blessed

It’s Father’s Day. We all have the world’s best father, don’t we? Except those who don’t. Or those who have lost their dads. Or those who never knew them to begin with.

Life isn’t fair.

That’s one thing my mother taught me as a child: Life isn’t fair, so stop expecting it to be. She was right. I met a young man recently who broke my heart. A “thug” on the outside, he quickly showed that he’d had an unstable childhood at best. He had no support system, and as an adult, he was hurting.

How much of who we are is who we are, and how much of it is where we came from?

Me, though—I was blessed. I have two amazing parents. My dad is and always has been my best friend. He knows me better than anyone. We think alike, and he’s always been there for me with open ears and ready arms—no matter the hour, no matter how tired, no matter what he himself is going through. He’s the most giving person I’ve ever met—giving to a fault, in fact. (Dad, you need to take care of YOU!!)

But I love him for it and know he will always put others first, no matter what I or my brother say. We’re a trio, really. My brother is amazing, too—why don’t we have a Sibling’s Day, by the way?—and this is perhaps the hardest part about being so far from home. I miss being surrounded by people who know me and love me just as I am. I wish I could be closer to watch my nephew grow. But, alas, I have to follow my own path, and my path has taken me to Tennessee.

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Today I want to share with you an event from this past week, which actually started earlier (the “backstory” from my last post), and which I couldn’t have done without my dad, who has encouraged me every step of my non-traditional way.

Back in March I wrote a post about attending my first “Poetry Slam.” The “Slam” meets once a month, and last month I got brave and recited a couple of my old poems. It was nerve-wracking, but afterward a guy reached out to me and said he and his friends had really liked my work. He invited me to a game night, which I later attended, and in a span of about five weeks my social circle in Knoxville has nearly doubled.  Thanks to my new friend I now have numerous contacts to do crazy things with like hike, rock climb, sky dive, and more. And even cooler? I no longer have to attend Poetry Slams alone! This is a video my friends took of me at this month’s Slam. Some of you may recognize my work.

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All of this to say, NONE of this would have been possible without my dad. He’s been there for me through thick and thin and believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He’s supported me through every life transition and trusted that I was making the right decisions. He’s visited me wherever I am and is always been just a phone call away. He’s my biggest supporter and number one fan, and is exactly the kind of parent I wish everyone had . . . What an amazing place this world would be if that were true!!

Happy Father’s Day, Dad! I love you!

a dangerous business

“Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” — Hellen Keller

There’s a back story to this. It’s coming.

I moved to Tennessee knowing no one. It’s been a lonely adventure—until recently. That’s the back story. The now-story is that, within the past few weeks I’ve tried several things I never thought I would, or thought I might but had no idea when.

I’ve hung out with a group of strangers playing games like “Killer Queen” and “Cards Against Humanity.” I’ve gone to a medieval fair. I’ve rock climbed for the second time since my accident. Tomorrow I’m headed out to play paintball, and in a couple of weeks I’m participating in a dragon boat race . . . Heck, in a few months I might even go sky diving!

Life is strange!

 

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The way I’ve survived until now, though, is by getting out. When I was lonely, I went out and exercised. This didn’t always help, but when I finished I’d text or call my closest friends. I looked for interesting events around town. I’ve seen Blind Pilot, Jason Mraz, Lucy Rose, and Charlie Cunningham in concert since moving to Knoxville. (Okay, so Jason Mraz might not have helped. All of his songs are love songs, and I might have cried through half the concert. But still . . .) I’ve gone to and participated in poetry slams. Last week I saw the comedian Henry Cho in downtown Knoxville, and a few months ago I was thrilled to see Steve Martin and Martin Short at their show in Chattanooga.
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I’ve done anything and everything I can to get my introverted self out the door and in places where I knew I might meet people. And nine months into my adventure here in Knoxville, it’s finally paying off. Nine months later, I’m meeting an incredibly diverse group of humans who are proving a point I made early on after moving home from Hong Kong: People are people. And people are beautiful.

My journey isn’t over yet. Life is full of ups and downs, and most of my days are still very quiet. But if I’ve learned anything in the last three years, it’s to just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You never know what a day will bring once you force yourself out the door. The trick is forcing yourself out the door.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” — J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

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the assimilation effect

Happy Cindo de Mayo!! Cheers! Err . . .  I mean, Salud! Err . . .

Oh, wait. You mean, that was yesterday? Ohhh, crap.

(Ugh, I have a headache! And who are you? And where are my shoes?!)

Lol, okay, so the above did not happen to me this morning. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I celebrated Cinco de Mayo. I’m not much a tequila drinker, and I’m too much of an introvert for rowdy parties. My idea of a wild night is running and looking for household items at discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s. 😂

That said, while I was out running and looking for household items at discount stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshall’s (yes, that’s really how I spent Cinco de Mayo), I couldn’t help noticing how busy Abuelo’s Mexican Restaurant in West Knoxville was until late last night. American’s sure do enjoy celebrating Mexico’s Independence Day!

Oh, wait. Say, whaaa? You mean that’s not what Cinco de Mayo is about? Continue reading

the REAL problem

(Hint: It’s not guns.)

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A post by Florida Teacher of the Year Kelly Guthrie Raley has gone viral in the last 48 hours. In it, she cites mental health, violent video games, and “horrendous lack of parental support” as being at the root of America’s gun problem.

“Until we as a country are willing to get serious and talk about mental health issues, lack of available care for mental health issues, lack of discipline in the home, horrendous lack of parental support . . . (Oh no! Not MY KID. What did YOU do to cause my kid to react that way?), lack of moral values, and yes, I’ll say it — violent video games, which take away all sensitivity to ANY compassion for others’ lives — as well as reality TV that makes it commonplace for people to constantly scream in each others’ faces and not value any other person but themselves — we will have a gun problem in school,” the sixth-grade language arts teacher wrote.

