6.24.22

When I was in sixth grade, my middle school held a mock election. I was eleven years old and what I knew about politics could fit on the surface of the well-worn eraser of my mechanical pencil.

But my parents were voting for Bill Clinton so I did too. I didn’t understand that the point of the mock election was a half-assed attempt for our school to show us how voting worked. For me, waiting in line to check the box next to Bill Clinton’s name just meant ten less minutes sitting in a class.

Later that afternoon, the results were announced. I don’t remember who a bunch of middle schoolers elected fake president that day, but I do remember the conversation I had with a friend as we waited for our buses to pick us up that afternoon.

“Who did you vote for?” “Ashley” asked as we stood under one of the giant oak trees on the school’s property.

“Bill Clinton,” I replied easily.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” she told me disparagingly.

“Why?”

“He believes in abortion.”

“What’s that?”

Something like excitement flashed in her hazel eyes as she opened her mouth to explain. “It’s when a woman has a baby and she decides she doesn’t want it so the doctor rips out its spine and its brain.”

I don’t remember my immediate response, but I do remember being horrified, borderline sick to my stomach. Why would a woman decide she didn’t want a baby? Why would a doctor, someone who was educated and revered, kill an innocent child in such a heinous way? Was this even legal?

“Ashley” and our other friends abandoned the conversation shortly thereafter. They played in the fallen leaves that littered the ground, talked about the upcoming band concert, and crooned to the Backstreet Boys and *NSync on their portable CD players.

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As I sat on the bus on the way home, I couldn’t get “Ashley’s” description of abortion out of my mind. I kept picturing evil doctors from horror movies brutally murdering babies. I felt stupid because I hadn’t known what the word meant. I felt guilty and dirty for pretending to vote for someone who believed it was okay to do such a thing. Then I began to wonder if my parents knew about this abortion thing. If they didn’t, should I tell them? And if they did know, did that mean that they were horrible people?

My eleven-year-old brain, which I didn’t yet know was afflicted with anxiety, practically paralyzed me in the following days. My mind kept conjuring up gory images and my already low self-esteem plummeted even lower as I battled with myself over my ignorance towards this new word I had learned. Abortion. Why hadn’t anyone ever told me?

Eventually, this anxiety and self-loathing was replaced by some other middle-school, tween drama, and the horrifying conversation I’d had with “Ashley” that day faded into the recesses of my brain.

It never even occurred to me to question the authenticity of her explanation until years later.

As I grew older, I eventually came to understand what the correct definition of an abortion was. And when I realized that I had spent years believing the foolish and completely inaccurate description “Ashley” had given me, I began to ask some questions of my own.

Who had given her that information? Why did she spew it so confidently, so excitedly, especially when she blushed talking about periods and pads and admitted she wasn’t sure where babies even came from?

I realize now of course that “Ashley’s” supposed knowledge of abortion at the tender age of twelve in the mid-nineties was based on fear and misinformation. Whether she gathered it from her parents, friends, church, or protesting strangers, she was so grossly incorrect that she caused me to question whether I was a good person. Her accusations and pure fictional horror made me question whether my parents were good people.  In some ways it made me question my entire existence, and not in a good way.

Even though I have been unwaveringly pro-choice since at least high school, I never stopped asking questions about the subject – not just abortion itself but everything that goes along with it. Why do women get abortions? Why don’t all women have access to birth control? Why are some people staunch anti-choice? Why do people believe and spread misinformation? What else does Planned Parenthood do? Do taxes fund abortions? (NO!) Why do people feel as though they have the right to make decisions about women’s bodies?

Thanks to my own curious mind and the time I spent volunteering with Planned Parenthood, I know the answers to most of these questions. I acknowledge that some people truly believe that abortion is morally wrong. I acknowledge it and understand that it is their right to decide against it – when the choice is theirs. But no one – no one – should ever be allowed to tell a woman what to do or not do with her body. Ever.

It has been several weeks since the overturning of Roe V. Wade. My rage has diminished a bit but my frustration and worry has not. We cannot afford to be shy when talking about human rights. We cannot afford to tolerate the fear and misguided information that is so readily available at every turn.

Other than donating to Planned Parenthood and voting, I wasn’t sure exactly how to help fight this latest injustice. But I recently listened to a podcast where an OB/GYN provided some really great resources for anyone looking to gather more information about this subject in these trying times.

I feel obligated to share these resources, regardless of however small my online audience may be. Hopefully there is someone out there who learns something, someone who makes up their own mind, someone who gets the help they need.

I need an abortion

Home – National Abortion Federation (prochoice.org)

THREE FOR FREEDOM – three for freedom (Fun Fact: if abortion is illegal in your state, this organization can have abortion pills shipped to you).

Safe Abortion Options Information Worldwide – safe2choose

AidAccess  (options counseling)

WRRAP: Women’s Reproductive Rights Assistance Project

Center for Reproductive Rights

Home (prrowess.org) (this is literally a floating health clinic that caters to individuals living primarily in Texas, Louisiana, and other states located on the Gulf Coast).

Most of these organizations are new to me and I was extremely encouraged to hear that there are so many people out there fighting for reproductive freedom. I really, truly hope that someone out there benefits from this information.

Do Not Open til November 2020

Four years ago, in 2016, I wrote this letter to myself and sealed it in an envelope. I stuck it inside my nightstand drawer and didn’t think about it much until the last couple of weeks. I fully intended to open it this month, but I wondered when it would be appropriate to do so. Election day? Once the results were announced? After the news, whatever it may be, settled in?

