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When Love Is Losing

A note before I dive in: As a writer (and a white person) with a creative outlet and some semblance of an audience, I will never be someone who sits on the sidelines. This blog is a place where all races, religions, sexualities, and genders are welcome and respected. This is a place where I will support and fight for these same groups, and their rights, continuously. If that bothers you, you know where the X is. Feel free to click it. If you align  yourself with racism, I don’t want your page views, or your political ones. 

There are certain moments in history you hope will never be repeated, moments you hope you never live to see or experience. Reality shattering, soul shifting, mind rocking, heartbreaking moments you prayed would never come. Watching white supremacists march down the streets with conviction in their eyes, hatred in their hearts, and fire in their hands is one of those moments.

The Vice documentary left me in a sloppy mess at my desk. Each time I watched these malignant pricks march down the streets, practically chanting the fucking Mob Song like Gaston and his white townsmen, ready to burn the castle down with their ignorant, racist, anti-semitic venom, a knot grew in my throat. Like many other privileged white people who don’t encounter this deep, unsettling, visceral spew every day, my insides were screaming at me. To turn it off. To tune it out. To take a break.

Instead, I watched it three more times.

 

I drove home from work the night that the Vice Documentary aired, and wondered, whom among my fellow roadside commuters, were white supremacists. I made my way to the grocery store and roamed the isles. I looked people in the eyes and wondered if any of the shoppers picking up basic human necessities wouldn’t want me to have basic human rights. Whom among us would want me dead had I been born Black, Muslim, or Jewish. The people in the documentary looked like they could be my ex boyfriends, my neighbors, my professors, my friends, my family, the people pumping gas next to me in the east coast town I grew up in. A  town where polos and tiki torches make regular appearances at Sunday barbecues. Some of them looked like me.

I wondered to such a deep point of discomfort that I left the grocery store, overwhelmed and empty handed.

This discomfort that we (to clarify, when I say “we”, I mean white people) are hopefully all feeling is paramount. It’s not something we get to run away from. It’s not something we can “choose love” our way out of. We don’t get to be sick of talking about, or reading about, or hearing about the negativity this time. We cannot change the channel, or the station, or the topic when this shit gets uncomfortable. It not something we get a free pass from because we’re too white to be directly affected by it. This temporary nightmare we’re witnessing from our shiny laptop screens is the everyday reality of our fellow Americans.

It’s not enough anymore to think we’re not being racist.
We have to ACTIVELY and AGGRESSIVELY be ANTI-racist.
We HAVE To be ANTI this bullshit:

 

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And choosing love? That’s fine. But let’s do something with it. Make choosing love actionable. Choose love in the form of showing up. To meetings. To protests. To rallies. Choose love in the form of getting educated. Getting involved. Getting ready to have difficult conversations with the people in our circles who threaten the mental, emotional, and physical safety of those inhabiting this country alongside us.

We must oppose and fight this savagery with all our might. We must prove to our fellow humans that we are better than this. That we are there for them. That we are aware this exists. That while these archaic views are emblematic of a grotesque time in our country’s history, one I wish I could undo with every atom of my being, these Neo-Nazis marching two by two, hurrah-hurrahing their way through our streets and our cities, conflating bigotry and facism with patriotism, do not represent where we are now. They do not represent where we are headed.

As much as I wish we could love our way out of this, it’s time to admit that the white supremacists have crawled out from the deepest corners of the internet. They are proudly marching on campuses and in public parks with their swastikas, and their flags, promoting genocide and calling it free speech. They are shouting into cameras. They are showing their faces. They are unafraid of being named for what they are.

Now you can sit there and think you’re not causing any harm by not fighting back. You can think that by not calling your senators, by not donating, by not writing, by not protesting, by not confronting racist comments when you hear them, that you’re not technically making things worse. You can pretend, if it feels safer (lucky you), that you have the right to opt out because you’re sick of engaging in the exhaustive list of important dialogues that NEED to happen around the clock. But just know that right now, your silence IS compliance.

This is a problem. Racists are our problem. And If we sit idly by and choose to be “sick of talking about it” because it’s uncomfortable, then we’re not choosing love. So don’t be a choose love bandwagon fan. Choosing love when love is winning is easy. You know why love wins? Because there are people on the front lines working their asses off and fighting for it. Suffering for it. Dying for it. I’m not downplaying the importance of celebrating each glorious victory, but we’re not there yet. Those punks with weapons and tiki torches just showed us we have a long way to go. Right now, it feels like we’re losing at this. Choosing love is hard when it’s losing.

