Tuesday, November 10, 2015

18 Year Old Chloe

This morning, as we both fought different degrees of influenza, Zach showed me a letter he had written in high school. It was called, "A Letter to my Future Self" and it was filled with rather sage advice from the eighteen year old version of my best friend. At the end, he told himself, "You're never going to be the best, but you can always be better." I laughed at this and read it aloud to him and he said, "It's true." And then I started to think about what it actually meant.

If I had a letter to read from my eighteen year old self, I don't think I'd like it very much, but maybe I'm discounting her. She is, after all, the reason I am where I am today. She is the one who got us to Chatham, to English, to Pittsburgh, to Zach, and to countless other adventures. When I think about her now, I only remember the parts of her that are different from me. She was extremely religious but failed to see her shortcomings. She was woefully romantic but failed to see how unromantic her predicaments were. She knew exactly where she wanted to go and exactly who she wanted to be. Unlike Zach's eighteen year old self, my eighteen year old self believed she would be the best at something, she believed she was impenetrable and revolutionary. Only to discover that the world changed quite drastically when you stepped foot outside of Cortland, Ohio. I discount her naivety, I scoff at it. I wonder how she could ever be so trusting, so rose-colored, so simple.

And then I wonder, why am I not? What changed between now and then, between 18 and 21, besides everything? Where have I hidden her away--the girl who believed she could, and then did, and then did over and over and over again. Why am I so afraid of just trusting that I will find my way? Why am I so hellbent on having "A PLAN" even if it has nothing to do with me or what I want? I have always trusted myself not to fail, not because I am exceptional or brilliant, but because I am too stubborn to have that kind of chink in my armor. And now, as the whole world opens up before me (the whole entry-level world that is) I can only see the vast array of opportunities I have to fail, rather than to flourish. I don't know why I think that, perhaps its that since 2008 people have been saying, "Good luck finding a job" to our entire generation. Maybe its that we live in a society of false perceptions and advertisements: look how great my life is, applaud me! False images that we are then left to compare ourselves to. Maybe its just that I'm scared and scrambling and feel like I'm standing on the edge of a cliff that has no fathomable valley. But just because things are getting less college, doesn't mean they have to get darker.

If I could sit down and have coffee with my eighteen-year old self, I don't think I'd give her any advice. I wouldn't want her to life to change, I'd still want her to become me. I'd want her to have all of the same triumphs and failures, to cry herself to sleep some nights and to go off the grid on others. I'd want her to have the good friendships and the bad, the meaningful relationships and the duds. I'd want her to stand in front of people she didn't know and read poems she'd been embarrassed to write. I'd even let her go to Brazil. I'd want her to do it all over again, in the same way, because the last four years were, simply, magnificent.

But if I could, I'd certainly ask for her advice. I'd ask her if she could choose, anything in the world, what would she want to do next? And I know what she'd say, it's always been the same thing. And then I'd ask her, if she was proud of me, if she was surprised about who I was, who I'd become over the past three and a half years since I'd left her, or if she was disappointed. I think she'd be really surprised, but I know she'd be proud and probably a little scared to do it all over again. Mostly, I'd want her to tell me that everything is going to be okay. It isn't that everyone I know hasn't already said this to me, its just that, I think I'll only believe it when I hear it from my own mouth.

And finally I'd say, "Zach gave me some really good advice today that I think I should tell you."
And she'd say, "Are you talking about that kid from the party the other night?" (Because my eighteen year old self knew Zach for precisely 10 days before she turned nineteen)
And I'd say, "No, someone else." Because I wouldn't want to spoil the ending.
And she'd say, "Okay what's the advice?"
And I'd say, "You're never going to be the best but you can always be better."
And she'd probably say I know, dickhead or Obviously or start an argument with me depending on what kind of mood she was in.

But then I'd know, that I didn't expect myself to be the best. I could just get better, a little bit every day, and see where I end up.