Last night J & I had two friends over to celebrate the Biden/Harris win and the inevitable end to trump’s four years of an embarrassing parade of hate and misinformation. It was the first time the four of us had been together since COVID, and it felt good to be in the company of good friends again. It felt good to catch up, eat pizza and wings, drink beer and toast with champagne. It felt amazing to watch Kamala Harris and Joe Biden take the stage and celebrate with crowds of (masked) citizens who had taken to the streets to celebrate the end of a reign of racism and lies.

And this morning when I woke up, it felt appropriate to open that stuffed drawer of my night stand, sift through four years of greeting cards, newspaper and magazine articles, phone chargers, and coupons to recover the letter I’d written four years ago in the wake of an unprecedented election.

I’ll share it with you now —

Hey, you,

Four years ago, you made history by voting for a woman for President of the United States. She didn’t win, and it was heartbreaking and terrifying. (I don’t think you need to be reminded of who did win).

You spent hours crying your eyes out. You got into all sorts of political arguments. You felt angry, hopeless, embarrassed, and sad. But then you felt empowered. You realized you had a job to do and a cause to fight for and people to help. When you read this in 2020, I don’t know where you’ll be in life or where we’ll be as a country or humankind. But I guess the point of doing this is to remind you four years from now of how low and hopeless so many people felt and how somehow we banded together, and hopefully not only made it through but prospered and made some big changes.

So maybe by 2020 we’ll have a new president. Maybe it’ll be a newcomer we haven’t heard of yet or someone like Michelle Obama. Maybe you’ll be a mom, maybe you’ll live in a bigger house, maybe you’ll be really successful with your writing. Or maybe you’ll still live in the same house and work at C and write in your spare time.

But where ever you are in 2020, and whoever is on the ballot this time around, just take a moment to reflect on this simultaneously dark and bright moment of 2016 — and what is hopefully an even brighter moment in 2020.

Friends, I cannot tell you how good it feels knowing that trump will be a one term president. Like most of the world, J & and spent the last four days watching the endless election coverage and riding the emotional roller coaster that came along with it. There were moments of of hope and disbelief — that Biden/Harris had flipped several red states and counties blue, that the margins were so close, and that even after the disaster that has been the last four years, that so many people still support this mockery of office.

I was standing in line at the deli counter at the grocery store when my husband texted me to let me know that Biden won. I quickly logged onto CNN.com to verify the news, and my knees almost gave out. The relief spread quickly through my body, lifting a weight that had been burdening me and so many other Americans for four long years. As the girl behind the counter sliced my Dietz and Watson, I looked around for someone, anyone I could share the news with. The other shoppers all seemed oblivious still, and I knew it was inappropriate to broach the subject with strangers. I accepted my meat and cheese with shaking hands, then rounded the corner with my cart and texted my sister and my friend with tears in my eyes. As I struggled to get a hold of myself next to the baked goods, I was amazed at how suddenly it was so much easier to breathe.

It has been a long time since I’ve felt proud to be an American and hopeful for this country and its people — all of its people. I know that we still have so much work to do and there are so many more things that need to change, but I truly believe that we took the right first step this past week in electing two people that not only represent the diversity and beauty of this nation, but have its best interests at heart.

Did You See That Football Game?

No, I didn’t.

It may come as a shock to most people, especially my fellow Pittsburgers, when I tell them that I almost never watch Steeler games — or football games at all — anymore.

The reasons are varied and complex, and have been brewing in the back of my mind for some time now. And I will be the first to admit, that as someone who has lived in Pittsburgh my whole life, I have mixed feelings about shunning a sport that runs through my veins just like the Three Rivers or Heinz Ketchup.

Despite the fact that I was never interested in watching or playing sports as a child, Steelers football, like Pirates baseball and Penguins hockey, is a part of my identity as a Pittsburgher. For us, they’re not just sports or games. They are part of our history and a huge source of pride for the steel city. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I can’t tell you what a first down in football means and I’m not one hundred percent sure where the short stop’s place is on the field. But I get goosebumps hearing about Roberto Clemente’s legacy and Franco Harris and the Immaculate Reception, and I know that Bill Mazeroski hit a walk-off home run in the 1960 World Series to defeat the New York Yankees. I barely watched a minute of high school football during my years in marching band, but I was thrilled and honored to have performed at both Three Rivers Stadium and Heinz Field. I couldn’t list five players on the current Steelers roster, but I know exactly where I was when we finally got “the one for the thumb.” Watching the glow in my dad’s eyes that night as we listened to the echoes of cheers from our neighbors in all directions is a moment I will never forget.

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But in recent years, the NFL has been tangled up in so many controversies that I’ve found myself too disgusted to give more than a moment’s attention to the games. Quite possibly the longest-running debacle has been the organization’s refusal to admit that playing football causes CTE, a brain disease that is covered in disturbing detail in both Will Smith’s 2015 movie Concussion, and Frontline’s documentary, League of Denial.

My husband and I watched the former a few years ago, and the latter just recently. We were both floored that not only does the NFL continue to dodge questions about CTE, but that they have the gall to insult esteemed doctors and researchers who have made it their mission to find out as much as they can about this epidemic. The blatant sexism, racism, and greed when it comes to other debacles is just icing on the cake.

It didn’t take long for our conversation to evolve from the issue of CTE to other controversies surrounding the game. Naturally we covered the debate over Colin Kaepernick — a man who was shunned by the nation and lost his career over a peaceful protest that prompted people to burn his jersey and treat him as though he had committed treason. Meanwhile, the same people denouncing Kaepernick had no issues cheering on players who had been arrested for domestic violence, sexual assault, drug possession, or dog fighting. Double-standards like these are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the NFL — or football in general.

