely possible) and “friendzoning” is still a thing because apparently girls are supposed to want to date every guy they hang out with. Even our Vice President isn’t comfortable having dinner alone with just a woman because of the optics and his loyalty to his wife. At first, I was upset that he had this rule, then I realized it wasn’t his fault. This image is a result of how women are portrayed in general culture with men of power.

A major theme in Jessa’s book is how we have to create completely new systems rather than molding to the system’s that have oppressed us for any real change to occur. She also mentions that this isn’t easy and will make people uncomfortable.

This brings me to the topic of marriage. This is the system I can see a real reason and possibility for change. For some reason, even from a young age I said I didn’t want to get married but I wanted to have kids. No matter how my brain got there, I still feel that way. Do I want a formal partner in life? Yes. Do I want to be bound to a partner in a system where at one point women were traded like property reinforcing a restrictive class system? No. Do I want to take the name of a man making their nomenclature the dominant and my children never bearing my name because I’m the inferior one in the relationship? No. Do I want to take part in a system that excludes people based on who they love? No. This is uncomfortable because I grew up in a church where marriage was the expectation and the expectation was between a man and a woman only. We also live in a country that gives literal financial benefits to married couples so if who and how you love doesn’t fit within the rules you lose. I could live with someone for 10 years, not be legally bound and would not receive tax benefits or healthcare from them. However, if I met someone tomorrow and got married next week I could have all of those things because I have a piece of paper that says I’ll never leave them, yet 50% of people break that vow. Women’s whole lives shouldn’t be framed by the male gaze. Yet it’s an easy trap to slip into when the language we use for single women as they age is all negative and marriage is represented as life’s highest achievement. I’m not immune to it either. I slip into this trap and think about what potential men may think of my outfit because maybe if I look good one will like me, it’s ingrained in us and it’s a larger problem than just marriage. I also think living with a soul mate or someone you love is stronger when there’s not a piece of paper saying you have to, instead waking up every day with an easy way out and instead choosing to stay.

These are some of my more extreme views, but I stand by them. It’s not enough for individual marriages to be “renegotiated” because there are thousands of years of oppression as a foundation and many modern sociological studies that say even the most equal marriages mirror traditional roles due to society structures and subconcious actions. I don’t know what the system solution is, but I know we can figure it out. Men need to be part of the process. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again – men are some of our greatest allies. We have to learn to treat them as such and place less emphasis on them as potential mates. The best policies come when we debate and work across the aisle, the best romantic traditions and values will exist if men and women both gay and straight listen to what each other truly wants. I’ve paraphrased some with my own thoughts, but I highly recommend this book for to gain a different perspective on what it means to be a feminist and how we should be fighting for true equality for ALL – including those who are still oppressed by other systems.

*** Ever Since New York – Harry Styles

 

 

Hate That You Know Me

It’s crazy to me that it’s already April…it’s crazier to me I started writing this post in April and now we’re halfway through May. So much more has changed and progressed in the four five months since I started this project than I could have ever imagined. Let’s recap where we are on my reading journey, I’ve read:  A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren, I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai, Milk & Honey by Rupi Kaur, and I just finished Blood, Bones, & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton in April and just finished I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Caution, the following ramblings are a doozy of a months worth of thoughts.

It’s been an amazing month, beyond busy, causing my lapse in writing. I started my new job and have been settling in, learning quickly, and making myself known. I have a good intuition about things based on how easily I become comfortable in an environment and I was my typical weirdo self yelling at the news and sending puns in subject lines by around day three. You could say things are going well. I recently took a trip to Chicago to visit the world’s best humans and returned rejuvenated. It’s amazing what being around people who know you and love you can do. I also had another New York adventure waiting in line overnight for SNL tickets for the second time, this time seeing the live show with Chris Pine and LCD Soundsystem. May is and has already been an insane month with work piling up, plans every weekend, planning more for Rounds, and cooking and sharing more often – this is my bliss. The next book in the lineup is Why I Am Not A Feminist: A Feminist Manifesto by Jessa Crispin.

While reading each book this year I have been inspired to share different parts of my life and reflect on how women are perceived from different angles and tried to share how they relate to the bigger picture in today’s messed up world. March’s book, Blood, Bones, & Butter is an autobiography of Gabrielle Hamilton, the chef/owner of the beloved Prune restaurant in NYC. And April’s book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is an autobiography of Maya Angelou’s early life being raised in the south during the civil rights movement.

Gabrielle had a fairly stable childhood until her parents divorced when she was around 13 and she and one of her brothers were truly almost lost in the shuffle. This pushed her down a winding path. She lied about her age to get a job at age 13, eventually received a high school degree and was in and out of college, then in and out of drug use, and always in and out of the kitchen. She worked odd jobs, went to get a master’s degree in writing when she felt cooking wasn’t a worthy enough career. She had a green card marriage and didn’t admit for a long time she wished it was something more.

Maya faced daily racism and had to learn to navigate the world as a quieted figure. Her parents left her and her brother to be raised by her grandma and would make sporadic appearances in their lives. Maya was always at the top of her class, not the prettiest, and was raped at a young age – all factors contributing to how she viewed life. Neither woman let these challenges get them down, instead they lived them and shared them.