Choosing love means standing the fuck up for it. And for each other.

  *   *   *   *

Here are a few documents, links, and resources for anyone interested. I’d love to keep adding to this list. For what it’s worth, everything on this list I have read, listened to, or watched myself. I have made a donation to Black Lives Matter Charlottesville, and I have written a letter to Maggie Hassan denouncing White Supremacy. I implore you to do what you can to fight this bigotry and make this country safe for everyone in it.

First – get familiar with the frightening landscape

A few additional resources:

 

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Show Me Your Scars

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I’ve always loved discovering other people’s scars, secretly tucked beneath collars and cuffs. I love fingers delicately dancing over calloused strips of discolored skin. A chin gash. A drunk mistake. A skinned knee. A tree climb break. Nobody makes it through life unscathed. But have you ever noticed we’ll brag about hitting every branch on the way down before we’ve confronted why we climbed that damn tree to begin with? What were we trying to find up there? Or what were we leaving behind down below? Our physical scars are merely poof that we survived something greater than the initial fall, and that kind of self-awareness is some scary shit.

Instead, we defend our leftover battle wounds and put our healed up bodies on display like battered trophies. We rarely discuss our emotional scars, giving little credit to the intelligence it takes to overcome internal trauma. We convince ourselves and others that our visible scars make us braver, stronger, and in the same breath, deny that the area is still a little tender, and that we’re still a little broken.

But we’re all a little broken, aren’t we?

The first time somebody discovers one of your scars, you will struggle to separate intention from preliminary research and genuine intrigue. You’re vulnerable. They have the vantage point. In this critical moment they are determining if you’re a suitable human being or certifiably insane. You decide against dueling with a straight shooter. Instead, you’ll talk about the time you did donuts in a parking lot covered with black ice. You lost control of the vehicle. Your face went through the windshield. But the vehicle wasn’t the only thing you lost control of that night.

You will leave out the part where you had a drinking problem. You will leave out the part where your mom died. Or your dad walked out. Or your girlfriend left you for your best friend. You will leave out the reckless parts of you that need addressing. The parts that need accepting. The parts that need love and understanding. Now you find it hard to give these things to yourself, and harder to give them to anyone else. Ten years later and it’s just another rotating story in your arsenal.

A badge of honor. A party trick. A thing chicks dig.

One night, when I was little, I wanted to brush my teeth. I was too impatient to wait and too stubborn to ask for help. Instead, I pushed a step stool up the bathroom sink and climbed on top of it myself. I then yanked the medicine cabinet open with such a force that I launched myself backwards. My skull connected with the edge of the porcelain throne, splitting the middle of my head open. Two decades later and it’s just another rotating story in my arsenal.

What I usually leave out of that story is that my parents spent most of their time in hospitals and nursing homes taking care of my older brother. There weren’t a lot of eyes on me, so I figured out how to do things on my own. Self-reliance was the first survival skill I learned. Autonomy became my sixth sense. Independence is a trait I still cling to. The scar serves as a deeply cut reminder that my reluctancy to accept help is a actually fault line. Ask me about it and I’ll show you the scar and tell you I’m too independent for my own good. 

I have the scars to prove it. 

How do we tell our stories and expect people to still love us the same? Well, I’ve stopped expecting people to love me. I’ve started telling my stories regardless. I’ve learned that our emotional fibrosis is just comprised of our connective experiences. Gradually, the pain subsides. The skin toughens. We learn to shy away from sharing the things that make us human.

But eventually, someone will get close enough to unbutton your collar or pull up your cuff. They will probe the break that took twenty years to heal. When this happens, I hope you’re brave enough to bare your brokenness knowing it could leave a deeper wound altogether. I hope you invite others to run their fingers over your calloused skin. Show them your chin gash. Your drunk mistake. Your skinned knee. Your tree climb break. Most of all, I hope you find a new reason to climb to the top of that damn tree. Should you slip and hit every branch on the way down, I hope you tell your story.

I hope you share your scars with them.

 


 

Please note: This piece is an adapted version of a piece I originally wrote for Medium.

Get Money.

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Being creative is cool. You know what else is cool?

Getting paid.