By now, most everyone in the nation knows who Antonio Brown (“AB”) is. Once a revered star receiver of the Steelers, his explosive, self-absorbed antics both on and off the field earned him a dismissal from the the Steel City, which was just the beginning of a parade of disasters. Over the next several months, “AB” was picked up by the Oakland Raiders, only to be released before signing with the New England Patriots — who ended up cutting him too. Brown’s unstable recent history have prompted many people to suspect that his bizarre behavior may actually be a result of too many blows to the head — a symptom of CTE.

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I wouldn’t be surprised if CTE was playing a role in AB’s life. But even if it isn’t, I don’t think we should be surprised by his behavior. Football players are treated as gods as soon as they first show any promising talent in Pee Wee. This preferential treatment follows them into middle school, high school, and college, where they are looked upon as untouchable, perfect celebrities because of what they do on the field. So is it any wonder that they have a skewed sense of reality when they get to the NFL?

I’ll pause for a moment and acknowledge that not every single football player has this attitude. There are a few men I can think of — professionals or students — who are as humble as can be. But I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here by suggesting that sports stars — primarily football players — are put on a pedestal from the get go.

When I was in high school, our football team was quite good. They made it to the playoffs every year, and the coach was often the talk of every local news station or newspaper in the area. So it’s no wonder that when class was in session, the players walked through the halls as if they were decorated Olympians. While I understand that a sense of pride isn’t something that should be hidden, I often wondered what caused that pride to tip over into arrogance.

As a member of the marching band, I knew that my favorite extracurricular activity was the butt of many jokes, not just in our school district, but everywhere — books, movies, and TV shows always made fun of the band kids, with their poofy hats, their dorky uniforms, and their questionable talent. But our band was good — we won awards, we got invited to perform for President Bush when he visited Pittsburgh, and we always had top-billing when we traveled to Disney World. But we were never congratulated or respected for anything we did. In school, the battle for recognition and fair treatment was a daily battle.

I remember one day in particular during my junior year — the band was getting ready to make its semi-annual trek to Disney World the following week, and my history teacher, who was also the track and field coach, decided to postpone a scheduled test for the week we’d be gone. Considering that Mr. M’s policy for missing a test was to take an essay makeup, us band kids volunteered to take the test early, but Mr. M. refused.

“I don’t have a problem with the band going to Florida,” he said. “I just don’t understand why they have to do it during the school year.”

“Mr M.,” I said diplomatically, “Your track and field members leave school two or three periods early anytime they have a meet at a far away district. And the football players do the same thing. Why is that okay?”

Before he could answer, a football player whirled around in his seat. “Because we win awards and trophies and stuff!” he blurted arrogantly.

“So do we!” I shot back. “But the school doesn’t feel the need to give us trophy cases to display them. We can take a walk to the music department right now if you want,” I went on. “There are trophies down there taller than me.”

The football player didn’t respond, but Mr. M’s eyes grew round and he looked at me as if he’d never really seen me before. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard you talk so loud,” he said, and although he still forced us to take the essay makeup test weeks later, I truly felt that in that moment, he had a newfound respect for me and the band.

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This is just one example of the unjust treatment the band – and many other artsy extracurricular activities endured during my time in high school, and I know our story is no different than anyone else who sang in a chorus, danced on stage, painted sets, or played chess.

Football players have always been treated as the kings of the universe, while the rest of us — students, band nerds, admin assistants, and in the case of CTE, even doctors — are treated like dirt on the bottom of someone’s shoe.

While I understand that any sport is a colossal business, as well as a huge opportunity or outlet for young people, I really think we need to examine how much precedence football has over our lives. As students, a player’s ability to play ball is placed above their grades and their humility. And as professionals, it’s now being placed above their health and safety.

I’m not any kind of authority on brain injuries or the human ego. But I’ve been observing this trend for as long as I can remember, and I know I’m not the only one who has so many questions — why does someone’s ability to play a game take priority over their education, their morals, or their need to understand how to conduct themselves professionally or manage the obscene amount of money they may make?

Why are people denying the research when it comes to CTE? And why are they adding insult to injury by telling past and present players that they’re wimps or cry babies if they worry about it or demand compensation?

Why do we value a business’ bottom line over the health and safety of human beings?

Why will we spend $400 on a ticket to a football game but not $75 to go to the symphony?

Why do students have to take gym class until they graduate but music class stops in elementary or middle school?

Why are you considered cool, tough, and talented for playing football, but told you’re a nerd (or worse) if you play an instrument or sing or dance?

What is it about our society that has morphed something that should be an enjoyable form of recreation into a giant, arrogant monster?

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Why I Didn’t Learn to Love My Body Until I Became Plus Size

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I am twelve years old. My weight probably hovers around 120 lbs. I’m traipsing through a giant department store with my mom and sister in tow, feeling overwhelmed and confused. The clothes my younger sister has tried on and tossed into the shopping cart are funky, colorful, and fit her carefree ten-year-old personality. I try squeezing myself into a couple of tops and pairs of pants from the kids’ section, but they’re too small. I want to look more grown up, so I head to the juniors’ department. But those clothes are too big. And in the words of Sam from Sixteen Candles, I don’t have a tenth of the bod to fill the damn bust out.

I’m in tenth grade. My weight is somewhere around 170 lbs. I march miles around the football field five days a week thanks to band, so I can’t quite figure out why I’m still one of the “bigger girls.” But I have good friends, enjoyable hobbies, and decent grades, so I’m relatively happy. There’s even a kid on my algebra class I kind of have a crush on. Until one day, while our teacher is out in the hall, the kid hops up on the cold-air return vent, causing his over-sized t-shirt to billow up around his lanky frame. “Whoa!” He cries, an amused grin spreading across his face. He nods in my direction, and just as I think he’s going to say something flirty, he utters the words, “Look, I’m you!”

