A Confession, and Thoughts on Orlando.

“Don’t be a faggot!”

I jumped like I had been shot. The term reached into my gut, grabbed my intestines and shook them around. I felt my heart flip-flop over and over, as if he had found out a secret.

I slapped his arm. He stared at me, his pupils blown out and confused, stumbling a little bit as he spilled his drink on the floor. “What did I do?”

“Don’t you ever say that again,” I hissed, picking up my shoes from behind my chair as the music wound down. “That’s disgusting.”

“Oh come on,” he moaned, pushing me up against the table, insistent. “It was a joke. I don’t actually say that shit.. I said it because he said it…babe…” his eyes turning black at the edges, “ugh, it’s going to be like THAT all  night?”

Later, he pushed himself onto me, I looked up at the ceiling and thought about homophobia can snatch the words out of our mouths and rearrange them into patterns we don’t realize we’re making. He didn’t know. He didn’t know who I was.

When I was in middle school I honest to god thought I was gay for at least six months. I think this is probably super normal for most kids who are slowly figuring out that that cute person in their class would probably be even cuter if tongue-kissing were involved. There was a boy in my class that made me flush red whenever I saw him, but then, there were girls I felt a strange pull towards.

I liked men. Liked them a lot. Liked them ever since I saw Devon Sawa throw a football in Little Giants and felt my feet go blissfully numb. But I also knew the term “straight” wasn’t exactly right, because I had deep, unceasing, endless love for women.

I couldn’t figure out how I felt, and it confused the hell out of me. The thought of kissing a boy absolutely terrified me but at the same time it sent rockets of warmth through my body and it made my ears pink.

With girls, things were easier. Things weren’t weird. Things were safe. It gave me the kind of fullness, the kind of seratonin-laced stupor, that wouldn’t be out of place at a Thanksgiving table.

I thought that this was okay until I overheard another girl in my eighth grade class call another girl a dyke, and I immediately shut down any sort of confusion, awkwardness, or weird feelings like a Venus fly-trap. The feelings went away – or rather, the feelings were controlled in a tight vise. But that word made me uncomfortable, almost like it was scratching at a scab that would start gushing at any second.

When I got to high school I watched seven girls declare their sexuality in front of the entire school and it sent a lightning bolt up my spine. I met women who also liked men, or women who liked both. They were the cat’s pajamas. Although I spent most of high school hiding away in my bedroom, chatting online and watching Lord of the Rings countless times, I still thought about which way on the Kinsey scale I would settle. When peopled asked, I told them I was straight. On National Coming-Out Day, I called myself a proud ally and advocate for gay rights.

At that point, I only knew about gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. I didn’t think I fit in with any of them. But those feelings I had felt as a thirteen year old desperate to fit in with the cool kids in my class? Those feelings didn’t go away.

On some days, saying I was “straight” fit as snug and warm as a new pair of shoes. On others, it felt like a jacket cut slightly too small, or a bra you’ve grown out of but insist on wearing sometimes because the color goes with certain shirts. It’s all right – it’ll do for now – but you can’t wait to throw it off at the end of the day and let yourself flop open.

This isn’t just about thoughts and feelings. My first legit kiss with anyone was with a girl. Not a lot of people know that.

Women hit me in a spot that perhaps I’m afraid to let men go. When I kiss men, I have to force my eyes to close. I want to make sure of all the exits so if the evening turns, and they try to harm me, I know where to run.

I know eventually that feeling will fade, that it’s only because I’m working through the trauma of being deeply hurt.

But yet – I walk into a rehearsal or a house or a room and my dear girlfriends are there, and I fall into their arms, easy as breathing. We sit, like penguins, on each other’s necks. It’s like I’m home.

I confessed these things to my therapist, not out of fear that my sexuality was non-normative but because I was just confused, and she told me it might be a reaction to my previous experiences with emotional abuse, and that I’m running towards the things that make me feel safe.

If only we all had the freedom to run towards the things that make us feel safe.

