Give Me The Same Cover Charge Or Give Me Death: A Rant

Dear Readership,

I have wrestled with knowing how exactly to write this post or what direction I want to take it (and have even written it 3 times over), but have ultimately decided that the best way to begin is with the most condensed version of the truth: last Friday night I went to a club in Asheville with some friends and proceeded to get the angriest I have been in a very long time. Angry enough to yell “I AM A WHOLE PERSON, NOT JUST BOOBS!” in a very crowded room. Angry enough to confront an employee of the establishment, and angry enough to part unnecessarily with my money — something I would never otherwise do — because I came face to face with a sneaky form of sexism that had snaked its way into my otherwise pleasant evening, and I was not going to stand for it.

Allow me to explain a little further.

Like I said, some friends and I went to Asheville last weekend and I really had a grand old time; they are some of my absolute favorite travel buddies and I love that we’ve started to form the habit of vacationing together. Friday night when we all got into town we went to Wicked Weed for a few drinks which was simply fantastic. Then some of the members of our group got that deep-down-in-your-brain energy itch that only dancing can ever properly scratch (obviously I was not among their number because I have about as many dance moves as a sock puppet and had not yet had enough to drink to make me forget my inhibitions…so far that limit does not exist). Fortunately, drunk people make for some of the best people watching, so I was happy to go along.

Someone looked up where the nearest nightclub was and we all braced ourselves to step out into the cold mountain wind that our flimsy “Winter in Raleigh” clothes were doing little to protect us from. Now, I’ve probably only been to 2 or 3 clubs in my life — none of which were in the U.S. — but I figured I knew the drill pretty well: pay the cover fee, buy one absurdly priced drink, complain about how expensive the drink is, hold my friends purses while they dance, and try not to get stepped on, creeped on, or puked on in the meantime — easy peasy.

So there we were, standing in line, whipped into the kind of obnoxious frenzy that stems from trying to follow the bouncer’s instructions (about handing over IDs, signing in, and getting checked for weapons) while also trying to maintain our own conversations in disjointed and breathless bursts. Eventually one of the girls in our group who was in the front of the line called back to the rest of us,

“Hey, the guys have to pay a cover of $10 but girls get in free. Do y’all still want to go in?”

We stood there in a confused cluster and clogged the doorway for a minute before ultimately deciding to go in. The guys begrudgingly fished the money out of their pockets and wallets while the girls stood on the sideline watching the transaction go down. My first thought was to be relieved and a little giddy: I didn’t have to pay! Yay me! But that thought was quickly overtaken by a flood of skeptical and angry thoughts: why not me?

Of course, to fully understand why excitement was my first reaction (but not my strongest reaction), you have to know that the part of my brain that was happy has been shaped and strengthened by being lifelong bedfellows with poverty. I like to think that I have never been entirely destitute despite always being poor, but financial ruin has been looming just behind me and breathing down my neck for as long as I can remember — one poorly timed late fee or car repair or lost cell phone would be all it took to send me into an uncontrolled spiral. Living with that constant threat has established in me certain “thrifty” behaviors that collectively formed a barrier against the threat of ruin. It’s a barrier I find I need less and less these days, but one that is hard to dismantle.

I still do things that a normal, thriving person doesn’t do — like accepting anything someone offers to give me (clothes, furniture, dishes, etc.) regardless of whether or not I need them because someday I might. Things like eating all of my food (and even other people’s if they offer their leftovers) if I go out to eat — regardless of whether or not I enjoyed the meal or even whether or not I’m still hungry, because anything that is paid for cannot be wasted. Things like cutting mold off of expired food and eating it anyway; like shopping with a calculator to factor for sales tax on a budget that has no margin of error; like always walking with my head down to pick up loose coins; like not correcting a mistake on a receipt if I’m being undercharged (which morally I have a problem with, but I’m not proud to say I’ve done anyway). Things like religiously shopping with coupons/sales; like bumming rides to save on gas even though I have a car; like sitting in the cold and dark to save on the heating and electric bill; like generously tasting every food sample in a grocery store because walking past free food is stupid and short-sighted; and on and on and on.

Being constantly forced to make choices to keep yourself financially afloat (like whether you should leave your insurance info on a car no one saw you hit or be able to make rent that month) brings out the ugly, animalistic survivor in everyone (which is why I hate and will always have a problem with the saying “poverty builds character” because it honestly, truly, really doesn’t. But that’s a soapbox for another time).

All that to say, that’s the part of me whose knee-jerk reaction was to feel a little smug and excited to not have to pay the cover fee. I knew I could afford the $10, but old pinchfist habits die hard. And under my initial celebration, feminist alarm bells began to sound in my head. Why would they only charge the men? My mind started to race.

On first glance, it seemed unfair to the guys — why should they have to pay when we didn’t have to? If you looked at it from the angle that women were being treated like VIPs who were granted free and immediate access, it did seem like the guys drew the short straw on this one. But I think anyone who knows anything about how we as a society place value on things would find it difficult to defend that position in earnest.

We live in a modern age that is driven by consumerism, where we often buy membership or the right to belong, and where the customer is always right. VIP access is never given out for free because preferential treatment goes to the highest paying customer (think about the difference between flying coach and flying first class — you know I’m right).

And what were the customers (men) of Room Nine paying for? Certainly not the environment — a small dark room, hot bad-smelling air, sticky floors, a so-so DJ — no, they were paying (whether they thought of it this way or not) for access to dance partners. For access to us. We weren’t customers at all, we were commodities that added to the package deal that the men were paying to use, and because we were free, we were also replaceable.

I know that may sound like a bit of an extreme interpretation, but hear me out — financially, what could the club hope to gain from only charging half of their patrons to come in? Wouldn’t they make more money if they charged everyone a cover fee? Yes, but only if they were creating an environment that encouraged repeat patronage for all of their customers. It occurred to me after we left to look the club up on Yelp and I was not surprised to find that most of their bad reviews came from women. Many of the reviews read the same — she was having a good time, but complained that some guy was dancing on her or wouldn’t leave her alone and the bouncers did nothing to stop it. And why would they? If she and her friends never came back they could easily be replaced with the next wave of women who had invested nothing to be there. Meanwhile, people who paid would insist on getting their money’s worth.