Raley herself hunts and grew up around guns. “But you know what? My parents NEVER supported any bad behavior from me,” she said. “When I began teaching twenty years ago, I never had to worry about calling a student’s parents and getting cussed out, told to go to hell, or threatened with a public shaming — all because I was calling out their child’s behavior. Something has got to change.”

 

The below video is an example of the disrespect many teachers in U.S. classrooms face today.

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Interestingly, at the same time parental support has decreased and problems like the ones Raley mentions have risen, the use of social media has increased. People around the world can converse more easily now than ever before, and it’s telling that, rather than increase tolerance and understanding, this communication is doing quite the opposite.

Take any article posted on facebook as an example. If you check out the comments section, you’ll see complete strangers verbally attacking one another — simply for having a difference of opinion. This is true for people of all backgrounds and religious creeds, all ethnicities, and all sides of the political spectrum. And, quite frankly, I find it disgusting. And painful. Why are people so rotten?

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re “right” or “wrong” on an issue. What matters is how you treat others and approach the debate.

How else are you ever going to gain any real insight on an issue? How else are you going to find solutions? Or, if you’re not there to understand and fix the problem, how else are you going to convince others that you’re right? Not by calling them names, I can assure you.

And also, your children are watching.

The truth is, we’re a broken nation, and the only way to fix our problems is to take a good look at ourselves. No, stricter gun laws won’t fix America’s problems — we need a miracle for that (or a million of them). But if we made it just a little bit harder for just anyone to pick up a gun and do god-knows-what with it, it could help save us from ourselves.

divided, we fall

I don’t want to write this post. I’ve already written it — several times. But here it is, relevant again . . .

 . . . But, no! I’m not going to write this post. I started it last night, but I just can’t finish it. I can’t re-say what I’ve already said . . .

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But how can I stay silent?

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United, we stand. Divided, we fall.

Americans are united in the belief that mass shootings on U.S. soil need to stop. We are divided about how to stop them.

And so they keep happening.

And so people keep dying.

And so madmen keep shooting.

And so the story keeps cycling.

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The facts are these: The United States has more guns than any other nation. We also have more gun-related crimes, homicides, and deaths. We do not have more mental illness. (Don’t believe me? Check out this New York Times article. It shows the stats better than I can.)
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But crazy is crazy. If it’s not guns, it will be something else.

That’s not what the statistics say. If there were fewer guns, there’d be fewer deaths. Period.

But I won’t give up my right to protect my family!

No one’s asking you to give up your right to protect your family. They’re asking for laws to keep AK-15s away from the people who would hurt your family.

But I like to hunt and target shoot. I won’t give up my guns.

Did you hear what I just said? Here’s another way to look at it: Why would we require someone to pass a test to drive a car but not to own a gun?

But I don’t trust the government. The government is trying to take away our guns.

Really?! President Trump didn’t even mention guns when he addressed the people of Parkland on Thursday. And beyond that, that’s beside the point. The point is that PEOPLE ARE DYING BECAUSE OUR SYSTEM ISN’T WORKING. Period.

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The below video from CNN shows disturbing footage of the Florida shooting on Wednesday. I cried watching it, but it needs to be seen. The fact that American law allows individuals to buy AK-15s before they can buy a beer is INSANE.

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But I’ve already said all this, and I don’t want to say it anymore.

I’m tired of the fighting on the Internet. I’m tired of the cruelty and bigotry. I’m tired of the pain . . . I’m tired of it all, and so the very last thing I’ll add is this:

I’m currently in grad school because I want to become a teacher. And when I become a teacher, I would GLADLY die to save the lives of my students if ever I needed to. But quite frankly, I’d rather not die for them. I’d rather live for them, AND HAVE THEM LIVE, TOO.

Wouldn’t you?

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This video is well-done. I think most people would say today: We’re ready to talk about it.

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I’ve posted this video by Trae Crowder before. It’s relevant now, too.

for the love of marketing

Happy Easter!

Oh, wait. You mean . . . That’s still six weeks away?

Oh, thaaaat’s right. We skip from one candy holiday to the next here in the States. It’s Valentine’s Day before New Years, Christmas before Thanksgiving, Halloween before the 4th of July. At least that’s what it looks like in American grocery stores.

The average American eats 22 pounds of candy per year. This is despite increasing evidence of sugar’s negative effects on literally everything, and I have to admit, I’m as guilty as any. Recently I’ve swapped frozen bananas for ice cream, but I still can’t get through a day without fruit snacks or gummy bears.

It’s a sad fact, really, and something that I want to change. In Taiwan (where obesity is the exception, not the rule), people prefer red bean and green tea desserts and typically find American desserts too sweet. This isn’t a biological difference. It’s trained. And it’s marketing. Candy is both the first and last thing Americans see when they enter and check out at grocery stores, and as numerous medical reports and TED talks will tell you, virtually all processed foods are created to be addictive rather than nutritious.

So what are we to do? What can we do? It all comes down to personal decisions. Marketers aren’t going to change their tactics (and products) until we as consumers don’t buy them anymore. It’s also about challenging the status quo. Just because Hallmark said you should buy expensive valentines and candies for your child’s class doesn’t mean you actually should. Simple cards with smiley faces are just fine. They last longer, and they’re healthier, too!

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 

the devil’s advocate

Whenever I write, I play devil’s advocate. Writing makes me think. Hard. I say this, I think. But what if it comes out like this? What if I were approaching this from this?

Will Smith’s message about fault and responsibility is true. But what if, through no fault of our own, we are rendered incapable of dealing with the trauma we’ve been dealt?

It happens all the time. Take the THIRTEEN kids of the couple who were arrested for torture and child endangerment in Perris, California recently, for example. The children were chained to their beds, not allowed to use the restroom, starved, filthy. Authorities were finally notified when a 17-year-old escaped and called 9-1-1 for help. Thanks to malnourishment, she appeared about ten.

