The Frog and the Yoga

He wasn’t going to make it.  I could tell immediately.  And after all, even if he did manage to scale all the way up the glass wall enclosing our yoga room, where would he go from there?  He’d be high up on a ledge, with an open window his only way of getting back to the great green outdoors he was clearly seeking.  And that would be a hell of a jump, even for a frog.

“Are you feeling the negative energy pour out of you? Let the air absorb it. Let your cares and worries float away.”

Crap. How was I supposed to let my cares and worries float away while distracted by this frog trying to climb Kilimanjaro over there?  He slid back a few inches, but gamely held on – to what, I don’t know.

This was my third, maybe my fourth yoga class.  Ever.  About a year ago I decided I was going to start thinking about contemplating maybe somehow sometime doing something about my high intensity and stress-inducing lifestyle. Friends like Maggie Arden had written about how finding balance in yoga had helped them achieve balance in life as well.  Personally, I wasn’t convinced quite yet. But as a woman who lives by words, well, I needed to try something to quiet my mind.

My yoga instructor here in Panama has quickly learned that while I look as though I should be strong and flexible, in reality, I have almost no muscle  – anywhere.  And any flexibility I had attained from 10+ years of dance had quickly eroded. I felt like a 100 year old woman, barely able to stretch, hold positions for absolutely any length of time, or even keep my balance.

And to top off the difficulties, that damn frog was still inching up that glass, farther away from the ground with every step.

Yoga Studio, Boquete Panama

Current popular thinking places the origin of yoga at about 5,000 years ago, in what is now India.  The Indus-Sarasvati civilization was named after two great rivers that once flowed in Northern India, but which is believed to have declined due to climate change, which dried up the Sarasvati River.  That river is one of the most celebrated rivers in the Rig-Veda, the text upon which much of Yoga is based.

The text upon which much of Yoga is based.  Ah, ok.  Words.  Words I can deal with. Words, I’m good at.  Words, I can wrap my head around.

It’s funny how this simple understanding can help me feel more appreciative of something. Less intimidated by it as well.  Growing up in a Russian Orthodox Church, the idea of connecting your body and soul (in this case, to God) via chanting of ancient texts doesn’t seem strange to me.  And so when I started to learn more about the texts upon which yoga is based, and how the concepts translated to the movements of my oh-so-tight muscles, it just became more approachable.

Which, I think, is just part of taking on a challenge.  Understanding what lies ahead of you, connecting pieces of it to what you already know, and then moving forward from those building blocks.

And yet, the idea of relaxing, of focusing on one thing at a time – on something as “simple” as breathing – was frustrating for me.  Even when I could manage to relax, that damn frog kept pushing forward, up this slippery wall that there was no way he was going to conquer. A little how I felt about holding that incredibly simple pose that was really starting to ache my poor underdeveloped leg muscles. Wasn’t it breakfast time yet?

So instead I forced myself to think of crew.  A high intensity sport that I love with all my being, but one for which you need to focus, to concentrate on every muscle, every movement, every connection your body and your mind can make to push forward.

And it helped.  Closing my eyes this time, I reached farther, held longer, and breathed deeper.

Splat!

Ok, yeah, no.  Just hearing this frog tumble towards the hard floor snapped me out of reverie.  I resisted the urge to abandon my cobra pose and check on him.  Was he dead? Injured?

No one else seemed to have heard it, or else even noticed the journey this frog was undertaking. I tried to refocus, but my utter lack of success (caused likely by both mental distraction and utter lack of ability) discouraged me.  I felt good, moving my body even a little bit, but a zumba class or erging session would have made me feel better.

Maybe trying to change myself so much – to take my intensity to a calmer, more focused place via yoga, was really just a way of rejecting who I really was.  Is loud, extroverted, intensity any less valuable than what I was trying to achieve here?

I left class this morning knowing that there was going to be much more to learning yoga than just a work out.  I would have to get to know my body – to know its inherent strengths and how to build on them, to know its limitations and which could be pushed and which had to be worked around.  To know my weaknesses and my challenges.  And all the while, to still love myself.