The more I thought about it, the angrier I got. the men were being offered a type of citizenship — albeit one they didn’t ask for — when they paid for entrance. And the rights of that citizenship (the bouncer ensuring your protection, for one) were being denied me because I was not the club’s target clientele. Rather I was the bait in the trap to bring them in. The club had lots of women — women that men would pay to come dance with.

I just couldn’t shake the idea that I wasn’t paying for goods, I was the goods.

“This is bullshit!” I said, “I’m not here to make the club experience better for some random guy. I’M A WHOLE PERSON, NOT JUST BOOBS!” I marched my way back through the crowds of people to the front desk where a woman sat. I slammed a $20 down on the counter in front of her.

“I would like to pay the cover fee for myself” I said.

She blinked at me.

“I would like to pay the $10 cover fee for myself, please” I said, nicer but still firm.

“Why?” she asked, still taken aback.

“Because it’s dehumanizing. If the men have to pay for the right to be here, then I have to pay for the right to be here. I’m a person, just like them.”

She stared at me for a minute more. “Okay,” she said, “I respect that.” She opened the register and gave me my change.

“Thank you” I said, putting it in my purse and making my way back to my group.

The rest of the evening was fairly uneventful: I bought my overpriced drink, I complained about it, and I held my friends’ purses while they danced. I felt a certain amount of satisfaction — both in having spoken my peace and in knowing that I had grown enough as a person to choose moral principle over fear-driven frugality, but part of me was still upset. Just because I personally paid the cover fee didn’t mean that the club was going to change their policy. I had taken a stand, but what about all the women who wouldn’t, or who didn’t realize that they should? What about all the women who would ignore the uncomfortable feeling in the back of their minds when they accepted the free admission, who would leave bad reviews for the club when they didn’t feel safe, and who would let the cycle continue? How could I stop that?

I don’t actually know if I can. But I do know that the experience solidified even more for me my own definition of the equality I will continue to fight for — I don’t just want equal social perks with men (things like voting and salaries and being CEOs) I want equal access to be able to pay the price for those benefits — from nightclub cover fees to registering for Selective Service. I truly believe that women won’t be able to reap the same social benefits as men until we suffer all the same costs, because that’s what it means to be equal.

Until next time,

Adieu

How I found Jesus and my depression in a pack of cigarettes

Dear readership,

Please forgive my long silence (all three of you who regularly follow my writing and care to hear from me. The rest of y’all — meh). I have a whole slew of half posts that I wrote and never published because I grew to hate them as I wrote them, and then by extension, hate myself. It’s interesting because I have gotten very good at following the curve of self-loathing in my painting (you start and you hate it. And then with each new brush stroke you hate it more and more until you start to hate yourself so deeply that you think perhaps you should crawl back into the oblivion that you crawled out of and then BAM! Something goes right. The painting starts to look like deliberate art instead of vomit on canvas and a rush of relief and pride shoots through your bloodstream. You decide that maybe you’d enjoy going on to live another day after all because you might just be brilliant). But as it turns out, I haven’t adjusted to channeling and overcoming that kind of hatred in my writing yet. For whatever reason, it’s a different kind of cathartic roller coaster for me — one where I can’t ever seem to get to the satisfying bit at the end of the ride; instead, I just fall off at the rockiest moments of self-loathing in the middle.

So I never finish anything.

But today, today I think I finally shall. I mean, who can leave a half written post with a zinger of a title like that? And also this has been weighing on me.

Before I explain the night I had last night and the contemplation that resulted, allow me to give some back story:

I don’t smoke. I’ve shared one cigarette in my whole life and I didn’t even inhale (at the time I was drunk enough to not want to be left in the bar alone while my friends went on a smoke break, but not drunk enough to actually breathe it in). But last night, last night I needed to do something wicked. I don’t particularly know why, but I did. I have recently given up my go-to vices (eating junk food or drinking). I didn’t want to break my diet, but I had to do something. I had made such grand plans to be productive on my day off, but here it was 9:45 pm and I had gotten out of bed exactly twice (to pee and eat).

I was so aware all day of what I needed to do, I just couldn’t make myself do it. Any of it. Not even start a load of laundry (despite the fact that I have officially run out of clean underwear and that has always been the hard and fast line to make me start a load). My room is a disaster zone. Every time my fiance comes over I apologize for the mess. He’s such a tidy person and I’m a barely functioning person and I’m legitimately embarrassed about it. Every week I say I’m going to clean it on my day off. And every week my room goes uncleaned. My errands go undone. The only reason I have food to eat is because my fiance holds me accountable to shopping and meal prepping with him on the weekends. I’m not really thriving and that bothers me.

So there I was at 9:45pm having done nothing and needing to do something. Something destructive. Something outside the realm of what I normally do. Something to jolt me back to life. So I decided to buy a pack of cigarettes. Was that healthy coping? No. I’m aware. But it’s what I did. I’m not even good at being bad though; before leaving for the gas station around the corner I looked up NC smoking laws and dug out a copy of my lease to double check the complex smoking rules to make sure I was still operating within the confines of organized society. Some rebel I am.

Once I had purchased the pack I sat in my car thinking about where to smoke. I didn’t want to do it on my porch because I knew a lot of people would have their windows open for the nice weather and I didn’t want to disturb them. Against my better judgement, I lit one up in my car.

“Sorry girl” I whispered to Valerie as I rolled down the windows and started to drive. I just needed to be in motion. I needed to be alone and not worried about anyone else. I cranked up the radio and settled deep into self analysis as the smoke swirled around my head.

