Travel Diaries: Southwest Africa

I previously mentioned that I had a list of 27 things I wanted to accomplish by the time I turned 27 (read more here). At that time, I had completed 7 of the 27 items. As of right now, I have officially been able to cross off three more!

Completed Goals:

  1. Be promoted twice
  2. Go to a foreign country completely alone
  3. Celebrate Hogmanay in Edinburgh
  4. See Stonehenge
  5. Live alone
  6. Learn to like whisky
  7. Own Christian Louboutins
  8. Get certified in Barre
  9. See the Northern Lights
  10. Go on Safari

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As you may have been able to guess, I recently went on a trip to Africa (specifically: Botswana, Zambia, & South Africa). I absolutely loved it. It was an absolutely amazing trip; I not only got to see the Big 5, but also got to experience Victoria Falls, Robben Island, the Winelands, and so much more.  This trip also helped me reconnect and ground myself with what is truly important.

  • I am so lucky to be blessed with the parents that I have. Not only did they take me on a once in a lifetime trip. Going on safari has been my mom’s dream since she was a kid so getting to experience south-west Africa with her (and my dad), was nothing short of wonderful.
  • I am grateful to be American. Even in this current climate (which I have not been shy expressing my disgust for), I still have so much to be grateful for. Zambia has an unemployment rate of 60%. Cape Town is still trying to heal the wounds of the Apartheid. The areas I went to in Africa were incredible with amazing people, but the impact of colonialism is very apparent.

My biggest qualm with this trip was the actual process of getting there. Let’s just break this down: I woke up at 4 AM to drive to the airport for my first flight at 7 AM. I then flew to NYC for a 4 hour layover. From there I flew into Johannesburg (15 hour flight). I had a 3 hour layover there and then boarded a flight to Kasane, Botswana.  I do not sleep well on planes, so at the end of the 30ish hour travel day, I am not feeling my best. However, that didn’t stop me from going on a safari within the first hour of landing in Botswana.

We spent time in Chobe National Park and in the Manyeleti Game Reserve for our safari portion of the trip, and holy hell. It was unreal. I could tell you all about it, but showing you is probably easier.

 

As you can see, the animals were insane. The lion cubs and the elephants were two of my favorites, but tracking the leopards was a once in a lifetime experience.

Outside of the wonders of safari, some of the other parts of our trip were pretty memorable.

Victoria Falls or Mosi-Oa-Tunya (the smoke that thunders) is unreal. Not to mention an ancestor of mine made the falls known to the Western World (Dr. David Livingstone). In fact, the city of Livingstone is the only city in Zambia that retained it’s colonial name as the people had so much respect for Dr. Livingstone. But familial connections aside, the wonder of the falls is staggering.

We also spent time in Cape Town (including the wine region of Stellenbosch). I loved the winelands so much, but I also thought Robben Island was a highlight. Robben Island is most well known for the fact that Nelson Mandela was imprisoned there for eighteen years. We were taken on a tour by a former political prisoner. He was imprisoned for 5 years for participating in an anti-apartheid university rally. He explained the horrors of their imprisonment; it was a very eye opening experience.

In general, I LOVED this trip. I want to go back immediately. This is a gorgeous area with incrediable people and amazing things to experience. This may be the best trip I’ve ever experienced (at least yet!)

Fingers crossed that the next items on my bucket list are as fabulous as this one.

xxx

Love, Charlottesville

I have been a resident of Charlottesville, VA for almost 4 years to the day. This is the first city that I chose to be a resident of. It’s the city that gave me the independence I’ve always craved. Charlottesville gave me my first job, my first solo apartment, and some of the best people I’ll ever know.

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The events of this weekend have shaken me to my very core. I still can’t quite get over the fact the city I love has a cloud of hatred overhead. It seems impossible that the KKK and Nazi’s are still spreading their vitriol and vile hate speech through this country; it’s even more incomprehensible to witness the violence first hand. It’s incredulous that the President of this country refuses to call evil by its name. This isn’t something that occurred on ‘both sides’. It is ludicrous to consider the coalition of Nazis, KKK members, and white ‘nationalists’ to be a side. That is a group of hateful, evil people who are hellbent on destroying everything good and powerful within the United States. This was domestic terrorism. There are no shades of grey here.

A 31 year old woman was murdered. There is no way to make that okay. No words to wash away the fact that a life was taken. A life of someone who was standing strong in the face of evil. She refused to stay silent and let these vicious white supremacists spew their hate and threaten her community.  She was killed halfway between my office building and the studio I teach barre in. She was killed on a street I walk down every single day.  Her death needs to matter. Her death needs to outrage Americans everywhere. Her death needs to remind us all to be brave, to be strong, and to refuse to allow division and fear into our hearts.

This country is not perfect, we have a dark past and a dark present, but we also have strength, and we have the ability to change. Racism, sexism, and xenopobia cannot be tolerated. Senseless violence cannot be tolerated. People who thrive in the dark, sadistic corners of this country need to be brought into the light and held accountable for their words and actions. We all need to work together to champion our fellow citizens. We need to stand shoulder to shoulder in the face of ignorance and brutality. We cannot stay silent in the face of this disease spreading through our country.

The last 36 hours have been horrifying and tragic, but even in the midst of the crisis of humanity, I have been witness to hope. I spent last night under the stars with thousands of other Charlottesvillians listening to an 80’s cover band. I saw people of every color and every age brave the thunderstorms to stand together and remember that there is good in this world. The night closed with a cover of ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, and the spirit of hope and resilience was palpable in the air.