Now . . . How this could have gone on for 29 YEARS (the kids are ages 2 to 29) without someone noticing is beyond the scope of this post. (In truth, it appears many are at fault.) Instead, my question is, if we are to take Smith’s “fault vs. responsibility” concept at face value: How are these malnourished, psychologically-abused individuals supposed to take responsibility for turning their lives around? It took 17 years just for one of them to figure out how get away. Can they be held to the same standards as Joe Schmoe down the street?

Now, this is an extreme example. I wasn’t planning to go so extreme. In truth, I was planning to share a personal story related to self-esteem. I’ve hinted in years past at internal battles I’ve had with my appearance and feeling like I’m not “good enough.” It’s taken several years of counseling to understand where my emphasis on appearance came from and how this has translated into the way I treat myself. Yes, I’m “owning” my issues — recognizing the role others and (impossible) societal standards have played, but not blaming them for my struggle — but it’s taken me a LONG time, and I couldn’t have done it on my own.

And I guess my point is, before we judge others, we need to walk a mile (or twenty) in their shoes. And before we worry about others, we need to worry about ourselves. Sure, at some point, some people cross a line. There is NO excuse for certain behaviors (more on that soon), but even so, people’s lives are rarely improved by critical barbs or blame. Instead, they’re changed by compassion. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the video below. How many times have you walked past a homeless person and wondered, How did they get there?

I know I have.

a chance to grow with mike rowe

I’ve been thinking about changing my tagline. When I created Shift, my tagline seemed perfect. Shiftbecause the only thing constant is change. It just . . . flowed.

I was in my late 20s when I started this blog. I was at a stage where I’d recently shifted from being a teenager, to a college student, to a young professional, to an expat, to living at home, to . . . I didn’t know what would come next.  But I realized that life was just going to keep shifting. Nothing would ever stay the samenot for very long, anyway.

But of course my blog isn’t only about change. It’s also about connections. It‘s about connecting people, places, ideas, stories, things. It’s about searching for meaning and goodness in this, our crazy world. It’s about conversations and self-expression and challenging my own beliefs by sharing them with you. After all, challenging ourselves is the only way to growand that’s something we all should want to do. Even if it’s hard. Especially if it’s hard.

William S. Burroughs perhaps said it best: “When you stop growing, you start dying . . .”

And that reminds me of something else I saw recently . . .
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TV personality Mike Rowe

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I read an article on the Tribunist the other day that was pretty bad-ass. It’s a response from TV narrator Mike Rowe to a critic who wants to get him fired from his job on “How the Universe Works.” Mike is best known for his work on the Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs” and CNN’s “Somebody’s Gotta Do It,” and although I’ve never actually watched any of his shows, I’ve seen several things lately that make think that I should. In his response (and in his typical, sarcastic “oh-no-you-didn’t!” Mike Rowe fashion), Mike turns his critic’s words back on her in a way that should make us all think.

Please check out the link below and let me know your thoughts!

Woman Wants Mike Rowe Fired for Being “Ultra-Right-Wing Conservative” – Mike Responds

Note: If you’re pressed for time, look for the paragraph that starts with,

XW4Rz0J9“Anyway, Rebecca, my beef with your post comes down to thisif you go to my boss and ask her to fire me because you can’t stand the sound of my voice, I get it. Narrators with unpleasant voices should probably look for other work anyway, and if enough people share your view, no hard feelingsI’ll make room for Morgan. But if you’re trying to get me fired simply because you don’t like my worldview, well then, I’m going to fight back . . .”

Disclaimer: I don’t mean to say I agree with or condone everything Mike Rowe says. I do, however, agree with his point in this article.

hush trump, the king is talking

If you scrolled through social media at all today, you likely caught a glimpse of the above image. The artist, Haitian-American Watson Mere, originally developed the image to honor Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday in 2017. A week before the event, though, Donald Trump was inaugurated and, “with the atmosphere . . . and everything going on in the news, my spirit led me to add Trump to the image, too,” said *Mere.

The image went viral then and resurfaced again today, for obvious reasons. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a hero, but his birthday weekend is sad for me  sad because we’re still fighting the same fight; sad because his dream still hasn’t been realized. (Also sad because we do, in fact, have such an asinine president. I don’t usually talk politics on my blog, but, well . . . Perhaps I’ll make an exception another time.)

That said, today in Dr. King’s honor I’ve decided to post a few of his most famous and moving quotes. Please take a look at the below slideshow and be inspired.

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*Source: PRI’s The World

let’s talk about the weather

(No, seriously!)

I was shocked when I moved to Tennessee as a freshman in college and my mom bought me an umbrella. “It’s summer, Mom,” I protested. California summers are hot and DRY. I did not need an umbrella.

It rained weekly in Chattanooga that summer and fall.

I needed an umbrella.

When winter came, though, I was sure I’d be prepared. I grew up in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. We skied in Tahoe when I was a kid; sometimes it snowed at home. I knew about winter.
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My hometown on a wintry day.

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I did not know about winter.

In an era of global warming, pictures like the above are becoming less and less common in my hometown. Most of California rarely sees a daytime high below 40°F (5.5℃); in Chattanooga, though, it’s common. I remember walking across campus that January and marveling that, at noon, I could still see my breath. I learned to wear gloves and scarves and hats in Chattanooga. I’d never really needed them before.
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Ice skating, anyone?

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This year, as a graduate student in Knoxville, I have again been struck by the weather. Although we haven’t had deep snows or sub-zero temperatures like other parts of the nation, we have had some really cold days — days in the low 20s that have frozen lakes and ponds . . . Days that chill you to the bone and require hot cocoa and cuddling by a fire (or, in my case, a heater) . . . Days when, to keep from going stir crazy, you put on six layers of clothing and go for a run to feel alive . . .

I remember really cold winters in Taiwan and Hong Kong, too. There’s something about humidity that penetrates the soul.
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How do you feel about winter? What has your winter looked like so far this year (that is, if you live in the Northern Hemisphere)? What does it typically look like? (Share a picture of your weather if you feel so inclined!)