That’s right, I said it. Money. The stuff that puts gas in my car and keeps my electricity on. The stuff I shell out to Navient every month because I’ve been out of college for seven years and my student loans are still very real. Being serious about your work means being realistic about what your work is worth. What YOU are worth. It means believing it, and not being ashamed to say it out loud without feeling like an asshole. Your job isn’t to protect your clients’ feelings. Your job is to do your job, do it well, and get paid for it.

This blog post isn’t about getting paid for stuff. It’s actually about not getting paid for stuff. But before I dive in, let me say this: Get money.

Because whether you’re dealing with contracts, lawyers, agencies, brands, or one off clients, money conversations can be awkward, tricky, and confusing. Mike Monteiro’s Creative Mornings talk, Fuck You, Pay Me,  is one of my favorite articulations of why not being bashful about getting paid is paramount. My ideas will make you money. Period. That campaign you’re going to use all year? Money. That tagline you’re going to slap on your packaging, or on a billboard, that hundreds of thousands of people will see? Money. Those blog posts you want to use to build your brand voice, which is actually my voice, that you’ll leverage to differentiate your company from all the other like-minded companies in your industry? Money.

Asking for compensation does not make you an asshole. It makes you a professional. You feel me?

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But there’s another side of work that I think is equally important. It’s the side where I do, occasionally, work for free. I know there are people who passionately disagree with me.  Business Insider even wrote an article about how annoying it is. While I believe fervently in earning dolla bills for my craft, I also haven’t forgotten what it’s like to be just starting out. To not know where to go. To know I’m worth something, but to not yet have any real proof or credibility. I’d be delusional if I thought I could honestly sit here and say I got where I am without some good ol’ fashioned free help along the way.

There’s the blogger friend who recommended me to the first agency that hired me. She knew I had no formal advertising experience, but also felt I was capable of writing social media content. (Sup, Kate! Forever grateful for you.) There’s my former colleague, Lexie, who spent hours of her time helping me build a deck that reflected my capabilities early in my career. (She also introduced me to Keynote. I was young and naïve.) There’s Roo who gave me free input on rebranding my blog years ago at a café in New York. There have been hundreds of phone calls and lunch chats in between, because being in the presence of people who know their shit is inspiring. While my intention was never to scrounge for free advice, they kindly and willingly gave it.

That’s why, when a friend (or even a random person) asks to chat, I say yes when I can. Sometimes it means saying, “The next few weeks are crazy. Let’s look at next month!” (I  did this today.) Sometimes it means utilizing my 45-minute commute. Sometimes it means responding to an email on my lunch break when a friend asks for help. Help within the creative community is one of the many reasons I love being part of it. Giving it helps me stay in touch with the fact that I started somewhere. I want people to believe in their creative magic. To believe their ideas have merit. That they’re capable of succeeding at the thing they love. If that means subjecting myself to an occasional touch base with a creative, passionate person who’s excited about their potential, then so be it.

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And look, I’m not condemning people for being busy. Hell, I’m busy. I say no to things because I’m busy all the time. But I don’t want to be remembered for being busy. I want to be remembered for being generous. Note: Not so generous that I’m giving out free ideas. That’s my line in the sand. That’s where we press pause and talk budget. It’s frustrating when people think ideas sprout out of the ground like weeds after the first rainy week in spring. Coming up with ideas, good ideas, takes uninterrupted time. My ideas WILL cost me time, and they WILL cost you money.

What I am condemning is the elitist attitude I come across occasionally in the creative community where we start acting like our time is the only valuable time. We can give once in a while, and our bank accounts (and schedules) won’t crumble. If it helps, set boundaries around the meeting. Ask what the objective is. Have a clear start and a hard stop. End with, “If there’s anything else I can do for you in future, I’d be happy to sit down and talk about a budget.” If you’re so self-important that it feels daunting, imagine that the person you’re rolling your eyes at is the most connected badass on the planet. I’ve lost track of the number of intros, projects, and opportunities that have come my way because I sat down with someone for 15 minutes.

This week, try to take 15 minutes and help someone. For free. I’m not advocating for saying yes all the time, to all the things, especially when you know you logistically can’t. I’m advocating for not being self-aggrandizing about saying it. When you feel that flash of annoyance creeping in, remember that it’s perfectly okay to know what your time is worth. Asking for money doesn’t make you an asshole. Being an asshole makes you an asshole.