Charlottesville is not the city portrayed on the media yesterday. Charlottesville is a community that values equality and diversity. We are not a perfect city, and we still have a lot more to do, but we will not be defined by the spineless monsters who tried to plant seeds of violence and discord here. Charlottesville prides itself on working towards universal acceptance, unity, and liberty. 80% of the city voted for Hillary, our mayor is Jewish and our deputy mayor is Black. We pride ourselves on striving to be the type of community that values the strength of diversity and progress. That is why these pathetic, sad, and despicable alt-righters chose to make a stand. They thought they could break us, and send us back in times of mistrust and anger. They have slithered out of our city and back into their holes, and we are still here.  The Charlottesville that I know is already working on banding together and celebrating love and unity. So to you fascists who are not part of our community, continue to threaten and abuse what we stand for, we are more than you can even begin to understand.

And to those who are scared and worried about what the future holds, don’t stop believing.

 

Three Years of Wisdom and Ignorance

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Today Umur and I have been married for three years. It’s hard to believe time has gone by so quickly. I have been searching and searching for the right words to explain what these last three years of marriage have meant to me, but summing it up feels like an impossible task. Not to mention it also feels like a task I am not qualified for. Though in some ways we have come so far, and learned so much about each other and about marriage, we also still have so much left to figure out. To pretend that three years is enough to be experts on marriage would be absurd. But today I want to reflect on the things we have learned, the things we have become good at and the things we are continually working on.

First and most importantly, we have learned that it’s okay to have bad days. We have our days when we are perfectly in sync and love spending time together and we also have our days when one of us or both of us are just off. It’s impossible to be “on” all the time and to expect that from another person isn’t fair. We are almost literally together 24/7, so it is inevitable that there are times when we aren’t at our best. If nothing else, marriage has taught me to be patient, and to have the strength to remain still in these tough moments and wait it out. It’s tempting to try to fix things every time your partner is upset or having a rough day. We end up running around like chickens with our heads cut off, in panic mode, believing that one moment or day of discontent might bring down our whole marriage. It won’t. And giving each other the freedom and space to have a bad day without trying to fix it is one of the most important things we can do for one another. I’ve also learned not to make Umur’s tough moments about me. The natural instinct when your spouse is in a bad mood is “what did I do to deserve this?” or “why are you being mean to me?” When we indulge that instinct though we minimize the pain of our partner and make them feel less able to share that pain in the future.

I think we demand 24/7 happiness from other people because we are afraid that a crack in their happiness might shine a light on the cracks in our own. It’s not so much that we expect other people to really be happy all the time, but we want them to at least maintain the illusion of happiness. In a world dominated by social media, where we see the highlights of people’s lives rather than the realities, it has become taboo to allow the world to see your struggles. This makes it all the more important that we break down these barriers in a marriage. It is exhausting to maintain that illusion of happiness at all times, and if you can’t be honest and raw with your spouse, there is no reprieve from that illusion. But also, if you don’t allow your spouse to show you their moments of darkness, you don’t really get to know them fully. Part of the wonder of love and marriage is that we see each other at our absolute worst, and love each other anyways. And part of our bond is that we are privy to each other’s secret darkness and struggle.

Another thing we have learned is that the day we got married we did not, contrary to popular belief, magically become one person. We are two distinct people. We have our own hopes and dreams and hobbies; And the moment when these things diverge is not the moment that our marriage begins to weaken, but rather when it is strengthened. In allowing each other to have our own separate lives, we honor each other more than we could by forcing those two lives together at all times. For example, Umur loves cars. He thinks cars are the coolest. I have only ever had the ability to describe a car by its color. “Oh sick white car you have there.” It’s perfectly okay that I don’t engage or even fully understand this hobby of his. The fact that we can have areas of our lives that are entirely our own and that we don’t share, enables us to maintain that sense of being two distinct people. Being two separate people with different views, goals and lives can make marriage pretty challenging at times. However, by making compromises and supporting each other even when we don’t share the same goal, we make our marriage stronger. It’s easy to be happy for someone or to support someone when you want all the same things, because you are working for your happiness as much as you are for theirs. But to support someone when you have nothing to gain, solely for the sake of their happiness, is what love is really supposed to be about. I take no pleasure from Umur’s expensive sports car. It’s loud and hard to get in and out of, and he washes it too much and takes too many pictures of it. But it makes him happy and I love him too much to stand in the way of that happiness. I, on the other hand, am made extremely happy by having one million pets. So he puts up with our house being a zoo, a dog sleeping on top of him, and cats that have a knack for pooping every time we are eating dinner. Marriage isn’t necessarily about putting another person’s happiness above your own, but it is about placing the same value on their happiness as you do on yours. It is also about not equating their happiness with the avoidance of your mild discontent. This is not something that comes easily or feels natural. It’s safe to say this is one of those things we are continually working on.

We have also learned that sitting on the couch next to each other on our phones does not count as quality time together. It’s easy when you live together to get in the habit of spending a ton of time together, but very little quality time. Early in our marriage we realized that we were always together, but never actually present. Now we recognize that it’s better to spend one hour a day of quality time together, than three hours of half-present, distracted time together. Since we both have bad habits of scrolling through our phones whenever we are in the house not doing anything, we try to carve out time to actually get outside the house and do things together. We love to (over)eat, so for us quality time tends to mean going out to a good dinner. Friday is date night and I can honestly say I look forward to it all week. The important thing is to find whatever it is that you bond over, and always make time to do it.

