Monday, June 30, 2014

Cultivating Gardens

I believe in the strength and power of music and written word.

I believe that all of us have that one song that got us through that awful breakup, or your parents divorce, or that leaves a bittersweet aftertaste in your mouth while listening to it because it reminds you of a memory you miss that you can never get back. All of a sudden, the beginning chords strike, and you are immediately pulled back to that moment that continues to stick in your mind when you first heard that song. You are overcome with the emotions you felt while listening to said song. You remember the landscape of where you were, who you were with, what you were doing, what people were saying. Sometimes music sets a reminder to us that the past never goes away.

I also believe a lot of us have that one book that you always go back to because sometimes you feel discouraged by people leaving so often, but then this book reminds you that it is always here and is always beckoning you to open and explore its pages once again, or that book that is your escape from reality, the place where you go whenever you feel upset, fed up, or angry--whether it be to Westeros, or Narnia, or Hogwarts, or 19th century England….it's probably really weird to say that you "connect" with a book, but for those who have had it happen to them, I'm sure you get it too. You are completely transported to that world, those characters seem like for those brief days you are leafing through its pages that they are almost real. It's kind of like you have this humongous book hangover whenever you are done reading--you're still pulled into that other world of the book, however now the pages have run out, the characters stories are over, yet here you are, still breathing, still….existing. When a book really hits home for you and changes your way of thinking, or a particular set of poems, all of these things just seem completely unfathomable to you. You're still writing your story. And it doesn't abruptly end with "and they all lived happily ever after."

Books and music have the power to transform, to change this world for the better. You think you're so disconnected from certain people, that they're way too different from you, and then you find out that they also listen to Dave Matthews Band and swoon when Stefan Lessard tears it up on bass, or have also read The Catcher in the Rye and Holden Caulfield just also spoke to them so damn much. Literature and songs are written in so many different languages, yet emotions scream off the page as one united form of communication. I constantly find myself connecting to complete strangers because they took the risk of pouring out their feelings and publishing it into a book or putting a melody to their words and putting it out there online in the hopes that other people who have felt the same way will feel connected to the way they felt when creating those stories, and that maybe after all they won't feel so alone. I think one of my favorite days this past semester was when I walked to the Carnegie Library on a Friday afternoon when I didn't have to work, I walked in hoping to look up and read part of a biography on Margaret Thatcher, or re-read one of Gloria Naylor's works. Instead, I saw a book display on the first floor that read: "Afghan Women's Poetry." Intrigued, I walked over and started browsing through the books they had propped up for people to pick up and browse through. I picked up a book that was a collection of poems written by women in traditional Pashto, translated. All I had to do was open to the first page, and there was a short poem written by a young woman who was assaulted one day while walking home from town and how she felt deemed worthless because of her "impurity." The next 160 or so pages were filled with words of hope, depression, worry, anger, frustration, injustice….you know, the United States is not a war zone. However, it is amazing to me that it is possible to still relate to someone who is halfway around the world who was raised and continues to  live in a completely different world than your own. However, our words, when translated, and our emotions unite as one.

These are just a few reasons why I get a little saddened when people tell me they hate to read. I can promise you something: you don't. I think there are a lot of correlations between music and writing besides just song lyrics, and if you don't hate music, I can assure you, you don't hate reading. You just haven't found that one book that speaks to you yet, that one author that pens sentences that seem to sum up your existence and everything you feel onto a page, which you never thought previously was possible. Just wait for it. Because it is going to be one of the most relieving, comforting things ever when you do.

You know how you're always told growing up that someday you are going to meet and marry your soulmate and everything's going to be all cupcakes and rainbows and happy times? I think a lot of people neglect to tell us when we're young that it's possible to find our soul mates through writing, through songs, through reading different books. Soul mates aren't just found in fellow human beings. Sometimes you can find fragmented parts of your soul in things other humans create, especially when they exert passion into something. Yeah, they also forgot to mention to us that everything isn't all cupcakes and rainbows and sunshine when you do meet your soulmate, but that's okay. Having a soulmate makes it all better because it means you have someone there to sit with you and love you when things aren't perfect. You find appreciation in imperfect things and love them anyways.