"Can you say it out loud? In front of an entire room of people, people you know, people you don't, your family, strangers, people who fascinate you, people who loathe you. Could you say it to them? The truth, the absolute truth of your life, the secret you've been keeping, the black hole you've been protecting. Could you stand on a podium, in front of a microphone, and bare your soul? Does it make you a bad person if you couldn't? I want to live in such a way that I can stand on the stage, in the spotlight, burning, sweating, scared shitless, and say it, no holds barred, and be proud of my truth." -18 Year Old Chloe 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

It Hurts and We're Trying: Can That Be Enough?

As many of you probably know or have experienced, Chatham University, my school and soon to be alma mater, made the decision to go coeducational in Spring of 2014. After a year of preparation, on August 26th, move in began, and we welcomed the largest class of first years in a long time. They're great! They're smiling and engaging and full of excitement for what the next four years will bring...I am energized and inspired by interacting with them. And yet, they remind me of another eighteen year old I used to know...

When I came to Chatham, largely because of my scholarship at first, I didn't know what to expect and despite what I thought, I didn't really know who I was. I stumbled a lot throughout my first year, went through a lot of the stereotypical terrifying things that they warn you about going to college. I remember sitting in a really awful environmental science class next to the woman who would become my best friend. I didn't know her very well at the time, I just knew that we had the same sarcastic sense of humor, and we both hated the class. Feeling lost and missing my friends from home, I confided in her what was weighing me down. Instead of reacting with judgement, like I was afraid she would, she listened intently and squeezed my hand. She gave really good advice and reminded me, because I had certainly forgotten, that I was a strong woman, and no one could take that away from me, no matter what happened. Even though it is one anecdote, it is one of the most important from my time at Chatham, and even though its so simple, in that moment, her encouragement defined for me the importance of Chatham College for Women.

Now...nearly three years later, Phoebe and I are both graduating in December. We have one last semester. One last semester at the place where I learned how to be a woman, a feminist, a writer, a scientist, a friend, a sister, a daughter, a girlfriend, and an independent, self-sustaining human being. One last semester with Dean Waite, Dr. Bruckner, Dr. Kingsbury, Heather Black, Chief, Kitty, and all of the other amazing people and cats behind the scenes, making things happen. One last semester of giggles, wine, late study nights, and ripping my hair out over tutorial. One last semester of Anderson's vendetta against vegans. One last semester leaning on my sisters and letting them lean on me. One last semester with my Mooncats. One last semester at my home. And even though it is so intensely exciting, there is a tiny (not that tiny) part of me that is devastated.

You can't deny, if you knew it before, that something feels different in the air at Chatham University. People keep blaming the pheromones...but trust me, this school has never been lacking sexual energy. I really think there is a loss, a mourning weighing down on the women who've returned, the women who've left, and those who will still be here when the dust of this massive transition has settled. It scares me to think that three years from now, every student who attends Chatham will know it as a coeducational institutional only. Maybe that won't make a difference to them...but now, as we rapidly approach the bridge between students and alumnae, I worry that it will make a difference to me. You know, its hard to explain really, what it feels like, what we've lost...

In the basement of Rea house, there is a space called Rea Coffeehouse. It is a space that's used pretty frequently for open mic nights and performances, all great events that should be checked out. But on occasion, when it is empty, we sneak our way in and turn the lights on and bask in all of the history packed into those walls. The walls are colored with graffiti, the words of our sisters, passed down from class to class, our special secret. When we showed the new students the place on a behind the scenes tour of Chatham, several of the men told me they felt scared or uncomfortable down there. And I realized pretty suddenly, what was going on...this was and is their space, the women of Chatham. It is a sacred female space. It is impossible not to walk down there and not feel the energy vibrating your very being. The words scrawled across the walls make me laugh, cry, and feel things that belong to that space, to Chatham exclusively. And yeah... I guess if you didn't get it, what it meant, who it belonged to, the secrets and treasures it holds in its heart, it would be scary. Scrawled across what looks like an old church pew are the words, "This is a place where wymyn have been finding themselves for 121 years...can you feel it?" And yes, in every inch of your being, you can feel it.