As I’ve mentioned timing has always been a funny godmother in my life. Both books were written in an extremely vulnerable way, discussing intimate details of their emotions at peaks and in valleys. I went to eat at Gabrielle’s restaurant solo and then to hang out with my friend after finishing her book. As we hung out, the topic of vulnerability came up unintentionally. We discussed our own struggles with being open and about how we were feeling in general because no one tells you what to expect in your early twenties. Fast forward to my first day at my new job on April 12. I had admitted my tremendous nerves and fear to a few people, but the morning of day one came as a rude awakening, literally. I was less scared the day I moved to NYC. I didn’t know what to do. I made breakfast and had to run to get a cup of water before I puked. Not only was I feeling nauseous, but I’m not typically a nervous person My best friend bought me a bracelet that says fearless. I consider my fortitude one of my best qualities. But that morning I needed support and it was hard to admit. I did what I always do and texted multiple friends, hoping they could reassure me. From the original conversation, to the first day of work, to now after focusing on consistent self-reflection, the topic of vulnerability and its many forms continues to fascinate me.

I thought my fear of sharing may be unique, a result how I was raised, a result of rarely discussing any emotions even in the worst of times only projecting positivity. But one of the discussion questions at the end of Blood, Bones, and Butter is:

“Many have commented on the ‘honesty’ of the book, suggesting that such candor and intimacy are uncommon. Are readers mostly responding to the way Gabrielle writes about her own family or does that ‘honesty’ manifest elsewhere? What is her point or objective in being so forthcoming?”

So it’s not just me. That begs the question why are vulnerability, pureness, and honesty viewed as uncommon? Why is admitting you need support so paralyzing? Why does going out to dinner alone make people (read: me) feel self-conscious? The band Bleachers released a song “Hate That You Know Me” and it is a treat, but it’s Jack Anonoff’s explanation “that’s a lyric i’ve head in my head forever about how hard it is to be around people who know who you truly are. you can’t escape yourself” that struck me when I began to write this post.

Jack is an outspoken feminist and activist and has been sharing extremely intimate thoughts about his personal life relating to his newest album, Gone Now (out 6/2, not sponsored). This song feels like the answer to the above – we don’t want to be too well-known, too vulnerable because then there’s nothing left that’s our own. The only thing we fully have to ourselves in this world is our sense of self. It’s the only thing we can know is one hundred percent true, but it’s also one of the most fragile. When we share our full self with someone else it opens up the possibility that our truest form won’t be enough and we will have nothing else to give. When we share our full self it gives others the ability to judge and cast doubt on something we’ve always believed. Vulnerability is scary because rejection is scary.

I’ve been working on embracing vulnerability and, at risk of turning into a giant cliché, living my truth. What I’ve learned rejection can either break you down by wondering what you could have done differently or rejection can build you up by allowing you to stand firmly in your opinions and desires without regard to what others think. My first two years in New York (anniversary soon!!) I was held back by thinking if I wanted to go to a new restaurant or see a show that I needed someone to go with me. No more! Working on living for myself, I’m going to do something once a month by myself just because I want to, a challenge for many reasons first and foremost my extreme extroversion. I saw the show Amelie a couple of weeks ago because Philippa Soo of Hamilton fame is starring in it. I treat myself REGULARLY to my beloved Ample Hills Ice Cream. I bought tickets to a show this week that’s still in previews. I’ve been experimenting and cooking meals more. I’ve become comfortable talking about my own vulnerabilities and not fearing that my truth isn’t good enough. And guess what. It’s been hella fun and satisfying not worrying if people around me are questioning my solitude. Of course, having someone around is also fun, but what they say when you’re young is true, you have to love yourself before you can love and be loved by someone else. This post and this mission inspired by this Man Repeller article.

One additional section, realizing when it’s not a political book on my agenda it’s harder to relate to modern times. Also modern times in the United States are so beyond belief maybe any book would be hard to relate to what’s happening.

 

Vulnerability for the Greater Good

Where to even begin. The policies being proposed in our government right now put so many people at risk. Whether it’s the Muslim ban, immigration reform, healthcare, oil sourcing, everyone in the country is currently vulnerable to losing some of their basic rights, their families, their land. Speaking about this vulnerability is what will get elected officials to resist unjust laws. Our representatives depend on the community for their job, so if enough people tell their stories, speak about their biggest fears, officials will have to at least listen. I don’t like to talk about my preexisting conditions, how I would literally die without my medicine, and how because pharma is a privatized system my life-sustaining drug is considered a luxury good, but if I don’t the policies are just words on a page. In campaigns the most powerful speeches always contain personal anecdotes. Our country’s foundation is freedom and we need to fight to make sure that means for all people. It’s scary because we may fail, because it’s affecting so many people, but we can use this fear as fodder. Talk about it, support each other, be vulnerable, resist, persist.

 

 

 

**Hate That You Know Me – Bleachers

 

chaos arpeggiating

A while ago I told a friend I wanted a new job by the time I moved, still thinking I would be moving May 1. Fast forward to this past week. I received a job offer just three days before I moved into my new home a month before originally planned. I’ve always been guided by goal setting and this past week has given me renewed confidence in my abilities.

I received a job offer last Thursday and they needed a decision by Monday. In those few days I had plans with three sets of people I hadn’t seen in ages, I had to finish (read: start) packing, I had to move myself into a new apartment. It wasn’t a chill weekend to say the least. I texted at least 20 people asking for their opinion, I recruited a friend to help with negotiating my offer, I immediately asked to sit down with my old boss. The move and the offer made me nervous, excited, empowered, all at the same time. My brain felt like a pile of noodles. That’s the only way I can accurately describe those few days.