The last thing that we have learned and are still working on is focusing on the big picture and not getting caught up in the small stuff. It’s easy to allow every day responsibilities to overshadow the more important work that we are trying to do, which is build a life together. We have had the somewhat unique experience of getting married before we fully entered into adult life. We had both recently graduated and had little idea what real life would look and feel like. In the beginning of our marriage, we were definitely overwhelmed by all the adult responsibilities that had recently fallen into our laps. We were always stressed about jobs, bills and how the hell a person was supposed to work and still have a life. We struggled with these things together, which was both a blessing and a curse. In one sense, it was comforting to be able to share this experience together and to not feel alone in it. But on the flip side, we frequently took out the stresses of every day adult life on each other. We hadn’t recognized that it was possible for all areas of our lives to be complete and utter disasters, but for our marriage to still feel good and strong. If I had a bad day at work, I brought it home with me and Umur was sure to have a bad night. We were constantly picking at each other and arguing over stupid small things. I yelled at the top of my lungs that the dishwasher being loaded improperly was the source of ALL my unhappiness and lack of fulfillment. Of course the things that we fought about were never the true problems we were facing. Very rarely did our actual problems even have anything to do with each other. That was a difficult thing to recognize and the pattern of taking out our frustrations on each other and finding fault was a hard one to break.

I would be lying if I said it’s not something we still struggle with. But we are getting better at taking a step back and saying “What is really wrong here? What are you actually upset about?” Sometimes the answer is simply that one of us is stressed and had a bad day, and there is actually nothing wrong at all. Umur is better than I am at pointing out these moments and steering our interaction back to a more positive place. Sometimes the answer is more complicated and is something we really need to talk about and work through. Either way, we have learned not get so caught up in the small struggles and complaints of daily life. We try to remember that this is the process of building a life together. That it is sometimes hard and that’s okay. But we also try to remember that this is our life, right now. Amid the stressful, responsibility-crushing, mundane of every day, we are growing and our relationship is strengthening, and that’s something worth celebrating.

If we treat these years solely as building blocks for our future life to come, we risk missing the beauty of this moment of our life. In this moment, we are just two kids in love, struggling to figure out what life is really about and how we can make the most of it. Though we look forward to the years when our lives feel more settled, our souls less restless and our love a little more calm, there is something beautiful about this struggle. There is something beautiful about choosing each other, every day, even when we feel incapable of choosing anything else. Umur, you are the only thing I am sure about. I love you. Today and always.

-S

 

Tattoos and the Quest for Authenticity

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It’s been forever since I have posted. I’m inconsistent. That’s my thing. Let’s move on.

I got a new tattoo last week which got me thinking about why I get tattoos. I get this question a lot, whether explicitly or simply through a raised eyebrow and head shake of disapproval. Everyone has their own reasons for getting tattoos and I can’t speak to all of them, but I can at least shed a little light on what led me to get tattoos and what they mean to me.

For most of my life, I placed a high value on what other people thought of me. When I was a kid, I was always a little weird and different from everyone else. So when I started to grow up and become more aware of other people’s opinions of me, I started toning down my weirdness and trying harder to fit in. I’ve always been good at reading other people, so I used this skill to my advantage and figured out what other people wanted me to do or say, and generally went with that. The result was that I had lots of friends, or at least very few people who disliked me, and very few people who really knew me.

As I became an adult, this compulsive need for other people to like me became more burdensome. At least in high school, I didn’t have to try very hard to be like my friends because we were all pretty similar to start with. College presented me with a whole new, more difficult, arena of people to imitate: people in Lily Pulitzer dresses and Jack Rogers shoes, with Longchamp purses and Patagonia fleeces. I knew immediately that I didn’t fit in, that this wasn’t me. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the people I was meeting, but I was worried my differences were too apparent, and that they wouldn’t like me. My confidence during this time was at an all time low.  I had all the things you’d expect a college student experiencing an identity crisis to have: a tendency to drink too much, an emotionally unhealthy relationship, and the remarkable ability to pretend that none of it was happening. That ability to detach myself and say “this is what I’m doing, but it’s not who I am” was the enabling force in my identity crisis.

I had a couple experiences that felt like bright spots in the middle of this identity crisis. First, I studied abroad (I know…so basic), and got to experience independence in a brand new city where I felt like I could be whoever I wanted. During that semester in Scotland I felt more like myself than I had at any other time in college. It was liberating. I commemorated the feeling with my first tattoo. It was a compass, to remind me that sometimes you have to get lost in order to find yourself and that the journey to self-discovery is a never-ending one.

The other experience that allowed me to be more myself was meeting my now husband, Umur. Anyone who knows Umur knows that generally, he doesn’t give a fuck what other people think. He is unapologetically himself regardless of the situation and regardless of who he’s with. When I met him, I watched in awe how joyful and easy life can be when you aren’t living in your own head. He didn’t constantly gauge other people’s reactions and adjust accordingly the way I did. He didn’t replay interactions for days after the fact, wondering if he’d said something he shouldn’t have. He is easy to get to know, and he is the kind of person that makes other people feel more free to be themselves. And with his contagious authenticity, I started to let go of my fear of standing out and embrace the freedom that comes with that.

After we were together for about a year and a half, he asked me to marry him. I said yes and I was thrilled, but my happiness was tainted with anxiety. Even though I knew this was the guy I wanted to spend my life with, the overwhelming fear of what people would think came flooding back. Coming from an upper class highly-educated community, getting married at 23 is not exactly viewed favorably. I knew that in the eyes of my peers, I was supposed to be focusing on my career, on traveling and living a fabulous instagram-worthy life. I knew that people would secretly think that I was somehow throwing my life away or settling. Though I wanted to marry him and I felt that it was the right choice for me, I obsessed over what people would think. Were people talking about me behind my back? Did they disapprove? What did this make them think of me?