There are so many parts of my personality that aren’t straight. That are non-binary. That are fluid. That are queer. I actually joke around with one of my dear friends that I have the soul of a gay man, but obviously, that isn’t accurate at all. (Although I do love me some drag culture.)

Now, I know there are so many different ways to fall. So many different ways to tilt your axis. So many different ways to offer love. And I didn’t want to close myself down to the opportunities and beauty that life offered. I had put a cork on my body and my sexuality and my gender representation for so long, to feel it pop is the most satisfying sound.

Yesterday, in light of the absolutely unconscionable attacks on Pulse in Orlando (an attack that not only impacts the LGBTQAP+ community, but also the Latinx community and the HUMAN community), I discussed all of this on Twitter and I told my lovely community of followers that I’ve been identifying as queer for a little while now, because I had no other term to go with. I explained that it was because I didn’t want to shut myself down to just one gender, one sexuality, that the term “straight” sat badly with me. I wanted to be open to whatever life brings. Do I absolutely see myself with a woman one day? I have no idea. But I don’t want to say absolutely not. I wondered if the term “queer” even made sense for what I was.

One of my followers tweeted at me, “Maybe the term ‘sexually fluid’ would work?”

I clapped my hands. It was perfect.

But then. Then.

Another follower said, “So you’re telling us you’re human?”

Yes.

Yes.

I am a human. I am coming out as a human. A fluid human. A spectrum human. A member of the queer, fluid, spectrum community because my soul refuses the binary. I am full of love, hope, and joy, because I have to be.

I’m saying these things because I am safe. I vocalize these thoughts from a goddamn Starbucks in the bullseye center of Connecticut, where laws are set in place to prevent LGBTQAP+ discrimination. Where our governor and senators have frequently challenged the gun lobby, supported and protected the rights of all queer citizens, and have placed a firm and decisive ban on assault weapons in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook. I am privileged to live in this state because I am able to just live.

I vocalize these thoughts because in many other states, in many other situations, these words could get me killed if I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time, or if I hold a woman’s hand, or if I dare to go to a gay club with my best friends. I say these things because I am full of rage at a country that tries to dictate where people can go to the bathroom, but cannot get it in their heads to write policy that prevents people from getting killed. I say these things because I spent four days this weekend at a beautiful academic conference that was more like a summer camp, with gender-free bathrooms, and I woke up full of light and love on Sunday morning

The most we can do, in every single moment, is love. Love as hard as you can, and do as much good as you can.

And love is love is love is love is love is love. The opposite of apathy, the opposite of indifference and phobia.

 

I am femme.

I am fluid.

Let us work, live, and breathe in love. If we do that, fear will never win.

ally

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Heartbreak Warfare.

(everything italicized are lines taken from poetry by Warsan Shire, aka the incredible British-Somali poet whose spoken word was used by Beyonce in her Lemonade visual album)

I couldn’t love you, you were a small war.

I lay in bed, at 2 AM, looking up at the hotel room ceiling, trying to cry silently so he couldn’t hear me. The silence screamed at me like a gaping mouth with rotting teeth after swallowing so much pride. We had gotten into a fight earlier that evening, and he had rolled his eyes at me while I sobbed at the wheel of my car. He asked if I wanted to go back to the hotel, or go hang out with a bunch of his friends. I didn’t know any of them, and my makeup was smudged with tears. Yet I said we could go hang out with his friends. Meanwhile, my heart screamed “Go back to the hotel and break up with him. You deserve so much better.”

But being in an ambivalent, lonely relationship headed towards a brick wall seemed better than being alone. I thought it was what I deserved. So I stayed silent.

No, he loves me he just makes me cry a lot.

I look at couples who have clean answers, who come to clean conclusions. I envy them. I envy the gentle nature of their uncoiling. I envy people who can be friends after. I envy people who can wish their exes a happy birthday, Christmas, wedding anniversary.

I have no answers. I’ve made peace with the fact that I will never get answers, or an apology. Breakups can be a thunderstorm of pain with one party left outside to dodge the lightning.