I’m a senior now. I’ve managed to get my weight down to 140 lbs. with some simple changes in what I eat and how active I am. I’m completely geeked that I wear a size 7. Single digits! I even sort of have a boyfriend. Sometimes I catch guys – even popular ones – looking at me. But when it comes time to wear a bathing suit, I still can’t bring myself to put on a bikini. I don’t have a six-pack like those girls on the drill team or the cheer leading squad. I know I’m not fat anymore but I’m still not quite good enough to bare my midriff.

I’m twenty-one years old. I probably weigh around 130 lbs – the thinnest I’ve ever been. I’m in the front passenger seat while someone I know very well cruises her car along the crowded highway. “You look really good,” she says, then pauses. She reaches over and pats my thigh, which has always been the fleshiest part of my body. “Course you still have to work on this here.”

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I am thirty years old. Since getting married two years ago, my weight has ballooned. I went from wearing a size twelve wedding dress to struggling to fit into size sixteen jeans in less than a year. After spending months dieting and exercising like a fiend, nothing has worked. I sit on the exam table in my PCP’s office, terrified of the possibilities coursing through my brain – PCOS, diabetes, thyroid disorder, high blood pressure. Which will it be? How will they cure it? What do I need to do to lose weight? What is wrong with me? Why can’t I get thin again? Something has to be wrong with me if I’m not thin, right?

Vial after vial of blood is drawn and I am sent home to await. And starve. And kill my knees as I try to take up running.

Weeks later, the test results come in an email that sets my heart pounding in my ears. My hand is shaking over the mouse as I scroll through the black and white findings. Normal, normal, normal, normal, normal.

Normal? How is that possible? I don’t have high blood pressure or cholesterol. I don’t have PCOS or diabetes. My thyroid is functioning as it should.

I should be relieved but instead I’m even more upset. How can I solve this problem if I don’t know what caused it?

Frustrated, I call my doctor. She assures me that nothing in my test results is any cause for alarm. If I’d like, she can set me up for a phone interview with a nutritionist.

Sure, I agree. Anything.

I speak to the nutritionist once a week for several months. She sends me a thick workbook where I track what I eat and take quizzes that remind me of first grade. Of course I know apples are better for you than donuts. I’m not even really a big fan of donuts! I can’t believe they have paragraph after paragraph in this book about how the key to losing weight is shedding more calories than you eat. Duh! That’s what I’m trying to do! I’m fat; not stupid.

At the end of my time with the nutritionist, she declares that I’ve done everything right and that I have a good understanding of how to live a healthy lifestyle. But I’ve lost zero pounds. Zero.

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I am thirty-one years old. I’ve decided to take up swimming again because I just plain miss it. I purchase a tankini on Amazon and am thrilled when it fits and I actually love the way it looks on me.

Except my thighs. My damn thighs. I’m staring in the mirror, focusing on the jiggly tops of my legs, fighting the urge to count every speck of cellulite I see.

I sigh and think about those days when I wore sizes in the single digits and how I still thought I was fat back then. I chuckle and shake my head and think that if I could go back in time, I’d find my younger self and deliver the pep talk I needed to hear. I’d tell the younger me to be confident, to flaunt my body, to flirt, to dance, to buy that bikini.

As I reminisce about those days, I suddenly have an epiphany. If I didn’t even like my body when it was a size 7, when am I going to like it?

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I stand up a little straighter and gaze at my full reflection in the mirror. The answer is now. Now is the time to be happy with my body. Not the body I used to have or the one I may or may not have in the future. The body I have today.

Yes, I have cellulite. I’m not even close to having the coveted thigh gap. But these legs are mine. They take my dog on walks. They walked me through the streets of London and along the shores of beaches. They walked me down the aisle when I married my husband. The kick strongly when I swim.

Yes, I have flabby arms. But they can still hold things. They can still hug. They support my hands, which allow me to type and write and work towards being a published author.

I think about the decision I made to stop lifting hand weights and doing DVD aerobics that I hated just to try and shed a pound or two. Instead I decided to spend that time writing – working towards a goal I actually want to achieve. Not one my parents, friends,  co-workers, or strangers want me to achieve.

On the day I had that epiphany, it was like I could almost see the light bulb flicking on over my head. This was my life. My body. And it was about damn time I started doing what I wanted to do with my life and being happy with what I’d been given.

So I traded in my weights and exercise DVDs for my laptop and writers’ newsletters. I swim because I enjoy it, not to try to lose weight. I walk my dog and kayak because it’s fun and relaxing, not because I sometimes eat ice cream.

It’s been three years since I decided to love and embrace my bigger body and work towards the life goals I’ve had since I was a little girl.

My daily routines and my long-term goals are based on what I want, and I’ve never been happier. Even though I’m not a size 7.

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My anxiety and depression is more under control now than it’s ever been because I spend time in therapy and doing things that relax me. Even though I have flabby arms.

I am good at my job and am happy where I spend nine hours a day. Even though I don’t have a thigh gap.

I spent a year volunteering with Planned Parenthood, which taught me a lot and made me feel really good. Even though I’m a bigger girl.

I self-published two books, had several articles published, and maintain a blog. Even though I have a belly.

I traveled to London to fulfill a lifelong dream. Even though I have a big ass.

I say these things because I know that if someone were to see me in person or in photos for the first time in a long time, they’d be shocked and maybe disappointed at how much weight I’ve gained.