Later after we were married, I realized that I almost let this uncontrollable need for people to approve of my decisions ruin what should have been the best day of my life. I loved Umur deeply and I knew in my heart that marrying him was the right choice for me, and yet I couldn’t push away the anxiety that came along with taking a different path from most people I knew. And I let this anxiety consume me. I let it infect and diminish my happiness. And though at times I wish more than anything that I hadn’t felt this way and that I could go back and do it all differently, I think it was the wake up call I needed to change. I stopped caring what other people thought initially because I had to, because otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to move forward in my life. But I also stopped caring because I was horrified at what that compulsive need had turned me into. I had become a person who almost let other people’s opinions dictate the course of my life. And then I almost let other people’s opinions stop me from enjoying one of the most important moments of my life. Since then I have decided to be different. I have decided to value my happiness more than other people’s opinions. I have decided to embrace who I am, even when other people don’t like it or understand it.

When I got that first tattoo in Scotland, I remember feeling so free. Free to be who I was and to make a decision for myself, with complete disregard for what anyone else thought. It was like putting down the very heavy load of public opinion and feeling how much lighter and easier it was to just be myself. My tattoos are almost literally my heart on my sleeve. They are my way of embracing who I am and letting go of the fear that other people won’t like me. In some ways, my tattoos are maybe even a kind of test for the people I interact with. I don’t want people in my life who judge others without knowing anything about them. If someone is going to write me off because I have tattoos, then quite honestly, they are not the kind of person I want to impress anyways. I’d rather be around people who care more about what kind of person I am. My tattoos don’t allow me to hide or try to blend in. They force me to be myself, in every situation, even when it feels scary. They are also my reminder to not take life so seriously and to not live crippled by fear. It’s easy to become paralyzed by the fear that you might regret something in the future. This fear causes a lot of people to never do what they really want to do, and to waste their lives terrified of making a mistake.

I get asked a lot, “what if you regret that tattoo when you are 80?” My first response is always, “Listen, I’m going to look like shit when I’m 80. I think this tattoo will be the least of my concerns.” But in all seriousness, I don’t think I could ever regret something that felt authentic and meaningful at the time. If it loses its original meaning to me over the years, at least it will serve as a reminder for a time I felt bold enough to be who I was. I know there will be times in my life when I will again find myself caught up in what other people think. I hope in those moments my tattoos remind me that I don’t have to live that way and that there is freedom and happiness on the other side of that fear.

-S

Barre So Hard

Apologies for the massive delay in posting. I can’t speak for Sarah, but I have been a tad unmotivated recently, and the idea of blogging was stressing me out. I’ve been deep in the ol’ quarter life struggle (questioning what I’m doing with my life, comparing where I am to everyone else, finding solace in being miserable, the usual!). However, I am pulling myself out of that rut.

While I’ve been extra introspective and (to be honest) a bit of a bummer lately, I also did start something new, which I’ve been really enjoying- welcome to the topic of today’s post! I am teaching barre classes!

I started taking barre last January with some friends – we all bought new member class passes for a month. Just to provide some context here, I’m not a massive fitness person. I was never super athletic growing up. I mean, I always played various sports, but wasn’t super competitive so I never really tried that hard. That basically became my go to strategy for fitness throughout college, and into my post-grad life. I’d go to the gym and casually do some cardio, enough to feel like I wasn’t being too lazy, but never pushing myself very hard. So when I went to barre, I really wasn’t sure what to expect.

The first class I took was a real struggle. When I couldn’t get through the warm-up, I realized I was in trouble. It also didn’t help that I had to travel the next day, and was stuck, immobile, in a car for 8 hours. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that sore in my life. I usually shy away from putting myself in a situation where I’m struggling in public, but since I paid a decent amount for that class pass- I went back. I’m a fairly confident person, but I will say I did feel some insecurity. I would look around the studio and see all these really fit and toned girls breezing through class. Cut to Kate- sweating an aggressive amount and doing the saddest excuses for push-ups known to man. I realized a few weeks in, that I was the only one looking around the studio- everyone else was really focused on their work, and I think that was my turning point. When I stopped comparing my muscle tone, and my ability to complete the sets to everyone else, I was able to focus on getting the most out of my workout. When the one month of unlimited class expired, I bought a new package for 3 months even though my friends chose not to re-up.

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I’m the super sweaty one in the grey long sleeve (R)

While the classes never really got easier (that’s one of the great things about barre- it’s always a challenge), I noticed that I was sore a lot less frequently, and I was zooming through sets, and taking the harder options in class. Instead of panicking about needing to take a break, I was focused on making sure my form was correct. A few months later, a fellow student came up to me, and mentioned she thought I had gotten stronger and was looking more fit. I realized she was right. I had definition in my arms and legs that hadn’t been there before. My waist was more trim. But beyond all of that, I was actually happier in my day-to-day. I don’t know if it was because of endorphin’s from actually pushing myself in workouts (remember- endorphin’s make you happy, and happy people don’t kill their husbands) or from actually committing to something, but it was pretty exciting. I started looking forward to getting to the studio, and started chatting more and more with the instructors and other students. I was super content with being a member of our barre community.

About 10 months after I started taking classes, I got an email from the studio owner asking me if I wanted to teach.

“I wanted to tell you that our team mentioned your name when we had a meeting about asking some of our clients to audition 🙂 you have the BEST form and we would love to have you as a part of the team if you’re interested in teaching!”