The result of all this?

It was the best decision I’ve ever made. I’m stronger. Happier. Healthier.

But I know I can’t ever let him back in. Under any circumstance. The karmic consequence of treating someone like shit is a steel curtain.

I tried to change. Closed my mouth more, tried to be softer, prettier, less awake.

Right after it happened I constantly blamed myself. I said I was too fat, too weird, too loud, too much. Literally sat on the lap of my best friend and was rocked like a small child. I cleaned my whole house and posted perfectly curated photos on Instagram because even though I’m just a messy person by nature, I thought if I were more put together, if I were something different than what I was, it would make him stay. Shaved parts of my head and bleached it, because I wanted to, but also because I knew it would make men afraid of me. I hated men for months. I became a misanthropic misandrist in my grief.

I could feel my uterus cracking and drying up. The sight of my nephews would send me into floods of tears, remembering his remarks condemning my desire to be a parent. Those remarks hit me in the space in my heart I was saving for our children. (Let it be said for the record that I have officially stopped giving a shit about a timeline, or a biological clock, or about finding a husband. I’d rather, like, rule the world and kill the patriarchy. That takes up a lot of my day.)

I told my therapist I worried I was crazy. She said to me that was a gendered response to a breakup. She was right. As women, our grief is diagnosed, disposable. If we’re sad, or angry, we’re dismissed as hysterical, lunatics. Now I’d rather look crazy. And I was so sick of feeling too much, of having so much grief, of being so angry.

His eyes were the same colour as the sea in a postcard someone sends you when they love you, but not enough to stay.

Because of the lack of answers I still held out hope and watched all of my worst fears get confirmed. I had been blaming myself for months when it finally clicked that none of it had anything to do with me. And suddenly, a lot of the anger fell away.

Looking at photos of him now is like looking at a relative your family cut off. You know them. You hope they’re doing well. You can remember with exacting, painful detail the times they made you laugh harder than you’ve ever laughed. You still bring them up sometimes in stories because they’re in some of your better memories. But it’s followed by the cold, pragmatic reminder of the times you were crying at 2AM in a hotel room. You can’t let them back in. They’ll steal from you, lie to you, burn down your house. I can meet photos of him now with an eyeroll and a shrug, where they were once met with howls of pain retched up from my gut. I’ve cried a lot of tears to feel nothing. I worked my ass off so I could get to nothing. Nothing was an impossible place a year ago.

You think I’ll be the dark sky so you can be the star? I’ll swallow you whole.

I’m in a much better place now than I was when I wrote some of those posts last summer, about being a piece of garbage and not knowing how to be in this world, and being so entirely lost. I’m not so lost anymore. I’m living a great life, a full life, a peaceful one. I can lay my head down at night and feel good about where I’m at.

But this month brings up a lot of anger. Anger about the things I wish I had done differently. And all of those things lead to me breaking things off much earlier. That relationship was slowly killing my spirit and I did nothing because to end it would mean I had failed. Please. If anything I’ve used it as rocket fuel.

I wish it weren’t normal. I wish this kind of grief didn’t exist. I wish people were able to just TALK to each other about their problems, but I guess that’s what makes everyone painfully, disgustingly, gorgeously human.

I’d like to offer you one tip on how to avoid shattering someone’s heart in this particular way.

Don’t assume, ask. Be kind. Tell the truth. Don’t say anything you can’t stand behind fully. Have integrity. Tell people how you feel.

I don’t care if you don’t want to see them cry. They will cry with or without you, and they’re probably doing a lot of crying you don’t know about. Get over yourself for the sake of the people you claim to love bone-deep. Go deeper. Go until you reach the gutsy parts of you. I’ll wait.

If you don’t see yourself marrying them, tell them. If you don’t feel that they’d make a good parent, tell them. If you don’t feel the same way that you did, tell them. If you love them, but you aren’t in love with them, tell them. If their mental illness is becoming too much for you to deal with, tell them. If you don’t want to fuck them anymore, tell them. If you want to fuck someone else, tell them. if you find yourself being mean to them because you’re trying to let them go, tell them. If you don’t see your relationship working out after a break to reassess, tell them.