As a woman, this was challenging enough.  Women aren’t taught to love our bodies.  We’re taught to hate them and to criticize them and to mold them to men’s desires and to society’s expectations.  And for a woman with as much on her mind as any other in this day and age, well, yoga was going to be all kinds of challenge.

But that’s ok.  I’m here in Panama for at least another few weeks.  And this is one challenge that won’t have a goal attached to it.  I’m not seeking to do a certain pose for a certain length of time.  Or really to do anything quite so measurable.

Instead, I’m just going to do it.  To see what questions come to my mind and to my body as I work them in single-minded focus.  And I will not even answer the questions.  But just open myself up to the questions themselves, and learn to feel the parts of my body and mind opening and connecting to one another.  Just doing it, allowing myself to move forward, seems a challenge enough.

As I left the studio, I saw that the frog had started its journey up the glass again.  I still didn’t know where it was going, nor what it would find when it got there.  But that’s ok.

After all, every journey leads somewhere.

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La Lluvia Won’t Stop Me Now

“Rainy season” has a meaning for me now that it never did before.  In New England, or even on the East Coast really, the weather changes so quickly.  You don’t like it, you wait five minutes.

Not so here.

La lluvia.  Siempre está lloviendo.  Todo el dia, y todo la noche.  It rains and drizzles and pours then rains again, then more drizzling, then more regular rain.  Weather gets into my soul.  While not a terribly moody person, I find myself very affected by my environment.  The cafes of my choosing, my home and my environment – always I want them to be full of energy and bright colors and some sort of positive feeling.  I’m a sarcastic sort with a dark streak of humor, and I like to be around happy people who feel happy things about the world.

And so I like rain, when it makes green things around me grow lush and wild.  I like it less so when it makes my life so inconvenient, when it sloshes around me all the time, when I had planned on a sunny warm vacation and instead need to cope with water water everywhere.

But anyway.  I am resolved to still do the activities I want to do.  And so this weekend some new friends and I went ziplining in the rainforest.  I haven’t worn a harness since I used to rock climb when I was younger, but it felt good and right to be active again, after spending so many hours at a desk, behind a computer these past few years of graduate school.  It rained (of course), but if it was going to rain anyway, I might as well be high above the trees, zooming through the forest and experiencing a rush of exhilaration.

Yesterday was a big holiday here in Panama, and despite the rain, thousands of people came to Boquete from all over the country for a grand parade and celebration of their independence from Spain in 1821 (It should be noted that they then were part of  the Republic of Gran Colombia, which consisted of today’s ColombiaVenezuela, Panama and Ecuador.  They separated from Colombia later).

All day the party went on, with food vendors offering all kinds of delicious things on sticks, and locals mixing with tourists to cheer the local bands as they paraded by in colorful costumes.  And I’m struck by how this idea of independence, of self-determination, is valued by so many across the world.  How important it is to people that they be their own masters, that they have the rights and abilities and opportunities to carve out their own destinies.  Even my Spanish teacher here was surprised when I told her that D.C. residents have limited voting rights, and are not represented in Congress by a voting member (explaining the No Taxation Without Representation license plate was a language challenge, let me tell you).  But still here in the pouring rain, Panamanians came out to celebrate.

My Spanish hasn’t begun to improve yet, but I’m starting to understand where my strengths and weaknesses are with the language (verb conjugation: good, vocabulary: bad). So at least I know where I need to improve, and can set some goals.  Thankfully, rain doesn’t impede my classes or studying, so hopefully I’ll begin to see the fruits of my labor soon.

I’ve finally found my way around the good wi-fi spots in town, so I’m hoping to blog more regularly now, and I have much to explore on my blog – from the coffee plantations to the food to the yoga to the wonderful other people I always meet while traveling.

It’s only been a week, but when I think of all I’ve accomplished this week – all that I’ve challenged myself to do, and all that I’ve set my mind to – I think about those weeks back at home that just seem to drag, one into another.  And I think of how much time in life there really is to do everything we want to, if only we’re willing to be aware of what opportunities are open to us. Life is short, I know (Joe – I miss you always), but life is also long.  And there really is enough time to experience everything we want to, and to become the people we want to be, if only we’re brave enough to imagine it and confident enough to pursue it.

