Valentine’s Day – Bah Humbug!


Dear Readership,

Happy almost V-day! In celebration of a holiday that apparently nearly half the American population hates (and what feels like more than half of the people that I know), I thought it would be fun to break down some of the most common complaints that I’ve heard against the day and why I find these excuses problematic. If you’re one of the love-hating bellyachers in my life, listen up! This is for you.

Firstly, I am someone who is terribly fascinated with human ritual — especially holidays —  so I did some research on the origins of Valentine’s Day and thought I would share. If you just want some interesting facts about the day, this list was an engaging, quick read (and I was able to fact check a decent bit of the info): https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/holidays/valentines-day-ideas/a26863/valentines-day-facts/

Or if you care a bit more about the history, I thought this was a good read as well:  

https://www.historyextra.com/period/modern/a-brief-history-of-valentines-day-cards/

My obsession with long-standing traditions aside, I really do have a problem with people who have a problem with Valentine’s Day. Even in my many years of singleness, it always perturbed me when people would go out of their way to crap on the holiday; please don’t think that my frustration is born out of the fact that I love a good platform to brag about my man. This beef predates his presence in my life by many years.

All of that to say, here’s my list of most common complaints about Valentine’s Day and why I think they are doo-doo.

1) “I hate Valentine’s day because I had a really terrible experience once.”

And? I had the Norovirus for Christmas once, so don’t even get me started on terrible experiences! It was rough. Me and every single other member of my family was the sickest I think any of us has ever been. Every bathroom, bowl, bucket, and even the backyard were being used to try to contain the physical manifestations of our misery (if you know what I’m saying). But we don’t sit around every Christmas thinking about that one time we nearly barfed and shat our brains out and then go out of our way to tell everyone else how much we hate Christmas. Bad experiences only have the power to ruin aspects of life for us if we let them. Be the kind of person who chooses to replace bad memories with good ones, not the kind of person who lets their joy be stolen and uses that bitterness to steal other people’s joy.

2) “Valentine’s Day sucks because it’s just a day for couples to rub their happiness in my face”

Again on the topic of bitterness — it’s an ugly shade on everybody. Don’t be that way. Nobody is going out of their way to be happy just to make you miserable. And frankly, if other people’s happiness does make you miserable, you should probably do some self evaluating because that’s a you problem.

3) “It’s just a commercialized holiday so companies can sell stuff”

That is literally true about every holiday ever in our modern consumerism-driven world. You can’t single out Valentine’s Day to not celebrate because of commercialization. Now, if you are one of those people who boycotts all holidays on the grounds that they’re just a giant marketing ploy, then I applaud your consistency and commitment to principle. However, I will also probably never invite your party-poopin’ butt anywhere because you kinda suck. Live a little.

4) “If you really love someone you’ll celebrate them every day, not just one day of the year”

This excuse makes my blood boil more than any of the others. It is the Battle Cry of the neglectful lover.  I think people rally around this particular saying because they believe it makes them sound more loving, but here’s the thing: if you really love someone you WILL celebrate them every day INCLUDING Valentine’s Day. People who truly cherish their partners take every opportunity to show them love. Daily celebration is love in the little things — like taking out the trash or sending them sweet texts or watching their favorite movie with them even if you think it’s stupid. That kind of love and celebration is beautiful and necessary in all of its ordinariness.

But it is also important to pamper the people that you love with large gestures of affection. Pampering looks different for everyone though, so I’m not saying you have to subscribe to the chocolate and roses method. Maybe pampering your S.O. is building them new shelves in the pantry or going camping or getting them concert tickets or whatever will bring them joy. Of course I think you can do those things any day of the year, but why would you go out of your way to refuse to do it on a day that is literally set aside to demonstrate your love?  

You should seize the moment — seize every moment — to love people well. You are not being counterculture when you refuse to celebrate Valentine’s Day, you’re being dismissive. And maybe there are exceptions to the rule, but my experience has always been that people who claim it is better to celebrate your partner every day, not on Valentine’s Day, are people who are trying to justify their emotional laziness. Those people aren’t ever going out of their way to love their partner well. And when you are being equally un-celebrated every day of the year, it is much harder to tell that you are being neglected than if there is a rise and fall to the patterns of affection displayed by the person who claims to love you. Again, there may be exceptions, but I have yet to meet one. If you are the kind of person who uses this excuse, I implore you to think of a time you did something big for your significant other. If you can’t think of a recent example, you really should reconsider your approach to loving well because I doubt you’re doing it.