I was flattered, but demurred. I had a convenient excuse as I was getting surgery, which required an additional month of no physical activity, but the real reason I didn’t immediately say ‘yes’ was fear. I have never taught anything in my life. I don’t think I’m a particularly bubbly-fitness instructor-type person, I’ve been repeatedly told i’m intimidating (i.e. people think I come off as a bitch). That kind of thing will get in your head! I also felt like a total fraud. Teaching a fitness class felt wrong- like I’d be impersonating someone far more qualified.

After my surgery, which I wrote about a while back, I was feeling a little unsettled. Not dissimilar to my more recent feelings that I mentioned at the start of this post. That confusion propelled me to have an out of body experience when my barre studio owner emailed me again asking if I was interested in teaching. I immediately emailed her back and said, ‘I’m in :)’. I wasn’t sure what came over me, but I was apparently going to get instructor training, and start teaching.

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My first real class- teaching dreaded push-ups

It’s been two months since I’ve been a certified teacher, and I absolutely love it. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to design classes and playlists, or would lose count or run my classes way over their scheduled times, but none of that has happened. I find that I really enjoy making new and challenging sets, and developing my playlists is one of my favorite things. It’s been really rewarding to see students pushing themselves in my classes and has given me a totally new perspective on fitness. I don’t feel like a fraud, I feel like I get to share something I love with people who like it too. In fact, I just found out a student requested me to teach a private class that she was setting up for her friends, and I was beyond flattered.

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Always working on that form

So here’s what I learned, (granted I already knew it, but in my experience, I have to keep reinforcing life lessons), taking a risk – doing something that scares you, almost always pays off. Overcoming fear is powerful, and worth doing. I also need to remind myself that fitness, and more importantly, life, is a personal journey and you shouldn’t compare your journey to anyone else’s.

Lastly:

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5 Things: Big Little Lies

I’ve been MIA recently (that’s my bad team!), but now I’m back and ready to write! Sarah’s done a few reviews/discussion posts on documentaries and podcasts, so now I’m getting in on the action with my thoughts on HBO’s Big Little Lies. I really loved this series, and it engendered a lot of thoughts & feelings for me.

Synopsis: The show follows a group of women in the extremely wealthy Monterey, CA area who all have kids that go to the same elementary school. The show starts by letting you know that someone was murdered at a school event, but you don’t know who or why. The story exposes the truth through an intensive deep dive into the lives of these women and their families as you learn that the surface is never as perfect as it seems. It is also based on the novel by Liane Moriarty.

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Here is my list of what was beyond exceptional in this show:

  1. The Cinematography: Holy smokes you guys. This show is STUNNING. I grew up in the Bay Area and have been to Monterey before, but I was floored by how gorgeous each shot was. The show used its scenic backdrop like a supporting actor, every frame accentuated the actors performance or propelled the story further. Speaking of providing a powerful assist…
  2. The Music: The soundtrack to the show was at another level. This show is like a case study in how influential music can be.  Music defined the show, and every use of a song added so much gravity and emotion to an already exceptional scene. Why was every scene so exceptional, you might wonder?
  3. The Acting: When you have 2 Academy Award Winning Actresses (Reese Witherspoon & Nicole Kidman) and Academy Award Nominated Actresses (Laura Dern) combined with the amazing Zoe Kravitz, Shailene Woodley, Adam Scott, and Alexander Skarsgard you are going to get cinematic magic. Everyone was on their A game. Every scene was like a masterclass in acting- comedic or heartbreaking or some expression of subtle secret emotion. It was so clear how immersed and engaged each actor was. Give them all the awards. The way these characters related and interacted with one another was so compelling (and they didn’t even need dragons or robots to make it interesting- it actually felt like real life!).  Actors don’t really have any ground to stand on without the dialogue and source material, which brings us to…
  4. The Story: Liane’s world is rich and robust and real. Her story spans genres as it has lighthearted, funny moments while also being punctuated by moments of fear and drama. She created women who were more than one dimensional caricatures of women- her characters were flawed, and gritty, and relatable. She explored themes of abuse, of the struggle of balancing careers with families, of the dichotomy of individuality & having an identify as a mother or wife, and of relationships between women.
  5. The Relationships Between Women: I didn’t realize how rare it was to see deep and compelling relationships explored between women on screen, until I watched this show. BLL didn’t shy away from exploring the all too real competitive nature of female relationships. However, BLL spent just as much time showing how women stand up for one another, in both subtle and massive ways. In my experience, all women have one thing in common- we are always looking over our shoulders, some more than others. I’ve discussed this before, but from a young age, women are aware that they need to be careful (I wish this wasn’t true), but there is a very real threat (usually, but not always) perpetuated by men (obviously not all men). Big Little Lies explored this idea in a lot of ways, some more overt than others. Whether is was sexual violence, physical intimidation, physical abuse, a side comment with an underlying message, or just a look that lingered a second too long to be comfortable, Big Little Lies showed a very real look at what it can be like to be a woman. Big Little Lies made sure to explore how relationships between women can be extraordinarily powerful when a group of women bonds together and overcomes the petty and mundane day-to-day issues when presented with a real threat. I don’t want to spoil the show (since all of you are going to watch the show immediately), but the powerful last image of the series felt so real and so right.

In summary, you should all watch this show. Major props to HBO and Reese & Nicole for securing the rights to the novel and producing this amazing piece of art.

S-Town Review: Indulging voyeurism or stoking empathy?

Note: BIG spoilers ahead. Stop reading if you haven’t listened to the podcast in its entirety and you intend to.