If they cry, shake, panic, get triggered, curse you out, you are just going to have to deal with it. Deal with their fallout, their rage, their grief. I won’t say “man up” or “woman up”, but I will tell you to be an adult. Tell them, because they have given you their heart and you now hold it in the palm of your hand. You have a choice. You always have a choice. Handle it gently or risk what happens when you get that blood on your fingers.

If you don’t handle it gently, they will hate you. It doesn’t matter if you still want to be a part of their life. They will cut you out of that life you once shared like a tumor. That anger will subside a little in time, but it might never fully go away, almost like white noise on a radio station you once loved. Rage can be helpful.

Be honest at hello. Be honest at goodbye. It will help them remember that you loved them in the first place.

I am at fault here too, of course. There are a LOT of things I could have done differently. Things I did wrong. I could have spoken up, for one. As a feminist I HATE how silent I was. I should have said so much. There were times when we would be sitting together quietly and my brain felt like it was going to explode with everything I wanted to say. But I felt so trapped, my voice – the thing I value the most about myself – felt stuck in my throat. I was cowed into silence. I couldn’t be honest, either. If I were to do it over again I would have said so much. I truly regret that. I didn’t know how to love someone better.

Perhaps that’s how it was with you.

You are terrifying and strange and beautiful, someone not everyone knows how to love. 

Our last conversation was filled with my apologies. But I forgot to say thank you.

Thank you all of the beautiful things you did. Despite everything, there were some moments of sheer breathtaking wonder in the love we had. Thank you for holding my hand, for making me laugh, and for being my anchor before I was dragged down by the weight.

 

I told you once I believed, with all of my heart, that everything happens for a reason. That there’s got to be some kind of grand design. You looked at me, patted me on the head, and said, “Well, Ally, that’s just a naive way to look at the world.”

That isn’t naivete, that is hope. I know better. I choose better.

I deserve better.

If we’re gonna heal, let it be glorious.

Ally

PS. “You own everything that has happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they would have treated you better.” – Ann Lamott.

NEDA 2016: What I Know Now.

For National Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2016.

One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received was this week, when I posted a photo on my Instagram page of me at my lowest weight. I made a quick mention of how it was NEDA 2016, and went on with my day. That evening, a friend I had met after I had recovered texted me I’m so glad I met you and have gotten to know you now, disorder free.

I have friends in my life who have never known Disordered Ally. That is kind of remarkable.

I’ve been pretty outspoken on here about my history with Binge Eating Disorder, exercise bulimia, diuretic abuse, restricted eating, orthorexia, and CS Disorder (“chew and spit”…it’s exactly what it sounds like). But I’ve never really gotten into why I stopped, how I stopped, and what I’m doing now, as a recovered person.

Four years ago this month, I decided I was done with my ED. And, to be quite honest, I didn’t do it for myself, or because I loved myself enough to finally start taking care of myself, or even for health reasons.

I didn’t want my then-boyfriend to find out, because I was afraid he would leave me.

It’s almost shameful for me as an unabashed feminist to admit that I gave up my eating disorder for a man. But it’s true. I had found someone that I loved dearly, whom I could see myself marrying and having kids with, and I didn’t want to jeopardize our future and my fertility by treating my body like a punching bag. So I stopped. It took me six more months to confess to him the extent of my disorder, and when I did finally tell him, quietly weeping in the passenger seat of his car, he took me by the hand and told me everything was going to be okay.

Last year, things went south, and I walked away from that man I had loved so much (while I don’t think we will ever speak again – my choice – I wish him nothing but the very best, mostly due to the aforementioned acceptance of my fucked up past). My grief set up a prime situation that my eating disorder could have walked right back into my life. But the instant – and I mean the instant – my lover became my ex, and walked out of my house for good, I walked into my therapist’s office and said “I need help. I don’t want my disorder to come back.”