5) “I don’t believe in Valentine’s Day because women say they want equality and then turn around and expect to be pampered on V-day. How’s that equal?”

I’ve heard this one a couple of times, but my most recent conversation about it got me the most riled up. I tried to interject that I love to pamper my fiance. I love to give him gifts and plan sweet surprises for him and write him letters so he knows exactly why and how much I love him. And if he gave me any indication that he wanted them, I would buy him flowers in a heartbeat, so what gave this guy the idea that V-day was only for pampering women? “Well, it’s implied. Especially in movies” was the response. I said, “Okay, but media professions are over-saturated with men. So men are the people telling you that Valentine’s Day is about women and I think you might need to take that complaint to the inner circle.” At this point, the subject was changed. But here’s the thing that really bugs me about this particular dismissal of Valentine’s Day: not only does it make the huge generalization that women are both superficial and hypocritical, it also enforces the false idea that men shouldn’t be pampered. As a woman who DOES want equality, I feel like the gender I need to fight for on this one is men. Love (or the celebration of it) is not inherently feminine and Valentine’s Day should never be only about women.  Ladies, if you aren’t going out of your way to love your man so that he also feels equally cherished on Valentine’s Day, step it up!

I know there are other excuses, but these are the ones I hear the most that I felt like needed to be addressed.

In summary, CELEBRATE! Be the kind of person who enjoys showing love (if not to a romantic partner this year, to friends and family and to yourself!) Delight in other people’s joy, go out of your way to spread love and remember: if you aren’t buying butt loads of discounted chocolate on February 15th, Valentine’s Day is being sadly wasted on you. Make 2019 the year you do better.

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

Airhead turned Assailant

Dear Readership,

Ever have those days where you seem to only be firing at half your usual mental capacity and you become convinced that maybe you’ve secretly been an idiot all along and no one told you?

Welcome to last Wednesday for me. For whatever reason, it felt like I had all of two brain cells bouncing around in an empty expanse all day — occasionally they would bump into each other and I would produce a semi-intelligent thought, but most of the time it was a misfire.

Mostly this problem expressed itself in my inability to get through a whole sentence without forgetting where in it I was and having to ask someone to remind me what the last words out of my mouth were so I could pick up where I had left off. But there were a couple larger expressions of my idiocy that really drove the problem home.

One of my very dearest college chums and I decided to drive and meet up halfway between where she lives in Boone and where I am in Raleigh. The halfway point just happened to be Winston (where my beloved sister and brother-in-law live). How perfect! Merritt and I met in a Barnes and Noble (and talked, and perused the books, and drank ungodly amounts of coffee, and talked some more. it was perfect). About 3 hours and a VERY large coffee in, I needed to use the bathroom. She had just gone a little while before, so I asked her to direct me to where it was.

I made my way back to the restrooms, pulled the handle, and found it locked. So I stepped back to look at some books and wait for the person to finish. I waited and waited and waited and finally decided that I didn’t really have to pee that badly and that I’d just circle back around later.

I went back to where Merritt was sitting at a table.

“Whoever is in the bathroom must be pooping because they’re taking forever and I got tired of waiting. I’ll try again later.”

“What?” she asked.

I repeated myself.

“Sierra, there are like eight stalls in that bathroom” she said.

It was my turn to be confused.

“Okay, listen,” she said, “Back on that wall there’s the men’s room, then there’s a closet, and then there’s the women’s room. Are you sure you were standing at the right door?”

Yes! …No.

I smiled sheepishly and slunk back to the bathrooms. Sure enough, I had been standing all that time waiting for someone to finish using the CLOSET. That could have been a long wait. Just to the left of it was a door with LARGE letters clearly marked “WOMEN” that I had not previously noticed. I peed, and then returned once more to be heckled for my dumbness. It was all in good fun.

Finally, hungry and in the mood for Japanese, we set off to meet up with my sister and her husband to go to dinner. We were having a lively conversation about the outcomes of last Tuesday’s election on the way and I fiddled with my keys in my lap while we talked, like I often do. Ben and Merritt were mid voter ID law discussion when I loudly and uncomfortably cleared my already burning throat,

“I do hate to interrupt your conversation” I said meekly, clearing my throat again a little harder, “but I think I just sprayed my mace.”

“WHAT?” everyone said loudly and in unison just seconds before gagging. All four windows shot down and we were blasted by the cold night air as everyone blinked their stinging eyes and coughed.