Why had this been something I felt compelled to do? Why couldn’t I just make myself function without some dramatic and edgy display? Why couldn’t I care about how guilty I felt for doing nothing and use that to get something done?

I started to think about my history with mental illness as I puffed my way through the pack — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 cigarettes, one right after another. I thought about how I have never really struggled with depression because debilitating social anxiety has always been my largest and most urgent cross to bear. I was anxious to the point that I would cry if I had to ask a stranger for directions, or I’d get sweaty and tongue tied if I had to make small talk with the grocery store cashier (thank the good lord for self checkout!) and don’t even get me started on how uncomfortable it made me to express my personal preferences over even the tiniest things. It was the kind of anxiety that drove me to perform, to do everything in my power to please people. Even when I was overwhelmed and buried in work to do, so long as I had deadlines to meet, I would meet them.

Meeting a friend for breakfast? It didn’t matter that I had had a panic attack all night and only two hours of sleep. I said I would be there, so I would be there.
Had a paper due? I would do everything in my power to write a paper that was above reproach even at the expense of personal relationships or free time. You guys, I never even skipped a class until junior year of college and it was because my mom had surgery and my professor said he would count me as absent even if I did come to class because I needed to go see her. I was always so afraid of being the cause of disappointment that that fear would drive me to excellence (and also a lot of misery). I used to have to sleep with a finger between my teeth because I would clench them so hard at night that my jaw hurt all the time. I would wake up if I bit my own finger too hard and practice relaxing my jaw in order to help with the pain.

These days, I largely consider myself someone who has recovered from anxiety. After LOTS of therapy and support groups and self-confidence meditation and fighting to control the lie that I wasn’t good enough, I really did get better. Do I sometimes pretend I’m someone else to get me through uncomfortable conversations? Yes. Her name is Regina and she’s loud and ballsy and not afraid to ask a Walmart employee where the chocolate covered pretzels are. I slip in and out of her persona so seamlessly now that sometimes it feels like Sierra is not afraid to ask where the chocolate covered pretzels are and that’s nice. But the point is, I function. I’ve learned to be okay with disappointing people — even authority figures– if it’s in my best interest (one of the reasons dropping out of grad school was such an incredible emotional VICTORY for me).

I thought I was better, so what was this overwhelming sense of apathy that I couldn’t seem to move past? It’s like hitting a brick wall every single day. I get up and go to work, I come home and lay in bed. On my day off, I go to bed. On the weekends — bed. Sometimes I just lay there scrolling on social media and looking through posts I’m not that interested in because I don’t feel at liberty to relax and watch tv or read or do something I enjoy. I need to get up. I need to be productive. But I don’t. Not to shower, not to clean, not to run errands, sometimes not even to eat. Why?

It occurred to me (I think on cigarette 4?) that maybe I had always sort of struggled with this but that anxiety had been a much louder voice in my head. My need to perform outranked my crippling desire to do nothing. For the first time in a long time, I’m not busy. I don’t have outwardly imposed deadlines, and suddenly I’m drowning in the big feeling of nothingness.

“Am I depressed?” I asked myself. The rain-chilled wind whipped through my hair and carried away the smoke as a sped along to 1 of the 6 places that I know how to get to without my maps on (that list is: Michael’s, the university I no longer attend, work, my fiance’s house, the library, and Cookout). I chose cookout. My throat was scratchy and I needed water. I felt weird about just getting a cup of water though so I ordered some hush puppies to smell (because that’s the phase of my diet that I’m in right now).

As I pulled away I sipped the water and took another drag — letting the smell of smoke mingle with the smell of warm greasy hush puppies in my car. I thought about how I liked the smell of cigarette smoke (I think I got used to it while I was in Spain and now it reminds me of being there), even though I don’t much care for the taste or general mouth feel. I thought about how I have always been careful about claiming mental illness. It took a doctor’s diagnosis and being bedridden for a couple of weeks with the physical effects of anxiety in high school (aggressive hand tremor, numbness and tingling in my hands feet and face, insomnia, lack of appetite, difficulty breathing, and difficulty focusing or remembering) before I acknowledged that it was a problem for me. I didn’t want to say I had anxiety because I didn’t want to presume my problem was as bad as other people’s. Was that true now? Was I dismissing depression as laziness? Or was I hyping up laziness and calling it depression to excuse the fact that I had gone another day without addressing the mess that is my closet?

I wasn’t sure. I turned up the radio even louder. It was tuned to a Christian music station and I just let the music wash over me and mingle with the other sensations — the smells of smoke and fast food and the feeling of tiny cold raindrops stinging my left arm and cheek. I felt a stirring in the bottom of my stomach when an old favorite came on — I hadn’t heard it in years, but I love to worship to it. The sound of it caused movement in a part of my spirit that has felt so numb and lifeless lately. It didn’t overcome the crushing lethargy, but it did remind me that sometimes I feel energy and joy and determination and no time more than when I am in the presence of my King (side note: this is not me claiming that the cure to depression is just listening to 106.9 the light. I would never presume to suggest something so invalidating of someone else’s struggles. I understand that mental illness is more complex and often due to a chemical imbalance, so it needs more treatment than a sing-along with Chris Tomlin in the car).

But I was reminded that this isn’t the first time that I’ve wrestled with my identity in the face of overwhelming mental illness. As a recovering anxiety addict, walking with Christ through my darkest days was an integral part of my recovery. Even on days when I didn’t feel like it was helping or days when I was frustrated that I wasn’t seeing results. On the days where I would relapse and have a panic attack and on the days when I couldn’t imagine it ever getting better. Those were the days that His presence was the most crucial.

I realized that my heart hasn’t been in my relationship with God recently. The blanket of numbness of my life has been affecting that too. I have been lukewarm in my attempts to nourish my closeness to Him and I didn’t want that to be true anymore. I sang my heart out the rest of the way home.

