Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#WeAreAllWeHave

I just came across the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter this morning, and against my better judgment and looming pile of assignments, I let myself get sucked in. 

The result: I am currently feeling so incredibly heartbroken and outraged. 

The hashtag comes as a result of a horrible tragedy that took place in Isla Vista, California this weekend near UC Santa Barbara, killing seven people including the tormented 22-year-old, Elliot Rodger, as he decided to take revenge on all of the women who denied or rejected him in the past. (I'm obviously paraphrasing but feel free to click the hyperlinks for more information.)

And my feelings come as a result not just of this moment, but of so many moments (large and small) to come before it, of campaigns I've been a part of here in London and of conversations I have all too frequently with friends about the way men ogle them in public on a daily basis. 

The #YesAllWomen bit surfaced after people quickly started chiming in and pointing out that #NotAllMen are killers or rapists and that women should stop lumping every male into the same category. Women around the world have collectively responded by saying that jumping to place men in the victim category is overlooking the sexism that women face on a daily basis: saying no to a man's request for a date and being called a bitch, having to lie about having a boyfriend so a guy will leave her alone, feeling the need to carry her keys like a weapon in case she is approached or attacked on her way home, not making eye contact so as to avoid possible harassment, never putting her drink down in a bar, and the list goes on…

Looking through all of the tweets and stories is truly heart-wrenching, especially as it comes after countless conversations I've had with friends about life in the city and the alarming number of men who assume it's okay to catcall, stare at, follow and even grope women in broad daylight. 

In February 2014, I took part in a safety walk in East London to raise awareness of the issues of safety in the borough of Tower Hamlets. The walk came as a result of listening campaigns at Queen Mary University and throughout the borough, as more and more people - men and women - reported instances of feeling unsafe and being harassed or followed. Men and women from institutions throughout the community - mosques, churches, schools, Queen Mary - joined together with local authorities to highlight the darkest places of the borough where people felt the most unsafe. The result: the mayor has promised to turn on more lights and increase the police presence in these areas. This is a fantastic example of community members joining together around a cause that affects people throughout their neighborhood to bring about positive change. 

The thing is, the more stories I hear the more I can't help but realize it's not just a matter of turning on the lights or increasing police patrolling because - great as they may be - these are simply cosmetic solutions: placing a bandage on a societal wound that has been oozing for centuries. Because in a time when too many families are facing the tragedy of a mass shooting, and when women around the world are expressing their fear, anxieties are high and anger is rampant. Everyone has an opinion and so many are quick to fix blame on one aspect of society. Tragedies like this most recent one are more than a matter of gun laws, women's rights, failed mental health systems, video games or even celebrities

Messy problems require messy solutions. My experiences have taught me that the only real solution to such a huge problem, complicated and layered as it may be, involves affecting change one person at a timeHow do we do this? Well social media campaigns are a great way of getting attention and raising awareness and for voicing opinions and experiences. 

We must go further.

We must speak with our sons, brothers, fathers, uncles and cousins. As women, we must communicate our anger and hurt with the hopeful message that men can and should be part of the solution to the ever increasing realities of sexism in our world. We must convey a message of masculinity that places respect and value of others at the top of the list.


And we must encourage and support those initiatives which are out there working to turn these stories and realities into tangible mechanisms for change. Organizations like Hollaback! are a great start. What began as a movement to raise awareness about street harassment has expanded to local activism in 79 cities and 26 countries, encouraging women to document stories of harassment and ultimately engaging policy makers and legislators to assist in implementing real, tangible solutions in those communities which need them most. 

The truth is, these stories of tragedy and sexism start and end with the same thing: people. Us. The human race. We are all we have. 

The question I have for us, world, is what are we doing on a daily basis to change this reality and create the world in which we wish to live? Are we speaking to our children frankly about these issues? Are we sticking up for each other? Are we sticking up for ourselves? Are we teaching the next generation the power of their words, whether face-to-face or behind a computer screen? Have we learned how to truly value human life, to show compassion and truly acknowledge people in all their faults, successes, anger, joy, pain and comfort?