 

I recently finished listening to S-Town, a podcast by the creators of Serial and This American Life, and found myself with some very conflicting feelings about it. First and foremost, I think this podcast is rich, engaging, beautiful and heart-breaking. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it. I came into it expecting something similar to Serial, and though I loved Serial, I was happily surprised to find something totally different.

After the first two episodes, the podcast wildly veered off the Serial course, breaking the true-crime narrative and diving into something much more interesting. For anyone who was hoping for a fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat, “who done it” crime thriller, they were sorely disappointed. S-Town was at some points extremely slow, but I think for those willing to stick with it, it was worth it in the end. After the initial addicting marathon listening sessions ended though, I was left wondering why I was so intrigued by this podcast, and whether there was something sinister about my interest in it.

The podcast begins with the investigation of the cover-up of an alleged murder, led by a tipster named John B. McElmore. Soon after the story begins though, it becomes clear that the evidence of the crime is lacking and eventually we find out that the alleged murder never happened. John’s tirades about his home, “Shittown,” Alabama dominate most of the narrative. It slowly becomes clear that the crime is not the story at all. John is eccentric, brilliant, unstable, funny and depressed. His views of Shittown and the state of the world are dark and apocalyptic, but also surprisingly astute and especially relevant given the ever-widening expanse between rural and urban America. During the second episode, the host, Brian Reed, gets a call from someone in S-Town: John has committed suicide. As I listened to this episode, headphones in, at my desk at work, my breath caught in my chest. I blinked away tears, hoping no one was looking at me, and felt this incredible weight of something I couldn’t put my finger on.

In some way I felt complicit; I had sat at my desk in the comfort of my cushy upper-class suburban life, eagerly hoping to hear my worst suspicions and stereotypes about Southern, rural, backwards, Trump-loving America confirmed. I sat, listening to the mad rantings of a man who so casually talked of his own suicide, just hoping to feel engaged.  I literally thought to myself at one point “man, I hope something more interesting is going to happen.” And in the midst of my pastime, a man had killed himself. And the most disturbing part is that the narrative foray into the life and secrets of a dead-man were about to be even more captivating than I could have hoped for. Indeed the episodes that followed poked and prodded through the life of a man with many complexities. As the podcast went on, the more I learned about John B. Mclemore, his secrets, his hopes and his struggles, the more I wanted to know. My curiosity couldn’t be satiated, and no matter how many private details I learned of this man’s life, it was never enough.

When I finished the podcast and took a step back, I was all the sudden struck by how invasive it all was. This wasn’t a man who had given his consent to his private life being exposed. And it struck me that maybe that’s why I was so interested. Because it was a raw glimpse into a person that wasn’t filtered by the way the person wanted to be perceived. Certainly the tragedy and sorrow of his life had something to do with my interest in it as well.  It’s human nature to be attracted to tragedy, to stare catastrophe in the face even when the decent thing to do is to look away. There’s a reason sensationalism is sweeping through U.S. media, as I mentioned in a previous post: because that’s what we want. The more shocking, the more depraved, the better. Privacy ceases to matter, boundaries cease to exist; the only thing that matters is that we get more information. The same was true of the life of John B. McLemore. The obsession over who he was and uncovering the secrets of his life was nothing short of voyeurism. In this case I use the word voyeur to mean a “prying observer who is usually seeking the sordid or the scandalous.”

So in this scenario, was listening to and engaging in this podcast indulging one of our worst human instincts of voyeurism? I think that for most people it probably was. However, I think the motivation for starting it is transcended by the sentiment that lingers after it ends.  Undoubtedly, a large part of the audience for this podcast (and really any podcast) is the liberal upper-middle/upper class. It’s impossible to listen to this story and not notice how contrasting the world of the rural south is with your own. At various times in the podcast, listeners were confronted with characters who out of context, might be considered contemptible. Yet something about this narrative humanized them. So that by the end of the podcast, it was almost impossible to characterize any of the people in it as good or bad. They were just people: flawed, full of contradictions, and products of their environment. And out of this realization came a deep sense of empathy specifically for John, a man that you had never met, the likes of which you may never meet. There are many things to dislike about John. He is arguably racist, sexist, masochistic and bleak. Had you just encountered him or any the other people in this story in a passing way, you would probably have written them off. But when you hear their stories something changes. They morph from caricatures to real people and all the stereotypes and judgment fall away. What’s left is empathy and compassion.

With all the divisiveness in the world today, I think that creating this kind of empathy is an admirable pursuit. In this case, the ends justify the means. Though what first draws people to these kinds of stories is voyeurism, if the ever-elusive empathy is the result, maybe the motive for listening in the first place doesn’t matter.

-S

Vulnerability in Writing

I’m alive! The last month or so has been a little rough for me which is why I have been MIA from the blog. I’ve noticed that when I’m in one of my slumps I find it very hard, even impossible, to write. I have sat down to write this post so many times over the last few weeks, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I started thinking about what was stopping me. Initially I just knew that I didn’t want to talk about all the things that have been going on in my head, and because my writing is usually pretty autobiographical, I obviously couldn’t write. Then I thought, “OK, I’ll just write something very objective and completely unrelated to my personal life and personal thoughts. Then at least I will be writing.” I brainstormed different subjects, but every time I actually tried to write no words came to me. Then it dawned on me that all writing is personal regardless of whether or not you are explicitly talking about your personal life. And if you are trying to leave certain pieces of your life out of your writing it makes it difficult to really produce anything of quality.

