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At the end of a job or internship, there’s often some sort of post-employment review or exit interview. When I use apps like Instagram or Lyft, I’m always prompted mid-use to rate the software. Whenever I get a package from Amazon, I get emails asking me to review the shower Bluetooth speaker or teeth whitener I’ve bought (yes, yes, I know the Crest whitener was probably a pointless purchase as the amount of coffee I drink will likely never allow me acquire pearly white teeth).

But there’s not really a review process for evaluating one’s self, except perhaps informally when you’ve drained your glass of Chardonnay at a New Year’s Eve party thinking about how your life’s a joke, your broke and your love life’s DOA (*clap clap clap clap*). Or at the very least, it’s not where you want it to be. 

I’ve recently turned another year older and when that happens, I tend to treat it as a sort of annual self-review. It’s an opportunity to evaluate where I succeeded, where I failed, and where I tried again (and failed again). Perhaps consider the public nature of this post as an accountability mechanism, more for myself than anything.

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A millennial with a millennial pink backdrop.

In my phone, I keep a draft of goals or things I want to accomplish over the year. On the list, (which was last updated probably sometime around June 2016) is comprised of the usuals; working out more/losing the fluff, reading more (aka less Netflix) and getting “out there” more.

Probably the biggest accomplishment I’ve had within the last year was career-related. I had the goal of either acquiring a new job by this summer or begin looking into grad programs if that didn’t work out. As highlighted two blogs ago, I did acquire a new job this summer. It’s way different than my last one, and there are many aspects I miss about my previous work. And while I’m not sure if this professional move will change the trajectory of my career life forever, it’s been a nice reprieve from some of the physical/mental (and occasionally emotional) burnout I’d been dealing with. Now, I feel I have more time to simply exist.

I’m also happy to report that this introvert has established a pretty solid friend base over the last year or so. I remember returning home after college, feeling pretty alone and lost those first few months (which, on the plus side, turned me into a semi-workaholic). I’m lucky to still be best friends with my first best friend, who I met in my kindergarten class almost 18 years ago. My sister, two years my senior, is also one of my best friends whom I can be my weirdest self with. I still keep in touch with my close college friends (one of whom has asked me to be a bridesmaid at her wedding in June). And the cluster of friends I’ve gotten to know through church or reconnected with after our college hiatuses, I feel quite grateful to have.

Quality over quantity!

That being said, I’ve also learned to let go of relationships that made me realize their futility. Ones that weren’t two-way streets and often felt more like a lonely stretch of highway.

Finally, I’m learning to take better care of myself. This doesn’t necessarily mean doing Whole 30 and posting pictures of my newfound abs and hash-tagging it with #ProgressNotPerfection, nor finding my chakra with the local yogis.

Though I haven’t been waking up at the crack of dawn to workout before driving to work for a good while, or paying much attention to my caloric intake, I think in a strange way, not giving as much of a crap about that has actually been healthier for me. I can truthfully say that it’s had literally NO impact on my BMI (actually it’s gone down by three since I last checked…yay stress?). It’s never NOT going to be something that won’t bother me, but it’s been a source of solace to not put so much stock into such trivial matters.

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Hiking, a.k.a. quality time for exercising and addressing existential crises.

I’m trying to be better to myself in other health-related ways too. Since college, I’ve come to the realization that I’m a proud granny when it comes to my going out habits, and I don’t care if that makes me uncool. I LOVE my introverting time and am only willing to relinquish it in small doses.

Where I haven’t been as successful this year is harder, but nevertheless important, to admit.

It’s true what they say, about us being our own worst critics.

Sometimes I like who I am just enough to be moderately satisfied, and other times I’ll look in the mirror and say “Why are you like this?” Just depends on the day, I guess.

Despite having a certain kind of self-esteem, I struggle with pride. Not in the sense that I make sure everyone knows how great I am (note the sarcasm), I’ll find myself needing to have more, do more or be more than someone else; just enough to be a little ahead of the game.

The danger in this? Here’s what C.S. Lewis has to say about pride:

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest.”

I often play this comparison game when it comes to stalking my peers’ LinkedIn profiles.

I‘ll see how so-and-so, who possessed less intelligence than a certain floral trunk-donning starfish, somehow landed a job at a dot.com company, how another is embarking on a business internship to Hong Kong, and how another has 36 endorsements for each of the six skills they listed, as opposed to my 12 tendorsements total.

I’ve heard marathons often be used to illustrate the journey of life, but when you’re in the race, you’re still trying to outrun everyone else. Maybe I should think of my own life as a CrossFit membership, where I try to beat my personal best each week (and make the ridiculous price tag worth paying).

More flaws…

I usually bounce between having a carefree, Carpe Diem attitude, and wanting to take every precaution to ensure my house is earthquake safe, avoid being out too late when it’s just me and my female friends, and at times, avoid big, populated places where a terrorist act has recently been carried out.

The latter isn’t really a great way to live and sometimes, I fear those worries that’ll creep in take up too much of my brain space.

And other times, I think I put too much care into stupid things, like:

 – When the person working at the movie theater hands me my tickets and says “Enjoy the movie,” and I accidentally say “You too” back.

 – When I faceplant after landing on first base during a kickball game in front of everyone (this was two days ago)

 – When I hear of not one, not two, but three separate incidents of a friend running into someone I dated and feeling embarrassed/reminded that there’s a reason why that verb is in the past tense.