Great literature is waiting for you to fall in love with it. So are songs. If you don't believe me, be patient. Just like that "right" person is going to come along for you, I can guarantee you that "right" book and that "right" song will be coming along sometime soon too.

One of my most distinct memories from when I was younger was the summer eve that the sixth Harry Potter book was supposed to come out. There was going to be a huge party to celebrate the launch of the book. I had mentioned to my parents the week before that I wanted to go so badly, that I knew it was way past when 12-year-old-me was supposed to be out, especially in Miami, but I really just wanted them to make an exception this one time (on another note, what a huge effing dork I was. Yeah, I was twelve, but whatever.) They briskly told me they would "think about it," before turning away and getting back to whatever it was they were doing that day. The mood around my house was tense at this point; my parents had been fighting for weeks, my mom having came home several weekend nights at 3 am that were turning into week days. I felt like my parents were slipping away from me. I knew something was wrong, as I had snooped through my mom's phone at the wrong time and saw several explicit text messages between her and another guy, another guy that was definitely not my dad. I knew better than to say anything. I didn't realize at the time that I could try to glue back together my broken family all I wanted, but it wasn't going to stop the cracks from coming out again and continuing to fragment and decay. I thought every time my mom came home in the wee early hours, drunk, without her wedding ring on, and I would hear my parents screaming at each other, that me making them aware to the fact that I was awake by making noise and turning my bedroom light on was going to stop the fighting. It didn't. It only continued to store up the anger and hurt that they felt towards each other. My parents weren't each others soul mates, and I had a hard time accepting that….because really, isn't that all you want besides from your parents besides for them to love you and support you?

Finally one night, the cap blew off on all that pent up anger and hatred and everything was out. My dad had caught my mom in a lie and found out that she had been having an affair. The fight got so bad that I remember in blurs there being several broken kitchen appliances and tableware scattered all over our dining room and kitchen, and a police car blaring its lights outside our front door, a sheriff aggressively pounding on the wood to let himself into our broken household that was beyond repair at this point. Despite my awful track record with dating, I think love can fix everything. It's just how much you have of it that really is the determining factor of whether two people are going to get through something or not. My parents just did not love each other enough to make it work out. I was put in a car and next thing I knew I was at a friend's house for the night. An hour later, my dad showed up at my friends front door. I was sad I had missed that stupid launch party for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, reiterating to my friend Sarah that I couldn't wait to read the book. In actuality, I knew that it didn't really freaking matter. I just wanted something light to keep my mind off of the mindfuckery that just happened. My dad came into Sarah's house with a small bag. He handed it over to me before kissing me on the forehead and heading out for the evening. I opened the bag and saw a brand spankin' new copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Oh my god. I finally had it! I stayed up all night and the whole next day reading it, throwing myself into the non-Muggle world, trying in every way shape and form to escape the reality that was my looming parent's divorce. Hogwarts was there to welcome me to a landscape that was completely different from all the anger I was surrounded by constantly. I always credit the support of my friends, and books and music to getting me through the first difficult period of my life.

Another memory I recall was shortly following the divorce and a prompt move up to Stuart, a small, sleepy beach town about an hour away from Miami. My dad and I were taking a drive up the coastline to Vero Beach, just the two of us. It was our "thing". You know how you probably have some distinct memory with your parents that either just your mom or just your dad do with you and you guys always bond over it? Maybe your dad runs into your room and sings along to a stupid song to cheer you up when you're sad, or your mom holds you close to her heart when you feel like the world around you is falling apart. My dad and I's thing (since I had outgrown being able to fall asleep on his chest to listen to his heartbeat every night as I did when I was a baby, apparently) besides making mix tapes is that we like to get in the car on random weekend afternoons and go for drives close to the shoreline and just talk and listen to music. One day, my dad opened up to me about things that had happened to him before him and my mom had met, my mom's past, and secrets that I had felt were kept from me for the past few years. He was an open book that day, and as we were listening to music, the acoustic version of "Times Like These" by the Foo Fighters came on one of several mix tapes we had made for each other. A line of the lyrics lines go, "It's times like these you learn to live again."