She told me, “That’s how you know you’re past it. When you make decisions in times of stress that will negate those habits from returning.”

The victory felt hollow, when I had lost so much. It’s only now that I realize how important that moment was.

I went through the summer, the fall, and the winter. Every single day was a conscious and deliberate choice to refuse to capitulate to those thoughts that still circle my head when I feel low or bored or stressed. I started to live for myself, not for someone else.

While the depression weight I had gained throughout my deteriorating relationship fell away, along with the fears and doubts that had plagued me throughout those four years (I went from having several crying fits a month to zero within weeks of the breakup), the eating disorder never showed its face again. More than that, I didn’t even feel like bringing it back. The thought was completely ridiculous.

Disorder free after four years, after a time period when it would have been so easy to relapse. I’m here.

But here’s the tricky part. The part that I feel most people who succumb to eating disorders forget to realize. Or, they weren’t taught it when they decide they need help.

Loving yourself is not enough.

You cannot love yourself out of an eating disorder. Oh sure, it’s easy to say “think of one positive thing to say about yourself!” or, “love every curve of your body no matter what, even if you feel like garbage!” The body positivity movement is flawed in that way. You try finding one thing to love about yourself when you’re laying on the floor of a restaurant, the ceiling spinning above you, because you’re dangerously depleted of electrolytes after taking diuretics and working out for two hours and you haven’t gotten your period in a year. That year, I wrote in my diary I feel like my insides are rotting.

You ever try loving someone out of their abusive patterns? It’s nigh on impossible. Loving yourself when you have one eating disorder, let alone the four I suffered from, is like loving an abusive partner that you keep returning to when he hits you. You’ll keep going back because leaving, starting over, seems more terrifying than staying. There’s a strange safety net in using yourself as a punching bag.

My therapist has been working with me over the past two years to slowly strip away all of the self-doubt, self-hatred, and reflexive eating tendencies that had eaten my 20s. Last fall, I entered my 30s with a resolve I never thought I would see. I was stronger than I had ever been.

Love is a verb. It is a daily choice I make to not fall backwards, and of course I still have my “Ugggggh I wish my ass were smaller” days. Who doesn’t?! But without therapy, I would still be suffering. I know that. Every week, I sit on a couch and I work through 30 years of issues, slowly untangling the knots to get back to the perfectly flawed center that makes me uniquely me. And that has nothing to do with what size I am.

The other big thing I credit with helping me not fall backwards is yoga. A little while ago, I watched a speech given by Kelly Morris. She was talking about meditation practices and how yoga has been co-opted by white fitness experts who mainly tout its physical benefits rather than the psychological and spiritual ones, and one sentence stuck out to me: “These meditation practices aren’t meant to help you navigate the shit you call your life. They are meant to eliminate the shit altogether. They are meant to erase pain of any kind.” I don’t want to treat myself badly anymore because yoga has erased most of my needless suffering. I excavate my heart and soul and use it as fuel to help others. It’s very much in line with the yoga principle ahimsa, or nonviolence. You have to practice ahimsa towards yourself before you can push it outward.

Other ways I avoid my disorder? I haven’t weighed myself in five years. I avoid “fat talk” or fat-shaming of any kind, and I immediately change the subject if people around me engage in it. I eat healthy when I can, but I don’t beat myself up if I don’t. I don’t buy magazines anymore (although I flip through them in the line at the grocery store, because pretty clothes are my Kryptonite). I just…stopped caring what other people thought.

And that is the most powerful weapon we have against eating disorders. I use psychological tools to reach a place where I truly don’t give a shit.

I obviously don’t mean I’m just a lazy bum now. Doing cardio, lifting weights, practicing yoga, and eating well are reflexive to me. It’s something that I want to do in order to feel good, and it helps clear my anxiety. But “eating well” to me could mean one day I have salads and sweet potatoes and chicken and green smoothies, and another day I could go to a sushi place with my best friend and eat tempura handrolls with some green tea ice cream as a chaser. I like to eat well and exercise because it makes me feel good. And every day I make conscious choices to treat myself in a way that isn’t abusive.