But then I think about all those times when people complimented how thin I was and how good I looked, and I realize that while that may have been true, those people also didn’t realize that I was having serious battles with my mental health or that I’d lost yet another job, or that my mom was dangerously ill in the hospital or that I’d lost my grandfather.

Sure, there are times that I cringe at an unflattering photo. There are days when I’m sad that I’ll probably never fit in my wedding dress again. But to be completely honest, I have never been happier or more content overall with my life.

I stay as active as possible with swimming, light hikes, walking my dog, and kayaking. I try to eat as many fruits and veggies as I can even though I loathe cooking. I refuse to eat artificial sweeteners or meat laced with hormones. I see my doctor regularly, and at my last visit she declared my blood pressure as “perfect.”

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Let me be clear – I don’t condone unhealthy lifestyles, whether it be dangerous cleanses or gorging fast food. But much like a woman’s reproductive health, her general health stats like blood pressure, weight, and cholesterol should be between an individual and her doctor, no one else.

I’m finally starting to realize that there is no magic number for health. There is no one weight or one size that marks us as healthy or not. This is not a black and white issue, and it’s time we stopped treating it like one.

Here’s a good example – recently one of my Facebook friends posted about being envious of those girls who have a thigh gap. The post was made in the midst of a scorching heat wave, and this friend, who is about as far away from being fat as the earth is from Pluto, was complaining about her thighs chaffing.

One woman commented, “Just stay healthy.”

It took every ounce of my self-control not to reply to her ignorant comment. One physical feature does not define health! I didn’t even have a thigh gap when I was a size 7 and I’m pretty sure Miss Serena Williams doesn’t have one either. Go ahead – tell that force of female power she’s not healthy.

There are so many different types of bodies in this world and we need to start respecting all of them.

 

above photos courtesy of Google Images (ANTM Whitney Port, ANTM Khrystyana Kazakova, singer Miley Cyrus, tennis player Serena Williams, & model Ashley Graham)

I’m going to close with a quick story that I hope highlights the importance of appreciating and accepting our own bodies and the bodies of others. When I went to see the musical Peter Pan a few months ago, I had the pleasure of sitting in the very first row where I got an up close and personal view of the tiny little details in the set, the costumes, and yes, the actors’ physiques. The woman portraying Peter Pan was tiny – probably barely five feet tall, great bone structure and thin limbs that helped her nail the acrobatic moves she made while being hoisted over the stage on wires. I felt a twinge of jealousy as I admired her lithe arms and legs and seemingly effortless moves. How great would it be to have a career where you got paid to be fit and tiny?

Then the actress playing Tiger Lily took the stage and began to dance. As she stomped and twirled and flipped, I found myself admiring her body too – even though it was nothing like Peter Pan’s.  She was shorter and curvier with larger breasts and a generous backside and thighs that looked like tree trunks. But every move she made was impressive and I could actually see the sheer muscle propelling her body as she leapt and spun.

At one point in the show, Peter Pan and Tiger Lily stood on opposite sides of a drum, dancing and beating a rhythm and playing off of each other’s movements. I watched in awe as these two women with completely different body types worked in harmony to create an impressive dance sequence. One wasn’t a better dancer than the other and one wasn’t more attractive than the other – they were simply different.

 

Rainy Day Thoughts

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Though this post was written on 7/7/19, and although it will more than likely be sunny (SHOCK) the day it goes live, I feel compelled to mention that in the 20 days since I first wrote this, parts of the city and surrounding suburbs have flooded twice more. Not only is the frequent rain depressing, but it seems like there’s no such thing as a simple summer shower or good old fashioned thunderstorm anymore. Every time it rains, it causes devastation in little pockets of the world, and subsequently contributes to all-out panic mode at my work as we get absolutely slammed with hundreds of vehicles that end up being totaled due to flooding. But climate change isn’t real. Nope. 

Anyway, to the post . . . 

Well, it’s another rainy weekend here in Pittsburgh. The day will stretch out from dawn to dusk in a hazy, humid spattering of everything from drizzle to a complete downpour. Lightning will strike, thunder will rattle the windows, and streets and homes will be flooded in different parts of the city and its suburbs.

We will be stuck inside our house for hours on end, once again, just like we are in the frigid winter when it’s too cold to breathe and the relentless snow and ice traps us indoors.

I’m growing weary of the weather in my hometown in case you couldn’t tell, and it’s making me quite bitter. Growing up, I don’t remember feeling like my life was dictated by the weather. I recall endless sunny, warm days of summer with the occasional rain shower and maybe 1-2 weeks of winter that brought the city to a standstill. Now it seems like our weather holds us hostage constantly, no matter the season.

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photo from local news station KDKA Pittsburgh. This intersection is about 10 minutes from where I work. Happens nearly every time it rains.

 

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this picture was from last summer when a local Pittsburgh restaurant got absolutely destroyed by flash flooding. Google images

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and the infamous “snow-magedden” of 2010. Yes, that is my car

 

Maybe it’s because I spend 40 hours a week sitting in an office and 8 hours a week cleaning offices, or maybe global warming is just having its way with southwestern Pennsylvania too.

Either way, I feel like I’m trapped in the house every single weekend and cannot get outside to enjoy anything. Over the last few years, Pittsburgh weather has either been A) too cold to breathe, B) too hot to breathe, or C) torrential downpours.

And I’m just over it. Weekends seem impossible to enjoy anymore, and it’s really triggering my anxiety and depression.

Moving right now is not an option for several reasons. I don’t even want to get into them because that would be enough material for five more blog posts. And it would make me even more depressed.