But, as is human nature, as soon as I got into my apartment in the quiet, I spiraled again. I fell asleep that way– in a dark ugly place. However, there is redemption with a new day! This morning I took a shower to wash off the smell of stale smoke. I threw the rest of the pack of cigarettes into the trashcan. I drove to meet a friend for Bible study and then I listened to worship music the whole way to work. I was ready to try to face this day differently than I had the day before.

I don’t imagine everything will all get better at once, but I do know the next step to overcoming this hurdle for me is re-learning to lean into God with everything that I’ve got. EVEN when I don’t feel like it. Even when it doesn’t feel like He’s leaning back. The rest will come in His timing.

Until next time,

Adieu

TBT: Moving… Oof!

Dear Readership,

Tonight I was going back through old drafts of blogs I had started and never finished and there were some real wacky ones in there. Unfortunately, most of them are doomed to stay in the draft file collecting cyber dust because I can’t for the life of me remember where I was going with them. But, lucky you, I found this one fully finished and unpublished for reasons I don’t remember. So here you go! Enjoy this little throwback to August and possibly the worst move of my life! Cheers!

****

Have you ever caught a total stranger off guard in their pajamas by walking out of the back room of their house completely uninvited and unannounced? No? I have. Twice. It was as awkward as you would imagine it to be.

Let me back up.

I don’t know about you, but I hate moving. Truly. Deeply. With a hatred so pure and poisonous that if it were to ever be condensed into a liquid form it would kill on contact. If you don’t count periods of transition — of which I have had many — I completed my 9th move this past week and it was a pretty heinous affair (I say “completed” as though the majority of my furniture isn’t still in my sister’s basement in Winston).

What made this particular move so bad? Well, let me tell you. It started with a series of paperwork in the days and weeks leading up to the move. For one reason or another, my apartment complex changed my lease on 4 separate occasions, the final switch being only a matter of days before I moved. It was a hassle, but it was finally sorted. On the day of the move, I attended a doctor’s appointment with my sister that lasted FAR longer than it should have. As a result, we had to pack my bags into our cars in a mad frenzy and race towards Raleigh in the hopes that we would arrive before my apartment’s leasing office closed.

According to the GPS, we would get there with 20 minutes to spare. According to the universe, we would most certainly not. We hit accident traffic not once but TWICE that made everything come to an absolute standstill. I watched our ETA climb steadily, and in a panic, called the leasing office to beg them to stay open just a few minutes past 5 so that I could pick up my key.

Begrudgingly, they agreed.

I’m sure the feeling of helplessness that slowly squeezed the life out of me for the duration of that drive is one that just about everyone can relate to — the feeling of having a hard deadline that you are powerless to meet as you slowly inch forward in traffic. But for the sake of everyone’s sanity — mine especially — let’s fast forward through the grizzly details of one of the longest hours of my life, to the moment when we finally pulled into the parking lot (going roughly 75 mph) and ran up to the office at 5:03pm.

The door was locked.

I knocked… I knocked louder… I all but pounded down the door.

An old man grumpily poked his head out, “WE’RE CLOSED.”

“Sir, I know, but I called ahead. I just need my key.”

“I said we’re closed.”

“Listen, I’ll be two minutes. Please, just give me my key. I have all of my stuff with me and nowhere to put it if you don’t let me into my apartment.”

He gave me the stink eye and slowly opened the door.

I ran into the office of the lady who had been helping me since I first contacted the complex about living there.

“Hi, here’s my rent check. I just need my key” I said.

“Yes, did you change your renters insurance?”

me: *dies on the inside* “What?”

“You changed units, remember? You have to change the address on the renters insurance.”

Right on cue the old man wandered by and grumbled. Angry at my continued presence in the office and the fact that I was not just picking up my key after all.

As quickly as possible I called the insurance company and changed the necessary information on my policy. Finally, it was sorted and she gave me my key. She walked me to the unit (to make sure the key actually worked) while I showered her with apologies and thank yous for helping me. As we were turning the key in the lock on the front door it occurred to me to ask, “Did you tell the people living her that I’m moving in today?”

“No” she said absentmindedly, “I normally do, but I didn’t have time to let them know.”

Immediately a giant rock slammed into my stomach. I prayed that they would both be in the living room when the door opened so the leasing office employee could explain that I was moving in. They weren’t. In fact, there was very little in the apartment to indicate that anyone actively lived there at all. Ten assorted and unmatched chairs lined two walls, a glass table without chairs sat against another. Two large box TVs sat unplugged and unused in different spots in the room. One random piece of ugly duct tape art hung lonesomely on an otherwise empty wall. An abandoned copy of the Al Anon handbook sat in a thick layer of dust on the floor in the corner

Did people really live here or was it a storage unit?

The woman helping me looked around at the scuffed and dingy walls, “It needs painted in here. Put in a work order for that and have a nice weekend.”

She left.

My sister and I looked around, and after whispering uncomfortably about what we should do, we began to unload my stuff. It was at this point (walking from my room back to my car for the next armful) that I startled my first roommate. She was in her pajamas and beginning a load of laundry.

I explained my presence in her house and introduced myself. She said her name.

I didn’t catch it.

I asked her to repeat it.

I still didn’t catch it.

To this day (one entire week of living together later) I’m still not sure what her name is. I’ve actually only seen her twice in passing since that initial meeting.

**EDIT** It would be two more weeks before I learned her name. She’s lovely and we get along quite nicely now when our paths cross. 

Fast forward about forty-five minutes and I sprang myself on my other roommate (also in her pajamas) and repeat the same uncomfortable encounter — except I did catch her name. Aside from briefly introducing her to my fiancé and his mom later that night, I have not seen her again since then.

**EDIT** we now talk nearly nightly and she’s walked with me through the ups and downs of all of my radical life choices since arriving in Raleigh. She is also lovely.

Honestly, the only evidence that I even have roommates is that sometimes dishes are sitting in a different place in the kitchen than they were the last time I was in there. Oh, and one of them set off the fire alarm at about 6 this morning and then apologized to the other one when she came out of her room to see what was going on which I could hear perfectly from my bed thanks to paper thin walls.