What I realized through this was something I’ve always known: I thrive in chaos. It’s the reason I love cooking. It’s the reason I love New York. And it’s no coincidence that all of these changes  happening simultaneously have made me happier than I have been in many months.

With that said, I would like to let everyone know I have officially accepted a new role at APCO Worldwide (a majority women owned company) as a Project Consultant working with corporate clients on their strategic communications, corporate social responsibility, and crisis management. It’s going to be a big change and a challenge, but it feels like the right time to try something new and the right time to help companies find their social voice. I knew after the election I needed to do more and I think this job will provide me the opportunities to touch projects that effect real change. I’ve already felt such a warm welcome from the team and know this is the next step I need to take while continuing to grow as an individual and continuing to fall more in love with the city and all it offers every day.

Part of this process ignited a need within my staunch feminism to negotiate my offer which I had never done before. Knowing the pay gap is partially caused by women not negotiating as often as men, I knew I needed to at least try. I talked to a friend about how to approach it and we determined an appropriate strategy. I’m working on getting better at asking for what I need and this was a big move. Crafting the email and having the phone conversation helped me overcome this fear and going forward I will be more confident having these conversations. Subconsciously women are told we don’t deserve as much as men and we consciously have to choose our words wisely so not to seem needy or bitchy. It’s a tough line to walk but this process has given me the opportunity to experience that vulnerability and now I can share my experience with others.

I’ve also been reading Blood, Bones, & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton, the owner of Prune restaurant in NYC. Her story is chaotic and her success is inspiring to say the least.  The timing of this read also came into my life at the perfect moment. The same friend I told about my goal to get a job asked me what it would take to reach my ultimate goal of opening a restaurant. It’s a question I’ve been asked a lot, but this time it struck a cord. I have always thought about it at a macro level, needing capital, needing a concept, needing a location. Then a different friend made it clear I was thinking too big. Even a forest fire starts with a tiny spark. Both of these conversations got me to thinking and I came up with a concept that resonated with me for the first time and I’m going to start selling my cookies a few at a time wherever/whenever I can just to get my feet moving. Stay tuned for more updates on Rounds (that’s the name, holla!) and if you need any dessert gifts, catering, or personal treats hit me up.

I’ll give more details on lessons from the book in my next post, but I thought I’d document and share a life update. Monotony makes me manic. These few moves colliding at the same time have emblazoned me to continue reaching and striving for more. I know success is not solitary and would be remiss if I didn’t thank the people who were there to talk me through it along the way. I cannot wait to see what comes next and continuing to share with whoever is reading this. The world is messy, confusing, enraging, and scary right now, but we can all take comfort in our individuality and personal peaks. No victory is to small to be celebrated.

** chaos arpeggiating – of Montreal

If I Were to Write the Song …

Inspired by Rupi Kaur and her poetry’s rawness, I wrote a poem on a whim on the train last night and started blogging this morning. Then I found out it was #WorldPoetryDay and I have never felt such serendipity. What better day to write about this female poet that toes the line between vulnerability and strength in ways I honestly envy.

Rupi’s poems in Milk and Honey illustrate the real emotions we feel in relationships and experiences we have as women. “Milk and Honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.”

The book is divided into four chapters: The Hurting, The Loving, The Breaking, The Healing. Each chapter is instantly provokes personal anecdotes. Reading and rereading certain poems, it’s baffling to me how her world can feel so similar to my world. She writes without apology about the female experience, how women are constantly quieted, how we’re taught our bodies aren’t meant to take up space. How these are still truths today is beyond me, yet I relate to each one.

The juxtaposition of unfortunate truths within beautiful writing is the magic of Rupi. How does she make me feel sadness and hope all at once?  Playing with poetry is liberating. There are few rules, but still structure. Emotions can be strung into short pieces emphasizing each breath, each thought. The order of each word strategically placed. Poetry is also a snippet in time. How I feel today can be expressed in a completely different way than I feel tomorrow depending on each punctuation, the rhyme scheme, the repetition. I was scared to share one poem of an ambiguous experience, Rupi published an entire book speaking to her family life, her sexual life, her life as a woman. It’s a fast an easy read at the surface, but take an extra second on each poem and it’s a truly inspiring work. I’ve included a few of my favorites below.

Context of my poem: I’ve been independent since birth and never felt compelled to find a man. It was never a need for me. I didn’t have my first boyfriend until I was 17 and  in hindsight it’s clear it happened because I craved a crutch after I lost the only man I thought I’d ever need. I’ve been dealing with my first adult dating experiences in NYC and it’s been oddly challenging and not similar to anything I witnessed growing up in the Midwest. After a bad breakup in college due to my naiveté towards love, I was out for the count and thrived in my own little world. That is, until recently when I had a positive experience for the first time in literally three and a half years. It was short and sweet and we’re still friends, but it wasn’t my decision to bring things to a halt and it wasn’t the way I thought things would go. This is the first time my heart and my head have been at such odds. But every cloud has a silver lining. It has taught me a lot about myself as an individual. It has taught me to ask for help. It has taught me a lot about what I want in life. It has reminded me my biggest comfort is thoughtfulness. Dating is  confusing but I’ve been riding the wave of feelings I haven’t felt in ages – or maybe ever.  This is what flowed out on a packed subway car to Brooklyn.