What I actually NEED to use more of my brain space for is its creative side.

The fear of failure/realizing I have nothing of value to say/feeling that it’s all a waste of time has often made me feel like the shell of the [creative] person I used to be.

My goal is to be less fearful when it comes to putting it on the line. I’d like to believe that all the time I spend thinking, writing, erasing, re-typing and creating isn’t wasted, not matter what happens with these drafts I keep saving.

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On Charlottesville

When scrolling through my social media feeds, I’m usually the kind of person that skips right over any videos that are longer than two or three minutes (but ironically am more than content spending that same amount of time lurking on argument threads on Facebook, so…).

But a shared video of Vice’s eye-opening 22-minute documentary of the events that went down in Charlottesville earlier this month compelled me to watch the video from start to finish. In horror.

I’ve embedded the video here, but you need not watch the whole thing to be able to follow the rest of this post (though I highly recommend it):

I should preface the rest of this by saying that this won’t be a commentary regarding a certain POTUS’s public statement following the Charlottesville tragedy that ended in one fatality and at least 19 injured. Nor will it be about the ethics of removing Confederate statues, or #whiteprivilege.

I *try* to keep my political views somewhat ambiguous when presented with a public platform (aka a WordPress site that has less readership than E.L. James’s 50 Shades prequel), but in truth, I align myself with the Continually Searching Party. And in this instance, I feel there’s not really a gray area. What happened in Charlottesville should not have happened, or be repeated.

On both sides, I noticed that the First Amendment took center stage, and how it should have applied in the cases of both the Unite the Right organizers and the counter-protesters. What I do know is the first lesson I learned in my high school Journalism 101 class, which covered the significance of the First Amendment:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

So important was this amendment that my cohort had it emblazoned on our staff T-shirts, along with our beloved motto: “Practice Safe Press!”

Specifically with freedom of speech and press, the intent of this amendment was to protect citizens from harassment/persecution for their perhaps alternative viewpoints, i.e. vocal disapproval for certain government practices/figureheads, or other opinions that might not be considered popular or mainstream. Point is, our country has its flaws, but I’m thankful not to live in a society governed by censorship and secret police (yet?).

As much as it grieves me to say so (I’m clenching my teeth as I type this), yes, the white nationalists were protected by the First Amendment to rally. Well, initially, anyway.

The problem (besides racism itself) is when First Amendment and Second Amendment freedoms clash (which, judging by the amount of firearms shown in the video, I’m assuming is legal to carry in Charlottesville). It’s nothing new; it’s a tale as old as time. But if you’re a so-called peaceful protester, why the weaponry?

Additionally, here’s what the First Amendment doesn’t protect:

–          Obscenity (material that is “patently offensive based on contemporary community standards,” anything that lacks real literary, scientific or artistic merit, and child pornography)

–          Libel and slander (material that defames another through written or verbal communication. It should be noted that claims of libel and slander are extremely hard to prove in court)

–          Crimes involving speech (i.e. perjury and harassment)

–          Threats

–          “Fighting words” (meaning speech that intends to incite breach of peace, injury, or illegal activity)

It can be tough to determine what is considered hate speech vs. “fighting words.” As I understand it, hate speech is protected by law; fighting words are not. I don’t think either has a place in our society, but reality rarely mimics idealistic thoughts.

The Vice reporters in the above video shadowed white supremacist Chris Cantwell and other followers, capturing the following comments that were made over the weekend of August 12. Hate speech or fighting words? You be the judge:

– Chris Cantwell: “I’m here to spread my ideas, talk, in the hopes that somebody more capable will come along and do that. Somebody like Donald Trump who does not give his daughter to a Jew.”

First of all, saying “he gave his daughter” to someone is a misogynistic way of looking at it. She made that choice; this wasn’t a business transaction where Trump exchanged his daughter for livestock. Secondly, I would 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000x prefer my daughter (note to new readers: I do not have kids) to be #foreveralone than be “given” to a white supremacist.

Thirdly, JESUS WAS A JEW, AS WERE HIS FOLLOWERS. The irony is real here. And it disgusts me that certain white supremacists claim to identify as Christians. As far as I and other actual Christians are concerned, these folks can’t call themselves Christians. They don’t worship God. They worship white power.

– Chris Cantwell: “We didn’t aggress. We did not initiate force against anybody. We’re not nonviolent. We’ll f—–g kill these people if we have to.”

Hmmmm. If it sounds like a call to violence, it probably is.

– Robert “Azzmador” Ray: “…we’re showing to this parasitic class of anti-white vermin that this is our country, that this country was built by our forefathers and sustained by us. It’s going to remain our country…And now, as you can see today, we greatly outnumber the anti-white, anti-American filth. And at some point, we will have enough power that we will clear them from the streets forever.”

I assume by “anti-white” he means people that happen to NOT be white. Here’s the thing, Mr. Ray—I’m not white. I mean, I probably identify more with my white-ness than the other 50% of me that’s Filipino heritage, but that doesn’t change my ethnic makeup. And let’s be honest, when you look at me, you probably wouldn’t guess I have any Asian in me, and that’s completely fine. But how dare  you think less of a person because of their skin color.