But back to my move. Fast forward through the next couple of hours in which I went and picked up a bed/set it up/made it/said goodbye to the people who came to help me/ and suddenly found myself standing alone in the middle of my unpacked room. It was at this point that I realized I didn’t have any wifi (I figured that either the apartment would offer it as a part of utilities or that my roommates would already have a router and I could chip in on the bill… neither proved to be true). I knew that I had a conference at the University first thing the next day, but I didn’t know when or where or how to get there.

Tired but resolved, I drove around Raleigh until I got to I-40. I drove down 40 until I got to an exit that had a food sign for McDonalds (aka free wifi). I exited and drove until I got to the McDonalds — it was closed and under construction. I kept driving until I found a Harris Teeter. I wandered through the store looking for the bathroom when some guy called after me, “Hey man, sick hair!”

“Thanks!” I said, feeling a little bolstered by the compliment.

“….ma’am” he quickly corrected upon hearing my voice.

Aaaaaand I deflated again. I thought man had been a colloquialism.

Eventually I found the bathroom where I sat for an hour, looking up details for the conference and trying to get my phone to let me add data to my plan so I could use it for maps to get home (it would be 2 more hours at a Starbucks the next day before I conquered the data problem). Finally I gave up and went “home” to the weirdly empty apartment with ghost roommates and no furniture and cried about how much I hate moving.

One week later, things are mostly better. I’ve unpacked a bit and I spend most of my time on campus anyway (let’s be honest, the library will always be my home–the apartment is just where I sleep). After three absurdly long orientations, I am ready to start my job and excited to delve into my program.

**EDIT** Spoiler, it didn’t work out. 

As I get to know the city, Raleigh is slowly worming its way into my heart despite all of my meltdowns along the way.

If this were an adventure novel I am fairly confident that I would be the main character’s whiney (but endearing) sidekick. I’m not sure if it’s considered acceptable to be the sidekick in your own life story, but it’s a role with which I am quite comfortable. 😉

***

Oh how three months can change everything! My living room is furnished, my roommates are not strangers (and I even gained a 3rd), my room is unpacked (but messy as ever), the university library is no longer my home, I am marvelously content with where I’m at, and as I’ve learned to take ownership of how my story unfolds, I am slowly becoming the main character. How’s that for a happy new beginning? (because it is certainly not my ending)

Until next time,

Adieu

Cat Call or Compliment: A Dilemma

Dear Readership,

This is a subject that I have been mulling over for some time and have finally decided to try to put down in words (today of all days because of an uncanny encounter earlier that I’ll get to in a minute). But before I get into the thick of it, I want to clarify a few things: all of the stories I’m going to tell in this post were encounters with black men, but that is not a reflection of some deeper belief I hold. I do not think that black men are more inherent womanizers, more likely to cat call a woman, or more of a threat to me than any other race of men (It’s in my nature to fear them all equally — something I touched on in a previous blog post that you can read here:  Men Are People Too).

The fact that all of the following examples were encounters with men of color, I believe, has everything to do with my sample base. I live in an apartment complex and an area of town that has a strong international presence and is very racially integrated (even in my own apartment I have a roommate from Jamaica, a roommate from Morocco, and a Jewish Egyptian roommate from New York… and then there’s little ol’ me. Sometimes I feel like a bag of wonder bread in a world market bakery — white, soft, and lacking in distinguishable flavor by comparison). As it happens, and is unfortunately often true of neighborhoods that are culturally diverse — there’s a pretty low count of white people here. I only know of maybe two or three others besides myself who live in my complex and one of them is the old, presumably homeless man who smells like pee and hangs out in the parking lot. So most of my encounters with men as of late have been with men of color.

That all was a very long introduction to the subject that I actually wanted to talk about: cat calling. It’s something that pretty much every woman experiences (I used to get it the most when walking to and from choir practice in high school, but it happens everywhere).

And in the name of fairness, it does happen to some men too. Not as often, but it does (for example, I whistled at my fiance’s butt in Walmart a few weeks ago as he wandered off to find the bathroom. He didn’t hear me… but the old woman two aisles over did and her wrath was palpable as I blushed and scuttled away).

Some cat calling is overtly aggressive and obviously being used as a weapon to intimidate the woman it is directed at (honking, screaming, lewd sex noises, comments about a woman’s body — these are unnerving and not hard to identify as a deliberate threat).

What I’ve encountered a lot more of recently, however, is a gray area of cat calling that I have struggled to classify. Was it all harmless and well meaning? Was I reading too far into it? Not far enough? What was different each time that made me react differently?  I’ll break down the occurrences as they happened for you and from there maybe you can help me decide. The one thing that each occurrence consistently had in common was me being dressed like a literal homeless person (we’re talking 3XL sweat pants, slippers, sweat shirt, unwashed hair, no bra).

The first time was back earlier this semester. I was leaving my apartment (WAAAYY overdressed for the 90 degree day, but I was sick and found comfort in my layers so I didn’t take them off and was therefore already sweating 10 steps from my front door). In contrast to my weather-inappropriate attire, there was a young man coming back from the pool, barefoot and shirtless. We passed each other on the walkway.

“Hello, beautiful. How are you?” he said, smiling.

Immediately I felt threatened by the intimate greeting from a total stranger– especially because I was anything but beautiful in that moment — but I didn’t want to appear intimidated, “Good, thanks. You?” I asked, not meeting his eye.

“Good!” he said, then called back over his shoulder, “Have a blessed day!”

That last remark took the barb of fear out of my heart. It was a statement of kindness not menace. I thought perhaps the difference was cultural. White people (as a rule of thumb) are an uptight bunch. We purse our lips and nod at strangers, we don’t compliment them. I’ve never been called beautiful by a white man who I didn’t know who didn’t also stare at me like a piece of meat when he said it. But maybe that wasn’t true for this man and how he had been raised to greet people. I wished that I had looked into his eyes to see if I could see his intention within them.