After all, even when it rains the whole day and night, you can always look forward to the next morning’s rainbow.

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The Neighborhood Dog Welcomes Me to Boquete, Panama

I’m not great with animals.  I have a pretty general I’ll-mind-my-own-business-if-you-mind-yours policy when it comes to neighborhood animals, in particular.  But apparently that sentiment is not shared by the local doberman currently living across the street from me.  So when I walked behind my new house to take a photo of the very pretty mountains, said Doberman decided to show me who the boss really was the best way he knew how – with his teeth.

They say that when you study a language abroad, full immersion is the way to go.  Living with a family, interacting with others on a daily basis, all contribute to enhancing your language skills.  Today I learned that the hard way, via trips to both the doctor and the local pharmacy, while repeating over and over to all my host mother’s friends, “sí, el perro me murdió.” (Yes, the dog bit me).

Welcome to Boquete, Panama.  After years of just getting by on what is referred to as Survival Spanish, I finally decided to do something about my language skills.  It’s not just that my family is Puerto Rican and I want – desperately – to understand a language that I sometimes dream in, with its pretty rrrrrrrs and open vowels. But also that I want even more ways to communicate.

When people ask me what I do for a living, it’s sometimes hard to explain that I’ve done a bit of this and that: feminist activism, foreign policy, public affairs, event planning, field organizing.  At the end of the day though, I’m a writer. There are few things I love more than words – the way the music of their sounds trip off your tongue, the way they can inspire and motivate, the way they can both create problems and solve them, sometimes in a single breath.  I may be an enthusiastic and outgoing young woman – a young woman, some would say, of action. But I experience no actions without my words to understand them.

And so now that the Presidential election has come to a close, I’m here.  I won’t have much time before I’ll have to return to the more traditional life of a young professional, with bills to pay and all, but at least for the next month, I’m here.  Here being the Western part of Panama called Boquete, participating in a program called Habla Ya.

Strangely, the country reminds me of Rwanda.  The rainy season is just finishing, so everything is green and lush, with a shiny mist hanging over the land that makes you feel as alive as spring.

After a flight through Miami to Panama City, where I spent the night, I woke up early this  morning to take another flight from the capital city to David, closer to the border of Costa Rica.

I admit – I didn’t have much time to learn as much about the country as I’d have liked before arriving.  So I have much to catch up on.  But I start my Spanish classes tomorrow (4 1/2 hours every afternoon, six days a week) and so I’ll have to get some reading done on the way to and from school.  There’s also an enormous number of activities here – everything from horseback riding (which I hope to do a lot of once my leg heals), zip lining, hiking, rock climbing, white water rafting, and so much more.  It’s truly a serene, yet adventurous place, and I want to make the most of it while I’m here.

I’ll need to do some shopping as well.  I packed quickly, and after doing so, immediately realized the irony and perhaps slight awkwardness of the wardrobe I’d planned to bring. While my Barack Obama for President apparel has gone over well so far (my host family loves the President),  I was probably right to leave all of my feminist t-shirts at home. Not that I’m not proud, but in a foreign country I know close to nothing about, phrases like “Vaginas are for Lovers” and “My Body, My Choice” are probably best not scrawled in huge letters across one’s chest. #TravelerTips.  So I’ll probably pick up one or two things that are more suitable.

In the meantime, I’m here to relax my mind and refocus my life.  Graduate school was an incredible learning experience for me, but the truth is that finishing up my thesis really sucked the life out of me.  I used what last breaths I had to help re-elect Barack Obama, and now, both my mind and my soul need some tender loving care.

While I don’t have hot water, I do have internet access here at home and at school.  And I hope to blog fairly often about my experiences. Mostly because, well, as we know, my experiences are not much without my words to understand them.

To my family in New York and my friends in D.C., thanks for staying in touch while I was out on the campaign trail. I promise I’m not abandoning you forever, I’m just taking a little time off from life for a while.  I miss you all dearly and will keep you in my heart while I’m away.