I’m also willing to bet that a good amount of the KKK-ers aren’t as white as they’d like to think they are. I’d also like to point out that EVERYONE HERE (with the exception of Native Americans) IS * AN * IMMIGRANT * And isn’t the diversity that is America a big part of what makes it unique?

– Chris Cantwell, commenting on the car attack that pummeled into counter-protesters, which killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer: “[It] was more than justified. The amount of restraint that our people showed out there, I think, was outstanding.”

Apalling. Simply appalling.

– Chris Cantwell: “I think a lot more people are going to die before we’re done here, frankly. … People die violent deaths all the time.”

I echo former viral superstar Antoine Dodson when he said:

In another similar video I’d seen earlier this week, it showed yet another group of KKK-ers blatantly misinterpreting Scripture to support their pro-white-and-nothing-else agenda.

Here’s a couple passages they seem to have missed (and if you’re not religious, that’s okay, I feel like these are pretty universal):

On immigration (regardless of where exactly you stand): “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you and you shall love him as yourself.” Leviticus 19:33-34

Sounds like solid advice to me.

– On living peaceably: “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice with one another, if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.” Jeremiah 7:5-7      

– The tried and true Golden Rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” James 2:8

On Charlottesville pic 2

– On prejudice: “But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes.” 1 John 2:11

_________________________

Safe to say, I will not be heading to Charlottesville (or much of the deep, deep South) anytime soon, lest I find that the pro-white nationalist mentality frighteningly more common than I’ve been led to believe.

To anyone that has been the target of such egregious racism whether in words or actions, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that you’ve been made to feel less than. But you’re absolutely not. You exude more light than the darkness in this world can ever attempt to cover.

As I wrap up this novel, I hope that wherever you find yourself on the political spectrum, you find that we’re both on the side of humanity.

Bye, Byline

While leaving work today (last Friday, as of this edit), I dusted off my keyboard, packed my lunch leftovers and picked up a copy of the week’s Acorn newspaper before heading out for the weekend.

Except it wasn’t just for the weekend.

At least for now, the ritual marked my final day writing for the Acorn Newspaper, a job I’ve been at for the better part of two years.

When I look back, the experience plays out like a filmstrip in my head.

I remember that as a fresh graduate in May 2015, I had no job offers, no real business connections, and not much of a direction as to what my next “big thing” was going to be (an expedited graduation date isn’t always beneficial; while I had enough credits to shave off a year of college, it meant I had to figure out life faster). I knew that I a) liked to write, b) wasn’t terrible at it, an c) devoured every book assigned in my journalism minor classes, but the job prospects were and are slim pickings.

I also remember distinctly NOT having ever heard of Acorn Newspapers, as I live outside its coverage region. But somehow I stumbled across the email address of the person who’d eventually become my editor, letting him know I’d write for free; I just wanted the experience.

For those first unpredictable weeks out of school, I freelanced/wrote free stuff for both the Santa Barbara Independent and Acorn while working part-time at a small law firm.

However, that legal assistant job was short-lived (about three weeks, maybe) when a spot unexpectedly opened up at Acorn Newspapers. Upon my editor’s request, I interviewed for the slot, though I wasn’t mentally prepared for it. The job opportunity passed but just a week later, another spot opened up. After concluding that my writing piece wasn’t awful, I got the congratulatory phone call.

It was official, at 21 I had my first real, big-girl job and a paycheck every 10 days to show for it. It was a neat thing to have some people’s ears perk up during conversations when I told them worked for a paper.

But what went into the prestige of being able to say that wasn’t always so glamorous. Unfortunately articles that had earned me A’s in my college Public Affairs reporting class weren’t quite up to Acorn par, not at the start.

As my editor put it at the time (which continues to ring true today), it wasn’t my job to know everything, but just a little about everything. And so over time, I learned to become better and faster at disseminating information on budgets reports, state laws, water rates, building permits, court cases, elections, and anything else that never was (or still isn’t) in my wheelhouse.

The one thing I could never get used to was contacting a family of a victim who’d died, or faced another traumatic experience. I don’t think I ever could. But I’m glad I did have the opportunity to do so, because it made me more human, and everything else seemed so much easier by comparison.

When I first started out, I remember the late nights and not having much of a social life as my weekends were dedicated to rewrites and not drowning under deadlines. I remember on multiple occasions waking up in the middle of the night struck by thoughts like “Oh no, I spelled that person’s name wrong and now it’s in more than 2,000 papers!” or worse, “What if so-and-so takes my words out of context and writes me a scathing email about it?”

And that happened sometimes. Shortly after publishing a piece about an embezzlement investigation, I even got an “anonymous” phone call on my cell from a person who informed me rather aggressively “Your article is s—t!” and hung up. After that, it merely became the occasional Facebook commenter (or troll) that ascribed certain untrue characteristics to me, which were fortunately few and far between.

I don’t regret any of it.

As a person who used to put so much stock into caring what people thought of me, I learned to relinquish that way of thinking somewhat. Having my byline under a handful of stories each week, I got used to being held accountable, putting myself out there and perhaps even risking not being known as nice at times. I learned to stand up for myself a little more and not let myself be pushed in a corner by those with more impressive LinkedIn profiles.

I of course have my editor(s) to thank for all this and more. Even though less than 10 percent of readers are going to read my content all the way through, I know the importance of providing that information and presenting it in the most professional, yet engaging way possible. I learned that getting information doesn’t stop when one source doesn’t pick up the phone call and that there’s a story in everything. And even for the seemingly most mundane topics, those can be spun into creative pieces.