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. William Shakespeare

Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed. Henry Adams

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Frozen solid.

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It was 22°F and felt like 12°F (-5.6℃, or -11℃) with a when I took these photos.

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Poor fishies!

(Ironically, while I was drafting this, it warmed up significantly here for a couple of days. I might even ride my bike tomorrow! . . . Of course, when I mentioned this to the lady at the dry cleaners today, she laughed. “Don’ be fooled! ‘Ees jes’ playin’ wid you. Winter ain’ over yet!”

travel, racism, and compassion

(And you thought they weren’t connected . . .)

Shortly after returning to the States in 2012, I wrote a post about people. “No matter where you go, people are people,” I said. “Can you believe that? See, I thought (when I moved to Taipei), that this dark-haired multitude would be somehow different than me. And of course they were: I mean, the things they liked to eat and the way they did their hair—that kind of thing. But when it came down to the REAL stuff, the stuff that makes people people, they were exactly like me . . .”

It was a silly post, really, but it demonstrated well mankind’s similarities. My students were a great example. Children in Taiwan are no different than children here. Kids aren’t born racist or culturally constricted. These are things they learn by example over time.

Now . . . Of course since we adults are so “wise,” we should easily understand this, right? Sadly, this is not always the case. Take, for example, the note I found on my rental car after a run last week.
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Whoa? Really? A piece of trash, huh? Because I put my stuff in the trunk and because of my car? Wow.

I was really put off at first. I’ve never been called “trash” before, and I actually grew up not far from El Dorado Hills. If anyone was “trash” in this situation, it was the person who would leave this kind of note on another person’s car. And yet . . .

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered what would cause this person to do such a thing? What insecurities did they have? What pressure were they under? Why would they attempt to build themselves by tearing a complete stranger down? . . . Also, were they looking to rip off my “crappy” car? Nothing about the note made any sense.

As a matter of fact, a LOT of things in the world don’t make any sense. Another pertinent example of this is racism. I can’t comprehend what would cause someone to feel superior to others because of the color of their skin, but it’s an epidemic that’s gripped this nation since its inception. In 1968, not long after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, educator Jane Elliott did an experiment with her white students in Iowa to explain racism. In the space of 15 minutes, she made her brown-eyed children feel superior to those with blue eyes and thus demonstrated the heinous effects of such attitudes. It’s something she’s been trying to explain—and destroy—ever since.

Please watch!!

“We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. White people are the free, and people of color have to be brave. I want this situation to change.” — Jane Elliott

Jane’s life work breaks my heart and brings to light the systematic racism we see in this and many other nations today. It demonstrates how odious racism is and shows white Americans (like me) the truth of white privilege, which never should have existed in the first place. After all, as Jane so rightly says, there’s only one race: the HUMAN race. (Amen, amen!)

One thing Jane’s experiment doesn’t do, though, is explain what would cause a person to take racism to the next level. Extremist groups like the Ku Klux Klan have horrified me since I first studied them in grade school, and back then I thought they were a thing of the past. In the segment below, Sarah Silverman interviews Christian Picciolini, a former “skinhead” and reformed white supremacist, who helps explain why people are attracted to these groups and why rallies like the one in Charlottesville happen—and what we should do in response.

Please watch to the end!

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Obviously this interview touches on many things, but what stood out to me most was the dialogue at the end. In response to Sarah’s question, “What advice would you give us?” the very wise and kind Christian says this:

“Because compassion is what changed me, I challenge your audience—go out there and find someone that’s undeserving of your compassion and give it to them. Because I guarantee you that they’re the ones who need it the most.”

Amen! Amen!

happy new year!

I have a whole slew of things to tell you — stories of the last few days, poems I’ve written, thoughts on the past year, hopes for the coming one. But tonight, as I sit waiting for my 2000 Volkswagon Jetta to warm up in the 18-degree economy parking lot at the Nashville Airport, I just want to say thank you. Thanks for reading. Thanks for caring. Writing lights up my soul, but you are what light up my writing. I wish you all the best in the coming year and pray that your 2018 dreams and goals (like mine, below) come true!

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:D

the stories we tell

I grew up in a conservative Christian environment. In my childhood church, jewelry and dancing were akin to divorce, and divorce was the doing of the Devil. Imagine my identity crisis, then, when at the age of 26 I learned that my parents were getting a divorce. Divorced? What did that make me? The Devil’s child?

You think I’m kidding; I’m not. My entire identity and foundation were shaken. I now came from a broken home. This was NOT supposed to happen.

The reality is, of course, that 50 percent of marriages in the States end in divorce. My parents’ union was no exception. Sadly, we don’t live in a perfect world, and not all marriages last until “death do us part.” I had bought into a lie.

Interestingly, I get a similar feeling around the holidays. Christmas and New Years are surrounded by so much hype. We have this idea about what they’re supposed to look like — with presents and snowflakes and family and laughter — but the reality is often much darker. For many people Christmas means debt and loneliness and sadness and depression. Suicide attempts increase around the holidays. I myself struggle to feel excited about Christmas every year.

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Why? you might ask. Why not? My life looks nothing like the Hallmark movies or anything it’s supposed to. Why wouldn’t I feel sad?

But perhaps the bigger question is: Why did I buy into those Hollywood narratives? Where did I get these expectations in the first place?

At our cores, I believe we all seek approval. We all want to love and be loved. We’re idealists born reaching for the stars, and we’re hard-wired to seek meaning and connection. This is what binds us. This is what makes us human . . . But life inevitably lets us down; in one way or another, reality “checks” each of us dreamers.

And that leads me to my next question: Once we know life will let us down, why do we perpetuate these expectations? Why do we continue telling false fairy tales?