With love,
Abby

P.S. If this photo looks a little blurry, well, you try taking a photo in focus while being attacked by a dog. That’s all.

 

 

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The Most Important People I Met at the Democratic National Convention, and My New Job

As I read my last entry, about how I was going to live blog the Democratic National Convention, I kind of have to laugh.  16 hour days, a last minute venue change, organizing logistics, and of course trying to do everything in the world in half as much time as is needed to do it – well, let’s just say that sitting down to write and reflect wasn’t something I had the time or energy for, much to my sadness.

But here’s the thing.  I did plan – in advance – to make the most of it.  For me, that isn’t seeing how many important names I can link on Facebook page or how many celebrity sightings I can claim or even how many famous politicians I can get photos with.  Because one of the things that bothers the hell out of me at these events is what’s called the *humblebrag.*  Sentences like these, which seem to stage a hostile takeover of everyone’s conversations and thought processes for 4 days:

“Geez, I never knew how many major political power players knew my name until I came to the Convention.  I can’t walk two steps down a hall without one of them stopping me to talk!”

“I didn’t think I’d even get into [insert super exclusive party here], but then I found out that they had added my name to the list automatically without my even realizing it!”

“It was so hard to miss the [insert super exclusive party here], but Nancy Pelosi did ask me personally to attend  [insert other super exclusive party here], so I mean I really didn’t have a choice.”

I didn’t meet anyone famous at the DNC this past week in Charlotte.  I didn’t get photos with anyone famous.  I did get a few photos of Donna Brazile in the caucuses as well as the major speakers in the Arena.  Donna was amazing, but I had no real desire to shove my way through a massive crowd of fans just to – I don’t know – touch her hand or something.  Her words inspired me.  Her message.  Her passion.  The way the crowd reacted to her, and the impact her words and message and passion had on them.

Know who I was happy to meet, and spend time with, at the Convention?  Cameron.  Olivia.  Sam.  Jessica.  Some were friends from DC who I got to spend more time with and really get to know.   Jessie showed us around her hometown, including her favorite hangouts.  Sam and I bonded over GOP sour grapes and feminism.   Cameron and Olivia were our fearless leaders on Team Digital Media Volunteers, and taught me so much about messaging, teamwork, and holding everything together with just four hands.

I remember traveling to Paris when I was studying abroad, and feeling like I should go see a lot of museums and famous things that you’re supposed to see.  But I stopped myself just in time – just before I blew my whole weekend on what I should be doing instead of what I wanted to be doing.  I haven’t regretted that decision even once since then.  For anything.  And I’ve kept that lesson in mind for each of these big events or conferences I’ve attended since then.

So it’s true.  I attended almost no parties, delegation breakfasts, panel discussions, or anything else that I had originally thought I’d be excited about going to.  Instead, I worked between 12 and 16 hours a day, bonded with those closest to me, and did my best to contribute what I could to make the 2012 Democratic National Convention the most open and accessible political convention in our nation’s history.  And I loved every minute of it.

Those of us who work in these fields – in the public interest – know what it means to give everything you have to something you love and a cause you believe in.  Even if just for a short while.  Even if just every now and then.  And so for a short while, for now, I will.

There’s approximately two months left before the 2012 elections, and as always, I feel called to be a part of it.  This Tuesday, I’ll be traveling to Tampa to begin a position as the Deputy Digital Director for the Obama for America – Florida campaign.  I expect it to be as so many other campaigns are – inspiring and challenging, exhilarating and exhausting . . . and completely worth it.

We have so much to do, and after being a part of this past week’s activities – seeing the messages of diversity and inclusivity and hope and compassion and everything that symbols a better, brighter future for America and the world – I’m ready.

I’ll try to update while on the campaign trail, although I know better now than to make such promises.  In the meantime though, you can follow me on Twitter at @LeftStandingUp.

Oh right.  One more thing.  Are you registered to vote?  Do it now.  Share this website.  Forward this link.  Make it happen. (Yes, in case you were wondering, those are all the exact same link.  Consider this your 5 of 7 times you need to hear a message before it sinks in.  Oops – well, there are your other two.  Win.)