I feel okay
And then I meet you
I feel something new
It ignites my soul
I convince myself it’s fate
Then we part
And I think we should never be apart

I feel okay
And then I know you
I feel your presence
It wraps around me
I convince myself it’s safe
Then we part
And I lose control of my heart

I feel okay
And then I see you
I feel our chemistry
It catalyzes a reaction
I convince myself it’s real
Then we part
And I know it was over before it could start

-LJW

 

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** If I Were to Write the Song … – Cartel

 

 

Show Me the Way

Happy March! It’s National Women’s Month! It’s International Women’s Day! What a treat to see my newsfeed filled with so many  posts of inspiring women to break up the highly volatile political landscape.

In February I read “I Am Malala” and it was a much different experience than I was expecting. I had minimal context about Malala Yousafzai as a person and as I read I learned more about her culture and surroundings than her personal story and activism. Comparing this reading experience to January’s –  I found when reading Elizabeth Warren’s book I had the context of the political climate she was writing from and could visualize myself in it and with Malala I was too young when the taliban rose to power and I have never lived outside of a developed country so I was unable to fully put myself Malala’s her shoes.

I’m still figuring out this blogging venture and have realized it’s going to become a lot more personal than I expected. The goal was always to relate the events in the books and the female experiences to my modern life as an average young woman in the world, but while reading I’ve learned so much about my unique personal story that I need an outlet for my emotions and thoughts. Here we are! I’ll continue to share my opinions on the world with a critical eye, but the content will be more personal inspired by what I’m reading versus analyses of the books themselves. Writing is a wave and I’m just riding it.

With all of that said let’s dig into “I Am Malala”. Malala was quite young in the book and shared a lot about her school years and her relationship with her parents. For those who are not familiar, Malala grew up in Pakistan during the rise of the taliban and became an advocate for female education at a young age and as a result she was shot in an assassination attempt. She went on to become the youngest Nobel Peace Prize winner and continues her efforts in with the Malala Fund today. Her father owned schools and at a time when daughters were viewed as highly inferior to sons, Malala’s father encouraged her education. As the taliban grew, females were banned from going to school and rules restricting how women existed in society were enforced on an extreme level. From what they wore to who had to escort them, few choices were fully up to women. Malala fought for her place in society and should be an inspiration to anyone who feels they can’t accomplish something due to their circumstances.

I was slapped in the face by my privilege, never having to worry whether I could go to school because of my gender, never having to move due to active threats against my family, never having to find a male relative to escort me when I wanted to go out on the town. Another topic that hit me page after page was how Malala’s relationship with her father impacted how she viewed and presented herself. The majority of this post willl recount and relate the relationship I had with me father and the story of my biggest failure. I know it’s odd and not of the moment to be writing about a man on a day celebrating women, but I am feeling empowered to share a personal story and will relate it to the day, I promise.

Male Figures
I’m not a man-hating feminist. In fact, I’d argue men are some of feminists’ greatest allies. Malala’s father could have easily put her in the conservative box and not encouraged her education. She could have easily never attended school, never learned to read, never traveled from her hometown. In her culture it was up to the father figure to make the decision on how his daughters would live. It takes a special person to defy society standards. Malala has a spirit that would have thrived despite her encouraging household, but her father definitely helped make it possible. It made me think about myself and who I would be without the influence of my own father.

Reading “I Am Malala” I related a lot to her relationship with her father and finally felt ready to share my own story, which I do below. As I mentioned I think men are some of feminists’ greatest allies and that starts with fathers. Society projects its own gender roles, but starting in the home young girls see their own truth. Mothers are just as important as fathers in creating this truth. My point here is, the father daughter relationship is unique and highly influential. Without my father pushing me in math class I probably would have believed I was bad at it because I was a girl. Without my father letting me take part in games with the older boys, I probably would have felt more nervous in a 60%+ male business school in college. The small nuances and seemingly unimportant moments are what shaped my tenacity. So here goes, a big story on a big day.

The Untold Story
I don’t talk openly about my dad often. I’ve only shared his whole story with the few most dear to me. Though recently, I’ve learned to be more transparent and expressive. When reading about the relationships between Malala and her family I felt compelled to share my own story on a large (I mean like 5 people will probably read this) or at least public platform.

I grew up with a built in best friend. At social gatherings, if my dad was throwing a football around I was right there. If I heard he was going to the driving range, I tagged along. He took me to Michigan football games. He took me on trips to amusement parks where we rode the biggest fastest rides. He helped me with science fair projects. I played air soft guns with him and the boys in youth group. I had my own toolkit and helped him in the garage. I grilled with him on the back patio in the summer. We went to the gym together. We play fought (because I was always trying to prove I was as strong as him.) He teased me, I teased him. A lot of these things could be considered “boy” activities but I never knew that was their perception.

I lived my life in a somewhat gender blind mindset. Nothing was off limits (except that one time I tried to join the football team and even then I could have if I REALLY fought for it.) That’s because both of my parents allowed me to express myself. My dad let me in on typically boy things and also went dress shopping with me. My mom watched football with us and also taught me to cook. Although my parents lived along traditional gender roles, somewhere in the trickle down I felt comfortable bending those same norms.

My dad died August 4th, 2010. That’s the only detail most people know. He started his hospital battle on April 2, Good Friday. 124 days before. It was so fast and I was so naive.

