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

It all began with a burst

A burst of inspiration that is. The infamous day was November 8th, 2016 (technically November 9th by the time the votes were in) when the “impossible” happened. For many reasons, it is a day I won’t ever forget. As I prepare to watch President Obama’s farewell speech tonight, I’m recognizing that it is a day that has left me in a state of disbelief for the past two months….has it only been two months? Are we not nearing the 4 year mark yet?

Just to name it and face my fear that if I write it down it makes it real: November 8th, 2016 was the day Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to become President-elect of the United States.

The entire election season was enlightening to say the least. I spoke more candidly about my beliefs, read more commentary than I ever had, and realized my vote isn’t my only source of political power. After a tumultuous buildup, the results of the election shook me to the core.

These past few months I’ve been looking for ways both formally and informally to be more active in the community and in projects I’m passionate about protecting. New Year’s came along and an active resolution came to me. In my first year in New York, I read more for pleasure than I have possibly since middle school. So I decided to turn this hobby into something more, something I could learn from, something I could pay forward.

It’s simple really. Each month I am reading at least one autobiography or non-fiction/non-fiction inspired piece written by a woman throughout 2017. I took to Facebook for suggestions and was overwhelmed by the response. There are so many amazing women I can learn from.

I started with Elizabeth Warren’s “A Fighting Chance” and after only a few pages I became emotional reading her story. After getting through a large portion of the book, I decided I wanted to share my journey moving through my readings. So here we are. I plan to document at least my overall thoughts on each book, but I also want to share my thoughts on specific anecdotes and life lessons from the books through the lens of a young woman currently figuring out how to navigate this thing called life.

Even though we can’t herald this as the year of the woman because we’re being led by one, women have been a part of history since the first chapter and we can still use this year to grow, to be active, and to learn just what women can do (spoiler: the answer is women can do anything.) I hope to start conversations. I hope to share different perspectives. And most of all I hope to remind those who read my thoughts that no matter where we come from we all have a unique story worth being told.

 

*It All Began With a Burst  – Kishi Bashi