Wednesday, July 30, 2014

And The Best Night of The Summer Award Goes To...

This past Monday was easily the best night of the summer thus far, and any other night will be hard pressed to beat it.

After work and a brief period of being locked out of the apartment, I headed downtown with Joe and Nikki to meet up with Nathan at The Bitter End. If you've ever been a college student in Grand Rapids you have at least heard of The Bitter End, even if you've never been there, because it is the only 24 hour coffee shop in town.

After my trip to The Bitter End I've decided it is not a cafe you go to because you want coffee, especially when there is a Mad Cap coffee shop within walking distance. I judge the quality of a coffee shop on the quality of their chai latte, and I was not particularly impressed (although the little cinnamon music notes are pretty cute). So if you are looking for a good cup of coffee I would recommend walking the extra mile to Mad Cap in Rosa Parks Circle or trying The Sparrows in East Town.

However, if you're looking for a good place to work then by all means order yourself a smoothie and set up camp. The environment is exactly what I want out of a coffee shop when I am hoping to whip out a final paper or add a few chapters to my current work in progress. 

After a few hours at The Bitter End, we ran to the other end of the "night downtown" spectrum and headed to Stella's Lounge for The Drunken Retort.

(sources top to bottom:

Stella's is my new favorite night spot in Grand Rapids. Good drinks, amazing fries, and supposedly the damn best burger you could ever hope to find. I didn't get a burger so I can't say for sure, but I intend to in the very near future.

But none of those things, or even the fact that they have a Galaga machine (seriously!), are what brought us to Stella's that night. We were there for The Drunken Retort.

"What the hell is The Drunken Retort?"

It is the best thing that I have ever discovered in downtown Grand Rapids.

The Drunken Retort is an open mic talent showcase, dominated mainly by spoken word poetry with some acoustic work thrown in. And I love me some spoken word. I have spent hours scrolling through Youtube watching performance after performance, so finally finding somewhere that holds live shows? Heaven.

If you are looking for the quiet coffee shop poetry night with all the snapping, The Drunken Retort is probably not for you. But if you want to see some amazing performance and are down with some yelling and a whole lot of f-bombs, The Drunken Retort is exactly what you are looking for.

I went up to a complete stranger after the show, which is something I never do. But I'd wanted to talk to him ever since he'd performed. He had performed a poem about his daughter and how she doesn't really understand why he and her mom aren't together anymore and how hard it is on both of them. I told him that my parents got divorced when I was quite young too, and that I now consider it the best thing that could have possibly happened, and that one day his daughter would too. And he thanked me, genuinely thanked me, and gave me a hug. I got a hug from a complete stranger. And hopefully I made him feel a little better too. That was definitely one of the highlights of the night for me.

I had such a fantastic night at Stella's. The performances were amazing and the community that has grown around the show is just awesome. And I finally got to see Nathan perform; he totally killed it. I regret every Monday night this summer that I did not spend at Stella's and I cannot wait to go back next week for more - and to finally try out the burger I keep hearing so much about!

I leave you with this picture I got after the show (Nathan is the handsome guy in the stripes with the flowing locks.) I would love (I think...maybe...) to actually be one of the people performing at some point, but for now I'll settle for sipping on my drink and watching everyone else kick ass. 

(Sorry. I'm still in the "cell phone camera" stage of my blogging life. And it was dark. Because pub.)

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Mafia Drinks Moscato

Sometimes everything seems to have fallen into place perfectly; you want to stay in Grand Rapids for the summer, you have a friend who needs a subleaser, and on top of that she knows a place that you could easily get hired for the summer. Boom. Done.

Sometimes you find out later that her lease ends 2 weeks before your lease in your townhouse for the next school year starts.

Sometimes you are so freaking unbelievably grateful for awesome friends with open couches.

Joe and I spent the weekend packing up our life and moving it to it's temporary new home in the corner of our friend Kevin's living room (shout out to Kevin and Andrew for being the most fantastic human beings). 

The move took up most all of the weekend, so needless to say I am pretty bummed about being back at work today. But luckily I have tomorrow off to actually relax. Probably. And on the plus side, I was so busy packing and cleaning that I did not have time to spend online crying over pictures from yet another San Diego Comic Con that I was not able to attend.

After all the moving drama was over with some friends came over for wine night, and that was a blast. I think everyone who came brought a bottle of wine so there was plenty to go around. And go around it did.

(The lighting wasn't great last night so I couldn't get any good pictures. So I'm cheating a bit.)