My dad went in for a normal surgery in April. Then things went awry. I was 17 and optimistic, not paying too much attention to the details. It started with a problem with his blood and things went on a roller coaster from there. He was transferred from our hometown hospital to Indianapolis and back and then back to Indianapolis and then back – I honestly don’t know how many times. There were few answers and a continuous stream of new questions.

In three months I only visited the hospital three times. I said it was because I hated hospitals, which I do, but subconsciously I’m sure it was because I didn’t want to see my dad helpless. The first visit was before what was supposed to be the original surgery. Second, before his first emergency flight to Indianapolis. Finally, while driving through Indy on my way to compete in DECA nationals. Each time staying only a few minutes. Note the last time was in May. He was home for about a month in the summer and it was great to have him, but he was a shell of himself. The strongest and smartest man I knew could barely get out of a chair by himself. I knew he was trying to show a brave face but for the first time I saw doubt in his eyes. He was working to regain strength at physical therapy and even went back to work but months of bedrest and sedation takes a toll. I always thought I wanted to be as strong as him, but I had never imagined being stronger than him. Despite this new normal, he was home and I still thought everything would be fine.

My final trip back to the hospital I was still reluctant. I received a phone call from a family friend telling me she needed to come over when I got home from cheerleading practice. I cried at school with a few friends because I instantly knew something was wrong. I met Deanna at my house. She sat me down and for the first time I heard that things were not going to be okay. I think this is when they had finally figured out that he was battling a rare autoimmune disease antiphospholipid syndrome which triggered lupus. Honestly, I never understood medically what was happening. Deanna explained that we had an indefinite amount of time left but they would take me to Indianapolis to be with my mom, sister, and dad that day and we would stay until things got better. I packed a bag to stay for a week –  still thinking things WOULD get better.

After a 2 hour drive I arrived to a doctor not allowing me into the room. I’ve never been one to take no for an answer when I want something and pleaded and pushed the doctor to let me in to no avail. Frustrated, I went to the bathroom hoping those few minutes would be enough time for them to fix the current problem and let me in the room. Instead, I opened the bathroom door to see Deanna and she let me know it was over. Falling to the floor I had no control. I was too late. I got no goodbye. I had no last visit. I had so many unanswered questions. I immediately feared for my future without him. I gave no goodbye.

I felt overwhelmingly selfish for the first time in my life. I blamed myself for not being there. I blamed myself for a long time. I actually still blame myself. I still think as his daughter, one of his favorite people, if I would have been around, if my positive energy would have been in the room, things would have turned out differently. It’s a big reason why I refuse to let any situation turn into a “what if.” It’s a big reason I don’t let anything go unsaid. That’s a pain I never want to feel again.

So I rode back home with Deanna and Tim – my mom and my sister stayed to deal with the hospital. On the way home I told a couple of people, tasking Jenna with telling the majority of our friends because saying the words were too hard for me. I rarely consider how hard that must have been, I’m grateful to still have her friendship and strength. I got home, turned on no lights, and I got in my bed. I had cheerleading practice either the day after or two days after and I showed up not having eaten anything, weak & numb, tearing up in between sets. Everyone wondered how I was there, literally lifting people over my head. My dad taught me commitment and perseverance and I wasn’t going to forget that so soon after he was gone.

In reality, I was just swallowing my emotions as I always do and putting my energy anywhere else. I baked cookies all day while my mom was out making funeral plans. My friend Jenna kindly hosted (and invited) everyone to her house so I could see my friends all at once. I stayed there until I was almost too tired to drive so I could go home and go straight to bed and avoid being alone with my thoughts. My mom came up the next morning and asked if I wanted to help with any of the arrangements – I gave another selfish no. I couldn’t face it. As much as I hated hospitals, I hated funerals more.

At the viewing I barely looked in the casket, I still didn’t want it to be real. I stood at the door, greeting everyone who arrived. Being the extroverted one of the family, this worked well. I didn’t really cry or think about anything it was just one person after another. Repeating motions. I felt a sense of pride that so many people came to support not only my father but my mom, sister, and me as well. My friends left notes on my car, I saw people who I hadn’t seen in years, my teachers came. I hung out with my friend Michael in between the morning and afternoon open call hours. I went to my friend Chase’s house later that night. It was another whirlwind day that allowed me to push my emotions to the back as I tried to be strong for the family like my dad always was, I wanted to fill his role.  I wanted to celebrate my father’s life instead of mourning it.

A few days before, I finally knew how I could be involved. I woke up one night and wrote a speech – Jerry Maguire style. It came out effortlessly and expressed our relationship. I spoke last at the funeral, still feeling sad on the inside and strong on the outside. I knew I was part of his legacy and needed to use the skills I had to live up to that responsibility. I recently found the speech I typed (check out the full transcript here). My favorite line is: “He never accepted less than my best, and always let me know when I could do better. Because of that, I have learned to strive for the top and I have learned that I can do anything as long as I try.” I’ve never forgotten these lessons and I’ve never felt any task impossible. 

The Aftermath, The Women
What people don’t know is during this time I spent about a month of my junior year in high school living alone. My mom was with my dad in Indy and despite many opportunities I refused to go. For the first time my inherently independent nature was tested. I drove myself to school, to the grocery store, to track meets, to shop for my prom dress – all alone.