My favorite part in this whole two-yearlong adventure has been the people. I’ve gotten to work with good people here in the office, find trustworthy, reliable sources in seemingly unexpected places, and strike up friendships with a fellow millennial blogger at a city event, as well as a reporter at a competing paper.

One of my first stories I wrote was after meeting the parents of Rohith “Ro” Gopal, who lost their 18-year-old son too soon in a car accident. The warm, generous spirit they displayed in the aftermath of their loss is not something I’ll soon forget. Although they may never see this, I thank them for inviting me into their home not once, but twice.

There was also Albert Rosa, a Greek Jew who escaped death more than once during the height of the Nazi regime. His resolve to continue sharing his story, despite the initial pain he experienced when telling it is an inspiration.

There was a former beauty queen who spun a negative pageant experience into a business venture that aims to help people grow in their confidence, a burn survivor who continues to stay strong for her children, a female polo player who didn’t let gender be a barrier in her sport and a father who’s walked hundreds of miles to keep alive the memory of his son.

Out of the 400+ pieces I’ve written, there’s no way to list every single human interest piece that touched my heart, but please know they did, and that has been the most rewarding part of what I do.

I realize it may seem silly for someone my age to dedicate 1,000+ words to bid adieu to a job I’ve only had for two years, but I suppose that’s a reflection of just how much those two years have impacted me.

I have a lot of people to credit that to—my editors, who took a chance on a clueless 21-year-old and took the time to mold me into a better writer and person (I hope!), readers that spoke kindly about my work, even those who had quite the opposite opinion (you made me stronger). I appreciate my parents’ support, especially when they’d initially been wary of what exactly I’d do with an English degree, and the support of friends who understood when work came first but were always there to rejoice in my victories.

As my time being able to say “I work for a newspaper” comes to a close, I prefer to think of it not as a “goodbye forever,” but a “bye for now.” I hope that even though my byline will cease to exist (at least in print, at least for now), the relationships I’ve forged will not. And, I’m always happy to hear a story or a simple message from a friend via my email, trude.caitlin@gmail.com.

It’s scary not knowing exactly what the next two years, or even the next five or ten will have in store for me, but it’s kind of beautiful too. At least, I hope it will be.

I’m just an Ikea bag, standing in front of a Balenciaga bag…

As I was getting my usual BuzzFeed fix (judge all you want, I’m really enjoying the “21 Things You Didn’t Realize You Needed from Amazon” lists), I was drawn to an article with the word “Ikea” in it.

I love Ikea. Despite never having bought nor assembled any furniture from the beloved Scandinavian home furnishing retailer, wandering around the room displays and eating Swedish meatballs to my heart’s content was one of the highlights of my trip to Toronto last summer.

The article, in short, placed a blue Ikea laundry bag side-by-side with a very similar-looking “luxury” Balenciaga bag like so:The selling price for the Ikea bag? A very reasonable 99 cents. Balenciaga’s “Arena Extra-Large Shopper Tote Bag”?  $2,145, a.k.a. at least one month’s worth of paychecks or the bill for a small pet’s surgery.

I’d buy it….you know, to hold my diamonds in. Or my month’s supply of Whole Foods kombucha (because they’re about the same price).

I really don’t get it. Two bags that are similar in appearance, *maybe* made of similar material, and serve the same purpose, hauling dirty laundry to the washer.

I’ll hear stories of how X celebrity wore $1,000 flip flops to a beach, or how Kanye West’s cutting-edge fashion line—which, modeled on actual humans, looks like it’s made for Azkaban prisoners—sells items including but not limited to a holey sweatshirt for $2,000+. I can put holes in my clothing for free, so thanks but no thanks.

There’s also this golden donut going $1,200 for a dozen (which I’d sooner buy than Yeezy’s apparel), this 3,000 pound foil dress that will have the mothership calling you home in no time, or this $21,000 bedazzled chair.

It’s so mind-boggling to think that people will actually fork over wads of cash for an item just because it has a Mr. Prada or Louis’ name on it (or even if it doesn’t). It’s forking ridiculous. Like this single Ercuis Calypso fork on the market for $873.

But I realize I do the same thing with people, and I highly doubt I’m the only one.

We tend to treat people differently based on their labels. And by labels, I mean status, wealth, job title, how many followers, political views, religious views, relationship, haircut, etc.

In my current job, it’s sometimes a challenge not to feel obliged to feel intimidated by a person who a) doesn’t like something I said, or b) feels that they can sway me because they have more degrees, popularity, or figures in their salary.

And in the nature of my current position, I’ll on occasion witness grown adults who have the audacity to attribute characteristics to me that are sorely untrue, or use the spin factor to minimize the truth I’m trying to reveal (doesn’t the spin you use make you dizzy?).

And at points in my non-work life, I might have been made to feel like an Ikea bag by girls in relationships who sympathized me for my lack of one, or guys with insecurity problems who were intimidated by the fact that I had my education and career affairs squared away before they did. Or “more mature” folks who negate my worldviews based on my youth, or the super-adventurous milennials I know of who seemed so shocked that I couldn’t rely and Mom and Daddy’s trust fund to fund a gap year of sipping wine made from the grapes in my European boyfriend’s vineyard in the French countryside. Or that I don’t thrive at parties and often bring a book or notebook with me to them (Ok, I admit that last one might warrant some judgment).