Nikki and I attempted to swing dance in the living room (I'm not very good). We jumped from one philosophical conversation to the next, each one only got more intense with every bottle we opened. And finally, there was a very long, very intense game of Mafia that ended with Kevin dubbing me the best liar in the room (Seriously though, winning that game was a crowning achievement for me. I wish you could have seen it. Nikki was so angry. It was beautiful.) 

I am definitely looking forward to being able to move into our townhouse; I like having my own room and my own space and being surrounded by my own things. But I think staying with Kevin and Andrew for the next 2 weeks is going to a lot of fun, and I definitely think it is going to yield some interesting blog posts. It is just going to be the longest sleep over ever. With wine. What more could you want out of summer, right? 

Have you ever had to couch surf with some friends? Did you get any interesting stories out of it? And did you do anything fun this weekend? Lets chat in the comments!  

Friday, July 25, 2014

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Have you ever read a book that you absolutely adored, but could just not articulate what exactly about it you loved so much? 

Then you understand how much trouble I'm having trying to write about this book.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Female Thor? Awesome! But It's Not Enough


Unless you have been hiding away under a rock without wifi, you've probably heard about the big news Marvel Comics announced on The View last week: Mjolnir is about to choose a new bearer, and this time it will choose a woman. That's right my friends; a woman will be taking on the role of Thor.

Personally I think this is a pretty awesome development and I genuinely look forward to seeing where her story takes her. The concept art (above) is crazy awesome and is what really got me excited. Because she looks so fierce and her armor actually looks like it was designed to be functional instead of to show off as much skin as possible, which on it's own I have to consider massive progress for comics because it shows that artists are starting to shift the way they think about their audience. There is a reason female characters have traditionally been drawn the way they are, and I am so excited to see comics slowly (sloooowly...) moving away from it. But the male centered heteronormativity of comic book art is a conversation for another day.

It is nothing new for a new person to put on the mask (or in this case, helmet) of a popular hero. The title of Green Lantern gets passed down with the ring, there have been plenty of Robins running along side batman, and four different men have claimed the title of The Flash. This is how these stories survive for so long. It makes sense that Thor would be one of the heroes eligible for such a reboot considering the source of the character's power, Mjulnir. And honestly it wouldn't make any sense for the title of any character to be passed down to only white men (I am very not subtly looking straight at you Doctor Who), so in my opinion Mjulnir choosing a woman to become the next Thor makes complete sense. Why wouldn't a woman be able to be deemed worthy to wield it?

I also think these types of reboots are a great way to work towards diversifying a previously very straight white male dominated cast of characters. Modern comics are still highly representative of the time in which they started; they still drip with the sexism and racism of the 1950s and that is simply not acceptable in 2014. Rebooting characters and passing their titles down to characters of different genders and races is a good way to acknowledge the need for diversity in pop culture and to start taking steps in the right direction towards correcting the extraordinarily problematic history that the comic book industry has in terms of representation.

However, that is all this is: just a step in the right direction. If you've read my post about the media reaction to The Fault In Our Stars, you know that I am a big proponent of both celebrating progress, which this is, while at the same time acknowledging that there is still work to be done. And there is still a lot of work to be done within the comic book industry in terms of diversity and proper representation. Recycling the same cast of characters over and over and just altering some characters from time to time to accommodate calls for diversity is not enough.

What we need is the introduction of diverse original characters. We need empowered women of all sexualities and races proudly displayed on the front covers of their own comics and graphic novels. Because no matter how fantastic a Thor this woman might be, she is still building upon a precedent already set by a man. No matter how we try to fight it, she will always be known as "the female Thor" rather than simply "Thor."

As awesome as I think that it is that they are doing this, I am not content with being given female versions of already established characters. I want more original characters that are women, with their own history and stories, and without a history of being sexualized to appeal to an assumed-to-be exclusively male readership that simply does not exist. And I want the original characters that we already have to be treated better by the industry. How many times are they going to reboot Superman and Spiderman before they finally give us a Wonder Woman movie? We are on the third Iron Man movie, the second Thor movie, and the second Captain America movie, all without Black Widow getting the standalone she so obviously deserves. (Supposedly a Black Widow movie is in the making, but it has yet to be confirmed as being in even pre-production according to IMBD. So while I am excited- and I mean really freaking excited- I'm hesitant to throw a party just yet.)