Don’t be one.

Self-Care Saturday

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Between agency work, a freelance gig, a few speaking opportunities, a few writing opportunities, a give my opinion on random stuff opportunity, a conference, side projects (like this blog!) and breathing in between, it’s safe to say my plate has been pretty full lately. Exciting full! Making shit happen full. I was riding the wave of possibility and saying yes to everything, when I hit a massive wall last night. I left the office, came home, and worked for one more hour to finish a satisfying week. Almost as if my eyes knew I could finally rest, I closed my computer at 7:30 p.m. and exhaustion took over. I was beyond fatigued. Within an hour, I was in physical pain. My eyes were red, my thoughts were fuzzy, my muscles felt tense, and I was having trouble forming full sentences.

Heard, understood, and acknowledged. I need TO CHILL. I went to sleep without technology, and vowed to wake up on Saturday prepared to spend the entire day taking care of myself.

Self care is this thing we talk about like it’s always in the future. Ten Steps to Better Self-Care!!! *Pins self-care survival kit.* I think it’s healthy to plan ahead for self-care, but sometimes you need it now. Sometimes you can’t wait another minute because your body is flipping over the closed for business sign. This is me speaking as an unmarried, childless, 29-year-old, but when that kind of burn out becomes normal, you have to prioritize yourself above your work, above your friends, above your partner, above everything.

So I woke up this morning asking myself, “How can I take better care of myself TODAY?”

NOURISH

Breakfast and I have a complicated relationship. It’s actually my favorite meal of the day to eat and make. If I could, I’d have breakfast three meals a day. There’s something cathartic about being in the kitchen first thing in the morning. Soft light. Messy hair. Soulful music. Full belly. Love. During the week, if it means getting an extra half-hour of sleep I settle for a Luna bar and coffee on the go. I pair this with an, “I’ll have something more substantial when I get to work!” Then, I get to work and forget. This morning, I woke up sans alarm, and made myself a sausage, egg, and cheese breakfast sandwich with a side of sautéed spinach. And my coffee, obviously.

DECLUTTER.

My room is as overwhelming to be in as my brain right now. Piles of laundry, two unpacked bags from recent trips, and creative briefs scattered along my night stand. It’s all cyclical. When my room feels cluttered, I don’t sleep well. When I don’t sleep well, I skip breakfast. When I skip breakfast, I’m a hungry, miserable, less productive version of myself. So I spent two hours this afternoon doing laundry, vacuuming, unpacking, and de-cluttering. If I didn’t need it, it went in the garbage. If I haven’t worn it, I donated it. If it was tied to a person, place, or experience that no longer serves me, I threw it out. My room is back to being the etherial haven it was always meant to be.

BRAIN

If there’s anything more cluttered than my room right now it’s my brain. I have so much in there, and I keep cramming more in. It’s like I’m going on vacation and trying to bring ALL the things. I don’t know what the weather’s going to be like, so I pack shorts and jeans. I might go to something fancy, so I’ll need a gown. Which means I’ll need heels. I’ll want to work out, so I throw in my running sneaks. And a wind breaker in case I’m on a freaking boat at some point. And…wait. Where am I going? That’s my brain. It’s overflowing with stuff I’m excited and passionate about, but that stuff is taking over. I took a half hour after eating breakfast to meditate, and realized it was the first time in weeks I’d sat in silence with no interruptions. Usually yoga is my time to give my brain a break, but I’ve been missing it. And clearly, missing that quiet time.

Side note: I’m sure someone will tell me I’m supposed to meditate on an empty stomach, but I’m just doing the best I can, you dig?

SKIN (AND SLEEP)

Question: What does two weeks of no sleep do to your skin?
Answer: Pisses it off.

Guys, my skin is so pissed at me. From the bags under my eyes, to the chronic dryness, to the small bumps I get along my jaw line when I’m especially stressed out, (I’m a jaw clencher. Trying to stop.) my skin just isn’t happy. It basically looks and feels like a broken Terra Cotta pot. I was planning on trying to squeeze in a facial this weekend but the snowstorm camped my style. Instead, I treated myself to nine hours of sleep and a steam room treatment at the gym, followed by an at home face mask made with avocado, honey, and oatmeal.