I’ll occasionally look back at all the times I’ve been made to feel small and think to myself, “Why did I let this human specimen carry so much weight on my shoulders?” Eleanor Roosevelt once said that no one can make you feel inferior without your consent, but I don’t think that’s entirely true. Still, how long I let it fester after initial impact is up to me.

But I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t say that I’ve been guilty of the labeling too. Far more in my younger years than now, but that doesn’t make it go away. I’d catch myself feeling some sense of superiority if I had a slightly better test score than someone, or pride myself in NOT getting addicted to video games (which is a legitimate addiction).

In reality, we all carry the same dirty laundry, even if our bags are slapped with a label of “Ikea” or “Balenciaga.” It’s stupid to shell out more than $40 for a functional laundry bag (in my opinion), and it’s stupid to treat someone less than they deserve because of an irrelevant label.

I’ll never understand how the cost of a white cotton T-shirt can vary so greatly based on whether or not a celebrity was spotted wearing the brand, or if another famous person’s name is sewn on the tag. Why do we do this with people? Why is it ok to be hours late for a family function but not your date? Why do some sales clerks look down upon the shoppers who came into their store in their sweatpants? Why do some celebrities generally get one day of hard jail time instead of the 1+ year they probably deserve? Why do some dudes get super on the offense when their sister starts dating, but think it’s ok to sexually harass a woman?

Well, time to fetch my laundry, with my holey, worn-out college laundry bag that might survive three more loads.

From the Ashes

From the Ashes pic

Paris. San Bernadino. Istanbul. Brussels. Orlando. Berlin. Westminster. Stockholm. Egypt. And most recently, San Bernadino, again.

In the words of Futurama’s Dr. Farnsworth, “I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.” But here I am.

I grieve for the families who suffered in the aftermath of these massacres. How could they know that when they said goodbye to their loved ones as they left for work, a train or plane, that that would be the last time?

I live in the relatively low-key, sleepy beach town of Ventura, so I haven’t really worried about my city being a target of such terrorist attacks. But I fear for the day I might be proven wrong. Now, I tend to wonder if that dumb meme I showed a family member, or a reminder to pick up soymilk from Trader Joe’s will be the last things they’ll have heard me say.

I feel that these terrorists are destroying more than just lives, but the dreams of those who might have pursued them were they alive today and even the dreams of those still living and breathing.

I have dreams to embark to several more corners of the world, and perhaps even pursue graduate school overseas. But reports of terrorist threats here, there, everywhere make me uneasy, though I’ve vowed not to live in fear.

Of course, those aspirations are just my story. There are countless others, plenty more important than mine.

And one of the reasons why I’m not sure I want to have children is not because I’m afraid I might night be taken as seriously as a career woman or whatever, but because of the undoubtedly terrible world they’ll grow up in.

Idealistically, I’d like to think that it’s up to my generation and the ones that follow to help reshape our world into a better, peaceful place to live.

I’d also like to think that we’ve moved past racial prejudices, sexism and discrimination against certain minorities (although these minorities probably still do or will face prejudice at some points in their lives, unfortunately) but my hope quickly dissipates when I hear ISIS terrorists/a shooter has once again targeted a gay nightclub in Florida, a Coptic church in Egypt or innocent schoolchildren on a playground.

I honestly don’t know if things will get better. But I hope—by God, do I hope—that these tragedies will compel mankind to realize the opportunities to fight for good. There seem to be so many opportunities for this as I read the headlines, but it’s unfortunate that they’ll be rooted in the ashes of those whose lives were ended so abruptly.

 

“Deserve”?

One of my favorite books is “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” by Stephen Chomsky. I picked it up long before it was adapted to film, so yes, I will tout that I read it before it was cool.

But you need not necessarily have read the book to know one of the most Instagram’d, Tumblr’d etc. quotes from its pages:

“We accept the love we think we deserve.”

The realistic—albeit, cynical—side of my brain says none of us deserves anything; we are born into this world with nothing and leave it the same way.

The idealistic side of me wants the good-hearted to always meet happy endings, and watch the heartbreakers step on Legos.

But often times, it comes down to the hand we get rather than how well we play our cards.

When it comes to love we think we deserve, I’ve seen these things fail more than succeed because someone wrongly thought they were entitled to something far better than they actually deserved or thought they didn’t deserve anything good at all. As a result, I’m very skeptical and slow to trust because of what I’ve seen close-up.

I’ve seen friends, family members and high school acquaintances become targets of infidelity or simply use silence as a mediation tactic.  

I watched one of my friends—beautiful, insightful and intelligent, with the world at her feet—who’d began dating an equally attractive guy suddenly thrown into confusion when she failed to hear from him again after what I understood to be a  successful day-long date.

I observed another acquaintance talk nonchalantly about how he’d broken up with his girlfriend of more than a year, only a few days after referring to her as the love of his life.

I watched yet another acquaintance publicly share her inner turmoil as her boyfriend at the time had recently broken up with her. Three weeks later, she began gushing about the (current) love of her life.

As for me, I told a friend with whom I felt safe several months ago things about me I shared with few others, which I never would have done had I known we’d part ways less than 24 hours later.