Love is the answer to most things. But eating disorders are virulent and violent and terrible. I relapsed three times over the course of 2010 to 2011, and every time I relapsed I thought to myself “THIS time I’ll stop.” The last time, it stuck. And at the time, I did it for a dude.

Now, I’m doing it for myself. Self care should always and forever be for yourself.

And if there’s any one girl out there (or one boy, for that matter) reading this, who can benefit from my story and who makes the decision to recover, I will have done my job. Do it for you. You are the only you who has ever been.

I salute your light. You are enough.

ally

PS. I have also come around to the fact that I am not meant to be small. I am meant to be expansive and strong. In the words of my lovely mother, I am, “built like a German swimmer.”

Save the Co-op: An open letter to President Susan Herbst and the University of Connecticut.

When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with books. My parents, themselves voracious readers, fed my addiction as well as any enablers could. They took me to the library every chance they got, and for birthdays and Christmases they plied me with as many books as I could carry. I’m now an adult, the holder of a Master’s Degree in English from UConn, and I still consider books to be the best possible gift you can give someone – what better way to show someone you care than to give them an entire world to get lost in?

Two years ago, I snagged what I considered a dream job – I became a bookseller at the University of Connecticut bookstore. I’d already worked at the Co-op once before, as a student in 2006, but this was different. This would be working in an independent general bookstore, surrounded by likeminded people. I would be helping coordinate the annual Children’s Book Fair, an event that has seen the likes of Tomie dePaola (Strega Nona), Ann M. Martin (The Babysitter’s Club), and Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid). I would be helping other people discover new favorites and old classics. I would spend my days constantly surrounded by books in one of the few bastions of independent, cooperative bookstores in a state that has seen so many college bookstores lose their identities to corporate takeovers. And for two years, my job has been pretty much perfect, and my house is practically clogged with Advance Reader Editions of books that haven’t even come out yet. In addition, I’ve bought countless books for my Dad because he loves having a daughter work at an independent bookstore, so he can bug her for hours about whether or not the new Cormoran Strike novel has come out in the U.S. yet.

Now, that job and the jobs of many others are going to be dramatically impacted.

The University of Connecticut is strongly considering selling the UConn Co-op to an outside corporation such as Barnes and Noble. While I understand the business practicalities of such a maneuver – and universities are increasingly run like businesses – I cannot in good faith let such an egregious decision go by unnoticed. Here are some of the consequences that would accrue from letting the Co-op go corporate:

  • Loss of the textbook price comparison software
  • Textbooks won’t be available all year long (most likely, on a first-come, first-served basis)
  • Textbook buyback payouts will decrease
  • A cutback in student jobs
  • Layoffs of the current Co-op full-time staff
  • Decrease of student support services (such as tech repair, shipping services, Apple computer support, orientation packages, graduation ticket sales, bus ticket sales, and, much, much more)
  • Less support of student organizations
  • Loss of the student voice in the governance of the bookstore
  • No more Secret Sales
  • Less student supplies available (such as school supplies, art materials, and housing essentials)

On top of these, we will also probably lose our in-house buyers, which is a major reason why we are so beloved by our community. We would go from having someone on the premises who knows our stock inside and out, to a satellite entity who doesn’t know anything about what our community and store-goers want or need.

The reason why so many people love the UConn Co-op and the UConn Bookstore at Storrs Center is the personal relationship they have with our buyers and the personal commitment we all have to this university and, more importantly, to this community of Storrs/Mansfield. I have had several people say to me that if the Co-op goes corporate, they will no longer purchase from us and will take their business online. That is a profound loss of business, but more importantly, it is a loss of heart.