Thanks to everyone working on a campaign right now, donating to a campaign, registering voters, or even just talking with friends and family about the importance of voting in this election.

Yes we can.

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Preparation at the Democratic National Convention – My People

I have maybe fifteen minutes before my training gets underway as a volunteer here at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte.  And as I sit here, I’m reminding myself not of politics and policies, or even our ideas and plans for the future.

Instead, I’m thinking about my values, my faith, and the things that I believe.  I’m thinking about when Mitt Romney talked about a “united America [that] will care for the poor and the sick, will honor and respect the elderly, and will give a helping hand to those in need.”  And I’m thinking about how there were no cheers.  No claps.  No honor and respect given to the idea of honor and respect.  And I know, without even having been at the Republican National Convention, I know, that those are not my people.

Those are not my people.  My people do not sit by while the least among us struggles.  My people do not believe they have moral superiority, and the right to dictate how others should live their lives.  My people do not resort to lies and manipulation when truth and honesty do not work.  My people do not step on others to climb the ladder of success, and my people do not begrudge that ladder to others who think, feel, talk, act, or look different from how they do.

My people recognize that we are all more than our wealth, and that people are more than entities.  My people know that our nation is flawed, but that humanity is more powerful than we sometimes know how to handle. That sometimes, we get overwhelmed by our power – our power to build a world that can be equal parts protection and freedom, justice and opportunity.

My people know that everyone can contribute something – that life is precious and valuable.  And that everyone deserves the chance to participate in something greater than themselves – to be a part of humanity and our progress, to share in our challenges and our successes.

My people know that together, our power is strong.  Together, our power can achieve greatness.  Together, we can all rise.  My people know that a perfect world is within our reach, but that it means embracing our humanity.  We all feel pain, we all feel loss.  We all celebrate successes and we all love fiercely.  We love.  We breathe.  We rejoice.  We suffer.  But we all do it.

I remember reading about Kenneth Feinberg, who headed up the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund, the group that determined how to compensate the families of the 9/11 victims.  How do you quantify life?  Families were paid an amount of money derived from the salaries of the victim, multiplied by a lifetime of earnings.  So the family of a janitor at the World Trade Center would receive an amount far less than the family of one of the trade executives.

Later, he said he regretted this delineation.  He regretted the implication that a person’s value can somehow be judged by their earnings alone.  That one person’s life was worth more or less than another person’s.

And so that’s what I think of as I sit here, the day before the Democratic National Convention.  I think of values, of the value of life and how we are all the same.  How we all deserve peace and freedom, justice and opportunity.

As I watch the preparation unfold around me, I feel a sense of belonging – a sense of pride.  Marriage equality, social justice, growth and entrepreneurship, stewardship of the land, public education, reproductive freedom.  These are our values.  The values of the Democratic Party.

I look around me, and I think: these are my people.

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10 Years After Graduating High School, What Would I Tell My 17 Year Old Self?

Ten years.  It seems long, and yet I know that it both is and isn’t.  As I’ve been following commencements and graduation ceremonies all over the country, I’ve been thinking of what I knew – and didn’t – at age 17.  If I could tell myself – and even my friends – five things about what the next four years would hold, what would they be?  What should I have been warned about?  Here goes:

1. The first thing is that college is short and life is long.  For the past 17 years, everything has been building up to that one question that will seemingly shape your lives: where are you going to college?  And because we took our PSATs at 13 years old and spent our summers at programs like Junior Statesman of America and Summer Institute for the Gifted, it was easy to think that the answer to that question was going to make or break our happiness in life.  It won’t.  At the end of the day, you will be the same person whether at Yale or at Princeton, Middlebury or the University of Virginia. Some places may make you happier than others, but in others you may learn how to make your own happiness.  At the end of the day, you’re going to be fine wherever you go.

2. Study abroad.  Even if you don’t end up liking the experience of being away from friends and family and the comforts of American life, there will be few other opportunities where it will be as easy or as simple to take the time to challenge your ability to engage with an alternative culture and community and way of life.   Jobs, significant others, volunteer responsibilities – they’ll all make it much more challenging to ‘get away’ than you’d ever have thought.  Do it now.