I know that you’re supposed to “make lemonade” or “dance in the rain” and all that jazz, but finding creative ways to have fun amidst shitty weather gets old after a while. Having a limited budget makes it even more difficult.

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When I read Eat, Pray, Love for the first time a few years ago, I remember a part where the author talks about writing a letter to herself/god/the universe about what she wants but didn’t know how to get.

I’ve done this a few times in my life and feel like today’s a day to do it again. Because when you’re trapped inside with nothing but your thoughts and the black hole of TV and Internet, you start thinking about all the things you want to do with your life but aren’t quite sure how to achieve, and your rainy day blues spirals into a full-on depressive episode.

Some of the things on this list are going to be abstract or probably too personal for the Internet but what the hell. Maybe someone will listen this way.

I want to start swimming again

I want to replace my second job (cleaning) with getting paid to write

I want to get my tattoo fixed

I want to take two vacations a year — one to the Outer Banks and one somewhere new (Holland, Oregon, Canada, California, Grand Canyon, Hawaii, Alaska, English countryside, Scotland, Ireland, Maine, etc, etc….)

I want to be valued and rewarded for my work

I want to live in a better part of town

I want to get back into volunteering

I want a president who is an intelligent, compassionate human being who isn’t an embarrassment to the entire planet

I want a more solid circle of friends

I want to spend more time outdoors (walking my dog, kayaking, easy hikes, swimming, bonfires)

That’s all I can come up with for now. Am I asking too much? I don’t know how to get from here to there. But it’s probably going to rain on the journey. Maybe I should start building a boat.

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Band Geeks

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not only one of the best episodes of Spongebob ever, but one of the most accurate depictions of marching band ever. Property of Nickleodeon

When I decided to start focusing on my writing back in 2016, one of the things I cut out of my life (almost) completely was watching TV.

Still, my DVR did record two or three shows a week that I’d catch up on occasionally, two of those programs being Game of Thrones and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. But since both of those have recently come to an end, I decided that I needed a new show to watch on those days when I needed a break from the daily grind of working two jobs and writing. And thanks to Netflix, I recently rediscovered Glee.

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property of Fox

When Glee premiered back in 2009, it only took half an episode before my band geek radar went off for the first time since graduating high school in 2003. Yes, readers, for four years, I was the ultimate band nerd, playing flute and piccolo with my high school’s marching band (insert American Pie flute joke here).

one time 2
actual photo of an actual condom my co-workers gave me. It’s been taped to my monitor for about 4 years now. They couldn’t resist handing it over to the only resident band geek.

I’m actually surprised that I haven’t yet written about my experiences in band, especially because they had such an impact on who I am as a person. Band was the first place I found a breather from my anxiety, and the first place I began having experiences interesting and life-altering enough that I felt the need to write them down and turn them into a book (shameless self-promotion link here).

So the other night when I watched the season one finale of Glee, I couldn’t help getting emotional when all the students are sitting on stage telling Mr. Schuester how Glee changed them. The scene absolutely nails how I feel about my time in band. Being involved with that group taught me so many things about myself and life, I’m honestly not sure where I’d be without it.

Magic Kingdom
The West Mifflin Titan Marching Band, April 2000 posing in front of Disney’s Magic Kingdom in preparation for our parade down Main Street. Don’t ask where I am; I can’t remember!

Before I was in marching band, I looked at the floor when I walked. I didn’t know what it felt like to be good at something or feel pride. I didn’t understand the trade-off between sweat, blood, and tears for a reward or respect. I had never been in love or kissed a boy. And I had never found a place or activity where my anxiety all but disappeared.

Before marching band, I thought that you had to be a size zero with blonde hair and blue eyes to be beautiful. Although “body positivity” wasn’t a “thing” at the time, band was the first place I saw people embracing their flaws and projecting self-confidence at the same time. In band, everyone was free to be exactly who they were. It didn’t matter if you were big, small, tall, short, had glasses, piercings, purple hair, tube socks, or zits, or giant boobs. We were the typical rag-tag assembly of everything from hulking jocks playing trombone to pixie-sized girls toting around a piccolo. Some of us were loud and funny, having sex, trying drugs, and getting tattoos. Others were quiet and conservative, going to church every Sunday and getting straight A’s. And a lot of us were a weird combination of somewhere in between. Band was the first place I learned that so many different personality types could come together, coexist, and work towards a common goal.

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sorry for the crappy picture quality, but this is the Titan band performing at a Steelers preseason game in the fall of 2002, my senior year

Watching Glee has brought back all of these feelings, and in turn has sparked some creativity within me that I’ve been struggling with over the last few months.

Even though I’ve been focusing more on writing outside the YA genre recently, it’s good to think about those times when I had my first spark of inspiration for telling a story. I still have hope that I’ll one day finish the Band Geek Series, since I feel it’s so important to show how profoundly music and the arts can impact someone’s life and how important it is to keep in schools.

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me, proudly playing my piccolo in parade at our local amusement park, fall 2002

Getting this message across with my writing also fuels me to continue to write about other important causes like feminism, social justice, and mental health – all of which are topics that Glee managed to cover in their time on the air.

Sometimes I feel guilty watching a couple hours of TV on a Friday or Saturday night instead of writing or cleaning my house. But a show that can make me laugh and cry all in one episode has definitely been a good source of inspiration.

If there are any Glee fans, former band nerds, or theater geeks reading this, I’d love to hear from you!

block t
The Titans’ famous “block T” that we performed at football games

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senior and junior piccolo players, 2003. I’m on the far right, standing with my hand on my hip. I’m still very good friends with one of these girls and in contact with two or three others.