My dad turned it up right at that line, looked at me, and said, "This is our new beginning, kiddo. Listen to this whenever you feel like you're starting to slip back."

I do. I do every time, Dad.

I've never owned a garden myself, but I do know that you have to water your plants and tend to it, in other words cultivate it, for it to stay alive and to flourish. It's challenging, but with work, it grows and is more open and beautiful than ever. Gardens require weed whackers, and water, and soil and strong hands to continue for it to flourish.

Your mind is a garden too, in a sense. And it requires cultivating. Our tools to cultivate are a little different though than your standard garden. I think books and music are two of the most important. They grow us. They comfort us. They expand our minds. They remind us that we're living.

 And sometimes, they might even save you a little and remind you that everything's gonna be okay.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

"I go to seek a Great 'Perhaps'"

I've never been much of a stand out student, or stand out person for that matter.

To this day, one of the most paralyzing moments of my life was during my high school graduation. It was a windy day, I was focusing on not letting my cap fly off of my head while trying to sit and look pretty for the event photographer who was taking snaps at the most random moments when Alec, our male class speaker, went up to the podium. He went on to make a great speech, as was expected of Alec, and during one portion of his speech he started pointing out our classmates and what made them "special", what they were good at. It seemed as though basically everyone was named off in my class except for me. "Oh, Kat's great with animals.....!  Myrthe's going to be great in the sciences!" On and on the list went, and I kept hoping that there was a distinguishable quality about me that was worth pointing out. These people had been going to school with me for three years, maybe they would find something special. Apparently there wasn't, as Alec continued to move on from speaking about my class and delved into the cliche portion of every graduation speech that goes a little something like "Things are gonna change when we move away from here and move on with our lives..." Everyone else moved on like it wasn't a big deal, and in retrospect it shouldn't have been. Alec's manner in which he brought it up was meant to be encouraging and positive in the way he was directly addressing my fellow classmates, but I was sitting in my seat for the rest of the ceremony, too enthralled with the fact that I had been spending most of every day of 9 months for three years with these people, and they couldn't find a distinguishing quality about me. It scared me. Oblivion wasn't just inevitable for me, as Augustus Waters was so worried about in The Fault in Our was already happening. I hadn't even officially left the halls of my high school as a graduated senior, and I was already forgotten about.

I know for a fact most people would not associate the word "perfectionist" with me, but the truth is, I have a very strong perfectionist streak that runs through me. I didn't even notice it until recently when one of my professors pulled me aside after class one day and pointed it out to me. "Alex," he stated as he sat at his desk with his feet propped up and beckoned me over, "I know you have probably spent your whole life being told that you have amazing potential. Really though, I think you would be more satisfied and less continuously frustrated if you applied yourself more. I've seen you do it at this point now, and have noticed you're almost obsessive about doing whatever it is that you're setting your mind to perfectly. Do you ever think that you so often just give up before you even try a first time because of this overarching fear of failure if you don't have control over the situation completely or simply because you shrink at the slightest sign of discouragement? You don't apply yourself most of the time because you don't believe in yourself."

Well, it would certainly in a sense explain most of the nightmares I've been having--nightmares that have included a guy breaking up with me because I wasn't the best or prettiest girlfriend, nightmares of me getting back my LSAT score and finding out I had failed, nightmares of my first day in law school, my classroom filled to the brim with people from my past who were ever discouraging or mean to me, nightmares where I got dropped from my modeling agency because I had gained too much weight. 

It all suddenly hit me like a swift slap to the face, and all I could think to myself was, "I guess he's right, but dammit, this asshole barely knows me and he just psychoanalyzed me. Cool, now I'm going to be his signature 'work in progress/pet project' for the semester and he's not going to lay off my case at all. Great. Just great." This isn't the first professor or teacher that's taken an invested interest in me. I understand it is a teacher's job to go out of their way to help develop their students, even if it means chipping in more hours off the clock. I just really don't think I'm someone worth spending extra time on. 