3. Keep up with your foreign language.  You’ve already invested the equivalent of five years of study of French or Spanish – don’t make all of that time a waste.  Take those classes all through college, and if you can study abroad in a country where you can attain fluency, do it.  You never know when that perfect job you want will require it, or when it’ll come in handy for last minute travel or even just getting help from a stranger when you move to a new neighborhood.

4. Get to know your academic adviser.  Well.  You may think you know exactly what you want to study and what classes you want to take, but your adviser does more than that.  Your adviser is your first real experience in professional networking – this person can connect you to opportunities you wouldn’t know about otherwise.  Your adviser knows about fellowships and awards within your field that you’ll probably not randomly come across on your own.  Develop this relationship and nurture it throughout your four years, and even beyond.

5. Don’t worry about trying out too many different things.   You’ll be advised to jump right in and experience all that college life has to offer – as much of it as we can.  This is good advice.  But if you find something you genuinely love and enjoy – a club, or group, a professor, or a major that challenges and stimulates and rewards you, it’s ok to stick with it instead of abandoning it at the close of each semester so that you can try out for the badminton team, just to say you did.  Besides, just like college admissions officers, future employers will like seeing your dedication to something you found you loved.  It will also make you happier.

Four years is a chunk of time, whether in high school or in college, at the start of a career or in the middle of a long relationship.  Many of you will experience death – up close – for the first time.  A drunk driving accident after a night of partying, a friend’s parent whose long-term illness finally opened the door it had been knocking on for years.  Many of you will fall in and out of love – heartache will come and then go and you’ll move on but never forget.  You’ll try out internships and discover that being an unpaid intern in a law office is far less glamorous than you’d once thought, and you’ll embrace and discard a number of different “career paths” before you realize that there may not even be any such thing in real life.

You’ll promise your closest friends you’ll stay in touch – which for the most part you will, even ten years later – and reassure your parents that you’ll call and skype so that they can be reminded on a weekly basis that they raised you right.

But remember that just as the last four years were just four out of a lifetime of years, there will be four more after college.  And four more after that.  And soon you may discover that it wasn’t specifically where you went to school or what your major was or even what internship you took sophmore year that ended up having the sharpest impact on the person you spent all that time carving out.

Instead, it was the broader development of your character that had the most effect.  Did you figure out whether you were most productive at night or in the morning?  Did you learn to tell the difference between friends who were worth investing in and friends who weren’t? Did you come to determine that whether you’re introverted or extroverted, you may have changed over those years without your even realizing it?  And you’ll discover that none of these questions are specific to college students, but instead, are ones you’ll probably be asking yourself for the rest of life.

In the meantime, celebrate your graduation and your successes.  And know that you have many, many more ahead of you.

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On Why You Shouldn’t Ignore Me When I Ask to Split the Dinner Check

I was on a date recently with a man I’d met through mutual friends.  When the waiter brought the check to the table, my date casually remarked, “I’ll get this one.”

“Oh that’s alright, I’m happy to split it,” I replied with a smile.

He pressed me, saying, “It’s fine, I’ll take care of it.”

“No, thanks.  It’s really ok.  I don’t mind paying, too.”

“I said don’t worry about it – I’ll handle it.”

I reached for my wallet as I yet again said, “No, that’s ok, I appreciate it, but I’d really like to pay for my own meal.”

“I said I got it.”

“No.  Really, it’s kind of you to offer, but we should just split it.”

It was at this point that he and the waiter exchanged a knowing look, which I’ve come to identify as the “bro code” look.  It’s the look that two men give each other when one of them is trying to get a woman into bed with him and he needs the other’s cooperation.  I see this look in bars more often than I’m comfortable with – as if the men are negotiating over the price of a cow.

So my date and the waiter exchange this look, and the waiter ignores the credit card in my outstretched hand, instead accepting my date’s card.  My date looks back at me, smiling.

I blinked.  Exactly how many times did I need to say ‘no’ in order for him to hear me and respect that?