“Way to mace a pregnant lady” Savannah said, squinting at me through her rear view mirror.

“I only maced you a tiny bit” I shot back still feeling sheepish. I hadn’t realized that it had been unlocked and I had sprayed just the smallest little puff into the air. We all recovered fairly quickly, just a burning tickle remaining in the back of our throats (or at least mine anyway. I think I got the brunt of it).

If I’m being honest, I have suspected for some time that this would eventually happen. Me being armed in any capacity is a recipe for disaster. Although I had hoped I would be alone when it did.

Just like I would have preferred to be alone later that evening during dinner when I absentmindedly rubbed my eye and had to be let out of the booth to run to the bathroom to flush out my eyeball because it turns out some of the mace lingered on my finger (like, duh, of course it did).

Despite being thoroughly humbled (and very apologetic) by the end of my visit, I also was absolutely fed by the conversation and companionship of all of the lovely people I got to see that night. I may be an idiot, but I’m an idiot that they love and that’s a very special feeling.

Until next time,

Adieu

A Nightmare in the Air

Dear Readership,

This is a throwback post. I started writing it a few weeks after the initial trauma occurred this summer, but it has taken me until now to be ready to actually talk about it (not really. I’m being dramatic. I totally forgot about it).

But let me tell you, it was a heinous experience that will probably trigger all kinds of anxiety next time I have to fly. It was our last morning in Spain; everyone had said their goodbyes and we were making our way to the airport for our various flights home. I was on the same flight as three of my other classmates and we were greeted first thing that morning with the news that our first flight had been delayed by 30 minutes. This immediately made me nervous, because we only had a two hour layover as it was (now an hour and a half).

By the time we got to the airport our flight had been delayed an hour. By the time the plane actually took off, we were going to only have 35 minutes in the Newark airport to go through customs, pick up our luggage, go through security, recheck our luggage, and catch our flight home to Charlotte (why in the world they didn’t send our luggage directly to Charlotte I will never know).

But lets backup to the Madrid airport – as we were boarding, a flight attendant stopped me and told me I would have to check my carry-on because there wasn’t room on the flight for it. Quickly I took everything I wanted on the plane (book, tablet, phone charger, and snacks) out of my purse to make room to still take the fragile things I was bringing home. Annoyed and a little flustered, I made my way on to the plane sans all of my personal belongings only to find that the entire luggage bin above my seat was empty. As was the one across the aisle. They both remained empty for the entire duration of the flight.

What’s more, this airline didn’t have any in-flight TVs (the only international flight I have ever been on without TVs) and I was looking at upwards of 8 hours of twiddling my thumbs because my book had just been stored below the plane. Brilliant.

But also no one has ever died of boredom before, so I was going to be fine. Annoyed, but fine.

Fast forward through some of the emptiest hours of my life to when our flight was finally landing. I wish I could describe the anxiety I felt for the upcoming layover as I watched the New York City skyline come into view in my window (and then sink back out of view as we landed in the New Jersey rip-off — Newark). If I had only known what the next 30 minutes were going to hold for me I don’t know that I would have been able to get off the plane.

As we were standing in line for customs my friends and I all agreed that it was going to have to be every man for himself getting to our next flight. We didn’t all need to get trapped in Newark if one person got held up. I should have known right then that that was bad news for me.

But we made it through customs easily enough and then went to the baggage claim. My bag actually came first! But I had to wait for my carry-on still (you know, the one that shouldn’t have been stowed in the first place). One by one everyone else’s bags came. They gave me sorrowful looks, “Sorry about your bag, Sierra. But we agreed every man for himself.” Two of them left to catch the flight, but one girl stayed behind because she hated to leave me standing there alone looking so pitiful. We waited 10 agonizing minutes for my bag to finally come through. One third of our precious time was already gone.

We took off at a trot and immediately got stuck in a congested line for a security check (one of two that we would have to stand and wait for in the next 20 minutes). My friend called her mom and cried. By the time we made it through we only had 11 minutes left. We took off at a dead run, caught a train to our terminal, and started running again.

5 minutes left.

There was a man making his way through the crowd taking luggage to be rechecked. He scanned the tag of the bag of the woman in front of us.

“I’m sorry, ma’am,” he said, “There’s no way you’re going to make your flight. You’re going to have to catch the next one.”

She turned back. My friend and I gave each other a nervous look and then we handed him our bags. He scanned them and before he could tell us we didn’t have enough time to make it we interjected,

“Please! We’re willing to run.”