This has been one of the biggest struggles that I have had with writing. I am naturally a pretty private person, particularly when it comes to my struggles. I’d just rather not have everyone know about my flaws and I don’t like people to see me on my bad days. I think part of the reason for this is that I don’t like to address problems that I don’t yet have solutions for. I like things being neatly tied up, well-thought out and reasoned through in my mind before I talk about them.

Unfortunately, a lot of the questions that we struggle with don’t have clear answers and it is these unanswerable questions are often the central themes of writing. They are questions like: Why are we here? How do we live lives full of meaning and purpose? How do we make sense of all the suffering and tragedy in the world? How do we make and sustain connections with other people? Though these questions seem deeper and more profound than the subject of most writing, they are usually lying beneath the surface, quietly asserting their presence and their relevance.

Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.” This kind of honesty however can be very difficult to muster. Not everyone is willing to bleed so openly and freely for all to see. To write is inevitably to be vulnerable, and for me, and I imagine for many others, that is the hardest part. Regardless of what you are writing about, you are always writing about yourself. Your writing always reveals more about who you are than it reveals about your subject. And when you have secrets or things you don’t want to share with the world, it becomes very difficult to write anything at all.

So my goal for my writing is to not shut down when I am not in the best place mentally. I want to try not to partition off my struggles, but instead to allow them to infect and simultaneously to nourish my writing. Objectivity is impossible in creative pursuits, as it should be. So I will try to embrace the messy, the unanswerable and the painful questions because not to do so would be dishonest.

So in the spirit of honesty, here it is: I’ve had a bad couple of weeks. I feel stuck and directionless and unfulfilled. I have no idea what I want to do with my life. Sometimes all I can do is get up and go through the motions. I’ve set goals that I don’t care about because it felt better to have a plan than to admit that I don’t know what I want. And I’ve watched some of those goals disintigrate before my eyes with surprising indifference, leading me to wonder if I don’t care about what I have pretended to, what do I care about? I’m not entirely sure what the answer to that is. I do know though, that writing has always felt like something I was meant to do. So for now I am going to write, release the need to have it all figured out, and hope for the best.

I realize now that my attempt to remove my personal struggles from my writing inevitably robs it of its substance. Without the gut-wrenching honesty of these struggles, my writing is stripped of its core, and what is left is a hollow shell of words clumsily strung together. If we wait for the answers to life’s nagging questions to come to us before we begin writing about them, the page will always remain blank, the blinking cursor mocking our ignorance.

-S

She Persisted: Vol. 1

Happy International Women’s Day!

“A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” – Gloria Steinem

If you’ve read this blog before, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m a feminist. I’ve mentioned this fact a few times, but it bears repeating. Equality shouldn’t be something that varies by gender (or race or sexual orientation or economic status or religion or any other factor other than your actions). It drives me crazy that we have to have ‘women in leadership’ programs – it should just be called leadership. I don’t like that we still have to distinguish the novelty of a situation whenever a woman does something exceptional.  However, because we still have a LONG way to go, that is the reality. I’m proud to be a woman, and I am proud to stand with the women who have come before us whose shoulders we now stand on.

So I’ve been wanting to do a feature on some historic women who maybe are lesser known than they deserve to be. There are so many incredible women across the globe and across history who deserve to be remembered- I think the film Hidden Figures really spoke to that. I’m hoping to do this on a semi-regular basis, but thought I’d start with a women who gets glossed over in Western History as I recently read a book about her, so she’s been at the top of my mind.  Additionally, while this particular installment is focused on a woman from western Europe- I plan to do features across the globe.

Catherine Parr

Catherine Parr was Henry VIII of England’s last wife. Most people are familiar with Katharine of Aragon and Anne Bolyen as that love triangle dramatically changed the face of Britain, Catholicism, and, honestly, Europe as a whole. Most people are also familiar with Henry VIII’s proclivity for killing his wives, so the fact that Catherine outlived him is a win.

She was an incredibly compelling figure, but managed to fly under the radar while accomplishing a significant agenda. Catherine was a very well educated woman, and actively worked to educate the women of her court and her step-children (one of whom was Elizabeth I of England- who is widely recognized as one of the most successful rulers ever. Catherine being Elizabeth’s step-mother during her formative years had a large impact on her eventual ruling style and legacy). Catherine also restored both of Henry’s daughters (Mary & Elizabeth) to the line of succession. Basically, she fought with her insanely unstable husband to mend his very complex relationships with his children- and she succeeded.  That alone speaks to how selfless, loyal, and persuasive she could be.

Catherine Parr was one of the first females to publish a book in England, although she did so anonymously. She did eventually claim credit for her first book and published a second book post-Henry’s death. Essentially, her books were based on her reformer views around the Protestant faith, and as Henry VIII was very fickle and often looked for excuses to find a new wife, he tried to have her arrested (with the goal of execution) on the basis of her religious beliefs, so her publishing anonymously was paramount to her survival. In fact, it’s notable to mention another amazing woman here.  Anne Askew was the first woman burned at the stake primarily because she refused to name Catherine Parr as a Protestant reformer. The enemies of Catherine Parr basically offered to let Anne go if she would give up the queen, but she refused and was killed. The fact that Catherine’s friends and associates were so loyal that they willingly died to protect her should clue you into the fact that this woman was pretty spectacular.  As an additional note, she managed to change Henry’s mind about her arrest by saying she only engaged in these religious debates with him to take his mind off of his pain, and he bought it and turned on her enemies. That is some master manipulation of an egotistical maniac by an intelligent and strong woman.