Room in Our Hearts

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When I saw the devastating news about the fire at Notre Dame on Monday, so many emotions coursed through me — confusion, sadness, anger.  Later that night, when I saw scores of people take to the streets of Paris to hold vigils and sing hymns, I was filled with hope and admiration for the human race. And in the following days, when every day people, billionaires, and French officials vowed to rebuild, I was overwhelmed with a sense of resilience.

But behind all the warm and fuzzy feelings, I couldn’t deny that an ugly, annoying little itch was festering in the back of my mind.

Somehow I knew, as sure as the sun rises in the east, that someone somewhere was going to turn these acts of resilience into petty divisiveness.

 

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Sure enough, the memes and Tweets started popping up on social media —

“Don’t donate to Notre Dame. Send your money to third world countries. Jesus didn’t care about stained glass, he cared about people.” 

“Don’t donate to Notre Dame. The Catholic Church has enough money.”

“Don’t donate to Notre Dame. The Catholic Church shelters child molesters.”

I’m not religious by any stretch of the imagination. I have several issues with organized religion, and by no means do I turn a blind eye to the abomination that’s happening with clergy abuse.

But Notre Dame is not just a place of worship. It doesn’t only represent the Catholic religion. The building has stood for nearly a thousand years. It is a magnificent feat of architecture and human achievement. It has withstood Revolutions and two World Wars. It houses some of the finest examples of art and history on the planet. It draws millions of people from around the world every year. To dismiss its significance on any level only demonstrates the narrow mindedness that separates people for unnecessary reasons.

This is not the first time the argument has been made against donating to one cause or another. Perhaps my favorite example of this is people who constantly slam those who donate time, money, and support to assisting refugees, saying that they ought to funnel those resources to veterans.

What they do not understand is that you can support more than one cause! Just because I donate $5/month to WQED does not mean I don’t care about my local animal shelter. Just because I send $20 to Notre Dame does not mean I didn’t donate money to the victims of the Tree of Life massacre that happened in my hometown this past October.

When 9/11 happened, or when Hurricanes Kartina and Sandy devastated the States, millions of dollars in donations poured in from all over the country and the world. Did anyone condemn or belittle those donors? Did anyone accuse them of not caring about their own neighborhood issues or global warming? No. So don’t dare do it in this instance.

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Do not presume that the human race doesn’t have room in their hearts or minds for more than one cause. You can love your country and its people and care about others at the same time.

Supporting each other, especially in light of tragedy, binds the human race on the most basic level. Let’s not turn it into another source or argument and accusation. We are living in a time when we absolutely cannot bear to draw any more lines that separate us.

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Seeing as it’s Women’s History Month…

*** This is NOT a book review ***

I recently finished a novel by Tracy Chevalier called Remarkable Creatures, which tells the story of two real-life women from the 1820’s who had a huge impact on modern science, but sadly not many people know about.

Considering March is Women’s History Month, and I haven’t done much recently to help fight the patriarchy, I wanted to take a few minutes to talk about the book and its two real-life characters that struck a chord with me.

Remarkable Creatures follows the story of Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot, two women who spent their lives combing the beaches of Lyme Regis, England looking for – and discovering – fossils.
This may not seem like such a big deal to us twenty-first century dwellers, but two hundred years ago, it was huge (and sometimes unsettling) news.
In the 1820s, people still weren’t sure how old the earth was. Almost no one believed it could possibly have been around for more than a few thousand years. Charles Darwin wouldn’t publish Origin of the Species for nearly four more decades. And no one dared to suggest that God had created creatures who eventually became extinct.

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But when Mary Anning was just twelve years old, she and her brother Joe found one of the first ichthyosaurs on the beach in what is now known as the Jurassic Coast. Along with her friend and companion Elizabeth Philpot, Mary would spend the rest of her life scouring the beaches for ammonites, belemnites, and vertebrae. Selling her discoveries to wealthy men and museums helped pull Mary and her family out of poverty, and she lived quite a unique and remarkable life for a woman of that time period.

While I’m not overly interested in fossils or geology or the like, and I found the novel a bit slow-moving,  I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed and sometimes saddened by Mary and Elizabeth’s story.

Some male scientists, geologists, and businessmen doubted the authenticity of her finds, and a few of them took advantage of her seemingly natural ability to discover these thought-provoking fossils. Though she had next to no formal education and zero professional training, Mary discovered, preserved, and documented her fossils with expert precision. But once the wealthy and professional men paid Mary their fees, several of them took credit for the scientific breakthroughs, and hardly anyone knew who was behind all the hard work.
Mary was never permitted to attend meetings of the Geological Society, and neither was her friend Miss Philpot, despite the latter’s higher social status. Despite the fact that these women were the ones with dirt under their fingernails and lines around their eyes from cleaning the intricate details of their discoveries, it was the wealthy men with high social rankings who benefited most from these breakthroughs.

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While there is now a museum dedicated to Mary in Lyme Regis, and she and Miss Philpot have been given credit for their finds in the British Museum and elsewhere, I can’t help but feel frustrated and sad that these women never got to fully enjoy the recognition they so deserved. Aside from making incredible contributions to science and geology, they deviated from the strict rules of society by never marrying and spending their time outside getting dirty instead of sipping tea and sewing. They maintained their independence and focused on what they were passionate about, and in Mary’s case, she may have even saved her family from the workhouse with her discoveries.

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Stories like this are what make Women’s History Month important. And it’s the unjust treatment that makes me realize how far we’ve come as a society — but also how far we have yet to go.