The next time it happened I was in the grocery store and an employee approached me while I was looking at frozen pizzas**

**(actually the very next time I was complimented by a black man who didn’t know me, he had mistaken me for man from behind and said, “Hey man, sick hair.” And I said, “Aw, thanks” and he said, “Oh, um, I mean, ma’am” and quite frankly, that hurt my feelings. But I also think there is a lot there that we could unpack about the difference in how men compliment other men — or rather, women they mistake for men — vs. how they knowingly compliment women.  For now though, let’s focus on the next time a man knew that I was a woman and complimented me).

“Hey beautiful, you finding everything you’re looking for?” he asked.

“Yes, thanks” I said, closing the freezer door without grabbing the pizza I wanted and quickly walking away. I could feel my heart pounding in my ears as I walked in a winding, randomized path through the store, trying to put distance between me and him and refraining from checking over my shoulder. I left without finishing my shopping. His tone was friendly and his words not inherently threatening. In fact, I could easily make the same cultural difference argument that I had made before, but this time I had looked into his eyes and I had seen clearly that I was not safe.

Fast forward a bit and the next time it happened was a few nights ago. I had gone into the store for a bottle of wine, and since it was the only thing I needed, I grabbed my receipt to verify my purchase and didn’t put it in a bag (save the planet and all). As I was walking to my car a man yelled after me,

“That’s right, baby! All you need is a bottle of wine. You do you, beautiful.” I fist pumped the bottle of wine over my head in response, but didn’t look back. He hooted a long, loud, laugh and walked to his car. I hadn’t felt threatened by him and his teasing at all and I smiled to myself as I got in my own car and drove away.

I was thinking about all of this while I drove to the Food Lion around the corner from my house this morning to buy something for breakfast. I hadn’t even brushed my teeth yet and looked like I could star in a post on the People of Walmart page. For a reason that I can’t remember now, I had started thinking about this “gray-area cat calling” thing and how to define it. I thought about the comments, the delivery, the locations. I was thinking about what I had been wearing and the way that I had responded each time, trying to find the common denominator. I parked my car. It’s not like I had been dressed to impress. Heck, I had barely been dressed to not actively repel. Why had they called me beautiful? Was it just a friendly term like when little old ladies call you sugar? Was the difference in eye contact? If I had looked at the men who I hadn’t felt threatened by, would I have seen ulterior motives in their eyes that should have frightened me? What was the secret to knowing when a compliment was just a compliment (even a poorly worded one) and when it was a threat?

I stopped for a car to pass me before walking into the store. A man leaned out the passenger window as they drove by, “Hey, baby doll. How you doing, beautiful?” he said, waving and smiling.

I think my jaw actually dropped. Not because what he said was particularly shocking, but because of the issue running through my mind when he said it. I looked him in the eye and, on a whim, smiled a big, toothy grin back at him. In that moment I decided to not be afraid. I don’t know what his motives were or what he thought of my response– the car kept going and I didn’t see his face. What I do know is that in that moment it occurred to me that a genuine smile might, perhaps, be the only response that achieves my goal regardless of his motives. If it was his intention to compliment me, then I could smile my thanks, because you know what, I am beautiful, thank you for noticing. And if it was his intention to intimidate me, then I could smile my defiance; radiant and unafraid.

I realized then that I might not ever be able to truly tell what a man’s intentions are when he calls me baby or honey or doll or beautiful. You could argue that the answer is for men to stop doing it altogether to avoid the confusion (I don’t disagree), but I can’t control that, only how I respond.

And I realize now that I don’t think there is a formula for distinguishing a gray area cat call/compliment. Things like cultural norms, personality, and background have to be taken into consideration because every man and his motives are different. You can’t always know. However, I think that sometimes you can see a person’s spirit shine clearly through their eyes and that you should trust your gut on that (even if I could go back, I would not smile at the man who scared me so badly I couldn’t finish shopping.)

But for me, for now, I am choosing to win my fight against misogyny (ironically enough) by smiling**

**(unless, of course, you tell me to. In which case I’ll tell you to go soak your head because you don’t get to tell me how to feel or react to the world around me, especially not for the sake of making myself more pleasing for you to look at).

Until next time,

Adieu

First Day as a Writer — Oof

Dear Readership,

Yesterday was my first full day as a self-identified writer and let me tell you, it was rough. After battling my way out of my own mental prison and choosing to wholeheartedly pursue my passion for writing, I immediately hit a wall.

I received AMAZING support from you all for my decision to drop out of grad school and I cannot begin to express how much it meant to me. But for every 10 or 15 comments of overwhelming praise and encouragement, I received one of skepticism or critique. It was always veiled as concern, but it was barbed nonetheless. For some reason those criticisms echoed so much louder in my spirit and resolve than the praise did and I was faced with the reality that from here on out I’ll have to defend my career choices to the world (and, maybe a little more terrifying, to myself). It’s not an easy, clear, obvious, or even necessarily lucrative path. But it’s my path now and the full weight of what that was going to mean was starting to sink in.

Here I was, day one — a writer, and (by the delightful odds of God’s timing) just in time to start NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month). I set myself a goal of 2,000 words a day and (as this confession is about to detail) IMMEDIATELY failed to meet it.

Yesterday morning, for the first time, I was faced with the total liberty to spend my time writing and I was suddenly overwhelmed by my freedom.  I pursued other projects (I worked on some drawing techniques — technically still productive, but not what I was supposed to be doing), I called my mom, I looked for jobs, I cleaned my room (kind of.. we all know my room has never been/will never be clean. I just rearrange the mess until I get bored or it looks more presentable. It is one of my greatest flaws).

Finally, I opened my novel file and read through a little of what I had written so far. It wasn’t terrible. Now it was time to add to it. I couldn’t.