I think we do for a few reasons. Fairy tales give us hope, and hope gives us a reason to keep moving. We need superheroes and Hallmark stories to give us something to strive for. We need to believe that things can be better than they are. But, but . . . Do these narratives also do harm? Would it be better if the stories we told were a little more realistic? Accepting my parents’ divorce would have been far easier if I hadn’t believed it meant they shouldn’t have gotten married in the first place. Christmas, too, would be a lot easier if the holiday stories we told evoked a sense of normalcy rather than elevated exceptions to “real life.”

Because let’s face it — there is no perfect family. We’re all flawed individuals working through our “stuff,” and family and friend dynamics are never simple. December is a month just like any other. Why would we try to sell it as more?

But I don’t know . . . What do you think? Could we do our life and holiday narratives better? Or are they fine the way they are? What would you change about them if you could?

 

happy haphazard holidays

Well everyone, I suppose I can’t — or at least shouldn’t — put this off any longer. (Actually, I haven’t been putting it off — I’ve been slammed . . .) The time has come to wish you all a happy holiday season. So, Happy Holidays! Merry Christmas!! My holiday decor in Tennessee is pretty simple this year; I flew to California this past Monday, so there was no reason to go “all out” 2,000-plus miles away. Still, it’s nice to do something . . .

 

 
In an effort to get into the holiday spirit before leaving Tennessee (it had/has been a rough few weeks), two Friday nights ago I participated in the Tour de Lights Knoxville holiday bike ride. It was a 5-mile loop in downtown Knoxville for which many people decorated their bikes with Christmas lights and garland and dressed up in costumes, etc. It was fun, but it was COLD! It was 29 degrees and my hands were freezing by the time the ride was done. Next year I’ll cheer from the sidelines.

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Since then it’s been a whirlwind. I went to Santa Rosa on Tuesday to see friends and to work in my office, and, last night, before I headed home (to the fam), I went out to see some of the fire damage. It was too dark to take pictures, but the scene was unreal. My heart is broken for the whole community. Here are just a couple pics from a hike I did at a local park the previous day with friends. These don’t even begin to do justice to the extent of the structural damage in the city. Those who lost their homes (there are thousands) are looking at a rough holiday season this year.

Yesterday (Christmas Eve’s Eve) was eventful, too. I won’t go into details, but let’s just say life tough sometimes. (Or, all the time? The jury is still out for debate.)

In any event, I apologize for this haphazard post, but it’s the best I can do under the circumstances. I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas! I’ll touch base again soon!

xoxo,

Jess

 

an everyday hero

A friend of mine from the South used to joke that California was going to fall into the ocean. We “left coasters” couldn’t quite get our priorities straight and were headed toward oblivion.

I learned a lot of other names for my home state from my friend — the “wrong coast” and the “land of fruits and nuts,” to name two — and, after living in the Bay Area for a few years, I have to admit that some of them seem appropriate. There are a lot of crazies in California. And don’t even get me started on politics or the cost of living.

That said, California is still a beautiful state and will always be my “home.” Just as you can’t control the color of your skin, you can’t control where you’re from; California with its wildly good weather, breathtaking scenery, and vibrant diversity is a big part of what has made me, me. Continue reading

random updates on life

Ahh! It’s been a crazy few weeks.

Since we last talked, I’ve:

  • Visited friends in California and seen the damage from the fires in Santa Rosa. The devastation is unreal. Although tragedies like this happen around the world every day, this one hits particularly close to home for me. It will take years for my old community to rebuild.

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Also, if you’re on facebook, check out this link of the overview of the damage of Coffey Park, a neighborhood I lived near that was completely destroyed by the fire.

  • Surprised my dad by showing up in Sacramento for a fund-raising ride for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, which my family was doing in honor of my nephew, Oliver.

(Don’t think I’ve mentioned it on my blog, but my six-month old nephew has cystic fibrosis. This was a surprise to the whole family — no one in our family history on either side has ever had the disease. It’s quite rare and requires both parents to be carriers. It’s really unfortunate and shocking for us all. That said, Oliver has stolen our hearts and is doing well so far!)

Since returning to Tennessee, I’ve:

  • Completed my first ever academic book review (and probably bombed it).
  • Questioned my life decisions and choice of a masters program. (Prayers appreciated!)
  • Attempted to write more poetry and failed miserably. (Not giving up, though. Maybe I should get a masters in poetry so I have more time to work on it?)

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  • Seen my first concert in years (Blind Pilot) and discovered an amazing British guitarist/vocalist, Charlie Cunningham. (Check out his song “In One Out” below.)
  • Decided to move to the UK — lol . . . no, seriously.
  • Become completely fed up with American society as a whole — oh wait, that’s not new.
  • Found out that a college friend my age passed away yesterday at the age of 33. Life is too short, folks. Embrace it  — even the sucky parts.

(More soon!)

apocalypse santa rosa

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Image: New York Times

I awoke yesterday morning to a text from my boss. “I’m evacuated and Jen, too.” It was 5 a.m. California time.

Whaaa? What was  going on?

I opened my work email to find a message from the Water Agency General Manager, Mike Thompson. “Good morning, everyone. I hope you and your families are safe. As you are aware, there are several devastating fires burning in Sonoma County. I know some of our Water Agency family members have already lost their homes . . .”

Oh my God. I was awake now. I logged onto Facebook where my fears were confirmed: My beloved city of Santa Rosa was on fire. I turned to Google for details. The fire had started in the middle of the night in Calistoga, just a few miles northeast of Santa Rosa. With winds of up to 50 mph that evening, the flames had devoured the hillsides and surged to Santa Rosa where they’d leaped over the highway and consumed neighborhoods, schools, hospitals, restaurants, stores . . . Residents were evacuated in the middle of the night with no idea what was going on and no time to spare.

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Image: L.A. Times

I started texting people. Many of my friends lived in the evacuation zone. It quickly became clear that the devastation was unthinkable. T and S’s house was gone. My boss’s home was gone. B’s home was gone. M’s home was gone. A’s parents’ home was gone. My old athletic club was gone. My favorite restaurants were gone. Hotels were gone. Schools were gone. Monuments were gone.