I guess my heart aches for what was, and as we catapult into this new beginning, all I can hope is that every student who trips, stumbles, or dives headfirst into Chatham, is awakened in the same way I was. Maybe if you didn't live through it, you'll never understand what I'm talking about...and that's okay. There are a lot of things I will never understand, but I'll always try. All I ask for, from anyone who is willing to give it, is for a little patience and goodwill. Today, my boss listened to us try to express our grief and at the end she told us that our sadness was okay, that we were allowed to feel sad, we had lost something important to us. And that statement, that validation, was what I needed. It hurts but we're trying, and I hope, for now, that can be enough.

I'd just like to say one more thing...

As Meg and I wrapped up the viewing of Rea Coffeehouse, Meg remembering the last time she had been there and how different it was and me trying to grasp how anyone could be afraid of this amazing place, I noticed one of the first year men reading a wall. I told him we were getting ready to leave and he looked at me with huge eyes and said, "This place is absolutely amazing..."

And so, hope finds us.

Friday, July 31, 2015

& yet

I read a line the other day, forgive me for not remembering who said it, "Life is suffering. And yet..." There isn't a whole lot of fluff to it and its certainly not the kind of line that usually sends me into a tizzy. But on this day, in this life, the 'And yet' could not have felt more righteous. I say this because I'm starting to realize that sometimes "the answers" don't come wrapped with shiny red bows and land directly on our doorstep. Sometimes, though we are taught to think otherwise, the right thing to do is not as clear or as obvious as we are told it will be when the time is right, when we are ready to see it.

Sometimes THE answer is just showing up. Showing up to life and giving it a whirl. Showing up to life and apologizing, head hung low, for whatever you're carrying on your shoulders. Showing up to life and saying, "I don't know how the hell this is going to work" and someone nodding and saying, "Neither do I." Showing up even though you have been throwing up the entire way there. Showing up even though its one of those days where you wish you had the financial freedom to stay in bed. Showing up because you said you would or because you love the person on the other side of the door. And sometimes, showing up means saying no, because you have something more important to do, like take care of yourself.

I guess this is why the 'And yet' spoke to me so deeply. Life right now, and for the next few years, is going to be hard and stressful and broke at times. There will be suffering and it will require growing up. But you keep going for the And yet, the moments where you look around, despite your account balance and overwhelming stress, and realize how much you love this life, the life that you get to shape into your own special story. Sometimes, my And yet moment is when I have a really exhausting day, the bus takes forever, it's hot as hell, and I get to the doorstep and Zach opens the door smiling, and it all melts away. Sometimes, my And yet moment is when my boss and I cannot fathom how we are going to get it all done, and in the midst of it, we find ourselves giggling like crazy. Sometimes, it's just seeing Maddy's face, after all this time, growing up together, and still getting to have her as my friend. Sometimes, it's when I cannot fathom how I'm going to make it, and Sara texts me asking for advice, and I realize we are in the same boat, or when Sara sends me a postcard, and all of the negativity flies out of the window. Sometimes, it's Phoebe pulling up aggressively in her weird little bean car to save the day. Usually, it's my meem, talking me down from whatever mental crises I'm having, and reminding me, how young I am and how good I have it. Yes, my people are almost always my And yets.

I have almost always put more weight on choosing the perfect career path than I have on actually liking my life. Over the past few months, I've realized how scary it is that I'm not 100% sure what I want to be when I grow up. But I've also realized that my life is really special and I am lucky to love a lot of miraculous people and to in turn be loved by them. Maybe I won't know what I'm going to do until I just do it. Maybe that's okay. Maybe that doesn't make me any less smart, just less convinced that there is only one right path.

I don't know what comes next and yet, I love right now.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Perfection & Rejection & Other Words That Are Dumb

It would seem unwise to tell you all of my secrets, but at this point, I really don't think they're secrets anymore. I'm going through this weird phase where the future is unclear but I'm not scared. In fact, I am deeply content, at this moment, in this life. And I don't think that comes from jobs or awards or recognition or praise, nor do I think it ever will. I don't think it comes from the stars aligning and the world becoming a better place, because there is so much work to do, every day, to keep making things better, for all of us. Hard, dirty, sticky work. I think the reason I am content, even though I'm broke, clueless, and pretty scared for what happens next, is because I know I will be okay.