So I dug a book off my bookshelf that my sister had lent me AGES ago and that I had neglected to read. It’s one of her absolute favorites (Serafina and the Black Cloak by Robert Beatty for anyone who is interested). I decided to run myself a bath a read for a bit to try to find inspiration. The tub filled about 4 inches before my teaspoon-sized water heater ran out of hot water. I turned the tap off and sat there, my butt crack barely covered by the tepid bath water, and read.

The book is about a little girl who secretly lives in the basement of the Biltmore during its heyday who encounters a force of great evil (the man in the black cloak), a ghoulish figure who preys on children staying at the Estate. Through a series of plot twists and unlikely friendships, Serafina sets out to stop him (at least, that is my assessment so far. I’m only about 150 pages deep). It’s honestly a very engaging read, but unexpectedly terrifying. It’s full of vivid descriptions and very action driven. I was so engrossed I nearly jumped out of my skin (you know, since it was the only thing I was wearing) when my phone buzzed on my bathroom counter. I sent my little sister a strongly worded text about recommending scary books without warning.

At that point I was so high strung that I couldn’t read anymore (I’m an absolute baby when it comes to scary things), so I climbed out of the tub and told myself that’s it, Sierra. Now you HAVE to write. 2,000 words aren’t just going to appear out of thin air. 

I then proceeded to find other things to do for the next three or four hours. At that point, it was 11:30pm. November first was almost over and I hadn’t even started writing. What was wrong with me? My room was hot. I couldn’t focus. I was thirsty. I felt daunted by the realization of my decision.

But I was determined to not fail the very first day!

That’s when it finally occurred to me that I was not properly dressed for the task. I remembered back to a few weeks ago when Bryce had been helping me go through my clothes (yes, I only unpacked most of my clothes a few weeks ago. Bite me) and we had been trying to pare down some of the excess. He held up a brightly colored, floral, tank top housecoat between two fingers

Him: Sierra, what is this? Can we please get rid of it?
Me: NO! *snatches it out of his hands* that’s my inspiration smock. I wear it when I write.
Him: *sighs* okay, I’ll put it in the keep pile.

Where had we put it! I dug through a few piles and found it! Ah-ha! Now I was ready to write. I donned my smock, grabbed my laptop, and crawled into my (now drained) bathtub to write. I’m not exactly sure why I felt like I could be my most productive sitting fully clothed in an empty tub, but my instincts weren’t wrong. The writing was slow going, I wasn’t exactly sure where I was going with it, but I was writing. At 1:58am I became so tired I was falling asleep as I typed. I actually wrote the following sentence (I found it this morning):

“But if he means to make his business here a production one, well, he’d be a good not to except.”

Um, what? I was done. There was no point in writing anything else. It was nonsense.

I checked my word count: 1,774.

I hadn’t made it. I hadn’t written 2,000 words. I was so disappointed in myself as I crawled into bed and fell asleep. Day one as a writer had not gone to plan.

But you know what? Life goes on. This morning I woke up — Day two of officially being a writer and in much better spirits. I had received more praise, and also more push back, but today the critique felt a little smaller. My resolve felt a little stronger.

Word count goal of the day: 2,226. I’m ready.

Until next time,

Adieu

P.S. in case you’d like to see it, I’ve included a picture of me wearing my inspiration smock. I expect it will become a regular staple of my wardrobe again.

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Radical Life Changes and Other Such Nonsense

Dear Readership,

So I’ve done something extreme and a bit more permanent than dyeing my hair — As of this morning, I have dropped out of grad school and I’ve honestly never felt more liberated.

NC State has an incredible history grad program, wonderful faculty, a fantastic graduate student body, and yet, I have been wholly and entirely miserable for the last three months while enrolled here. At first I thought it was because I was in a new environment and processing it poorly (as I do), but soon enough Raleigh became my home. Then I thought it was because I was overwhelmed by the workload. But I recently learned what I had to do to make the grades I wanted. It was totally manageable and still I was unhappy.

Nothing was wrong, and yet, I hated every minute I invested into a field that had once delighted and invigorated me. Somewhere along my journey all the joy had been drained out of academia for me.

After a very thorough examination of my deepest, most intimate aspirations (both personally and vocationally) and a lot of prayer,  I realized what two things matter to me the most: my desire to have a family, and my writing.  It soon became clear that those two criteria were reshaping my vision for my future.

I very quickly realized this semester that the workload of an MA program is largely incompatible with my relationship with Bryce and with our goals as a couple. From the beginning we wrestled with knowing exactly what our dynamic should look like since he had finished school and I was digging in deeper to the next level of education. I needed to devote every waking moment to school and he just wanted to be able to spend time with me (to be clear, I am in no way blaming Bryce for my decision. He did not pressure me in any way to give up — in fact — he really encouraged me to stick with it and has always tried to facilitate productive study time for me. But as he continues to matter to me more and more, the strain that I felt school putting on our relationship made sticking with the masters matter to me less and less). 

You see, he and I have done a TON of fun things together this semester, especially in the last month (festivals and parties and visiting friends) and it 100% put me behind in every conceivable way. I was getting the regular workload done (sometimes barely), but I wasn’t making any headway on end of the year projects — not to mention thesis research — and it was because my darling fiance/adventure buddy wanted to spend time with me.

One night last week he asked if we could go out with a couple of friends for a drink and before I had the chance to answer, he said, “Never mind, I know you have reading to do and I don’t want you to be stressed. Let’s not go.” He clearly wanted to go, but he also was trying so hard to not be a distraction for me. That’s when it really hit home: I don’t want to spend the next seven years of my life putting him off or making excuses for why we can’t do things together while I’m buried deep in some archive doing research that I will likely eventually give up to raise my kids anyway (and I know that abandoning my career to have a family is not the only choice, but I am beginning to realize that this particular career path is fairly incompatible with the way that I want to raise my children).