BODY

Speaking of yoga, the last time I worked out was last Thursday. I went for a 5k run, did some core work, and vowed to come back the next day. Okay fine, two days later. OKAY, over the weekend. Ugh. Next week. Fast forward to now. I trudged through the storm today for another 5k run, but I hated every mile. That said, the runner’s high followed me around for the duration of the day. This lack of discipline is entirely my fault. Instead of making my body a priority, I’m making my computer a priority. Sometimes that happens, but it can’t happen all the time. You know what happens to your body when you don’t make it a priority? It stops working for you.

Aaaaaand here we are.

I’m hoping to find ways in the next few weeks to be more mindful about folding self-care more consciously and frequently into what “routine” I have. I’m trying to get better at recognizing my bad-to-myself habits, like working until 2am and functioning on 5 hours of sleep for starters. The goal is to not shut down to the point where I need to spend an entire day recovering from life. Working hard is one thing, but working so hard that life starts to hurt is an entirely different thing. It’s called burn out. And I learned on Friday night that it’s super real.

Take care of yourself, friends. There’s only one of you!

xx

The Ones Who Love First

cb-9There are two kinds of lovers in this world. The ones who wait to be loved, and the ones who dare to love first. The key to winning, the ones who wait will tell you, is to show just enough enthusiasm to appear intrigued without looking eager. Feign just enough interest to appear engaged, without seeming desperate. Allow just enough transparency to appear relatable, without feeling exposed. Love is simply about appearing. Appearing intelligent. Appearing witty. Appearing worthy. Appearing available. Appearing out of thin air. And the trick, they say, to keeping the other person interested, is to make damn well sure they know you’re capable of disappearing at any time. Love is a game of power, and you lose when you love first.

To the ones who dare to love first,

For some you will be too much. Too much grit. Too much force. Too much impact. Too much pressure. The devastation you are capable of will cause others to seek shelter. You are a glorious storm, seismic and ferocious. A cataclysmic tidal wave. A brutal drought. You are a 9.5 earthquake. When it feels like everything inside of you is trembling and raging at once, and you’re begging for inner peace, know that you are not a leaf in the breeze, a marsh reed, a tumbleweed, for a reason. How special you are to be one who creates such movement instead one who waits to be moved.

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c/o Emma Jane Kepley

To the ones who dare to love first,

Your heart is your Magnum Opus. You will feel so deeply and valiantly that others won’t always understand or appreciate your mastery. You have dedicated your life to making all things beautiful. Even the dirtiest people and places on earth shine with your touch. This optimism will be your strongest asset and your greatest downfall. As the artist, you forfeit the right to determine how your work is perceived the minute you release it into the world. You can get your work in the eyes of the masses but it is not your job to convince them to decorate their lives with you. Your only job is to make more of it.

To the ones who dare to love first,

You will lose people by caring too greatly. By loving too soon. Let them go. When each loss roars more intensely than the last, roar back. Your love is a wild animal, primal and unbridled. It does not wait to be fed when it is hungry. It was meant for licking palms, and faces, and wounds clean. Those who want to love you from afar are not brave enough for your love. Those who feel safer standing behind three inches of glass are not bold enough for your love. There is a lionhearted love that wants to devour you whole. It is just as feral as your own. It will not watch you do back flips. It will not feed you table scraps. It will not keep you captive.

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c/o Emma Jane Kepley

To the ones who dare to love first,

When the ones who wait to be loved appear out of thin air, with all of the intelligence, and wit, and worth they can muster, you will love them first and desperately. You will love them torrentially and relentlessly. You will love them fiercely and savagely. When they place the risk of losing their power above the risk of losing you, you must remember, this is not personal. You must remember, they think this is a game they are winning, but caring the least is a lonely accolade when coming in first means loving last. You must remember, they haven’t yet learned there are two kinds of lovers in the world.

The ones who wait to be loved,
and you.

What should I wear? Whatever I want.

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Photo c/o Linsey Shaw

This holiday season I bopped merrily and brightly into a party wearing a long red dress. The mood was loud and light as friends and family snacked and sipped their drinks. Coat still on and presents still in hand, I exchanged Merry Christmases and one arm hugged each person sitting around the kitchen island. A man whom I hadn’t seen in months stood to greet me. He embraced me warmly, the way old friends do.

This was immediately followed by a comment on my outfit.

“You need to put a slip on.”

For context, my dress was not see-through.
For clarity, this justification is not necessary.