Making the next Thor a woman is definitely an interesting twist, and a sign that Marvel is paying attention to the growing demand for diversity in comics. I am very much looking forward to seeing where this new Thor's story will take her. But so far Marvel has attempted to diversify its cast by simply altering already existing characters- a female Thor, a black Captain America, etc- and while this is definitely progress it is not enough. I hope that in the near future comics, Marvel and otherwise, start working to diversify their casts by creating some awesome original characters and by treating the female original characters they already have with the respect they deserve.

Monday, July 21, 2014

That Time I Had the Audacity To Wear A Tank Top In July

I run out the door this morning, my only thought being that I have to get to the office by 9am. I can't find my wallet with my keys, but I figure I have cash to buy lunch and Joe is home anyway so it's not the end of the world if I don't lock the door. About 30 seconds from my house I remember why I have to get to the office by 9am: I have to unlock and open the office. 

Wallet and keys? Check. But now I'm running late. I put on my workout playlist, put in my headphones, and race out of the neighborhood. 

Almost my entire ride to work is made up of a straight shot down a single road that connects the south off-campus apartments to campus. I make it about half way down the road when a car turns onto it coming towards me. I move over to the shoulder of the road so it can get past me and I can be on my way. A lot of people slow down when they get closer to pedestrians/bikers, so I don't think much of it at first, but by time I reach the car it has stopped.

As I mentioned, this is one of the roads that wraps around campus. And summer means there are all sorts of parent and freshman orientations going on, along with a number of sports camps, so it isn't unusual for people to stop you and ask for directions, especially since basically all of campus is one giant construction detour at the moment. I realize just as I'm about to ride past the car that he probably got a bit turned around because of all the construction and needs help figuring out how to get somewhere. So I slam on my breaks and pull my headphones out.

"Sorry," I say with a smile, feeling a little guilty that I almost flew past him.

"Nice tits you got there," says the 50+ year old piece of trash sitting behind the wheel.

Normally I am very quick to swing back with a glare and a "go fuck yourself," but this morning I was genuinely stunned into silence. My smile dropped immediately. I gave him a brief disgusted glare, jammed my headphones back into my ears, and sped off.

I just want to take a moment to appreciate the fact that this man stopped his car to get my attention. Which leads me to believe that he saw that I had headphones in, but was not to be deterred. He was so determined to get my attention to he could make his disgusting comment that he stopped his car in the middle of the freaking road. Are you fucking kidding me?

I raced the rest of the way to campus, reminding myself over and over again that the problem was not the tank top I had elected to wear because it is supposed to get up to 80 degrees this afternoon. But no matter how many times I said it, no matter how strongly I know that to be true, it did not stop me from looking down every time I passed someone on campus. It did not stop me from feeling uncomfortable and dirty and exposed when two men stared at me as I walked through Kirkhof, even though I knew it was probably just in my head.

I have worn this tank top one hundred times without ever feeling uncomfortable in it. The fact that I have a large chest does not bother me and I am certainly not going to suffocate myself in 80 degree weather just to cover it up. And yet, I live in a society where I have to choose between being comfortable and being harassed. And when I choose comfort and I do get harassed, I am told it is my fault, that I was asking for it. Well let me tell you something: I did not ask for a DD cup size anymore than I asked for that perverted piece of shit's opinion on it. And neither did any other woman in the world who is forced to put up with this.

The fault does not lie with my tank top, or this girl's skirt, or that girl's dress. The fault is in this society that teaches men (and women) that women are objects first and people second, and then only if they fall into the category of a "someone's sister, mother, daughter..." It is this society that uses our bodies as decoration to sell everything from cars to cheeseburgers. It is this society that makes violence against us entertainment for straight male-centered consumer bases without a second thought. It is this society that teaches us that women are disposable, secondary characters in the stories of men. It is this society that teaches that women exist for men's enjoyment.

Ladies it is so, so important that we remember that we are never "asking for it." We do not need to "learn to take a compliment." We deserve to be treated with respect and we have no obligation to tolerate anyone who treats us otherwise. So the next time you get sexually harassed do what I do; flip'em the bird and then tweet about them to @EverydaySexism so they can take their proper place in the Legion of Assholes women are forced to put up with on a daily basis. And then take a few minutes to favorite and retweet a few of the tweets shared by other women for solidarity purposes. And finally, make a point to have a fan-fucking-tastic day just to spite that card carrying asshole who tried to stop you. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Hagia Sophia: A Remarkable Depiction of Religious Co-existence

Last summer I spent a few weeks studying abroad in Turkey. We spent the last few days of the trip sightseeing around Istanbul and one of the stops on our tour of the city was the Hagia Sophia (pronounced Aya Sophia), the huge ancient building pictured above.