For awhile, it was (and still is) hard for me to trust people who told me what it was I deserved (be it something “better” or “perhaps not at such a high standard) because the things they’d say were either cliché, or I doubted whether or not it’s really true that I’m funny, worth it, “not like other girls” (whatever that means), blah blah blah. 

I can remember trying to change myself in a number of situations to feel more deserving in some way.

In my general social life, I’ve tried to pretend that I’m more chill than I truly am (type A all day) or downplay some of my views on certain social issues, depending on my environment.

In a school or work situation, I might try to appear smarter than I am in hopes of actually becoming smarter, or I might downplay my intelligence for the sake of not hurting someone else’s ego.

In my dating life, I’d concern myself with not being thin enough, feminine enough, like-other-girls enough and sadly in some cases, just unintelligent enough to again, not hurt someone’s ego.

Fortunately during times that I worry I’m not outgoing or fun enough for the most important people in my life who happen to be hardcore extroverts, I’m assured all the time by them that I’m more than enough.

I don’t know what I deserve, exactly, when it comes to any sort of acceptance. Does anyone? Maybe it’s like what I said before—none of us actually “deserves” anything.

Or, if we do deserve better, perhaps it starts with bettering ourselves.

There are things I need to change about myself to get where I need to be, wherever that is. God knows I do.

But I never want to change myself so much that I don’t recognize me, or that I feel there’s no part of me that can be appreciated unless I do away with everything else.

Because at the end of the day, when I get that grad school acceptance, project or promotion, insanely awesome social life, I don’t want it to be because the person I pretended to be was more deserving of it than I was.

The Collector

the-collector-pic

I wasn’t sure if I should keep waiting on the porch or see myself inside. I’m not sure why I let this bother me today, as I’d come in uninvited to many places before.

It was a cold one this particular night. The wind penetrated through the holes in my jacket, nipping at my skin. I need to invest in a new coat, I remind myself for the thousandth time.

And, my feet were tired from a long day of traveling. These business trips always take their toll on me. I wanted to turn around, tread lightly back down the rickety porch stairs and head home, but winter season is always busy in my line of work and my boss likes the momentum I’ve had these last few weeks.

A young, smartly dressed couple skips up the stairs and slip inside, escaping the falling snow. They don’t see me at all.

Since they didn’t wait for someone to open the door, I too enter and let the door latch quietly behind me.

The interior of the house was shrouded in age. The underside of the banister was coated with dust, as were the picture frames of the family lining the fireplace. But it wasn’t neglect necessarily, that put cleanliness by the wayside—something tells me the homeowners were always preoccupied with entertaining and inviting guests, living, that there was little time for upkeep.

I inhaled a combination of dust, cedar and the aroma of a roast wafting from the kitchen. I followed the scent, and the sound of saxophones blaring from a record player.

The couple that came in before me, along with twelve others, was seated at a table most likely meant for six. Aside from them, there were two elderly women—sisters?—another couple, though slightly older than the first, their baby, two middle-aged men and their wives, and a boy about ten years old. In the kitchen, the matron of the house kept a close watch on the roast.

I scan the room, looking for the man of the house. I’d collect what I came for and then I could leave.

The teakettle on the stove began to wail, competing with the steadily increasing volume of the company.

I recognized one of the men at the table, the one in a faded denim jacket. Yes, I remember, we both knew all too well the lives the war had taken. We lived in close quarters but never quite crossed paths. I became rather familiar a few of his comrades though, many of whom I saw fall on the front lines.

I knew he’d recognize me the instant we locked gazes, so I kept my eyes on the floor. It wasn’t a time either one of us looked back on fondly.

I felt, however, the young boy’s eyes boring a hole in my back. He recognized me somehow…ah yes. I had visited his younger brother not long ago after the car accident.

I retreated back into the living room, but I could hear his small footsteps following close behind.

“You’re not welcome here,” the boy said coldly.

When I first started this job, I might’ve scoffed at such a retort, but I’d grown weary from years’ worth of these sorts of remarks. My kind are never welcome anywhere.

“I’ve come to collect one thing and I’ll be on my way,” I responded quietly, heading up the stairs.

The boy said nothing. He knew very well I don’t stop for anyone.

I heard coughing from one of the rooms upstairs. I gently pushed open the first door on the right.

My client was a man with an equally thin frame and hairline. At the moment, he was hunched over, gripping the wall for balance as he held a cloth over his mouth.

I glanced over the wastebasket next to him. The top was brimmed with bloody tissues. The sight shouldn’t have made me squeamish, considering how many times I’ve dealt with blood.

He’d avoided me for years, this man. I probably should have visited him when the coughs made their earliest appearances. No matter—I decided I’d take what I came for while his back was turned.

I placed my hand on his shoulder and closed my eyes. Before he could turn around, I inhaled deeply, taking in his scent, his memories, the air he breathed.

I could taste the wax dripping from birthday candles, frost from that one Christmas morning, the ash of a tobacco pipe. I could also hear children’s laughter, the sound of wedding bells, the roar of a jet, the voice of a minister praying for the souls of the deceased.

Never once did he see the face of the one taking it all away from him. It was easier this way.

After I was finished, the man stumbled forward onto his bed before he finally lay unmmoving.

At least he had a soft landing, I mused. I didn’t usually go to great lengths to ensure a comfortable exit for most of my clients.