Everything was gone. The entire northeast part of town had been destroyed within a matter of hours, and the fires were still raging.

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The gatehouse where I used to do yoga, TRX, and other fitness classes.


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A couple surveys the remains of their home. (I’ve decided not to post pics of friends’ homes, as the loss is still too fresh and everyone is still reeling.) (Image: New York Times)


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Fountaingrove Golf Course’s clubhouse

Currently I’m in Tennessee, but right now I can think of little else besides the sweet city by the sea that for the last three years has been my home. I am encouraged by the good stories I’ve heard — the people pulling together to save homes; the doctors who’ve treated victims while their own homes were going up in flames; the Water Agency employees who’ve kept the water running; the man who linked ten hoses together to save the animals at Safari West, a wildlife preserve just outside of town. But it’s hard to imagine what life is going to be like for my dear friends who are suddenly facing so much loss. Fires don’t give their victims any warning. They swoop in and take everything in their path — in this case, more than 100,000 acres (total in Northern California) so far. It’s something you don’t think will happen to you; when it does, there are no words.

Please keep Santa Rosa in your thoughts and prayers.

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Before and after shots of neighboroods near Coffey Park, only a mile or so from my old home.


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Image: New York Times

we’re the butt of the joke, and we don’t care

Please watch the videos as they are part of the post!

As a blogger in the United States, it would seem negligent to avoid the topic of the recent shooting in Las Vegas. Everyone wants to voice their opinion on that, right? Well . . .

Those of you who know me know that I don’t like controversy — especially here on my blog. It has taken me a few days to collect my thoughts. If I’m going to approach this topic at all, I’d better have thought things through, right?

This time, however, the more I’ve thought, and the more arguments I’ve heard for and against stricter gun control, the more hopeless I’ve felt. Even when presented with statistics proving the relationship between the growing number of guns and gun-related deaths in the United States, a large percent of the population still feel their rights are being violated if laws are passed to make it harder to obtain guns. Many of these people grew up with guns. Many shot guns in their backyards as kids. Many enjoy hunting. Many want to be able to protect their families if someone ever invades their homes.

Okay, I get that. I do. But what about the other side of the coin?

It occurred to me on a run the other night. I have this bad tendency to run later than I should, and it’s crossed my mind that someone could pull out a gun out and shoot me through their car window at any time. It’s an awareness I’ve grown used to, but it was something of an epiphany when I realized recently that, if I were in Australia, for example, this fear would be unfounded.

But the problem isn’t guns, people say. Guns don’t shoot people, people shoot people.

Umm, exactly.

But even if you take away guns, crazy people are still going to kill people. They can use knives, bombs, cars, all kinds of other sh*t.

True. You’re absolutely right. Stricter gun laws won’t keep crazy people from doing crazy things. But, as was illustrated in the video at the beginning, there is no disputing that more guns means more deaths, period. Also, it’s interesting that driving is a “privilege” while owning a gun is a “right,” is it not?

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So what do I propose? I have no idea. I’m just tired of being laughed at. I’ve talked to a number of friends around the world who can’t understand America’s obsession with guns and denial of their harm in the face of clear evidence to the contrary. I also agree with an American friend who referenced The Onion on his facebook page recently.

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“This is an associated cost of the 2nd amendment and the culture that has grown up around it. So far, it seems to be a cost Americans are willing to bear. If that continues to be the case, at some point the calls for prayer, thoughts, and sympathy following yet another tragic incident of mass gun violence begin to ring very hollow indeed.”

I’ll close with a video from Trae Crowder* **, the “Liberal Redneck,” an up-and-coming comedian who’s making a career in Hollywood by playing off of his Southern roots. (I actually hesitate to do so. Studying Rhetoric has increased my awareness of the damage labeling does and the ways in which it perpetuates stereotypes and other negative phenomenons in society. It cannot be denied that stereotypes do exist, however, and Crowder contests pro-gun arguments from a perspective I cannot, as I have never owned a gun and originate from the “left coast,” “wrong coast,” and the “land of fruits and nuts” [a.k.a. California].)

 

*Interestingly, in researching Crowder, I realized he’ll be speaking in downtown Knoxville tonight and tomorrow night. You’d better believe I just bought my ticket. (There are some real benefits to living in a college town!)

**Please note that some may find Crowder’s language offensive. He makes some d*mn good points, though, and while I may not agree with everything he says, I appreciate his perspective.

 

p.s. You’ll only give an angel wings if you’re respectful of others’ perspectives in the comments section. 😂

 

 

 

don’t wait for perfect

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Restarting my blog at the same time I uprooted my life and started graduate school might not’ve been my best idea. Grad school is tough, and culture shock is real, people. (More on that later.) But, as Brandon Stanton said at the Tennessee Theater in downtown Knoxville a few days ago, I can’t keep waiting on “perfect.” Cuz perfect ain’t ever going to come!

For those who don’t know, Stanton is the creator of Humans of New York, a powerful photoblog featuring pictures and quotes from people around the world. Stanton started the blog in New York City in 2010 with a simple idea: Take pictures of people around the city; create a “map” of those people and where he photographed them. As the blog progressed, however, Stanton realized the map wasn’t necessary. What drew people to his blog were words.

Stanton started including quotes from the people he photographed, and then interviews. His following got larger as his stories got longer. (Currently it’s at more than 18 million.) He realized his blog’s universal appeal and traveled internationally to more than 20 different countries. He also did several series of interviews — with cancer patients, refugees, military veterans, and more — and from these, raised millions of dollars for cancer research and other charitable causes. Most recently he’s been working on a video series that builds on the same premise and is currently being released weekly on facebook.