How can you know its going to be okay? You really can't know that something awful or disastrous won't happen every day when you wake up, because one day, eventually, a bad thing will happen to you. Not that many bad things have happened to me, relatively speaking. That isn't to say that I haven't deemed many days that absolute worst of my life because I was tired, sad, grumpy, or hungry. But all in all, on this side of things, I look at my life so far and I know it has been incredibly lucky and easy. I have parents that bent over backwards in every way possible, to make my life comfortable, and still do. I have friends that love me unconditionally, despite how much of an asshole I can be. And I have a boyfriend whose love I can't put into words. So I think...what do I have to give to the world that no one else does? Because, after all, that is the thing I'm searching for, the answer to my myriad of questions. My answer, though it has always come in different forms, has always been to write things. That isn't to say, I write in some special way that no one else can write. I can't and I don't. But writing has always felt like the way out of the tunnel and into the light for me, and sometimes the best way to find your way out of that tunnel is to listen to how someone else did it. But sometimes not, sometimes finding your way out of the tunnel means hanging up a strand of lights, building a nice bed on the floor, and making a home out of the dark. The tunnel is not so bad. It means you're growing in your uncertainty and you're learning how to struggle with grace.

I have always considered myself a decent writer and people have told me from time to time that I am more than decent. Over the years, I think I let my ego get the best of me, and I started to believe that my writing deserved to be heard. Writing deserves nothing. It simply exists. I'm not saying it is a bad thing to be confident and secure in your talents, IT IS A WONDERFUL THING. But...over the past year, I failed to win any of the writing contests I entered, or get published at all. And it knocked me down a few notches and it sucked. It felt like a year with no progress, a year with no accolades. I stopped writing poems for a while because they felt hard to write. I haven't written short stories because...well for no good reason. And as you may have noticed, I've written minimal blogs. And I need to stop. I need to write and get over it and be strong and be accountable and keep going. Writing revolves around rejection. Writing is steeped in rejection. Its how you learn to deal, to cope, to survive. And it hurts cus it's raw, but damnit, that's cus it's real.

I often use the same John Steinbeck quote when coping with my sometimes unbearable/ sometimes nonexistent perfectionism, “And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.” In a way, I feel that some of the pressure I've always put on myself has been lifted. Over the past year of writing rejections, I've realized that writing isn't the only thing I can do well. And through that realization, the pressure I put on my writing has alleviated itself. I can be other things and a writer simultaneously. In fact, I could have a job that doesn't revolve around writing and still write. Or I could have a job that revolves around writing and only write at work. There is a lifetime of possibilities. I think practicing goodness and mindfulness, remembering how my actions affect the people who love me, and taking care of my mind, body, and spirit are the important pillars of my life right now. I don't want to rush into a career path that I'm not sure is right for me just to feel like I'm checking off the right boxes. I don't want to spend money on things I don't need just to feel like I'm keeping up appearances. I want to stay hydrated and to stay dreaming. I want to immerse myself in each moment, in the here and now, because I might not ever have this kind of time for breathing again. 

So my secret is, even though I should've decided this a long time ago, I don't want to be perfect anymore. I want to make other people happy but I also want to be happy. And to me, those two things, in their purest form, come together. And I think that's enough of a path for now. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Being Pretty Like You

I read a quote today that said, "You don't have to be pretty like her. You can be pretty like you." It was posted to a woman's instagram account, a woman I often consider flawless or beautiful in a way that I cannot aspire to. It really struck me as a profound thought, something I don't think I have ever heard articulated so simply before. Growing up in this society, particularly as a woman, it is easy to forget that there are over 7 billion definitions of beautiful, that our societal beauty ideal is only meant to perpetuate a white capitalist heterosexual patriarchy. I often wonder what we are trying to achieve from the squats, the pretty clothes, the makeup, the filters, the hours upon hours spent in front of the mirror or just avoiding the mirror at all costs. I wonder what is empty inside of me when I find myself sizing other women up, as though we are in some sort of competition, to be the prettiest, the coolest, the smartest, the most well-liked, etc. But then I read a quote like this, and I remember I am not alone, I am not sick or evil or demented, I am just a girl who grew up fluent in the language of inadequacy, just like all the other pretty little kids in the world.