I really have never thought I was anything special. People say my writing and my eye for fashion are two of my strongest attributes, but I think my writing is especially mediocre. I get sidetracked extremely quickly and often have a case of going over something someone else wrote, and when they make a great point or have that one strong defining sentence that really hits a nail on the head,  thinking to myself, "Why couldn't I have written that myself? I wish I had." My blog is merely one out of millions of others written by enlightened people with strong epiphanies that were worth sharing, or were traveling the world and needed to share the details of their growth while abroad. What makes my blog so special, what makes my writing so special? I'm just a beyond confused 21 year old girl trying to figure out my greater purpose in life is while trying to tackle my day-to-day tasks and relationships. Which sounds a lot like the plot of a John Hughes movie, minus the invested love interest I end up with in the end and the awesome 80's soundtrack. 

My taste in fashion is something I find fun but also very shallow, at least in my approach towards it. I don't feel I give other people joy by dressing nicely. It doesn't give me much of a personality, it doesn't give me the depth that makes me someone worth knowing. People spent years telling me to go into fashion journalism because I'd be "good at it." A part of me was extremely flattered, as fashion writing and fashion magazines have provided much solace and temporary happiness and have proven to be a great pick-me-up on bad days. They were my form of escapism growing up, when I couldn't leave the house or travel. However, a much greater part of me strongly thought to myself, "That's it? That's all you see me doing with the rest of my life, other than supposedly being a great mom? You don't expect something greater of me?" I realized if I had continued to follow down this path in life that I would quickly develop a strong case of Betty Draper housewife syndrome. Which just sounds sad. I knew my heart wouldn't be into fashion 100% had I continued to pursue it, and I would've been miserable.

To those boys and girls that grow up getting told they'd make great doctors, or lawyers, or engineers, or well....anything that's considered a "respectable career" by traditional standards, you are so lucky. So lucky.  I am jealous of you. I get told I'd be a great writer. You know what most great writers do? They write, go crazy isolating themselves physically and trying to mentally isolate themselves from all the crazy thoughts running through their minds constantly, and then about eight times out of ten, they kill themselves in some theatrical manner. This is what career life I get told I should run into. Cool! Life is a treat! Either way (see that whole "getting sidetracked" thing I was talking about?!)  I'm jealous that someone has that much faith in you to put the highest of expectations in you. I hope you find encouragement in the standards people expect from you. It must be nice. 

Despite the fact that I had at six years old written in my diary (then full of pages about how someday I was going to get married to the kid that played Draco in the Harry Potter movies and how I hated Hilary Duff SO MUCH for being able to kiss Aaron Carter on the Lizzie McGuire Christmas special--my first recorded incident of jealousy) that I wanted to be a lawyer so I could help fix people's fights, and my parents saying that I could do whatever I set my mind to.....that didn't stop all the incredulous looks and strongly defined smirks when I began telling people I wanted to go to law school. Conventionally, I guess, only super standout star students really are considered for that path. In other words, not me. I still remember my old roommate rolling her eyes at me and telling me I was "too nice" to be a lawyer. I even more so vividly remember the time she accidentally butt-dialed me while telling our other mutual friend at the time that I was so very stupid, I had no brain cells, and was too dumb to be anything more than a housewife that bends over for her husband whenever he wants, because at least I still had the pretty thing going for me. You may not realize it, but when you are discouraging and condescending and mean towards others, it sticks with them forever. They will never forget your smirks, your cruel words, your discouragements. They will never forget because it's what's going to fuel them to continue to work for something better for themselves.

I had started to tell my friends that were declaring pre-med, pre-vet, biomedical engineering, etc. as their majors that I wanted to become a human rights lawyer when they asked what I finally decided to do with my life. As I was declaring the news to them, I found my voice constantly cracking in to a high-pitched tone, scared of the response I'd get in return. I still can't bring myself to tell a kid I used to talk to last year, who is currently in law school, that I too want to be a lawyer for fear of being judged even more harshly than everyone else since he's currently the only one actually experiencing it. 