A Brief History Lesson: The Hagia Sophia was initially an Eastern Orthodox cathedral and was built around 537 under the orders of the Byzantine Emperor, Justinian. It served as a Christian place of worship until 1453 when the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople under Sultan Mehmed II, at which point it was converted into an Islamic mosque. The mosaics picturing Jesus, Mary, and the various Christian Saints and angels were plastered over and traditional Islamic features, such as the tall minarets and the mihrab, were added to the building. The Hagia Sophia continued to serve as a mosque until 1931 when it was closed to the public; it was converted into a museum and reopened in 1935.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because this building fascinates me. You see, when they converted the Hagia Sophia into a museum, they removed the plaster from the walls that had covered up the Christian paintings. They restored aspects of the old Christian basilica that the building had initially served as, without removing the later Islamic additions. And the result is an absolutely gorgeous blending of two cultures that I doubt exists anywhere else in the world. Within the walls of the Hagia Sophia paintings of Christian angels fly just above the Islamic divine names and scriptures painted in golden Arabic calligraphy. Christian Saints decorate the walls of the room in which the elaborate mihrab sits, marking the direction of Mecca for Islamic prayer.

Within the walls of the Hagia Sophia, the traditions and history of two warring cultures has collided to create something truly beautiful. The Christian and Islamic traditional decor do not clash here the way the people of these faiths do around the world; they compliment each other to create something remarkable. And maybe it is just my literary geared mind, but I cannot help but see the Hagia Sophia as a living metaphor for what kind of world we might be able to build if only people of different faiths and cultures would start recognizing each other as people instead of others. It is tragic how much of human history has been wasted on wars of religion, on demonizing those who call God by a different name, on destroying whole civilizations and wiping out entire populations in the name of a book. And if there is a God, I cannot imagine that this is what s/he wanted the world they created to become. Just imagine what we could accomplish if we weren't so busy killing each other; imagine how beautiful a world we could create if only we could learn to coexist. That is what I spent my time walking the halls of the Hagia Sophia thinking about, and what I think about every single time I see these pictures from my trip: if only the people of the world could come together as beautifully as their faiths do within the walls of the Hagia Sophia.

I might not have faith in a god, but I do have faith in people, despite how often I say things to the contrary. I want to believe that some day humanity will grow bored of this nonsense. I want to believe that some day people of faith will start practicing the love, compassion, and tolerance that they insist they stand for, that the hatred and fear of differences will become the curse of only a few rather than the epidemic it is today. I refuse to believe that humankind is so simple as to allow blind fear and hatred to keep us paralyzed and stunted. Because the world is a beautiful place filled with amazing people, and we are capable of so much more. 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Mind. Body. Health: Week Two

Things did not go exactly as expected this past week, but I think it still qualifies as successful. I am really enjoying my yoga workouts. I love how I feel after I have finished them, so relaxed and at ease. It is not often I get to experience so quiet a mind so I look forward to it every day. I really think it is a perfect fit for me.

My initial plan had been to alternate every other day between Beginners Yoga and Yoga for Core #1. However, on Tuesday, the first day of doing Yoga for Core, I made a mistake. I attempted to push myself into a partial back-bend (starting from a lying down position, not standing, I'm not completely insane), because I figured that is how you slowly get better, right? You try things, slowly doing more and more as you can. My back had other plans. It seized up immediately and I spent the next minute desperately bending in the other direction trying to get it to let up again, which it did. But it was killing me later that night. I also have what I'm pretty sure is a pinched nerve along my spine, and it did not appreciate my back seizing up like that, so it has been bothering me quite a bit this week too. 

I think I was probably asking for it, to be honest. That nerve has been bothering me for well over a year, and I just kept putting off going to the chiropractor and making excuses about why I couldn't go. Finally my body has decided to force me into it, which is a good thing. This is what I get for not listening to it. I'll be doing my best not to make that mistake again.

So, there was no more Yoga for Core for me the rest of the week. Instead I stuck to the Beginners Yoga so I didn't run the risk of hurting my back again. I also did a few Lunar Flows this week to help me unwind and get ready to go to bed.

I did get up early enough to eat breakfast before work every day, which is quite an accomplishment for me. And of course I biked to and from work every day by default because I have no other options. All in all I think week one went pretty well, aside from the unforeseen anger of my back.