It's easy to look around and jump on the "the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket" bandwagon. Yes, people suck, and they piss us off and they break our hearts and they hurt our feelings and they make us want to never leave our bed again, but despite my ever-increasing tendencies toward cynicism, I choose to adopt a different viewpoint.

This is more than just a single person coming to the end of their rope and taking their anger out on the world around them. This is more than men who are socialized to see women as objects and go weak at the sight of skin. This is about all of us and the world we are creating and perpetuating daily in our corners of the world. 

We are all we have. 

I've had the amazing opportunity over the past nine months to work with university students and various community members as a part of my grad program. I won't go into all the nitty-gritty details, but essentially I've been working with a great team of people to engage students in various causes and campaigns throughout their local community. As things wrap up and feedback starts to roll in, the outcome has been more than I could ever imagine. No, we didn't start a worldwide movement or campaign. No, we didn't manage to pass any major form of legislation to eradicate anyone or anything. And no, we didn't manage to get a hashtag trending on Twitter. We (not so) simply joined together under the assumption that no matter our faith, sexual orientation or personal belief system, we are all human and we all have the same basic needs. By embracing the issues that affect us all, either directly or indirectly, we managed to challenge the status quo and decide for ourselves what kind of world we want to live in.

The result was this: a handful of students learned that by opening themselves up and engaging with people they might not otherwise on a daily basis, they can bring about change that matters to themselves and the people around them, and their perspectives have in some way, shape or form, changed. 

Sounds nice, you say, but the world is still full of crazy people with rock-solid opinions at all ends of the political/religious spectrum, and the likelihood of getting those kinds of people to meet anyone halfway is slim to none. And you know what? You're right.

But I am not them, and I choose to focus on the here and now. To be present where I am and to join in team efforts like the ones I've been so privileged to be a part of over the past nine months, and engage with all sorts of people. And if the end result is that a few viewpoints and life perspectives have been affected in some way then it is well worth it.

Because that's all we can do. In this fast-paced, outspoken, falling-to-pieces world, we have the power to join in conversation with those people who are a part of our everyday lives, and be a source of life and positivity despite the circumstances. From the best friend you text every morning, to the colleague or classmate you see every week, to the dedicated mother of five who you occasionally engage in local campaigns with, to the clerk at the corner store you see every time you pick up a new pack of gum, to the homeless person you pass on the street every single day: this is our world and it is up to us to decide what it will look like. No amount of policy change or campaign hype will do it for us. 

There is no quick fix, but there is a fix. It is long, and it is messy, and it is worth it. 

We are all we have. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

#TheFonz

Just in case you missed it, THE FONZ TWEETED ME



My uncle took me to my first proper pantomime, Peter Pan, last night at the Richmond Theatre. I may or may not have chosen (read: I 100% did choose) Peter Pan because the one and only Henry Winkler was cast as the "baddy" Captain Hook. Would I normally get that excited to see The Fonz live on stage? Probably. But it is definitely fair to say that the chance to see an American sitcom icon made this Texas girl insanely happy, and significantly increased my anticipation. 

The auntie is not a fan of the British pantomime tradition, so she was happy to send me along with the uncle. I had been prepped/warned/generally made aware of the uniqueness that is a "panto," by those who both enjoy and could do without them. As I stood in the front lobby waiting for the uncle to park the car, swarms of young children made their way through the doors and into the theatre. We found our seats situated between a 3-year-old on the right, a few more tots on the left, and three grown men* seated in front of us. This mixed and confusing crowd allowed me to enter into the panto magic more or less objectively. 

A few actors came on stage and sang some, apparently traditional, pantomime tunes. Then Peter Pan flew and I freaked. Gets me every time. (Yes, I am a child.) Smee was perfectly old and adorable, and there was even a (traditional for pantomimes) gay pirate - Jolly Roger!

THEN THE FONZ CAME OUT AND TEARS WELLED UP IN MY EYES. Completely unexpected reaction, but it happened. I couldn't stop smiling. 