I can sadly name off over a dozen isolated moments where I have been told to my face or behind my back that I was dumb, not capable, inconceivably stupid, and only a pretty face with a nice set of legs and hundreds of sundresses, and that was all I was meant to be. (For the record, aspiring to be only a housewife is not "lowly"  or should be looked down upon. I can't wait to raise kids and help take care of a home someday. I just know I would never be happy only doing that.) 

But you know what? I'm tired of people only knowing me that way. So what if YOU think I'm not good enough for something or am too dumb to be a certain type of person?

Some things you have to freaking do for yourself.

My path isn't by any means straight and narrow, but at least I'm the one paving it with God. I'M paving it. Not you. Not your opinions. Just me, my hands, God's will, and my hard work. 

The other day, over Bible study and some coffee,  Katherine, my campus minister, and I were discussing what it means to glorify and praise God. Conventionally I had thought about singing worship songs and making speeches in favor of God and all the wonderful things He's done for us, but then it got brought up that many a time,  it means doing something and working towards something that you know will make Him happy and praise Him, because it makes you happy too. I know for sure that going into fashion would not be MY way of glorifying Him, at least. I just remember at the Jubilee Conference back in February, meeting a lawyer for the Department of Defense (one of my dream jobs), stating that he found he could practice his faith in his line of work by helping not only those who had been abused, but also by providing help to those who perpetrated the abuse. Even though they're overlooked and did something evil, that doesn't mean they don't need help, as I was reminded surely that day.

I want to be a lawyer so I can help better prosecute sexual assault and rape cases and provide the counseling and help needed to survivors to help them move on and fight back, as I have tried from my case for the past almost two years now. I don't want assault and rape cases to be given a case number, I want them to be given a story, I want them to have the happy ending of justice for those who have been hurt and those who need help to keep from hurting others again. I want to make sure that in war zones, refugees are given human rights to travel safely without fear of being abducted and raped. I want to stop sex trafficking domestically as well as abroad. I want to be a lawyer because I know it is my way of glorifying the person I believe in, who most believes in me, because He created me. I want to help other people because I want to remind them, that despite these awful things happening in the world and the awful things that have happened to them, there is a reason to keep believing in something, whether it be God, yourself, your potential.....just, anything.

Don't you dare ever tell me I'm too stupid to help other people.
Don't let anyone tell YOU that you're not enough of something to do what you are passionate about. Your passion is enough. You are enough. 

I was re-reading one of my favorite John Green books yesterday, Looking for Alaska. The book centers around a fictional boarding school in the South and a student who was, especially regarded at his old school, to be a nothing, someone not worth remembering. The story is molded around finding himself and realizing he is someone worth remembering, famous last words said by people who are now deceased, and a torrid love for the rambunctious Alaska Young. 

There was one part of the book that particularly struck me (well, one of's a great book, and I highly recommend reading it.) At one point, the narrator, Miles, who has an obsession with memorizing famous people's last words before they passed on, said, "Francois Rabelais. He was a poet. And his last words were "I go to seek a Great Perhaps." That's why I'm going. So I don't have to wait until I die to start seeking a Great Perhaps.” 

My "great perhaps" is law school, my path to becoming a lawyer and continuing to fully develop myself. My "great perhaps" is becoming someone who is able to help repair others so that they can eventually continue to repair themselves, and perhaps becoming someone worth remembering in that time lapse. Like Miles in the book, I too do not want to wait until I am passed on to seek this "great perhaps." Notice it is not worded as "my great guarantee", because nothing in life is guaranteed. Who knows, law school may not work out, whatever you, person reading this, is working towards may change. Professor, you may have been right that I have a perfectionist streak that stops me most of the time before I even start trying. I think most people are like that actually, not just myself. We all have a little bit of a control freak in each of us, and all of us wants to know our future and a solid path to get there. However, I'm going to not stop myself anymore and just keep pushing forward, despite the inevitable bumps in the road, despite self-doubt, despite other distractions and discouragements. It may not work out for us in the end as we intended it to, but things will most surely work out. At least we can say in the end that we tried.

Which, in my opinion, is always something worth remembering.