My face turned red. I’ve been known to have a sharp tongue with a lightning fast response time. A SLIP? Oh. You mean the garment invented in the 1940s to make sure women covered their legs appropriately? I’ll get right on that. So in these situations, I try to find a moment of pause to assess the intention before reacting. I wasn’t willing to chalk this up to whether or not he meant well. His remark was loud enough for me to hear, loud enough to make me uncomfortable, but quiet enough to sneak under the radar. This way, he could slink seamlessly back to his drink as if nothing had happened, all while feeling as if he’d done me a favor.

As a woman, receiving comments about my appearance is nothing new. In fact, I’ve had this interaction with hundreds of men over the course of my life. I’ve been told my lipstick was “a bit much.” I’ve been told my romper was “hideous.” I’ve been told I’d be prettier if I wore more makeup. This time, it wasn’t an opinion. It was a command.

Put a slip on.

I stepped back from the kitchen island to face him squarely.
“YOU need to stop commenting on what I wear.”
He scoffed and rolled his eyes, so I reasserted myself.
“Unless I ask for your opinion, you can keep it to yourself.”

The party grew quiet.

Still wearing my coat and holding presents, I excused myself and walked briskly into a bedroom. I needed a breather. I took off my coat, placed my bags on the bed, and replayed the interaction in my head several times. What happened next still disturbs me.

I opened my bag and dug through my belongings, searching for an alternative outfit. Surely I brought a backup…Because I usually pack an extra outfit in case some dude has any varying degree of problems with what I’m wearing. Then, I rummaged through the drawers for a pair of, I kid you not, pantyhose. I’ve never worn pantyhose in my life, probably because they’re called PANTYHOSE! Standing in front of a full-length mirror, I measured the slit in my dress, which fell below my right knee. It didn’t matter. As a grown woman, there I was examining my body, placing my fingertips against the side of my dress like a fucking 9th grader arguing with the principal about whether or not my outfit was “too distracting.”

There he was, telling me to cover up.

The man eventually pulled me aside to apologize, but only because a few of the houseguests heard about his remark and urged him to do so. Before apologizing, he asked me which part of his comment upset me. My instinct was to tell him that if he had to ask, he wasn’t ready to apologize, but I didn’t actually want an apology. I wanted understanding. I took it as an opportunity to educate.

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Photo c/o Linsey Shaw

My response to any man who acts this way is this:

When you make an unsolicited comment on a woman’s appearance, before even saying hello to her, you are telling her that the way she looks is what matters the most. It isn’t. When you declare what a woman should wear, you are undermining her own decision to put what SHE wants on her body, as if you have a right to make a woman doubt herself. You don’t. When you roll your eyes after a woman asks you not to treat her a certain way, you are telling her that she doesn’t have the authority to stand up to you, and for herself. She does.

If you’re willing to act this way toward a mutual friend, I assume you’d be willing to act this way toward other women. Other women who may not have the courage to speak up for themselves, who will take your disparaging remarks to heart. Young women, who haven’t yet developed confidence in a world where every magazine is telling her what she needs to be more of. Little girls who haven’t developed the articulatory skills needed to stand up in these situations. She will have to re-learn that she is enough simply by being a little girl. By being a woman. By being a PERSON. And whether you want to take accountability or not, your “harmless opinions” are a threat to their self-esteems.

To these women I say this: Wear whatever the fuck you want. Be whomever the fuck you want. Do whatever the fuck you want. And if someone challenges you, say whatever the fuck you want to the person who is making you feel small.

I chose this dress because I felt like it. Because I feel good in it. Because at 28 years old I am my own adult guardian, and I’m capable of deciding what to put on my body. I don’t follow you around critiquing your choices, so what makes you think you can shame me for mine? That’s not rhetorical. I’m ASKING you. I want an answer. Is it because it was a holiday and you thought I WOULDN’T ruin the festive mood? Is it because we were in the company of others and you thought I WOULDN’T make things uncomfortable? Is it because you thought by now I’d be so exhausted with this topic, the fact that women STILL have to justify our decisions, that I WOULDN’T challenge your archaic opinions? That I WOULDN’T write 1,000 words about it? Or is it simply because you found my outfit so distracting that you thought you wouldn’t be able to enjoy your scotch and political discourse unless I put a slip on for you?

On all accounts, you thought wrong.

And For My Next Trick, I’ll Reassemble.