I quickly caught on the to appropriate booing and jeering practices the audience is expected to take part in, and was seriously impressed by some of the female vocals. 

Another aspect of the pantomime tradition is that they tie modern music in with the old story lines. There was a perfect mix of Katy Perry, One Direction and Guns N' Roses to please all possible panto-goers. Then they sang Happy Days. And the tears came back. This time full force. 

I have been reminded more and more of my feelings lately, as I mentioned before, but the thrill and magic of music and performance is something that gets me no matter my current emotional state. A beautiful harmony, honest monologue, hilariously perfect joke and yes even an old guy playing Captain Hook have all been known to bring tears to my eyes. It's seriously involuntary at this point. 

I told the auntie about the tweet and she asked "so is that the modern day equivalent of an autograph?" Why yes, now that you mention it, I am totally counting it. 


Cheers

*Just in case you were wondering, the three grown men sitting in front of us seemed to be having more fun than the rest of the theatre combined. These people take their panto seriously.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

#variousandsundry

Raise your hand if the only thing you consistently do is consume Diet Coke: [raised hand emoji]. 

I mean golly - you hop on a plane to London to start a grad program in the Fall and the next thing you know it's the last day of 2013. What the hell. And the real flip-out comes when you realize that your nephews aren't babies anymore. It's like no matter how much you will it, those adorable, kissable little persons just refuse to stop growing. How rude. (Also thank GOD for Skype.]


ANYWAY, to avoid too many more tangents (I make no promises) I'll get right to it. In an effort to make up for my lack of consistent rambling and filling all of you in on what's been happening (I know you've just been dying to know), I've decided to compile a list 
(aka the lazy blog post) of all of the wonderfulness that has been my time abroad thus far (or at least since we last spoke).  And lucky for you I happen to specialize in list-making, so this will be great fun. 

Lewes  [loo-is]

I felt particularly British in early November when I travelled south with the auntie and uncle to the town of Lewes for their annual Guy Fawkes Day festivities. You know - "Remember, remember the fifth of November?" It's okay, I wasn't super familiar with it myself, #butiamnow. In case you didn't know, Lewes hosts the largest Fifth of November celebration in the world. There's actually a more detailed history to it all that's worth reading a bit further on, but for the sake of shock value I'll just tell you that in this town of roughly 16,000 people there are 7 different bonfire societies, some with founding dates in the mid 1800s, and each with their very own archbishop. (This is me voluntarily passing over the slight political incorrectness of it all.) It's all very fun - the bonfire societies march around with lit torches and they throw bangers (stop giggling, they're just firecrackers) into crowds of unsuspecting bystanders, and they end the night at their respective bonfires and accompanying fireworks shows. I only lost my hearing for like one or two minutes a couple of times. Just in case you've gotten bored and are considering not reading any further, here are some pictures of things on fire (in Lewes, duh):
[The fire and me.]

[Don't they look like they're having so much fun?? All 
of those little kids got the day off of school the next day, too
jerks.]

[Cowboy?!]

[The giant bonfire the size of which can not be 
comprehended through mere iPhone photos.]


Fajitas and Friends
The auntie and uncle were nice enough to let me host a dinner party for the friends I've made in my program. The work of community organizing is busy and hectic, and it was so much fun to have a night of merriment with my new friends. As much as she would contest my saying so, I merely assisted the auntie in her over-the-top wonderful execution of a fajita dinner for 11 (hungry) people. Some of them are still raving about the deliciousness that was that night. Two words: homemade queso (also known as "liquid cheese," lol). Ohmuhgawd. So good. 

My mother blessed me with the ability to befriend people wherever I go, and I'm very grateful to have made such wonderful friends in the short time that I've been in London. And now, for more pictures (not necessarily fajita-night related):
[Ana, the Brazilian! <3]

[Fez.]