Image result for humans of new yorkI started following Stanton’s blog a few years ago. It enticed me with its raw humanity. It clearly displayed everything I’d seen in Asia: No matter where you go, people are people. Stanton himself is also very down-to-earth, which has contributed to his success. During his performance last week, Stanton wore tennis shoes, jeans, and a zip-up hoodie as he shared the beginnings of Humans of New York and how he figured out what he needed to do. “I realized early on I was never going to be the best photographer,” said Stanton. “Humans of New York is not about photography. But what I do have is something many of the world’s best photographers do not — I have the ability to approach and talk to strangers.” (paraphrased)

Stanton shared several other great points that evening, which stood out out to me as applicable to both blogging and life. Here are just a few of them:

  • Don’t wait for perfect. Perfect never comes. Time is our most valuable commodity. If you’re meant to do something, do it now.
  • Don’t worry about your audience. If Brandon had worried about his audience when he started Humans of New York, Humans of New York wouldn’t have come to be–he would have given up long ago because success didn’t happen overnight.
  • Following your dreams means “choosing your work.” “People talk about following their dreams as if following your dreams means avoiding responsibility or getting to play all day,” says Brandon. “But no, pursuing your dream is work. Whether you want to be a famous musician or a well-known blogger or own your own business or travel the world, all of these things take time and dedication and hard work. The difference between it and other work is that you choose it.” (paraphrased)

Brandon’s talk left me in tears. In the past four weeks I’ve started this post at least a dozen times. I’ve had great ideas but “never enough time” to finish them. I’ve had paragraphs written down, but they were never “good enough” to share. I’ve had thoughts whirling around, but they were too fragmented to be “worthy.” It’s true that grad school is demanding, and starting over in a new city hard, but if I am truly going to “begin again”– if I am going to “choose my work” (here on my blog and elsewhere) — something’s gotta give.

So tell me . . . What’s your trick for accomplishing your blogging and/or life goals? Have you seen Humans of New York? What did you think?

 

(Below is just a sample of Stanton’s work.)

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“This better not be for a porno. I stopped doing those.”

“Okay, Mother. That’s enough.”

 

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“I prefer maritime laws to laws on land. Maritime laws only exist to guarantee safe passage. There are no loopholes or biases to favor more powerful vessels. Every ship is equal, and no one is more powerful than the sea.”

 

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“Who’s influenced you the most in your life?”

“My principal, Ms. Lopez.”

“How has she influenced you?”

“When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”

*As a side note, this image went viral in 2016 and Stanton ended up raising more than $1,000,000 for this boy’s school. You can read more about that here.

 

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“So do you do a different color every day?”

“No, I used to go through different stages. But then I found I was happiest when I was green, so I’ve been green for 15 years.”

 

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“You want to hear what just happened to me? I was in the subway station, and this man came walking by me. He seemed really angry and was talking gibberish and screaming about how he was going to kill anyone who talked to him. So I thought: ‘That guy’s crazy; I’m gonna keep away from him.’ Then two minutes later another young man walked by and collapsed right in front of me and started having a seizure. I bent down to help him, and you know what happened? The crazy guy bent down and said: ‘He’s having a seizure! Turn him on his side!’ I thought: ‘Wait a second! Weren’t you just crazy?'”

 

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“I want to build a bridge.”

“How do you build a bridge?”

“If you want to build a bridge it’s going to take a long time, and it might be hard because your employees might not be as interested in building the bridge as you are. You have to think about what kind of bridge you want to make. One type of bridge is a suspension bridge and another type of bridge is an arch bridge. The Brooklyn Bridge is a suspension bridge and it was built by John Roebling and his family, and that’s all I remember from the second grade. And the bridge has to be strong because the water can rise and push up the bridge. I’d maybe like to build a bridge in Wisconsin because there are a lot of people in Wisconsin who might not have bridges, but I don’t really know where Wisconsin is.”

 

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Brandon Stanton, creator of “Humans of New York”

 

 

on good friday

good-friday-love-hurtsGood Friday. Bad Friday. Black Friday. Easter Friday.

Whatever you call it, today is Friday, and the Friday before Easter, no less. I must be a bad person because it was only two days ago that I realized this was Easter weekend. Easter is supposed to be in April, right?

But no; no, it’s not. And I am a bad person, or surely you must think so — you who knows all, sees all, thinks all, is all.

(You were my all . . .)

But I . . . I got off track.

Today is Easter Sunday. But what does that mean? For Christians around the world, it’s the day their Savior died, two days before His resurrection. It’s a day of hope, a day of love, a day of sorrow, a day of repentence. What did we do to deserve this?

(Nothing. We did nothing.)

But what of the others, for whom Easter is brunch and bunnies and eggs and chocolates? What of the population for whom it’s Cadberries and marshmallows and pastel dies and little kid messes?  What of those for whom it’s nothing more and nothing less than any other holiday?

And what of the people that don’t celebrate Easter? What of those who’ve never heard of it?

I have to admit, I’m a little distant these days. A little remote. A little confused. The worldview I held as a child doesn’t compute anymore. Where is God, how is He, and Who? I grew up Protestant Christian and truly still believe. But the God I see now is bigger than I imagined — His message not limited by culture or geography. “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy-ladened. I will give you rest.” “I have plans to prosper you, not to harm you.” “Love God and love others as yourself.”

Be kind, rewind.

It’s all the same, isn’t it? The principles of kindness and courtesy run the gamut across cultures. They are received and returned the same way. And God is bigger than a book, or a church, or a person. God is LOVE, and is there anything larger than that?

 

on new years eve

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New Years in Hong Kong

Where you are, the ball may have already dropped. I know it has for my friends in Taiwan and Hong Kong. But maybe you live in Hawaii, or Alaska, or some other remote place — I don’t know where.

It’s 2015, no, 2016. Hip hip hooray! A new year. But somewhere in there, in between the shiny memories of my youth — when I held my breath and clung to each passing moment; counted eagerly, haltingly, “5… 4… 3…”; when lips were rosy and blushes, plenty — somewhere between innocence and the glaze of adulthood (I’ll be doing laundry tonight — what’s another year?), something got lost.