Except I wasn’t alone. Looking back at the network of people who were supporting me the people who jump out were amazing women. Deanna checked that I was home safely and was eating well, a second mother of sorts. Suzanne, my wonderful AP Lang teacher made sure I knew I could come to her for anything and I spent many hours in her classroom and her home studying and now call her a friend and mentor. Jenna, one of my oldest and closest friends is one of the strongest people I know and let me vent to her or come over or drive around whenever I needed a break. And last but not least, my mom. She wasn’t occupying the same space as me but from afar was supportive making sure she was there for me and my father, something I can’t imagine balancing. She drove back and forth to be with me for the weekend and to take prom pictures. She answered my random cooking questions and always made sure I was okay by myself.

These women held me up. Today on International Women’s Day I thank them. I’ve barely shared this story with a few of  them, including my mom, but even six and a half years later I am forever indebted to the love I was shown. It’s still hard sometimes. I still have random nights of tears. That will never go away. These women and numerous others continue to inspire me to be my best self and I can only hope I’m paying it forward.

I love seeing all of the strong female examples on my timeline, the astronauts, the engineers, the athletes. After writing this, I want to be sure to also recognize the caretakers. Part of the pay gap is due to women taking more positions in “care industries.” That’s daycare, nursing, social work, stay at home mom etc and these jobs are grossly underpaid. Women literally take care of the world. Women took care of me.

I haven’t started (or chosen) my March book yet. Honestly, I’m a slow reader and have had trouble prioritizing it. So stay tuned and in the meantime check out these articles about boss ladies across the country and comment any you’ve read!

Vogue – American Women
#GirlsCount: This Is What 130 Million Girls Missing Out On Education Looks Like
Air India’s all-female crew makes history with round-the-world flight
Twitter – #IWD2017
The World’s Most Powerful Women Share Their Best Leadership Advice
Why the Defiant Girl Statue in Front of the Wall Street Bull Is So Significant
Now, More Than Ever, A Day for Women Matters
4 Life Lessons From Hillary Clinton on International Women’s Day

*Show Me the Way – Styx

American Money

This post has taken a while to write #life. Events described are from the dates 2/2 – 2/9. This is also admittedly a selfish post, I need to add more about Elizabeth but this woman is so intense and full of content I’m having trouble penning it. Hoping the next post comes more easily. Thanks for reading as always.

It’s quite possible I felt every emotion ever experienced by a human since Thursday. It’s been a roller coaster of peaks and valleys, laughter and tears. In personal news, it was my birthday last weekend and two of my very best friends flew in & it was the first time we were together in 2 years (what?!) and as a Patriots football fan the Super Bowl was a tumultuous but ultimately joyous experience to say the least. Then in USA news, the Muslim ban was temporarily lifted, Betsy Devos & Jeff Sessions were confirmed, and Dodd-Frank is under attack – more on that later. My brain and heart are genuinely confused how to proceed, so I guess I’ll just write my way out (hey, Lin Manuel).

Through all of the ups and downs, last weekend was a great reminder that having a group of supportive friends with diverse backgrounds is one of the most wonderful and necessary things in life. From snuggling when I was sad to laughing when I was ridiculously excited about the Super Bowl, from new friends to old friends, from friends nearby to friends afar, all were with me and I am grateful for each one.

Now let’s talk about A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren, what great timing! If this is the first post of mine you’re reading here’s what you need to know: I’m reading one non-fiction book by a female author each month and writing along the way relating lessons and themes from the books to my life and current events. And if this is a subject you haven’t been following Senator Warren was  BARRED FROM SPEAKING against a repugnant attorney general this week after sharing the words of civil rights leader Coretta Scott King. “Nevertheless she persisted” and this post is coincidentally quite aptly timed.

When I started reading A Fighting Chance, all I knew about Elizabeth Warren was she is a Democrat Senator from Massachusetts, a vocal supporter of Hillary during the election, and rumored to run for president in 2020. That’s all. Within the first few pages of the book I could tell her story was much deeper than politics. As the title of this post alludes, Senator Warren’s biggest impact has been on the American financial system, fighting for families and the middle class, work that’s currently under attack by the Trump administration.

If we were to play a word association game now, the first word that comes to mind when I think of Senator Warren is fighter. Reading through the book and watching current events this is the best word to sum up everything that Elizabeth Warren is and I plan to break it down into a few categories. I’m sure other women I read about will also have tenacious tendencies and I look forward to comparing and contrasting their perspectives.

Fighting For Yourself

The first thing that struck me was Elizabeth never let her circumstances define her path. Her parents were unable to send her to college after a the loss of a job and illness, but instead of taking no for an answer, Elizabeth noticed she was excelling at the debate team and researched schools with scholarships for their teams. She was admitted to George Washington with a full scholarship. Win. She then dropped out to marry her first husband at age 19, but try as she may, she was not meant to be a homemaker. So she figured out a way to go back to school. And then to law school, as a new mother no less. Then she went through a divorce and became a working mother of two in a time where women were truly taught their life fulfillment should come from a man. She didn’t let her personal circumstances or the world’s expectations stop her from getting where she wanted to go.

These experiences shaped Elizabeth into the woman we now know as relentless and served a her foundation as a fighter in the professional world.

Fighting For Others 

Elizabeth had very little to gain personally fighting for financial reform. However, she gave numerous examples of people she met along the way that motivated her to keep going. From people at campaign events to the train platform, Elizabeth listened to their struggles and made them her own.