[Megan & Alex]

[Claire]

[Liiiiiiaaaaaammmm]



#UKChristmasCaren
My sweet Georgia/Texas friend, the one and only Caren, aka C-Dilts (and sometimes Vitamin C-Dilts) came to visit me! The woman was in the UK for a whopping 10 days and lemme tell ya - we killed it. We made our way through a long list of tourist attractions and local must-sees, had a very pinkies-up high tea with the auntie and even managed to hit up the Brick Lane Market in East London. Oh yea, and we went to SCOTLAND. Caren has some very lovely friends (and I guess I do too, now!) in Dunfermline (aka the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie, aka where William Wallace was put to death) - a town about 30 minutes from Edinburgh by train. They were the loveliest of hosts, and a breath of fresh air and then some. 
[Caren's first train ride!]

[Dunfermline Abbey]

[Aberdour. It was cold, but that VIEW. Swoon.]

[CASTLE. Edinburgh Castle, that is.]

[Castle selfie!]


One discovery made while Caren was visiting was the unusual ability she has to attract strange occurrences. Nothing strange happened to her directly, but we witnessed quite a few (at least more than I'm used to witnessing) strange happenings while exploring the city. Here is a sub-list of the weird things we saw while Caren was here:
--> An adult female sucking her thumb while riding on the tube. #GERMS
--> An intoxicated man trying to get on the tube, and actually making it past a couple of  London Underground employees and running into the side of a stopped train. It's okay he was escorted out, no one was harmed.
--> An elderly Irish man very kindly making friends on the bus and trying to give change to a small child despite his mother's protest. This was mostly strange because we were like 2 inches away from it all and the awkwardness was so strong you could almost smell it.
--> Two dogs chasing a squirrel just outside of Kensington palace, and one of the dogs catching the squirrel and violently flailing it about. Caren's immediate reaction: "Survival of the fittest." My immediate reaction: "What the hell, squirrel, you just passed by like 8 trees you could have shimmied up for safety!"


And stuff, and stuff...
And lastly, not necessarily actual events that have happened in the UK but things I wanted to include anyway because FEELINGS. Here is a mini-list (I told you, I'm serious about this list business) of things that make me cry, in a good way:


Receiving messages of all sorts. Texts. Calls. Emails. Letters in the post. I can't help it, I just love communication! I like to hear about funny things that have happened, accomplishments, hard times (so I can send happy thoughts and prayers in the necessary directions), to see photos and videos of people I love (aka BABIES), and the list goes on.  Little messages and correspondence like these bring happy tears to my eyes and remind me I have feelings. Lots of them. 
It's surprising how close you can get to friends even though you're thousands of miles apart. Absence makes the heart grow fonder (and snifflier) I suppose.

When my Mom pins things to the Pinterest board she made for me. You guys, I'm not kidding when I say that my Mother is the most adorable pinner there ever was. And I mean that in the most sincere and least patronizing way. She made separate Pinterest boards for both of my sisters and me, where she pins things that make her think of us. I should mention that if you think your mother doesn't know you, like really  know you, you're probably wrong. Exhibit A. And B. And C. I could just be a painfully predictable person, but I'm gonna go the feel-good route with this one and say "you guys my Mommy loves me she really does!" Overall, it's just a really great feeling to know someone is thinking of you. The icing on the cake (or potentially freaky part?) is realizing someone else has you figured out way more than YOU have you figured out. Moms man…


Thanks to everyone who has loved and supported me in things both big and little in 2013. It's been a grand year indeed, and 2014 holds even more adventure and discovery, of the self and world variety alike. Here's to a great year.

Cheers 




Saturday, November 9, 2013

Say whaaa?

Listening to: She & Him – London.

Before I left for the UK I had lots of errands to run and loose ends to tie up, which included telling lots of strangers about my upcoming travels and studies. 


"Oh wow, that sounds like such a great opportunity," they would say. "Now is the best time in your life to do those kind of things," they'd comment. Admittedly, I never tired of the excitement of telling new people about my London jaunt, and I presume I never will.


There was one very kind lady whose polite, follow up question caught me off guard:


"No way, London? Do you speak the language?"