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photo cred: Emma Jane Kepley

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last year, it’s that in most situations, you’ll stumble upon your biggest breakthroughs just beyond what you think you can stand. Endurance is a magnificent thing. If we choose to actively pursue it, our capacity to bounce back stronger after emotional trauma is a nod to how remarkable the human spirit is. I think we assume we can’t do something simply because it looks scary, because it hurts, or because it seems difficult. To gain access to that type of endurance, you have to surrender to the growth it lends itself to. That type of growth takes hard work and heart work, and there are no shortcuts.

Which leads me to the piece you’re now reading.

Publishing this is well-beyond the edge of my comfort zone. I’m taking a big mothertruckin’ step here. I’ve avoided for this piece for an entire week. I could sit here and say I don’t know why, but I do. Because, hello! It’s scary. It hurts. It’s difficult. It doesn’t mean I haven’t moved on, it just means I’m human. Publishing this piece required me to reach deep into the pockets of discomfort. It also required me to reach out to the other party for their green light. Normally, I’m not one to wait for green lights when it comes to owning my story. That’s sort of the whole point of this blog. Still, somehow after the chaos, we maintain unwavering mutual respect and camaraderie. It is questionable at worst and admirable at best. But, like I said, human.

Rehashing old wounds feels like a step backward, so I’ll try to make this less about rehashing and more about reassembling.

Last weekend would have been the one-year…anniversary? Or another word we use as a yearly reminder of something we’d prefer to forget. A one-year “observance” of a morning I’ve relived hundreds of times since it happened, only it hit me harder last weekend than I expected it to. Perhaps, someday, I’ll stop remembering the date. The events that took place will soon become a mere chapter in my overall life story. Regardless of when I start forgetting, I spent all day last Friday remembering. I also spent it sleeping, watching Friends reruns, texting my friends that I love them, and MAYBE eating nachos in bed.

The aftermath of betrayal is dark and lonely. When somebody you trust lies to you, everything gets called into question. Everything. It’s a slippery slope when you start doubting your own competence. One minute you’re questioning an entire relationship and the next minute you’re questioning your intelligence. This was never about you. Your memory. This was NEVER about you. Your self-worth. THIS WAS NEVER ABOUT YOU. It will stay like that until you accept the reality of your circumstance. Even then, when somebody continuously breaks you down like a cardboard box, the decision to reassemble is last on your list of to-dos, especially when you’d love nothing more than to disappear with the morning recycling

Over the course of a year I disappeared almost completely. The funny thing about disappearing is everyone sees it but you. In the midst of losing your sense of self, you will also lose more obvious things. Weight. Sleep. The wheel. You will become a mere outline of yourself until you wake up one night in the dark and realize you’ve erased too much. You should know by now that you cannot erase yourself to help others define themselves. That realization will be your first step of many. Each step you take thereafter, no matter how small, will be further along than the day before. One year later it will no longer be, “Look how far I have to go.” It will be, “Look how far I’ve come.”

Please note: Some days you’ll take no steps at all. Instead, you will sleep, watch Netflix, text your friends, and MAYBE eat nachos in bed. Be gentle with yourself on those days.

Betrayal forces your hand. You either have to gamble or fold. We did both, gambling for eight more months and eventually folding. Only then was I able to see the third, hidden option. Reassembling. Because here’s the deal. (Ha, see what I did there?) You can fall apart and stay apart, or you can slowly put yourself back together. Whether it’s betrayal, heartbreak, uncertainty, insecurity, fear, grief, (or the general ambiguity of our current political landscape—wink) you CAN choose to open up your heart, clear out the dust, and let the light in. Let it make you awesome. It will certainly mean enduring a whole lot of pain first. You have to assess the damage before you gain access to it. From there, all you can do is refuse to let the hard things make you hard.

I’ve accepted that I am not who I was before. That version of myself is gone. But you know what? I like the person I am today, somehow even more. I am bolder. I am stronger. I am more self-aware. I am kinder. I am more understanding. I am better assembled. Before the breakdown, I existed based only on the information I had at hand. After the breakthrough, I have learnings, and I’m using them. The beauty of reassembling is you get to put yourself back together however you’d like. I decided I didn’t want to be a cardboard box ever again. Cardboard boxes can be broken down. They are dark inside. They are empty. I wanted to be an open room, and I wanted to be filled with light.

Because watching yourself disappear for a year is the darkest magic there is.