It may seem like we’re fighting losing battles when it comes to equal pay, toxic masculinity, paid maternity leave, and control over our own reproductive rights. But women like Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot strike inspiration by being quiet pioneers of movements essential to the growth of society.

Even if fossils aren’t your passion — even if they don’t strike your fancy for a hot second — I encourage you to read the novel or do some of your own research on these two amazing women who were far ahead of their time. At first glance, a reader may think that Remarkable Creatures is about the long-extinct and fascinating animals preserved in coastal rock. But upon closer inspection, it’s evident that the Remarkable Creatures in this book are the very real Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot.

** Here are a few websites I found useful and informative when I started researching Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot on my own:

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/discover/mary-anning-unsung-hero.html

https://www.famousscientists.org/mary-anning/

https://www.lymeregismuseum.co.uk/collection/mary-anning/

https://trowelblazers.com/elizabeth-philpot/

 

all photos courtesy of Google images unless otherwise noted

 

 

Lifting Spirits

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Another Tuesday or Thursday night, another three hours cleaning empty banks for an extra few bucks a month.

I was feeling bitter and lonely, unsuccessful and unfulfilled, and the bitterness only increased as I dusted, mopped, and emptied garbage.

By the time I made my way into the lobby of the bank where the ATM was situated, I was feeling so deflated I could hardly bring myself to care whether or not I was leaving streaks on the glass as I went over it with my squeegee. How was it possible that I was working two jobs and still feeling like it wasn’t enough? Not only were finances still tight but I felt like nobody — NOBODY — cared about how I toiled away at an 8-5, dragged myself to a second job two nights a week, took care of a husband, dog, and house, and still managed to devote any extra time in my life to writing.

Was a little recognition too much to ask?

As I turned to address the smudges on another pane of glass, an older black woman entered the lobby and made her way to the ATM.

“Hello,” I called halfheartedly. I always made it a point to greet customers so they knew they weren’t disrupting my cleaning.

“You’re doing a good job,” she replied without missing a beat, as if she had read my thoughts from mere seconds before. “We appreciate you.”

I bit my lip and held my breath to stop the tears from flowing. For a few moments the only sound in the lobby was the series of beeps from the ATM. “Thank you,” I eventually managed. “I kinda needed that tonight.”

The woman withdrew her receipt from the machine and shook her head. “Hey — it doesn’t matter if you’re the janitor or the CEO or the President of the United States — we all deserve recognition.”

“You’re right,” I replied, relief and gratitude flowing through me like ocean waves.

She chuckled. “Don’t know why I said ‘President’ though. He ain’t doing a very good job of anything right now.”

I laughed too. “I can’t argue with you there.”

She paused in the tiny lobby and we eyed each other. Me — white skin, dirty-blonde hair, mid-thirties, dressed in an old t-shirt and bleach stained sweatpants, cleaning up other peoples’ messes. Her — black skin, tall, and curvy, wild curls sprouting playfully from her head, a pair of red glasses perched on her nose, clad in heels, dress pants, and a knee-length trench coat lined with faux fur.

“I’m sixty-four year old,” she continued. “And I thought we were making some progress in this country.” she paused and shook her head. “But now we’re literally building walls to separate people.”

I shook my head too. “It’s not right.”

“We gotta look to what brings people together, not what sets us apart,” she went on. “I mean who would have thought you and I had anything in common?”

“I know what you mean,” I replied. “But I’m fighting right along with you.” Somewhere deep inside my dejected heart, I summoned a spark of hope. “We just gotta keep going.”

“Girl, we’re gonna be okay,” she told me confidently, and beckoned me closer with a wave of her hand. “Now come here and gimme a hug, sistah!”

I grinned and stepped into her embrace, taking comfort in the refuge of a perfect stranger and the unfamiliar scent and texture of her skin and clothes.

“You have a good night,” she said, stepping back out onto the dirty sidewalk to face the bitter cold.

“You too,” I called, heaving a shaky sigh as I watched her disappear.

I turned back to my bucket of wipes and sprays, my heart feeling infinitely lighter.

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Tree of Life

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On Saturday, the city I call home was devastated by an act of domestic terrorism. Eleven members of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community were shot and killed inside a synagogue during a traditional Jewish service. This happened fifteen minutes from where I live, just across the bridge.
My therapist’s office is in this neighborhood. I’ve had a part time job in this neighborhood and attended volunteer events here. I’ve gone to the library and eaten pizza here. Squirrel Hill is one of Pittsburgh’s most vibrant, diverse areas and the people who live and work there are a kind, close-knit group who need all the support and love the city and the rest of the world can offer.

My aunt, who grew up in Pittsburgh and now lives in Florida, wrote this poem in response to the tragedy, and I thought it deserved to be shared …

When I was a child 
we drove from Pittsburgh to Kittanning
to camp along the banks
of the Allegheny River.
On the ride, we sang silly songs.
At night we roasted corn
and made runny eggs for breakfast
to dip in bagels we bought
at a Jewish deli in Squirrel Hill.

There is a breeze
on this cool, fall Florida morning
along the Imperial River
hundreds of miles south of Kittanning.
I lay a spray of flowers
at water’s edge.
I whisper prayers
for the Tree of Life.

 

If you are wondering how you can help the victims of this senseless act of violence, there ARE things you can do:

  • Make a donation either through the Pittsburgh Penguins Foundation or GoFundMe.
    (Note: as I write this, $911,000 has been raised in THREE DAYS. I am SO touched and overwhelmed at the unending kindness).
  • Vote for candidates who support sensible gun laws.
  • Spread love and kindness. Don’t fight hate with hate.

 

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photos courtesy of Google images