Fighting With Focus

For over the majority of Elizabeth’s life her goal was the same. Through multiple administrations and multiple roles she always had the one goal in mind – regulate the banks so they couldn’t take advantage of people. As I read, all I could think was “wow, she still hasn’t given up.” Her family was attacked, she was attacked, she battled a congress stacked against her. Year after year, she relentlessly fought.

This is the biggest takeaway from reading about her and simultaneously watching her fight for the American people to be represented in the best way. Her focus is and always has been to make America fair for everyone. It started with financial reform as a law professor and led to her becoming a Senator at age 63, just two years before more people RETIRE she started an entirely new career.

Personal Reflection 

Fighting for myself is something I’ve done my entire life. If I set a goal I achieve it. This isn’t to sound cocky, but to say that if I want something I find a way to make it happen. From sports, to jobs, to grades, to new cities I will always go the extra mile when faced with a challenge. It’s just how my brain works. I hate few things more than feeling like I held back and things could have ended differently if I tried harder. I related to Elizabeth the most learning how she approaches big picture end goals.

Fighting for others is my new years resolution. This administration is threatening so many groups we all have to suit up and get in the battle .I haven’t done the best job so far because I’ve been overwhelmed and not sure where to look. But Elizabeth shared many anecdotes of moments that inspired her and I am going to make a conscious decision to actually hear more of what’s going on around me and to understand what tangible struggles I can help. Watching my 13 year old pal get cat-called is one of these moments that put a fire in me. Rape culture is something I am passionate about fighting for many reasons and taking notice of this specific instance has inspired me to want to speak up in a bigger way.

Focus is the only way to get where you want to go and something I’ve struggled to find recently. I want to help so many causes but know stretching myself thin will end up backfiring. I’ve had success being focused, a year of dedicated research and planning allowed me to make it to NYC and I’ve never been more sure I made the right decision. Learning from Elizabeth and reflecting on times my focus was fearless and fruitful, I know my next step is take my passion to serve, choose a cause, and fight relentlessly until there is change. Is it women’s rights, children’s education, fighting systematic racism? I’m not sure but I know I’ll find the path and opportunities where I can use my skills most effectively to help those around me.

Thank you Elizabeth for your words in A Fighting Chance, thank you for your years of service, thank you for persisting, thank you for inspiring me to fight.

**American Money – BORNS

What Kind of Man

Well…the first 20 days of January were fun and nostalgic. I attended the rally in Columbus Circle the day before the inauguration and felt a sense of unity, action, and hope that the threats we faced were conquerable. Fast forward through the first week off the Trump presidency and I have to hold back tears with each new executive order he signs. Each day has been a reminder of the diverse people who built America who now need our protection. 9.2 miles from where I am currently sitting, our country is detaining innocent people seeking refuge from their unimaginable conditions. They are coming here to try and stay alive, to seek safety, and they are not being welcomed. Let me just point out this is in no way a pro-life, Christian, “great” American, or objectively moral move. And this is only the most recent un-American development this week.

But through it all we all have to hang onto hope, resisting the urge to let go no matter how weak we may feel. I’m lucky to live in the greatest city in the world where my hope is restored literally every day by the people getting out and fighting for what they believe. Both standing with them and watching from afar, I remember that in almost every story good conquers evil so long as there is a hero to take it on. There were heroes marching for good on every continent on day one of the current evil’s reign, let’s keep showing up. Let’s fight to remain a compassionate and accepting society of ALL people, no matter what our leadership is mandating.

Now that I have that off of my chest, as we near the end of January I’m starting to wrap my head around everything in A Fighting Chance for my first book “review” post. For today, I was struck as a bystander of last weekend’s Women’s March and a portion of Elizabeth Warren’s book dealing with the double standard women face.

“What’s it like to run as a woman?”

Elizabeth Warren notes that throughout the early months of her campaign, this was often the first question reporters asked. We need to stop asking this question.

Running a campaign should be the same for both men and women, but for some reason there’s an added pressure to a female campaign. How will she take care of her children? How will she make decisions on her menses? How will she be strong enough to stand up to world leaders?

Let me tell you. The same way men do it. Men have families. Men have emotions. And some men definitely aren’t strong enough to stand up to world leaders (and that’s ok!!)

We have to stop gendering occupations. Hollywood has gotten a lot of flack for asking actresses more questions about their appearance than about their work. I think need we to be conscious of that in all questioning about professions. All it takes is leaving out the gender. Ask “What’s it like to be a police officer?” instead of “What’s it like to be a female police officer?” We need to start normalizing traditionally male roles so young girls know they can be anything. If they hear a woman asked “What’s it like to be a female CFO?” they’ll internalize that being a CFO is not the norm for girls and seek other paths. Even though it’s not always done maliciously, it has to change.

Check out another interesting take on this subject from Eater on the recent “Best Female Chef” award here.

“Women always think of reasons they aren’t good enough. Men never ask if they’re good enough” 

A colleague told Elizabeth this when she was contemplating running for Senate without much political experience.

I consider myself a confident woman, yet when I read this I immediately related. I’ll admit it’s a general rule and there are definitely men who also ask if they’re good enough. But it’s one of those things you don’t realize until it’s pointed out and once it is pointed out you can’t forget. It’s an unfortunate truth that this is how women think, but for me, it is a gift to be more aware of how my intrinsic thoughts can affect me daily.