In Gavin de Becker’s New York Times bestseller, The Gift of Fear, he describes how a man’s inability to accept ‘no’ is actually a strong indicator of a much bigger problem with the way he relates to a woman.  He writes:

Declining to hear ‘no’ is a signal that someone is either seeking control or refusing to relinquish it.  With strangers, even those with the best of intentions, never, ever relent on the issue of ‘no,’ because it sets the stage for more efforts to control.  If you let someone talk you out of the word ‘no,’ you might as well wear a sign that reads, ‘You are in charge.’”

I never read truer words in my life.  Four times I demurred, telling my date that I did not want him paying for my meal.  And four different times, he ignored me, or brushed aside my refusal.  He then went ahead and did what he wanted anyway, completely disregarding me and my opinion.  I can’t think of a stronger signal he could have sent to tell me that he didn’t respect me.

I would have been perfectly happy to sit there and discuss it with him.  I would have been happy to explain my reasons, and even give him an opportunity to counter those reasons.  But he didn’t engage with me.  He didn’t ask me my reasons because they didn’t matter to him.  He went virtually behind my back to ensure I had no say in the matter.  (We’ll save my disdain for the waiter for another time, but I find him equally complicit in this).

When I’ve explained this theory to male friends, they become immediately defensive.  ‘He meant well!’  ‘He was just being nice!’  ‘He would have stopped if you hadn’t smiled as you said ‘no’ – if you hadn’t appeared to be cute about it. If you hadn’t seemed so wishy-washy about it.’

Continue reading

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Hate Crimes in My ‘Hood – What Could I Have Done?

“As his partner listened [on the phone], the attackers kicked him at least twice, shattering his jaw.”

I wasn’t supposed to be there.  Still dressed in work attire and heels, my canvass bag with schoolbooks heavily weighing down one shoulder, I had “stopped by” the march with my friend Doug, who had invited me only a few hours before.  But with a graduate thesis draft due in ten days, I had only been going to stay for a few minutes.

Tears come too easily to me.  I’m a deeply emotional person who feels things intensely.  And even though I was asleep at the time, curled up in my warm, safe, bed at these late hours of the night and these early hours of the morning – when the crimes occurred – I cried when I read about them in the following days.  Two days, three crimes, seemingly unrelated, but all targeting gay or transgender people.

Hate crimes.

Vicious, brutal, ‘we-hate-you-because-you-are-not-like-us’ crimes.

As I was looking over my past blog posts the other day, I realized that almost all of them have something in common.  It’s not that they are all about women’s issues or feminism.  Or that they’re all angry or melancholy or sad.

It’s that the vast majority of my writing seeks to answer one question.  One question that permeates my thoughts day in and day out.  One question that I never seem to get any closer to answering.  Just one.

Why do men hate me?

And not just me, but my girlfriends?

Why are men beating us, raping us, torturing us, abusing us, oppressing us, violating us, disrespecting us?  Why oh why do men hate us?

I imagine that this is a similar question to the one that black men ask themselves about the police.  Or that gay people ask themselves about straight people.  Why is there so much hate?

I couldn’t help but cry, just a little, when I read about the crimes we were marching against tonight.  Not only because of the violent, brutal nature of the attacks.  But also because, had I been there, had I been walking past the crime scene at that exact moment, I don’t know what I would have or could have done to stop it.

There’s something to be said for strength in numbers.  But with just one more person fending off attackers – a petite, 5’3 woman at that – how much of an effect would it have had?  I know we all like to imagine that we’d have gone in guns blazing and fists flying to protect one another.  But the truth is, you never can know how you’ll react when faced with the possibility of real danger – especially physical danger.

And so had I been there, walking by at one of those exact moments, would I have had the courage to stand up against violence and hate?  Would I have jumped in to defend a fellow human being, even though the odds were high that I’d have ended up attacked as well?  Perhaps I would be in a hospital bed now, beside one of the victims, with my jaw wired shut for the next 4-6 weeks as it healed as best as the body can from such trauma.