What happened to the magic? What happened to the nostalgia?

I won’t lie: 2015 has been a tough year. I won’t be sorry to see it go. Unlike many others, however, I don’t place all my hope in what lies ahead. I know that good will come in 2016, and that I am the master of my destiny, but there are things that are out of my control: no new year is all sunshine and roses.

And so I look forward to the new year resolutely. I will make the best of both the good and bad in 2016, and will always make the best decisions that I can. I promise to always be kind — even to myself. I won’t make resolutions I can’t keep but will continue living as I have, making the most of every day. I will learn from and cherish the past, but I won’t live for it; I’ll live for the future. And, most importantly, I will always follow my heart.

it’s not about the flag

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It’s not about the flag. It never has been.

A few weeks ago (a month now, maybe?), Jon and I were lucky enough to receive free passes to a Nascar race at Sonoma Raceway. I say “lucky” because Jon grew up twelve miles from Talladega, in Alabama. Nascar is, at heart, a Southern thing.

It was my first race.

The weather was sunshine; the cars were flash. We didn’t even hit traffic. It was a good day. As we were leaving, though, we saw something . . . unremarkable. Well, it would have been if not for the commotion of the past few weeks.

The United States wants to do away with the Confederate flag. It represents racism and black oppression and all that is wrong with the world. So they say. Many Southerners — rebels, if you will — resent this. The Confederate flag is, to them, a part of their heritage, a piece of their past. It also does not represent racism. It represents their fight to preserve the states’ rights. They also “just like it.” So they say.

Since its beginning, Nascar has been associated with rebellion. The sport originated in the Appalachia with moonshiners and bootleggers during America’s Prohibition. Bootleggers needed fast cars to evade the police and deliver their “shine.” They modified their own for this purpose, and then, suddenly, one day, Daytona was a race as much as a place.

And Confederate flags were everywhere.

I am not a Southerner. I have never flown a Confederate flag. But even out in California (or should I say, especially out in California), I’ve seen them around. And when I’ve seen them, I’ve thought, “Ohhh, boy,” but I’ve never thought their owners were bringing our nation down.

Because, really . . .

Where have all the thinkers gone? What happened to A leads to B leads to C? The Confederate flag didn’t create racism, folks. People created racism. People in their narrow-mindedness created attitudes and perceptions and biases. People who lacked education or misused their education, who lacked love or embraced hate, who could not or would not see the humanity of their fellow man . . .

Yep, folks, racism is about people. The Confederate flag is merely a scapegoat. As such, you can do away with the “Stars and Bars” all you want — nothing is going to change. In fact, things are only going to get worse. In fact, they already have. Did anyone see the story about the former university cop in Cincinnati in the news today?

The only solution to racism is the opposite — acceptance. And love.

What happened to the love?
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The Confederate flag Jon and I saw at Sonoma Raceway.

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rainbow wars

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No, this post isn’t about various parties’ reactions to Friday’s ruling, though maybe it should be. Rather . . .
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And why a rainbow?

It occurred to me yesterday that I had no idea why, or when, a rainbow had come to symbolize gay pride. Growing up, and being raised Protestant Christian, I was taught that rainbows were God’s sign to Noah that he would never again destroy the earth. The next time the heavens would open — literally, anyway — would be when He returned during the Second Coming.

That’s what my Bible teacher said, anyway.

Rainbows, then, were a symbol of hope. They were a promise. “You’ll never have to go through that again, Noah. And, hey you — yes you, Man — I will return.”

Somewhere along the line, though, rainbows got mixed in with leprechauns and Lucky Charms, and then (I did a little research), in the 1970s, a man named Harvey Milk came along. Harvey Milk was the nation’s first openly gay politician, and, in 1977, San Francisco elected him to its Board of Supervisors. To celebrate, Milk challenged an artist friend, Gilbert Baker, to come up with a flag to symbolize the gay community. “The only thing they have to look forward to is hope,” he said. “We have to give them hope.”

And thus was born the rainbow flag. *”Hot pink stood for sexuality, red for life, orange for healing, yellow for the sun, green for nature, turquoise for art, indigo for harmony and violet for spirit.”

And here I’d been thinking rainbows were about Bible stories and unicorns.

The story does make me curious, though. The gay community was looking for a symbol of hope. The rainbow is a symbol of hope. Makes sense, but . . . Why not come up with your own symbol? Something a little different, something new? Why borrow from something that — originally, anyway — has nothing to do with you?

Thoughts? Anyone?

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*Sources: A Brief History of the Rainbow Flag, milkfoundation.org
Image: Google
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the *real* shocker

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Wow. Even the banner at the top of my editor’s page is a rainbow.

So, today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees a right to gay marriage. I learned of their decision this morning. A lot of people are happy about this; a lot of others are not. (Just sign into facebook — you’ll see what I mean.) But whether you agree or disagree with this decision, my question is: Are you really surprised? I mean, really? Continue reading

will we never learn?

m-2339Bloody Sunday. Selma. These are names, places, that ring bells in many Americans’ minds. My boyfriend grew up in Alabama. He says every Alabamian’s skin prickles when they hear these terms.

No one has good recollections of Selma.

I won’t tell you all of the things that happened on Bloody Sunday. I myself didn’t know the story until recently. I was writing an article for the newspaper. A local man was there when it happened. He had his story to tell. So it goes.

So it goes that, back in the sixties, African-Americans weren’t allowed to vote — even though they legally were. In the South, in places like Selma, only two percent of blacks had been able to register. Because of this, and because of the senseless killing of a man named Jimmie Lee Jackson, protestors organized a march from Selma to Montgomery on March 7, 1965. They were trying to gain national support for their cause. They were trying to gain what should have already had: Equality. Continue reading