The positive changes UConn has undergone in the decade-plus since I first arrived as a college freshman to its campus are staggering. We pride ourselves on being the best, in both the state and the country. We are consistently at the top of lists that exalt our research capabilities, the advances we make in technology, and the ways in which we make money for the state. Heck, we were chosen above Yale to display the Shakespeare folio! Not only that, but obviously, this issue is a deeply personal one for me and not in the way you might expect. I got two degrees from UConn, I teach at UConn, and I work part-time at UConn. I don’t do this because of my personal connection to the University as Geno’s daughter. I do this because I have a deep love for this community and what it represents. To me, UConn is more than a campus. It is a second home. I’ve been going to the UConn Co-op since its first big location next to the Homer Babbidge Library, and what always made me love it (and buy TONS of books from it) were the passionate people who worked there. My former boss, Suzy Staubach, worked here for 40 years and was instrumental in building the business model that you see today – one that thrives on personal connections to everyone that comes into the store, and one that seeks to create interpersonal communities sot hat the UConn campus becomes united. A corporate entity would, ultimately, destroy those fragile bonds, cut jobs, and ruin what makes the Co-Op so special, all for the sake of turning a profit.

Let’s show the other colleges that there’s a reason our bookstores are so successful in the independent model. We have a chance to do something different. To do something bold. To go against the grain.

Because that is what makes us unique. That, to me, is what makes us UConn Country.

Yours sincerely,

Alysa Auriemma

PS. If you’d like to sign the petition to #savetheCoop, go here: https://www.change.org/p/dannel-malloy-alan-calandro-eliza-conrad-patti-fazio-michael-george-robert-hasenfratz-michael-kirk-kyle-muncy-sally-reis-susan-herbst-martha-bedard-save-the-uconn-co-op?recruiter=false&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=copylink

2015 – Hear My Voice 

If you had told me on December 31st, 2014, when I was upset and ignored at a New Year’s Eve party, “you’re going to end up single at this time next year, and you’re going to be the most content you’ve ever been,” I would’ve looked at you and said “I can’t be single! I’ll be 30! Thirty years old and single? I might as well get broken down and sold for spare parts and boxed up. Women have a sell by date. Put a fork in me, I’m done.” And I would’ve blissfully ignored you, and gone on in a relationship that was slowly crumbling at the edges. Like most things that fall apart, I avoided it. (Also, yes I’m a feminist but internalized misogyny can get the better of me sometimes ok?)

If you had come to me in June, when I was going through my breakup and could barely get out of bed – when I didn’t want to die, but being alive didn’t sound too hot either – and said “in December you are going to be so happy you won’t even believe it,” I would’ve told you to fuck off, rolled back underneath the covers, and kept waiting for a phone call that never came, that every girl going through this stuff hopes they’ll receive. Inside, I would’ve thought to myself all of this pain better be worth it. 

If you had told me in September, when I found out some really upsetting information that I won’t go into (because they know I know) and told me “give it three more months. You’re going to be so glad,” I would’ve been like WHY DO YOU KEEP ON SHOWING UP GO AWAY YOU FOUL WITCH and I would’ve put another hole in the wall to deal with the searing ball of heartbreak that turned into a rotten core of hate. 

That ball of hate is still there. But it’s smaller. And here we are. It’s December. And that strange phantom was right. 

It was all worth it. 

Because this was the year I found my voice. A voice that had spent so long in quiet deference to someone else. A voice that had decided, personally, that giving up all of her scary hopes and dreams in service of someone who treated her badly seemed like a great idea. A voice that had been suffocated under the pressure of bad decisions, upsetting points of view, and feeling like I was worthless. A voice that had been caged by what I now know was an emotionally abusive situation, but I refused to see it because it was better than being alone. A voice that had become anxious and depressed because I was in a situation that constantly made me feel that way. I thought if I didn’t have that, I’d be alone. 

Well I was never alone. This year, all of the people I thought I had lost? Those people came back. They fought for me. They pulled me out of that dark place. They gave me drinks. They bought me food. They told me I was better than this. My career ended up taking off. I got hired for a ton of writing websites such as Upworthy and The Mary Sue. I saw a ton of Broadway shows with great friends. And I realized I wanted to pursue a full time writing career. Something I was scared to do before because it was implied that I would be a burden. 