I could sense the boy standing in the doorway, watching me. I glided past him as I left the room, before I could surmise how much he’d seen.

___________________

I retired from that position not long after that day and have since begun a job in the human resources side of things—mostly paperwork.

I suppose the moral of the story is that if it isn’t me, it’ll be the new guy who replaced me—or the one who replaces him when he gets jaded from the work—who comes to collect from everyone.

Just before the end of the day, the new guy left on my desk a healthy stack of death certificates he’d filed from today’s rounds.

I shuffled through the papers, skimming over names and dates. Perhaps there is consolation in knowing that many of our clients lived sufficient lives.

My eyes stopped over the shorter stacks of reports.

Jane Sire: 1987-1988. Joey Long: 1984-1988. Ellen Lovelace: 1974-1988. D.J. Schofield-Pratt: 1986-1988.

In all my years as a collector, the most frequent complaint on my comment card, if you will, is that “it isn’t fair.” Most often, it’s said that I come too early but on some occasions, I hear that I don’t visit others early enough.

I disagree, however, with the so-called “unfairness” of it all. If anything, the real injustice is that the longevity or overall satisfaction of man’s life is generally correlated with his appearance, wealth, popularity and intelligence.

But I am not man; death doesn’t take any of these things into consideration. I treat everyone the same—that is the definition of fairness.

The sad truth is that death comes for all.

Yet as I justify this, I will admit that I’ll never know why it is that there are simply those who receive visits from me far sooner than others.

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times (2016 edition)

jumping

When I look back on last year’s NYE post (https://thatsclassyfied.wordpress.com/2015/12/31/obligatory-nye-blog/), I’d say I pretty much fulfilled most of my long-term goals for 2016.

I’ve gotten better established at my job, improved my friend circle tenfold and I did become more adventurous, or at least as much as I can be in my adult life/hometown.

I got more than I bargained for as well. I traveled to cities new and old and even out of the country for the first time in forever. I started dating again. I found a church to call home. I covered numerous human interest stories and ballot measures. I got my heart broken–more than once. I turned 23. I watched a loved one in his dying stages. I reconnected with family I hadn’t seen in years at the funeral. I felt a huge sense of fulfillment after attending multiple concerts of multiple different genres. And I learned to rely more on friends when I realized time and again that I’m not invincible.

I think that’s a somewhat healthy mix of good and bad—life’s certainly never going to be perfect.

Even with a metaphorical clean slate that comes with a new year, I don’t think everyone necessarily gets a fresh start. Some things from the past carry over into the start of the next 365 days.

But I hope that throughout those 365 days, I learn to have a clearer understanding of why some things fall apart because there must be a good reason, or at least that’s what I tell myself. For me, that means long(er) talks with God; it may look different for you.

I also hope to stay focused on the good memories from the year when I can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Another long-term goal I have is reclaiming my passion for the things I used to. It’s been a good, eventful, busy year, but deep down I know I purposely kept my mind distracted with work, travel, everything, because I don’t like to spend too much time in my own mind with all its doubts.

It’s been a good year. It’s been an interesting one. But I hope 2017 is better.

Without further ado, here are just a handful of 2016 memories that make me smile:

The Year of Nine Concerts

I won’t list them all, but my favorite concerts I saw this year were Hoodie Allen (with a surprise guest appearance by ED SHEERAN. Hoodie’s the one in the lifeboat), Josh Groban (third in the right column), Halsey (bottom left), Sia, and seeing Panic! at the Disco (top right) at the iHeart Radio festival in Vegas. But seeing Bastille (biggest photo) at my all-time favorite music venue (The Troubadour)–and getting to touch Dan Smith’s sweaty back–takes the cake.

“Book of Mormon”

the-book-of-mormon

I realize this musical is definitely offensive (I mean, it IS written by the creators of South Park) but seriously, who isn’t offended by something these days. “Book of Mormon” was nothing short of amazing.

Realizing I Don’t Completely Suck at What I Do

writing-award

So in April, I learned that a story I wrote back in October 2015 somehow won me a California Newspaper Publishers Association award–first place in the Sports Feature category, oddly enough. I don’t know how stiff the competition was, but somewhere in the thousands maybe?

Canad-eh

When I told people I was going to Canada with my family this summer, it was often met with “Oh why, do you have family there?”. The question really should be why not? It’s got Niagra Falls, nifty cafes, a slew of national parks, free healthcare and polite people.

Reunited And It Feels So Good

I’m blessed to met lifelong friends at college but unfortunately at the expense of them living long drives or airplane rides away from me. But we somehow make our long distance relationship work.

San Francis-ky Business

The traffic/parking situation here sucks, but the views, though.

 

All I Want for Christmas is…

all-i-want-for-christmas-is-pic

You. Jk, jk…

Last Christmas, I wrote about what I wanted that year. Not a Bluetooth speaker or a Gryffindor scarf (although I would not be opposed to the latter), but what I referred to as a “normal”:

(From December 2015) “What I really want for Christmas (and the New Year too) is a sense of normalcy. It can’t be normal to find “happiness” from being minimally satisfied with simply surviving each day in a quiet existence because I’ve managed to disappoint only a few (instead of a lot of) people.

I thought as I would get older, my Christmas wish-lists would get less complicated. They’ve certainly become less materialistic, but the bike or whatever I thought was so great as a kid was far easier to obtain than the feeling of being safe, or “at home” I’d rather have now.”