My anxiety was pretty normal this week; I did not notice any major improvements, but I did not have any major spirals either. I have been getting quite a lot of headaches lately, which is not entirely unusual, but they've been happening more often than usual and quite a few of them just came out of nowhere; it felt like someone just jabbed an ice pick through my temple. I'm wondering if they are maybe connected to my back? I'm planning on going to the chiropractor tomorrow after work, so hopefully that will help!

Goals for this Week
  • Alternate between Beginner Yoga Podcast and Sun Salutation Podcast
  • Go to Chiropractor 
  • Eat Breakfast Every Day 
  • Drink One Full Water Bottle Every Day
  • Journal at least 3 Times

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Desperation of a Trapped Wanderluster

I'm the kind of person who wants to see everything. I want to walk the streets of Paris and explore the bookshops of London. I want to get lost in Barcelona and drink wine on a summer night in Florence. I want to see the Egyptian pyramids and the Mayan Temples of South America. I want to watch the cherry blossoms rain over Kyoto, do yoga in India, and spend an evening writing on the green cliffs of Ireland.

I have trouble sitting still. I always have, really, but it is getting worse as I get older. I feel trapped. I am growing desperate to get out and see the world. I've been looking at the possibility of going abroad for grad school, or even forgoing grad school- for now anyway- and taking a gap year to travel. I could find a job that required travel or relocation. I could do freelance work and just work my way through Europe, three months at a time. Maybe I could make writing work. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

I am the kind of person who struggles with the maybes of life.

My need to keep moving is shifting from wanderlust to anxiety, almost a feeling of claustrophobia. Last night I went from being almost asleep to being almost in tears because suddenly I could not stop thinking about the fact that I don't have my driver's license yet and how am I going to get it now and why the hell couldn't I have just passed that damn test the first time. I am confident that getting my license (and a car) would help. It would at least give me the freedom to get around locally when the urge to runaway for an afternoon came. But it would only be a partial solution, a half way fix.

I spent four weeks studying abroad in Turkey last summer. I got restless. I had to get out, had to go somewhere, anywhere. And a few months later I was on a plane bound for Istanbul. I had hoped that when I returned I would be able to anchor myself more easily, at least long enough for me to finish my undergrad and figure out what came next. And for a few months it did. But soon I was back online, looking at volunteer and internship opportunities across the pond. If I had been able to afford it I would have spent three weeks building schools in Tanzania this summer without a second thought. Instead, I settled for spending the summer in Grand Rapids, a small improvement, but still not nearly enough to satisfy my restless soul.

I know that someday I will watch the sun rise over the ocean from a sandy Thailand shore. Someday I will spend a summer in Amsterdam. Someday I will make a fool out of myself trying to order dinner in Berlin. But I am impatient woman with 2 years left before graduation. And I'm just not sure what I'm going to do with myself until then.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

College 101: It's Okay Not To Have A Plan

If your high school was anything like mine, you probably had career planning shoved down your throat so violently you could throw up average salaries of 10 different jobs at any given time. And if you are anything like me, this probably seriously stressed you out. How could it not? Your 15, 16, 17 years old and being told you need to start deciding what job you want to spend the rest of your life doing. (But heaven forbid you want to get a tattoo, because that's a big decision that you might regret when you're older.)

Don't get me wrong; I think it is important to think about what you might be interested in doing after graduation, but the fact of the matter is you probably will not have it all figured out by the time you graduate high school, and I would even argue that you shouldn't. By the end of your high school career you have been exposed to a very minimal amount of all the possibilities that are out there. There are so, so many more career options than teacher, engineer, doctor, and any of the other go-to careers that high school introduces you to. Hell, there are degree options that I didn't even know existed until I started college (hello Hospitality and Tourism Management majors). High school is just a peak through a small window into a huge world full of possible degree and career paths.

You will change. Your interests and goals will change. And that is okay. We need to feel free to make allowances for that. It is okay not to have a plan. It is okay to go into college undeclared, or to change your major if your passions shift. This is the time to experiment and to allow for a little trial and error. Don't be afraid to spend your freshman year getting your gen-eds out of the way- it is a great way to get to try classes in different areas without feeling like you're falling behind. Take Italian 101 just because you can, because when are you ever going to have that opportunity again? Sign up for that World Literature class for no reason other than it sounds interesting, or see what that Intro to Advertising class your roommate took is all about. The only way to discover where your passion lies is to let yourself seek it out. And I know how scary that is, especially considering how much university costs in the United States, but think of it this way: you are going to be spending a ton of money on your degree one way or another, so wouldn't it be better to make that money worth while by getting a degree in something you genuinely enjoy and care about? If you don't like the classes you have to take to get the degree, you are definitely not going to like the career the degree gets you.