………..wut.


"Oh yea, that definitely helps!" I said with a forced smile as I turned and left the building.


I would be lying if I said I didn't seriously verbally bash this woman (in my head of course, and then again over text to my mom and bff, like you do) for her absolutely ridiculous question. 


"Ummm, ya think they'd speak ENGLISH in ENGLAND?? Lolz. Srsly, WTF??"


[Underlying sub-context to be discussed at a later time: Women can be each other's worst critics. We're all guilty of it. I seriously need to cut it out.]


If I had the chance (and if it wasn't socially unacceptable to apologize to people for rude thoughts you've had towards them that they're completely unaware of), I'd like to not only apologize to that lady, but also tell her she might have been on to something. 


Seriously. Sometimes I feel like Alice in freaking Wonderland over here…chasing around a smartly-dressed, completely preoccupied bunny rabbit in search of a clear answer on just anything. Between the sayings and the food and the accents and the entire disciplines that you've never studied at all (thanks a lot for the complete UNemphasis on Geography, America...), you start to wonder if you're even a real person with the ability to comprehend anything ever.


[Google search history: "adult learning disorders," "do I have dyslexia," "how fast should I be able to read," "good shout," "Guy Fawkes." (<-- seriously click on that link. I literally LOL'd.)]


Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love immersing myself in and exploring different cultures. Call it what you want (*cough - escapism - cough*), I just like to be reminded that there's a world out there that's different from the one that I know. What I didn't mentally prepare for was the unending list of foreign cultural isms, very persistent men (inspectors, apparently) who ask to see your Oyster (subway) card and you have to show it to them, and bits and pieces of conversation that would serve as constant reminders that I am most certainly, not from here. 


Discovering a new culture is most definitely exciting, but for a personality type like mine (yea, I'm not even going to try and define that for you), or maybe just humans in general (trying to make myself feel a little better here), it can start to wear a bit on your emotional/mental/general psyche. 


"What was that?"

"Say again?"
"I'm sorry, what?"
"Tell me your name one more time."
"Wait, what are we talking about?"
"Oh BROM-ley."
"No, I've never heard of that kind of candy."
"What's Half & Half? Oh, probably the reason America is so fat..."
"You've never even heard of ranch dressing?"
"Haha I don't have an accent - YOU have an accent…why are you laughing so hard?"
"Yea, I have no idea where that is…" 
"You've never had pumpkin pie??"

Okay now I'm rambling…but really though. 


If there's one bit of advice I can offer from my measly almost-two-months of living abroad experience it would be this: don't underestimate the amount of newness you will encounter and don't overestimate your ability to just sail right through it all. You'll crave familiarity, be it food or friends, and you may even feel a bit guilty for not enjoying every single second of every single day as if it were Christmas morning. But what you can choose to do is stay positive, and not just in the cheesy daily quote kind of way (not hating on people who love cheesy quotes, man, I'm just cynical). Even with that fancy undergraduate degree and/or years of experience working with all different kinds of people, ahem: you really don't know anything (haha, silly person). 


Go ahead, get frustrated, but channel that frustrated energy into something better.


Like kick ass papers that show complete and utter mastery of the subject (fingers crossed).


Or like a book of funny phrases and memories that you'll make a coffee table book out of and sell at Urban Outfitters one day: 

Stuff Americans in England Like, or 
'What's queso?' - How To Deal With Alarming Questions You'll Hear During Your Experience Living Abroad, or 
How to Really Freak British People Out…Step 1 - Smile at People When You Walk Down the Street.

It's obviously a work in progress, okay…also don't steal my idea. Kthanks.


The moral of the story is: being new to a place is really fun, and it can also be overwhelming. But generally people are understanding (especially if you have an 'exotic' American accent) and more than willing to repeat themselves and do things like go out to pubs and explain even more things you don't know over a pint (or 4). 


So it's all good. 


Stay happy.


…and don't fall behind on your reading list or you will cry.


K Bye! 