I think I achieved this “normal” in the sense that I’ve gotten into a pretty good work and social life flow throughout this year and-a-half of postgrad-ness, which at first, felt akin to tinikling (bamboo jumping game).

tinikling

As far as feeling “at home”…I’m not sure I’ll ever quite feel a permanent sense of at home-ness (aside, of course, from being at my actual childhood home I still live at). I think part of it has to do with the general feeling I’ve always felt of being an observer but not so much in the action (as is the case with my day job). Or maybe it’s because I’m always searching for somewhere else that I can’t be completely at ease where I am.

But as I’ve come to terms with my new normal, I realized I’ve lost something else in the process. It didn’t quite hit me until I was at a work party this week.

I was chatting with a receptionist from our other office (we have two) about how long I’ve been working and how I would eventually like to pursue a master’s degree. Though a master’s in what I wasn’t sure, I told her.

“Well, you like writing, so what’s your secondary passion?” she asked me.

I laughed—not because the question was funny, but because I wanted to buy some time to think of a good answer. I couldn’t.

In fact, I held back the fact that for the last several months, my primary passion—writing—has been wavering a bit, like a flickering flame. How could I pursue a second major passion when I was struggling to keep my first afloat? And why was that?

Maybe it’s because I’m always writing, always trying to beat the clock that I’ve grown somewhat detached from my pen. I feel it not only when I have to write about tragedies (which are fortunately very few and far between) but I also sometimes feel detached from ordinary events.

Even in my “for fun” writing, I get so frustrated and convinced that I can’t improve in my craft—or what I thought was my craft. Somehow, after I make headway on a chapter or two of the start of a story, I feel a little empty inside. Like my pride and joy is either going to be complete crap, or my eyes will be the only ones that see it. As though trying is somehow pointless.

As a young teen, the thought of weaving stories in my head was what gave me energy. A reason to get up in the morning and stay awake. Then fear crept in.

I wouldn’t say I’ve lost my passion exactly, but sometimes it slips away, quarter-inch by quarter-inch.

What I want for Christmas is to get it back—scratch that, I want it for longer than just the holidays.

But don’t misunderstand me—I am grateful for many things this Christmas, despite my subdued passion described above. But I’ll spare my pen until New Year’s Eve to write about those things.

The Great Divide

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Think I can still throw my hat in? ;p

Sure why not, I’ll be the millionth blog post that rants about recent political events.

So in case you didn’t hear, there was an election yesterday.

What gets me down today—other than not having had more options as far as candidates—is scrolling through social media in the election aftermath.

I’m not talking about the legitimately sad posts, the ones disappointed in how things went. I get that.

I’m talking about the ones that are dividing friendships.

Last night, I read a post (paraphrased) in which this person essentially said that they wanted anyone who voted for a third-party candidate or wrote one in to delete them off Facebook. Not just if they voted for Trump, but if they voted for anything that did not line up with this person’s view.

I don’t actually know this person that well so it probably would’ve been a non-issue had I been deleted, but the sentiment behind the writer’s words seemed to be so clouded by ignorance.

I’m trying to practice grace though, since I know so many (myself included) are bewildered, upset and confused by what’s happening and are struggling to process through it all.

However, I don’t think the way to do so is to close ourselves off from anyone who voted—or didn’t vote—for a particular candidate. This goes both ways.

If there’s anything I learned from this year’s election—besides the fact that our political system is flawed and that we should never have an election like this ever again—it’s that diplomacy, even on just a casual conversational level, is so rare but so needed if we’re expected to get anywhere.

It saddens me when I see statuses and Tweets that say “If you’re voting for XXXXX I’m deleting you!!”

I’ve seen those messages on both sides actually, and you folks are not solving any of the problems our country is facing.

Why do you think there were so few Trump or Clinton bumper stickers this election? Everyone’s afraid of their cars getting egged or the windows smashed, lest they support the wrong candidate.

I’m even seeing people who are trying to be at peace in the midst of this political chaos called out for not being more angry with what’s happening. There’s no winning, I guess.

Freedom of speech, the freedom to share varying viewpoints, is one of the fundamental principles our country was founded on.

Often wrongly attributed to Voltaire, I strongly adhere to Evelyn Beatrice Hall’s words when she wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

“But our country was founded on wrong principles too!” you argue.

True. But I don’t think the first amendment was one of the wrong ones (don’t argue with me on that, I’m a journalist).

If there’s positives to be found in any of this, perhaps it’s that our other elected officials will use their conscience as they carry out various legislation and all the power won’t be solely in the hands of one person.

On a more personal level, maybe this is the sign I need to care out my Plan C life plan and get a green card marriage to an amiable Brit.

And no, I’m not trying to sweep the issues that undoubtedly lie ahead under the rug. I know who our new leader is.

I suppose in my own small way, I’m trying to keep us (whoever wants to be included in that) united while everything else seems so divided and uncertain right now. At this point, the numbers don’t lie, which means it’s more important now than ever to stay strong.

And in the spirit of free discourse, I welcome any comments, or more likely, arguments, that may make their way to this thread (although my readership is slim to none, usually). I may not respond, though—I, along with the rest of the country—am trying to move forward.

As I reach a much higher word count than I initially expected, I end my prose with these words: Anyone But Kanye 2020.