High school works very hard to convince you all that matters is the numbers, that the worth of a job is reduced to the salary it offers. College is your chance to fight back and to decide for yourself what is important to you. And maybe you are very passionate about becoming a surgeon or and engineer and I say power to you! But maybe your passionate about language. Or writing. Or literature. Or history. Or any one of a thousand other things. And that is awesome too. Your interests and goals are just as important as anyone else's.

Love yourself. Take the time to find what really interests you. Your dreams are valid. You deserve a career you are passionate about and step one in getting a career you love is finding a major you love. And if you don't know what that is yet, that's okay. Most people don't know exactly what they want to do when they get to college. Some people change majors a few times before they get it right; I did and I am so happy with where I have ended up. And I still don't know exactly what I want to do after college, but that's okay too; I still have time to work that out, and I am confident that when I do decide what direction I want to take my life in the degrees I have chosen will unlock the correct doors. And if you take the time to find where your heart belongs, so will yours.

What was your first major? Did you end up changing it and if so what did you switch to? Or, if you haven't started college yet, what majors are you considering?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Some Days Are Good For No Reason At All; And We Should Celebrate Them

As a person who lives with anxiety and depression, I know that some days are just hard. Some days hurt. Some days just getting out of bed is a challenge. Some days you hate yourself for no reason at all and the very act of existing seems to much to bear.

But then there are days like today. Days where you breathe a bit deeper, laugh a bit harder, and smile a bit wider. Days where you feel good for no reason at all. I think too often people take these days for granted. Maybe it is just because they come less naturally to me; maybe I am more aware of them when they come, but I think days like these need to be celebrated.

The days when I genuinely love myself and feel confident in who I am are huge rays of sunshine bursting through cloudy skies and I am so, so thankful for them. I am working on actively seeking them out, on forcing the clouds apart myself, but it is so much easier said than done. So days like today are beautiful. And I think more people should take the time to appreciate them.

Take a few minutes to revel in the simple happiness. Smile at yourself in the mirror. Take a selfie for Instagram just because. Put on that outfit you love but were too self-conscious to wear. Give yourself an extra scoop of ice cream and don't spare a single thought for the calorie count. You deserve to feel beautiful and amazing every single day, but we all know it's not that easy. So on the days that you do, enjoy it, no matter what anyone else has to say about it. Make a point to celebrate these gifts from the universe. Life is too hard not to.

This post is my celebration of today's gift. Because some days I feel good for no reason at all <3

Monday, July 7, 2014

Weekend in Review: Fireworks and FIFA (GO NETHERLANDS!)

This past weekend was Fourth of July which means everyone goes red, white, and blue crazy for a few days because Murica.

The thing is, I'm not huge on the Fourth of July for a couple of reasons. One, for women and minorities "land of the free" is starting to feel a lot like false advertising. And two, I am a bit uncomfortable celebrating the revolution of a country whose government has dedicated itself to sabotaging and/or reversing democratic revolutions around the world basically ever since it entered the world of international relations. It feels a bit insulting to me and I'm just not particularly comfortable with any of it. However, I do love me some fireworks. How can you not, right? And you gotta admit, what is more American than hundreds, sometimes thousands of people all gathering together to watch colorful explosions? Not much.

This was my first year spending Fourth of July in Grand Rapids, so I didn't really know what to expect. Somehow it had not occurred to me just how many people would be downtown for the show. The fireworks back home draw a decent crowd, but it is nothing compared to the crowd gathered in the middle of downtown Grand Rapids Saturday night. It was pretty awesome. And the fireworks themselves were great. We couldn't see some of the lower ones because there was a perfectly positioned tree blocking our view, but there were only a few of those. All in all, it was really awesome.

Small side note: it occurred to me Saturday how strange it is that I love fireworks. Because my anxiety is often triggered by loud sounds- people talking too loud, someone dropping a bowl while doing the dishes, that horrible noise that buses make when they start moving- but for some reason fireworks don't bother me. I don't really have an explanation other than they just don't. Kinda weird, right?

The only other really "exciting" thing that happened this weekend was our power being knocked out for a few hours Saturday afternoon. In a way we were lucky that it happened and was fixed before it got dark, because I have no idea if we even own a flashlight, but it was also really unfortunate because I was right in the middle of defrosting chicken to bake for lunch. So instead I ate half a box of cheezits. Super nutritional, I know, but we didn't have much food that didn't require being cooked. 