Tuesday, October 22, 2013

#geekout

This is a story about the time I tagged along with some friends to a book release. It's really not that boring, you can keep reading. Okay maybe it is. You know what, you decide. 

The book: The Poverty of Capitalism

The author: John Hilary
The venue: Firebox Cafe
The motivation for attending: Free Dinner and Wine (approximately 40% of the reason why I went.)

Upon arrival we discovered that the wine was free, but dinner was not.


All was not lost though, for in London, insanely cheap fish and chips are never far! 


My friend and I went in search of food which consisted of us walking around outside until we saw someone with chips (fries), and kindly asking them to point us into the direction of such deliciousness. Chips were found, and purchased, and consumed and we returned to the book release and all was well. 


(We did consider buying food from the cafe because it smelled wonderful and looked delicious and we even made plans to go back sometime when it's not packed full of people, but we decided to find a [cheaper] alternative as a very tiny form of protest...it seemed fitting with the theme of the evening.) 


The talk/presentation portion of the evening was very intriguing (despite the fact that it was about five million degrees in the restaurant and it took a while for me to stop thinking about how I really shouldn't have made fun of my mom for all of the times she pulled a fan out of her purse and wishing she was there at that moment). I would have actually bought the book, too, if I wasn't too busy sniffing around for the last of the free wine and doing THIS:





That's right, DOREEN MASSEY signed my copy of The Dictionary of Human Geography.* 


You better stifle that snicker right now or we're not friends anymore.


She was one of the commentators for the evening and the other 60% of the reason I went.  

Do yourself a favor and click that fancy little hyperlink up there and read about the awesomness that is Doreen. In the world of geography (so basically the entire world), the woman is a legend. There's no way that I can possibly do her justice here in a cheery little blog post, but you should know that she has been a key player in our current day understandings of, you know, GLOBALIZATION. Not to mention she took a nasty spill recently and has a broken finger and somewhat shattered hip and still showed up to speak. Badass. 

Eeeeeven if you don't agree with the plethora of words she has to say about neoliberalism (read: let's not debate the subject here), her contributions to the idea of a truly global sense of place are pretty damn fantastic.**   


Twas a wonderful evening making memories with new friends, and I'm glad for it. 





NOTES:
*It was all Liam's idea that may have initially started as a joke but I did it anyway and we all got to chat with DM for like 5 whole minutes and it was amazing. ALSO, we found out she supervised our program director's PhD way back when. Cooool. London is really a small town guys.
**Don't worry I'm not all that boring. I may or may not have listened to Katy Perry's new album the entire time I wrote this post. Because I have an affinity for academia AND poprock. So there.




Sunday, October 20, 2013

Cheers

[Listening to: J√≥nsi – Why Not?]

Exactly thirty-seven days ago I moved to London to pursue a master's degree in community organizing.  I'm still not completely sure what I expect to gain from this experience (besides, you know, a degree and oodles of work experience), but apparently moving thousands of miles away from the only life I've ever known is cause for a bit of forced/necessary/at-this-point-unavoidable introspection. 


It was about this time a year ago that I returned home from an adventure that it turned out I wasn't quite ready for. But this time it's different.


I know it. My mom knows it. And from all the love and support I've received on this journey thus far, it seems as though a good chunk of those nearest and dearest to my heart know it, too. 


In just over a month I've met some truly wonderful, adventurous, scarred, hopeful and passionate people who have already challenged and encouraged me in the most unexpected ways. Just about the time I start to wonder what the hell I'm doing here and how someone like me was accepted into an international graduate program, I'm reminded why in the conversations, questions, laughter and kind words of new friends and colleagues. 

I am and always will be a Texas girl at heart (more on the kind of international conversation starter that is later), but for the next year (ish) London has my complete and undivided attention.


There are so many unknowns in store over the next year, and I hope you'll join in as I venture into uncharted territory. This journey is as much yours as it is mine. I wouldn't be where I am and who I am if it weren't for all of the people I've met along the way. 


Let's have some fun, shall we?


Cheers