So what made us inadequate in the first place? It had to have started with our vaginas. Right? Have you ever heard a woman talk about how ugly vaginas are or how she doesn't like to touch it or go near it? I used to think that about myself, like my vagina was some dark, dangerous cavern that I had no business wandering inside of, despite the fact that it was on my body, part of my biology, part of my me-ness. But vaginas don't make a woman, a woman. Some women have vaginas, some women don't. It is really much more than that. It is being taught from the time we are little, that we must compete with other women, that there is somehow not enough love, not enough happiness, not enough smartness/prettyness/successfulness and so on, to be shared, not owned, by all of us. So we are trained to put each other down, to analyze each other's behavior and critique it. If we are busy condemning each other, the patriarchal powers that be can sit back, relax, and watch us self-destruct.

I think of myself at 17, the skinniest I ever was...and the saddest. I weighed 90 some lbs, which I thought would make me feel like I had succeeded in some way. In reality, I felt empty, I felt weak, I felt like I couldn't handle all of the things that were going to be thrown at me in the coming years. And in that body, I couldn't have. My body now is twenty lbs happier. It smiles at me in the morning and flexes its muscles and hugs its curves. I was blessed to attend an all women's college for three years, where the word beautiful is thrown around like confetti, and damn, we really all do find each other achingly beautiful. I came to Chatham and I discovered that the number on the scale had nothing to do with my worth or my beauty, that the way I did my hair or my makeup did not influence in anyway, my capability. I have girlfriends that work out every day and girlfriends that would rather suffocate themselves in Cheetos than touch a treadmill. I have girlfriends that want to be doctors, girlfriends that want to be nurses, girlfriends that think its a great time to be a waitress for a while. I have girlfriends that love boys, girlfriends that love girls, and girlfriends that have more important shit to deal with than love right now. I have girlfriends with six packs, girlfriends with great booties, girlfriends with plenty of wine to share, and plenty of love to shed. And we are all really, really pretty.

And still... its easy to forget. I worry sometimes that a prettier, smarter woman will come along and snatch up everything I love, all of my dreams, all of my goals, because she is just better. I think women are taught to expect that we are lacking in some way, and thus, we will never be able to fulfill ourselves or anyone else. I don't know who this phantom woman is, but a lot of times, she just looks like a manifestation of my insecurities. I worry that I'll never be the woman I aspire to be, that I'll never make the cut, or check all the boxes I hope to check. But when I read, "You can be pretty like you," I remember the truth, my truth. It isn't that I am inadequate or stupid, the world is an ugly place filled with ugly, colonizing ideologies used to oppress and enslave women's bodies. We are forced to oblige it or combat it, and it often feels like a choice between hating yourself and hating everything else.

Sometimes I am really hard on myself and sometimes I am really hard on other women. Isn't it bizarre to realize that we are so often on the same page? So often, no matter how society has categorized us, we are left to feel like we failed in some way, that we are not good enough, and that we never could be. The beauty ideal is just a construct, re-appropriated and manipulated to perpetuate the subjugation of women and minorities, to keep the powerful powerful and everyone else at their feet. We can't trust the beauty ideal; we are all beautiful. Your beauty, your strength, your intelligence as a woman only adds to my beauty, my strength, and my intelligence. Our unity, our shared experiences, are what make us capable. When women free themselves from unjust definitions of beauty, they open themselves to existing outside of the barriers of societal beauty. They are free to be whatever they want to be, and they are empowered by the loving women who surround them. You are beautiful and so am I, and that is what makes us strong.