It has to be  a mindset change. When applying to jobs, I always notice the one tiny skill I don’t have versus being confident in the many skills I do have. When navigating relationships, I always think I must have done something wrong if it goes south versus looking at the context of what actually happened. For example, recently I was talking to my BFF Sarv and he told me “how bout you don’t even think about it and go about your life normally because even though you like attention, you don’t need it.” This is 100% true, but I still wondered what I did to cause the absence of attention. (Nothing is the answer, but there was a full list of theoretical tiny mistakes I could have made.)

I think part of  this dichotomy of thinking is due to men having more role models in positions of power. They’ve seen one man after another achieve the same thing, man after man being the breadwinner in relationships. Women in these same powerful positions are fewer. So women feel they have to be more highly qualified to reach them.

“It happens with every woman. People have to talk about how she looks before they can talk about what she says.” 

Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Sarah Palin’s campaign. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign. Every Red Carpet event. The Women’s March. Rape culture. Cat calling. All of these are framed by what the women look like in the public eye and to achieve true equality we have to change the conversation.

It’s just another way women are still told their words don’t matter. Rape victims are blamed for wearing revealing clothing. The most acclaimed actresses are criticized for wearing an ugly dress.Hillary Clinton was criticized for not smiling enough, for her smile being disingenuous, the list goes on. Even at the inauguration, Hillary was acknowledged more in the media for wearing white than for her hard-fought campaign or showing up and acting with grace.

A lot of people think men and women are equal now. And in more ways than ever they are. However, these seemingly small judgments continue to hold women back. Instead of only having to write an amazing speech  and deliver it, women have to also wear perfectly fitting clothing and unblemished makeup. Instead of feeling confident in a great new outfit, women have to worry if someone on the street will harass them for it. These additional considerations in daily life, though minute, add up in the long run taking valuable time away from productive activities.

Addressing the Opposition

In spite of not wanting to give this woman any more publicity for her asinine comments, a recent Washington Post interview question struck a cacophonous cord with me. I’m going to break it down. I’m glad Kellyanne brought to light how non-feminists think, presenting an opportunity to address her qualms.

“You don’t consider yourself a feminist?”
KAC “I don’t consider myself a feminist. I think my generation isn’t a big fan of labels. My favorite label is mommy. I feel like the feminist movement has been hijacked by the pro-abortion movement or the anti-male sentiments that you read in some of their propaganda and writings. I’m not anti-male. One does not need to be pro-female and call yourself a feminist, when with it comes that whole anti-male culture where we want young boys to sit down and shut up in the classroom. And we have all of these commercials that show what a feckless boob the man in the house is. That’s not the way I see the men in my life, most especially my 12-year-old son. I consider myself a post feminist. I consider myself one of those women who is a product of her choices, not a victim of her circumstances.”

On labels: Kellyanne says her generation is not big on labels but from where I’m sitting they are quick to blame a lot of problems on “millenials.” I’m going to assert labels are not the problem. I’m happy her favorite label is mommy, one day I’m sure it will be mine as well, actually my friends already call me mom and it’s the best. Here’s the thing, you can be a mom and be a feminist at the same time and be proud of both. Raising future sons and daughters to believe in equality for all people is integral to the promise of the American dream. A dream that is the same for every parent – for their children to be better off than themselves. Labeling oneself as a feminist is being proud of and desiring equality for all races, religions, and it just happens to have its roots in gender equality.

On feminism being anti-male & pro-abortion: Feminists are not anti-male. Do feminists hate that men are restricting the decisions women can make regarding their bodies, yes. Do feminists hate that men make $.20 more per $1 than women, yes. Kellyanne says feminists want boys to “sit down and shut up”…nope. Feminists want men to be strong and continue serving in leadership roles, we just want them to know women should have the same chances to work at the same level. Because, let me say it louder for the people in the back, feminism’s fight is for equality. What laws have been signed in a room full of women regarding how and where men can handle their reproductive health? The answer is no laws. I grew up in a conservative household, I wrote a pro-life persuasive speech in sixth grade, so no I’m also not obsessed with my right to have an abortion. I’m obsessed with my right to decide how I live my life.

On post feminism: We are not in a post-feminist society and don’t let anyone tell you differently. Sure, we had a female presidential candidate, but we’re not in a post-feminist society any more than we’re in a post-racist society after having a black president. These problems still exist, even if there are people who don’t feel directly effected. Women do make less money than men. It’s getting better, but part of the problem is young girls aren’t encouraged to learn skills as often or shown powerful female role models as often in fields where higher salaries are earned. Whenever Elizabeth Warren met a young girl on the campaign trail she introduced herself and said “I’m running for senate because that’s what girls do.”I bought my girl cousins books full of female leaders and engineering toys for Christmas. We have to change how we talk to young girls and they will grow up to know their place is anywhere they want it to be.  To become post-feminist we have to start becoming less dependent on gender roles. To become post-feminist we have to stop telling girls their highest priority in life is to find  men to love and marry them. To become post-feminist we have to label it, we have to have men join the fight, and we have to have healthy girls.

Coincidentally, my February book just became even more relevant – I Am Malala. Written by Malala Yousafza and how she fought for what she believed in and almost lost her life. I expect her determination will teach me to be stronger and less fearful as I fight going forward.

A few ways to help:
Ways To Take Effective Action Following The Magnificent Women’s March
A List of Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant, Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations That Need Your Support
Donate to the ACLU

*What Kind of Man – Florence & The Machine