We got our power back just in time to watch the Netherlands v. Costa Rica World Cup match go into extra time. It was intense and terrifying and beautiful all wrapped up in a tense 40 minutes. The game got pushed into penalties, which is always terrifying. It was close, but thankfully Netherlands won and will move to the next round! Netherlands is really the last team that I care about left, so I was extremely excited to see them win. I really want the finals to be Germany v. Netherlands because I think that would be an amazing game to watch regardless of who wins- but, or course, I'm really hoping for the Netherlands. 

I hope everyone had a great weekend, whether you celebrate Fourth of July or not! Did you do anything fun? And if you're following the World Cup, who are you rooting for?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Mind. Body. Health: Week One

This past week was pretty rough. The Hobby Lobby decision made me angry and the ignorant responses to it made me angrier still. I was the human equivalent of a shaken coke can just waiting for someone to pop the tab, and there is more than one person in my family who lives to pop the tab.

For a lot of people that might be it. They seethe for a few days and eventually the anger passes. Unfortunately, I am not one of these people. For me, this kind of frustration is a very powerful trigger for my depression and anxiety. It piles on until it starts to suffocate me and after that it feels like there is no escape. Once the shadows get into my head it is very difficult to coax them back out, and to be honest once my depression is triggered I don't want to. My mind wants to wallow in the anger and the sadness. I am stripped of all motivation, of everything except the shadows clouding my mind. And even though I am completely conscious of how badly I need to get back in control, I feel incapable of doing so.

I tried all of my usual fixes. I wrote. I took a very long, very hot shower and just sat in the tub, letting the water run over me. And they all worked for a time, but it kept coming back. So finally, Tuesday night I shoved my headphones into my ears, turned up the volume, and went for a run.

I ran close to a mile with Paramore blasting through my headphones. I felt everything fall away from me. All the ignorant hateful people and their ignorant hateful words were forced out with every heavy exhale. They could not touch me. They could not even catch me. 

That night I realized two things. First, riding my bike to and from work four days a week had been doing my legs more good than I'd realized. And second, maybe physical exercise would be a good way to maintain my mental health. I decided that night to make regular exercise a priority in my life. Turns out, there are few greater motivators to get me to exercise than the possibility that it would keep my depression and anxiety under control. I know this is not a cure; my depression and anxiety are a part of my life and they are not going to simply disappear. But I do believe that this will help me live with them more successfully than I have been.

I've decided to open up Mind. Body. Health. to any other bloggers out there who would like to join me. Everyone is welcome, whether you have a certain weight goal in mind, you simply want to be a bit more active, or you even just want to eat a little better. After all, what better motivation is there than having others cheering you on and encouraging you to stick with it? We will post updates to our journeys every Sunday. I don't have any real post structure in mind. You can share what you've been up to, how you've been feeling about it, what your goals are for next week, anything you like. The posts will likely vary quite a bit depending on our different goals and workouts, and that is perfectly fine.

I know that running every day is simply not an option for me. I used to run track and cross country, but my knees were just not up to it. And since my main goal is to maintain my mental health, with the lucky side effect of also benefiting my physical health, I decided that yoga would be a perfect workout for me. 

Here is my plan for this week:
  • Bike to and from work (little under 4 miles a day, four days a week!)
  • Alternate between Beginners Yoga and Yoga for Core #1 every morning
  • Eat breakfast every morning
  • Take Sunday as a rest day

I hope you will consider joining me in my weekly Mind. Body. Health. posts! If you do choose to, add a link to your post to the linky list below so I and other participating bloggers can find you. 

What kind of workouts do you prefer? Do any of you use exercise to maintain your mental health? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Waiting On Wednesday

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly blog hop hosted by Breaking the Spine where book bloggers feature an upcoming release we are eagerly anticipating. 

Title: Snow Like Ashes

Author: Sara Raasch

Release Date: October 14, 2014

Synopsis: Sixteen years ago the Kingdom of Winter was conquered and its citizens enslaved, leaving them without magic or a monarch. The Winterians’ only hope for freedom is the eight survivors who managed to escape, and who have been searching for the opportunity to steal back Winter’s magic and rebuild their kingdom ever since.

Orphaned as an infant during Winter’s defeat, Meira has lived her whole life as a refugee. Training to be a warrior—and desperately in love with her best friend, Winter’s future king—she would do anything to help Winter rise to power again. So when scouts discover the location of half of the ancient locket that can restore their magic, Meira decides to go after it herself—only to find herself thrust into a world of evil magic and dangerous politics, and to realize that her destiny is not, never has been, her own.