“Alright,” he said, looking dubious, “You might make it if you run. I’ll put your bags on board.”

He took our luggage and we took off. Almost immediately we got stuck in another security line. We jostled our way forward in the line.

“Easy, lady!” Some woman snapped at me as I pushed past her, “We’re all headed for the same flight.”

Too winded to actually respond, I thought snottily if we’re all headed for the same flight you’re not moving nearly fast enough. 

The line was positively crawling. We kept passing empty security lines for first class passengers. We begged the employees to please let us through. We had 3 minutes to catch our flight! Please! They remained unmoved. “First class only!” They barked.

My friend and I both started to cry this time. Two grown women. Standing in a security line in the airport. Sobbing. We weren’t going to make it.

The women in line in front of us tried to comfort us, “Don’t worry” they said, “the airline will put you up in a hotel if you miss your flight. It’s not your fault your first flight was delayed.”

“B-b-but we don’t want to stay in Newwwarrrk!” we sobbed, “We wanna go h-h-hooome!”

After 5 weeks abroad, one more minute away from our families seemed like a burden that was too great to be borne.

Finally we made it through the line. “LET’S GO!” My friend shouted, breaking into a run. “I’ll tell them you’re behind me” she yelled back over one shoulder as the gap between us widened. In a matter of seconds, she was gone.

She, a literal triathlon runner, left pudgy, pasty, asthmatic me (in a maxi dress and sandals no less) in the dust. I was waddling at full speed, my carry-on banging into my ankle, determined not to be the only one left behind. I was red faced and wheezing as I made my way up to the gate. Several concerned bystanders asked if I was okay as my wheezing got louder and louder. I nodded breathlessly, and soldiered on.

Finally, 4 minutes after boarding had officially ended, I made it to my gate. “Are you Sierra Patterson?” an airport employee asked.

“I am!” I sobbed, so shaky I could barely stand.

“Your friend said you were coming! You need to get on board.”

“Thank you so much!” I said, walking forward.

“Ma’am,” she said, reaching out to block my way. “We still need your boarding pass.”

“Oh, right” I huffed, feeling around in my bag for it. “Here” I said, handing her the first piece of paper my fingers touched.

“Ma’am, that’s a receipt” she said.

“Oh” I felt around in my bag and produced another piece of paper, “Try this one.”

“Yes, this is it. Go ahead and get on” she said. As I made my way down the tunnel a flight attendant stopped me.

“Ma’am, we’re going to have to check your carry-on” he said.

“Of course you are” I sighed, handing it over.

But it didn’t matter. I had made it! As I stepped on the plane I made eye contact with my three beaming classmates.

“You made it!” They cheered.

Still out of breath, sweaty, and red faced, I pumped a single fist in the air in triumph (end of The Breakfast Club style) and fell into my seat.

I didn’t even care that I was bored for the whole next flight. I was going home.

When we landed in Charlotte my phone was on 4% and I was frantically trying to get in touch with Bryce (who had come to pick me up) before it died, because they wouldn’t let us off the plane. They said there was lightning in the area and the safest place for us to be was on the plane until it had passed. I wasn’t convinced that that was true, but they kept us sitting there for another 30 minutes nonetheless. When I did finally get inside (after a very triumphant reunion with my darling boyfriend) I collected my carry-on from the baggage claim and waited for my other bag. I said goodbye to my friends once again as each of their bags came through one by one and they headed home.

Guess whose checked bag never showed up? I stood there watching the empty belt go round and round — it wasn’t there.

I was crushed.

Over the course of the next four hours (that’s right, four hours) Bryce and I tracked down the person we needed to talk to resolve the problem. He scanned my little bar code sticker, “Ma’am, your bag never left Newark. It’ll be here on the next flight in about five hours.”

I called my mom, defeated. She said, “No, baby, don’t wait for it. Come home. We’ll go back and get it tomorrow.”

“Okay,” I whimpered.

“Is there anything I can get you for dinner?” Bryce asked as we left.

“You know, some Chic-fil-A sounds pretty good” I said, starting to perk up after my 21 hour day of traveling at the thought of some good ol’ American nugs.

We plugged it in to the GPS and started driving. After about 30 minutes we started seeing signs for the airport again…

Y’all, if you would believe it, the Chic-fil-A Google had decided to take us to was the one in the terminal we had just left. Maps had taken us in a giant loop around the airport and brought us right back to where we started…. I screamed.

And that, dear readership, is the story of how I was traumatized this summer by Delta Airlines.

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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