She also ruled as regent while Henry was off at war. In her three months in power, she ruled without challenge, and did effectively maintain her authority. She dealt with finances and supplies for Henry’s war while also passing royal proclamations at home, and effectively controlling the dangerous and evolving situation with Scotland. This time specifically is thought to have shown Elizabeth I what was possible for a female ruler of England (spoiler alert- EVERYTHING). Catherine was renowned for her morality and loyalty, but she was able to remain committed to her passions (religion and education) while navigating through an incredibly dangerous marriage and role as queen.

In summary, Catherine should be remembered as a pioneer and an example for women as she was able to write, speak, and act with dignity and implementing progressive views into society in a time when her predecessors met very messy ends for less.

So let’s bring this back to today-  here’s hoping Melania or Ivanka pulls some sweet Catherine Parr maneuvers, and subtlety (or overtly) influences the actions of their version of Catherine’s egotistical unstable Henry VIII. We could use a little bit of her influence these days.

So ladies, let’s get out there and inspire!

 

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Just Another Night…

Last night, I was out with a group of my friends having a great time. The night was winding to an end, when some random guy asked me if I wanted to dance. Spoiler Alert: I didn’t. I said, ‘thanks, but no thanks- I’m good’. In my head, that was a super normal, non-incendiary response. I didn’t say, ‘oh hell no’ or ‘you disgust me, get away you monster’ or ‘go fuck yourself’, just a simple ‘no’. This guy didn’t take that well.

He immediately started yelling at me- calling me a whore, ugly, a bitch, and a slut. I (shockingly) didn’t engage back. I just sat there while he verbally abused me for not wanted to dance with him. (Apparently you can be a whore for choosing to not engage with a random guy- who knew?!) At this point, a female friend of mine inserted herself between the guy and me- she told him to get away from me, and leave us alone. He then started screaming obscenities at  her- the same types of things- commenting that she was ugly and a slut (again- apparently defending your friend is slutty, but I digress) He was getting more and more irate when some of our male friends got in his way. They were very calm and told him to leave immediately, and that he was making an ass out of himself. He tried to get physical with them- granted, the three of them averaged 6’4, so it wasn’t the best call. Before things got too crazy, he got kicked out.

We all left the bar within the next 15 minutes or so and he was outside- still yelling about how awful, unattractive, and slutty I was. My female friend who initially stood up for me ended up having to be held back while he antagonized us further. People kept telling her to calm down, and that he wasn’t worth it. She replied with ‘if we don’t stand up for ourselves now, when will we?’. Everything ended up being okay- we all got home without any further incident, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

I firstly want to thank my friends who took it upon themselves to block me from this guy. I really appreciate having people in my life who are willing to stand up for me. But all of this raises a lot of issues.

It just amazes me that this guy felt justified in verbally attacking me for choosing to not dance with him. I cannot imagine ever doing anything or saying anything like this guy was- it was disgusting and pathetic and really disheartening to think that he thought his actions were considered okay.Obviously this isn’t applicable to all guys, but I’m generalizing. I don’t understand the lack of respect so pervasive in our culture. I’ve had so many people make overtly sexist comments as well as more subtle remarks to me, and while sometimes its a joke, more often than not it’s a realistic glance into true opinions. Women are still getting paid less then men and are still 40% less likely to be in the workforce. The double standard among our culture is still in existence in a big way. The rules are different for each gender and it’s completely unfair. I just get so angry that guys have this power to make women feel so unsafe and objectified. What right do these guys have to make us feel cheap? It is sad and a complete waste that society has made it okay for men to be such assholes.

We all have our stories about times we were objectified, or threatened, or worse. In recent memory, I was in a bar with a friend of mine and she was assaulted by some creep- he felt it was okay to grab her by the crotch. I’m not super proud (I am a little proud), but I punched him in the face and had the bar staff drag him out. A little while after that some random guy tried to break into my apartment, and I managed to hit him in the head with the door and startle him enough to get the door closed and locked. Not too long after that a  random guy tried to lock me in a bathroom with him, but a friend of mine broke the door down and we got away safely. I’m saying all of this because I’m one of the lucky ones. I’ve certainly encountered dangerous situations, but I’ve been able to avoid the worst outcome, and a lot of women aren’t as lucky. Which by the way, considering that a lucky outcome is fucking insane.  In a survey conducted a few years back, “nearly one in five women surveyed said they had been raped or had experienced an attempted rape at some point, and one in four reported having been beaten by an intimate partner. One in six women have been stalked.” I personally know people that fall into those groups. These women are strong and smart and incredible, and it’s sick that they have to fight every day not to be defined by the actions of their attackers. These women aren’t victims, they are survivors.

And it breaks my heart. It’s horrifying that we live in a ‘modern society’, and that we consider ourselves enlightened and exceptional, when half of our citizens are demeaned on a consistent basis. It breaks my heart that it isn’t safe for women to walk alone at night without being scared.  It breaks my heart that women have to be on alert at all times. It breaks my heart that women who are survivors of violence have to fight to be believed when they come forward.

Women are conditioned from childhood to be constantly on alert for threats of this nature, but men are rarely conditioned from childhood to understand what is acceptable conduct in regards to women. Society has conditioned us with a “don’t get raped” mentality as opposed to a “don’t rape” mentality.  This is not okay. Boys don’t just get to be boys, while women have to live in an naturalized state of fear. Even when that fear isn’t overt, it’s always there.

We need to do better. We need to stand up for ourselves, and we need to have the tough conversations. We need to figure out the right way to talk to our children about these things. We need to make sure girls feel empowered and strong- not weak and victimized. We need to make sure that men respect women, and do not feel entitled to anything a woman isn’t willing to give- whether it’s just a dance or whether it’s her body. It’s her choice, and that the bottom line.