Which leads to another reason I have decided to give up school — I want to start a family  someday (not right away, but sooner rather than later). Watching Ben and Savannah anticipate the arrival of sweet little Edmund Charles over the past few months has awakened in me the realization that I don’t want “someday” to be in my mid 30s after I’ve finished a masters, a PhD, and have situated myself in a career at a university (that may require me to move across the country away from my family). Bryce and I certainly aren’t ready for children yet, but I have been becoming less and less sure that I want to spend our pre-kid years slaving towards a career that I may ultimately choose to give up when we do start a family. It occurred to me that maybe it made more sense to close the door on this chapter of my life before I dedicate the entirety of my 20s to it, and to begin pursuing something that aligns better with my vision of the future. I haven’t always wanted to be a professor — that was a goal that arose my junior year of college — but I have always wanted to be a mom. 

Then I started thinking, “Okay, if I drop out, what do I do? What’s next for me?”

It then occurred to me that I have spent every free minute since starting school (and even quite a few minutes that were not technically free) working on my various writing projects. I’ve written FB posts and blog posts, I’ve worked on my novel, my graphic novel, another comic project, the memoir I’m writing for Dusty, heck, I even wrote some fanfiction for a web comic I really like. TO BE CLEAR, I HAVE NEVER WRITTEN FANFIC BEFORE IN MY LIFE but suddenly it was the most important thing to me when I was faced with needing to do research.

As I thought back on it, I became acutely aware of the fact that all of those stolen afternoons when I was working on my own writing projects were the only real pockets of joy I have found in the work that I was doing this semester.

I have always had an interest in history, but what I am passionate about is writing. At some point early on I convinced myself that that writing wasn’t a viable career for me and I gave it up before I ever even started. I think it took a semester of grad school to remind me what I’ve really loved all along.

So I dropped out. I’m going to get a job so I can keep paying my bills and I am going to write like I’ve never written before. For the first time in my life (since becoming literate) I won’t have other homework, tests, or papers vying for my attention. I am going to bury myself in books for inspiration and I am going to write my ever-loving butt off.  I’ll keep you all updated on how it goes.

Grad school has been a revelatory period of transition — it has stretched me, challenged me, overwhelmed me, enlightened me, and clarified for me the things that really matter to me.

I know that the choice that I am making is ridiculous. I am walking out on a competitive program and giving up a fellowship that I won’t be able to get back. Heck, I’m not even finishing out the semester to ensure that I keep the credits for what I’ve already done if I ever decide to go back.

When I told one of my professors this morning that I was leaving, he was shocked.

“Are you struggling in your other classes?” He asked.

I said, “Actually, no. I’m not struggling in any of them. I think I’m making all A’s. But I’m done.”

Because while all of the factors I have listed so far are legitimate reasons for me to consider leaving school, the thing that ultimately made up my mind was encountering direction from God through prayer. He very clearly led me to NC State and now He is very clearly leading me away. As crazy as my decision sounds, even to me, I am ready to be blown in whatever direction life’s wild winds (and the holy spirit) take me.

I don’t regret starting grad school because it was an important season for me. But I also don’t regret walking away. It turns out that what I thought was my end goal was just God’s stepping stone to the next thing He has in store for me. So here’s to taking the next step!

Until next time,

Adieu

 

 

 

 

How a Bottle of Lotion Reminded Me of My Self-Worth

Dear readership,

You’ll have to excuse the middle school angst vibes of this post and hear me out for a second while I make my point… today I found an old, forgotten bottle of lotion under a pile of random stuff in my room and decided to use it to moisturize my legs after I showered (lotion doesn’t expire, does it? Hopefully not, because this bottle was no spring chicken). Anyway, no sooner than I started applying it, I felt an immediate dip in my mood/self-esteem. I suddenly felt like I was an annoying person who wasn’t worthy of anyone’s time or attention and that I didn’t have anything meaningful to contribute to the world. I felt ugly, insecure, and incredibly anxious. I was about ready to burn the bottle and take a second shower to try to scrape the residue of the evil, sadness-infused lotion off of my body when I suddenly realized what had possessed me: the smell.

I used to use this lotion a lot when I was involved with a guy who made me feel all of those things about myself and I usually put some on before I saw him. The lotion made me feel so bad because my nose decided to teleport my brain back to a much darker time in the life of self-perceived Sierra. Once I consciously made the connection, the gut reaction began to fade and it was just lotion again. I have to say, the viscerally powerful link between smell and memory will never cease to amaze me. Even before I remembered the connection, my body felt it and I think that is super cool. More importantly, I was given the chance to accurately see how incredibly far I have come since then. That excruciating moment of self-loathing was almost unbearable and it’s how I used to feel about myself all of the time– Like I was barely tolerable at best. 

It was so eye-opening because back then I was convinced that I was happy. I had no idea what happiness had the potential to feel like when you’re with someone who values you or, more importantly, when you value yourself. When I was with that guy I viewed myself and what I could be through the lens of his eyes and he made it VERY clear that I didn’t amount to much. After that relationship ended, I learned the life-changing technique of looking at myself — I mean REALLY looking at myself– through Christ’s eyes. To him my worth is limitless and through him I am capable of anything. It was a slow journey to start to see myself that way and some days I still forget to do it, but when you see yourself the way someone who is willing to die for you sees you, you begin to realize all that you are and can be. That realization of worth became all the more real when I started to date someone who saw it too and who refuses to let me think poorly of myself.

The moral of this story is twofold.

1) You never know what ghosts from your past are going to pop up when you clean your room or how they’ll derail your productivity with introspection. Proceed with caution.

2) I matter. You matter. Remember that you matter. Surround yourself with people who remind you that you matter, and until you find them, remember that the same God who created the universe thought you mattered enough to die for. I think we in the Christian world say, “God thought you were worth dying for” too often so we tend to take it for granted. But stop right now and think about it. That makes you pretty dang worthy, doesn’t it?

Incredible.

Until next time,

Adieu