This pick is a little bitter sweet. I found this book on another blog; the blogger had received an ARC and had posted a review. Immediately I knew I wanted to read the book. The synopsis. THE COVER. How could you not? But then I read the review. The blogger kindly spoiled numerous pieces of the book, one of which I am assuming was meant to be a really big reveal, with no warning. I'm still upset. Book bloggers, especially book bloggers lucky enough to receive ARCs and who are reviewing the book before it has actually be released should know better. But nonetheless I am very excited to read this book. I love fantasy stories and this one sounds fantastic.

Did I mention the cover? Isn't it beautiful? I really love this cover.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sex, Sluts, and SCOTUS

I tried to write about this yesterday, but I just could not seem to collect my thoughts into cohesive sentences. I'm still pretty frustrated and very angry, but I don't want that to stop me from speaking up about it. There are also quite a lot of different aspects that could, and should, be discussed in regards to this case, such as the constitutional issues with the ruling, the millions of women who require birth control for reasons unrelated to pregnancy, and the flood gate that it has potentially opened, but one blog post is simply not enough to encompass them.

I'm going to be frank: this case had next to nothing to do with religious freedom; it is nothing but a pathetic, albeit unfortunately effective, shield, as usual. If Hobby Lobby's owners truly had deep religious convictions against birth control, than they would not be investing in companies that produce birth control and they would not be willing to cover men's vasectomies.

This, just like every other pro-life battle, has very little to do with protecting life and has everything to do with restricting women's ability to make choices about our sexual health for ourselves. Despite what they might say, and regardless of how many of them misguidedly believe that is what they are fighting for, the pro-life movement is not about ending abortion. There are methods which are proven to reduce the number of abortions in a society: comprehensive sex education and easy access to contraception. But the pro-life movement works hard fighting against both of them. And then, when women get pregnant because they could not protect themselves properly, they deny them access to safe abortions as well.

You cannot make abortions illegal; you can only make safe abortions illegal. All of those fine print additions about abortion only being allowable if the life of the mother is in danger are absolutely ridiculous because the life of any woman being forced into an unwanted pregnancy is in danger. Women will find a way. Outlawing abortion does not decrease the number of abortions; it increases the number of women who die from them.

Why on earth would a movement dedicated to protecting life want to outlaw every proven method of decreasing abortions? The same reason why they spend very little time fighting for the rights of the often single and often impoverished women struggling to raise the child(ren) they were forced into having: because protecting life is not their actual goal. Because they do not really consider an unwanted pregnancy a gift; they consider it a punishment.

The message these people want to send to women is not "stop having abortions;" it is "stop having sex." How many times have you seen someone respond to a woman angry about not being able to receive birth control with "just keep your legs closed"? This is what they want. In our society a woman who enjoys a healthy sex life is labeled a slut. Of course there is no male equivalent because men who have sex are not subjected to this same stigmatization (friendly reminder that never has there been an issue with insurance covering Viagra or vasectomies; this is not a coincidence.) Our society largely disapproves of women who dare to have sex for their own enjoyment, because tradition says we are not supposed to. And because women are not supposed to be having sex, women with unwanted pregnancies are viewed as receiving due punishment for their improper actions.

So here is the cycle they are seeking to create. First, provide only abstinence only sex education in an attempt to keep kids in the dark about sex from a young age, and to teach them it is something shameful. Scare them. Second, when women reach a point in their life where they are interested in having sex, make it very difficult for them to have access to proper contraception so they cannot take the necessary precautions to keep themselves safe. And finally, make it impossible for them to receive a safe and legal abortion in the event of an unwanted pregnancy as a result of the lack of access to birth control. Make sure they have no safe alternative, so that they will be scared to have sex in the first place.

It is all about control. It has always been about control. Women are learning that sex is something to be enjoyed and embraced, that it is not something only meant for the pleasure of men. We are fighting back against the archaic beliefs, against slutshaming, against the sexual oppression that has for so long been dominant in our society. And this is the conservatives, the people who oppose women's sexual liberation, fighting back.

The Hobby Lobby decision was a victory for oppression. But this fight is not over. It will never be over. And as angry as I am, I am also hopeful. Because I believe that the spike in misogyny that we have seen in recent years is a sign that they are scared. It is a backlash fueled by their fear of so many millions of women's and allies' voices screaming together that we demand better. And our voices will not be silenced. We are paving the future, my friends, and we cannot be stopped.

Share It!