Being pretty like me looks like a dark, sarcastic sense of humor, a coke in one hand, a book in the other, and the freedom to say what I need to say. It looks like messy hair and long eyelashes and boobs that hate being contained. It looks like an opinion and a loud voice and also the ability to listen and to be self-aware, despite difference of opinion. It looks like being right and being wrong and being too damn competitive for my own good. A lot of the time it looks like workout clothes and sweat and beat up tennis shoes, and sometimes it looks like my boyfriend's face, when he sees me for the first time that day. What does it mean to be pretty like you?

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Friday, February 27, 2015

Hiatuses and Hyacinths

So I haven't written a blog in a while. Why that is, I have trouble articulating, which for a writer, is a rather debilitating problem. It isn't that I haven't been writing. I have been quite a lot. But I haven't been writing blogs or what I consider little diary entries that I hope you find traction and peace inside of. The truth is, and this is such an awful excuse, I've been caught up, in a crazy, whirlwind, nonstop, graduating a semester early kinda way. It is no excuse to not write, I should have written, but I haven't. And now that you're done listening to me ramble on about my writing guilt, I'd like to talk about some things. 

I'm taking a literary theory class this semester, which for anyone who hasn't taken one, let me just say, is a daily dose of mindfucking. Which is good every now and then; snowglobes need shaking. Twice a week, however, is getting to be a bit much. Literary theory is rooted in the idea that everything is a construct but primarily, the construct of identity. In every sense of the world. So what I'm getting at is, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, we talk with Dr. Wardi about how everything we know to be "true" is actually just a convenient way of maintaining hierarchical power structures. This has got me thinking about a lot of things, everything to be precise. We choose to believe certain things because it makes life easier. We choose to believe in certain ideas because we trust that maybe, in its heart of hearts, the world isn't so bad. 

And you know, I don't think it is the world at all. All this time, we've been cursing the Earth as if its sacred crust has something to do with our obscene behavior. As if, the Earth asked to be raped, pillaged, and colonized by a brief history of violent humans. But you know, I don't think its that human beings are inherently evil, either. What I think it is, is that we are addicted convenience. It is convenient, for now, for things to remain a certain way. But what we fail to recognize, is that our convenience comes at the expense of someone else's suffering, someone else's poverty, someone else's oppression as well as the suffering, poverty, and oppression of the earth. Do you see why I haven't been writing? Do you see how heavy this shit is? 

Two years ago at this time, I thought a lot about women and feminism and what it meant to be equal. Nowadays, I realize it is a lot bigger than votes and dollars and cents and policies and rape culture. It stems from the mindset that the Earth is for our consumption exclusively, when in fact, we are just a species, a blip on the radar of the Earth's lifetime. I know this is some real high brow hippie bullshit, I know, I know, I know. But bare with me, please. I think it all intersects, the bad things, racism, classism, sexism, the destruction of the earth and I know, I'm not the first person to think this. But education is meaningful, it is the best tool we have. It means thinking, reflecting, learning, and unlearning the supposed truths of the world. It starts with the question, "What is true?" and works backwards. So I implore you, as I have been constantly been imploring myself, to think about truth, capitalized or not, and what it means to you. The injustices of the world must have originally stemmed from the idea that my truth is greater than yours, that my worth is more valuable than yours, that my identity is somehow more special than yours. And now, truth is just a word we apply to things that we want to last, to grow roots. 

So, as I struggle to make sense of myself and my life in this made up world of "ours", these are my growing and ungrowing truths: I don't want to judge you anymore than I want you to judge me, I hope that we can find common ground, and if we can't, I still want you to flourish and prosper in this brief and beautiful life. I love, I am loved, and I think love is the best answer we have. I also think love could destroy the world, it is atomic and should be handled carefully. I don't think this world belongs more to humans than any other species, and its fucked up that we act that way. I'm not tired of thinking so much, I am just scared that people who have power don't think enough, don't see enough, don't stop to look around enough. Words build the world we understand, thus they determine whether we make it better or make it worse. That being said, I finally trust that what I want to do with my life is important, at least for other people who are reading and writing and learning and listening to the whispers between door slams. 

So I am now 21, I have been on a blog writing hiatus, and these crazy thoughts are why...please share your truths with me :)