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Five Reasons the Kony 2012 Video is Going Viral

First thing’s first: the Kony 2012 video is not about African children or justice for war crimes.  Produced by Jason Russell of Invisible Children, this video, which has garnered over 50 million YouTube and Vimeo hits, is not about saving Africa or world peace or justice for the oppressed.  Quite simply, this video is about you.

“Viral videos” are exceptionally rare, as those of us who work in this field are consistently telling people.  That said, there are lessons we can glean from videos that do make it to the promised, far-away land of “virality.”  Here are just a few reasons why this video is making the rounds:

1) Using Familiar Imagery and References – People like to be where they’re comfortable.  We enjoy cultural references because we understand the jokes and we feel like we are connected to something bigger.  This video doesn’t just tell the story of Jason’s mission or of Ugandan children.  It tells the story first by connecting us to the larger world, drawing examples of how people and movements all over the globe are sharing information and stories to relate to one another.  It then narrows in on this particular story, telling it via a medium we all recognize and can associate with – Facebook Timeline.

While many of us are still getting used to the new features, the familiar logo and cobalt blue coloring are comforting to us, and we feel like we understand what’s happening on the screen in front of us, even if the video switches often to Ugandan children and rebel troops.  Being comfortable means we are more likely to stay involved and engaged in the storyline.

2) Emphasizing Connections, not Contrasts, to Appeal to the Viewer – Filmmaker Jason Russell’s American son makes repeated appearances in this video.  According to short clips of conversations between the two, this son thinks abducted and abused children is sad, and he wants to grow up to be just like his dad and go to Africa and fight bad guys.  The video also features Jacob, a Ugandan boy who was a victim of Koby’s campaign.  Jason isn’t making us feel guilty by contrasting the two lives these boys have led, but instead, he makes connections, saying that these two boys really are very similar, repeatedly switching between clips of each of them.  Connecting instead of contrasting – highlighting similarities instead of differences – leads to positive emotions, not negative ones, which makes us happy to keep watching.

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On Valentine’s Day, What Does Love Look Like?

I’m not really the dating type.  I find first dates to be far more fun to prepare for and obsess over than I do to actually go on.  Which is funny, because I do love going out.

But I love comfort.  I love familiarity.  My favorite part of being in a relationship is recognizing an expression that will come over a man’s face.  Knowing that he will recognize the expression that will come over mine.  Remembering little pieces of his body, and recalling the way he moves his hands when he talks.

Travel, adventure, dancing while pop music pounds through my ears.  These things give me energy.  Challenges, hardship, struggle – these are where lessons are learned.

But I don’t think anyone’s ever said it better than Alix Olson, who wrote: “. . . and then I believe in coming home.”

Love has interesting connotations for people.  When I think of love, I think of my parents dancing to our old Jazz Around Midnight cd, the lights turned down low, murmuring to one another while rays from the setting sun shoot through the windows.  And so jazz and wine and quiet nights with long talks are what I think of when I envision love.

This is hardly first, or even second date kind of stuff.  This is the comfort you share with someone who is already a part of your life, a constant presence.  Someone who sits near me, reading a book while I contently plug away at my thesis as Ella and Louis harmonize in the background.  That’s what love looks like to me.

Instead, I play dress up, and I go out to nice dinners or “grab drinks after work.”  And all the while I’m feeling uncomfortable, because whether I like him or not, human nature dictates that I want him to like me for sure.  And so I’m trying alternately to be charming and funny and cute and smart and whatever else he might want of me.  And I know that he’s probably feeling the same way, since that pressure is by no means one-sided.

But it feels unnatural to me.  As though I’m acting out a scene from a movie, instead of dating in a way that is comfortable and easy for me.  After all, what does one talk about on a first date?  I’m a feminist blogger, so that’s always awkward.  The man almost always feels obligated to prove to me that he, too, is a feminist, so he’ll talk to me about Gloria Steinem or tell me about that time he defended his friend who was harassed on the street.

Or else he’ll ask me about school, and what is my graduate thesis is on.  And in case you’re wondering what else isn’t first date conversation, be sure to add ‘sexual violence in wartime’ to your basket as well.

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