Slowly, I started remembering who I was again. I’m a girl who always has optimism. A girl who needs people on her side that see the brightness in a situation. A girl that likes to go to New York and see Broadway shows several times a year. A girl who does musicals and plays (two coming up in 2016!) and doesn’t want to defer to anyone. A girl who shouldn’t take shit but yet somehow deluded herself to put up with shit for years because she literally thought she couldn’t do better. 

Because she accepted the love she thought she deserved. 

I’m still here. I am not a burden. I am no one’s wet blanket. 

May 2016 be the year that I am unapologetically myself. May it be the year I finally own up to figuring myself out piece by piece. And may it be the year I just have a great time by myself. If a man works himself into the picture, that’s fine too. I need someone who’s okay with the fact that I could be just as awesome without him. It takes a lot of guts to choose someone like me. I won’t settle for anything less than pure courage. Love, after all, is the opposite of fear. 

You are the only one that you are with from the day of your birth to the day of your death. You better be okay with who you are. 

I’m still angry, don’t get me wrong. Still questioning. I’m not putting a timetable on the day when I wake up and I’m not angry anymore. But the anger isn’t completely taking over my life like it used to. Thank goodness for family and therapy and great friends. And singing. 

The life I have now, versus the life I had last year? 

Yeah. 2015, despite everything, was a great year. My voice is back. 

In a moment of anger, I was told this year “You have no idea who you are. You still need to figure yourself out.”

He was wrong. I knew exactly who I was. I still know. I was just in a position where I was too afraid to say who I was, because I didn’t want to be left alone. 

I’m not afraid anymore. 

Being alone gave me my power. 

Watch out. 

Ally

Emotional Abuse. 

I’ve been in several types of emotionally abusive relationships. 

Now that I’m older, wiser, and more in tune with figuring out what I need (and more importantly, what I deserve), I wanted to take some time to write down a few ways to spot if you’re in an emotionally abusive situation. 

Ask yourself the following questions. 

1. Do you feel lonely in their company? Like they’re giving off the impression that you’re the last possible thing on their mind? Do you call to them across the room and they ignore you? Do you feel stupid, fat, ugly, and like they make decisions without even thinking about your needs? 

2. Do they make every issue in the relationship your fault, especially when it’s actually their issue? 

3. Do they immediately get angry when you try to explain why you’re feeling hurt about a particular situation, and manipulate the problem to an extent that you feel bad and end up apologizing to them?

4. Are they possessive?  

5. Do you end up blaming yourself for everything that went wrong in the relationship, to the point where you are made to defend the other person every time they come up?

6. Do they, in subtle or unsubtle ways, blame everything on you? 

7. Do they get irritated by your very presence, to the point that you begin to silence yourself in order to avoid making them mad?

8. Do you cry more than you laugh?

9. Do you feel like bringing any of this up will make them blame you?

10. Do you feel lost? Like you did something terrible to anger them but you can’t remember what it is? Do you sit up at night crying, feeling hurt, worried, depressed, angry, and like nothing you do will ever change the constant feeling that you are nothing?

Get out. 

Now. 

Before you lose more of your soul. Before you feel like a pile of garbage on the side of the road. Before you end up like how I was. Broken. Questioning. Blaming myself. Before I realized something. None of it was my fault. Oh sure I had my issues. But abuse is never the fault of the victim. 

I don’t recognize the girl I was this summer. Because that girl? That girl would have walked on broken glass for half an acknowledged stare. I have learned. I am not nearly so foolish now. 

Now, I prefer to be called a survivor. 

You have no idea what light and infinite possibilities – what hope – awaits you when you set yourself free. 

I feel free. Free, and more content. Happiness is fleeting. Contentment you can’t buy. I LOVE my jobs. I love my family. I love my life. All of the things that I thought I was lacking because he told me I shouldn’t be satisfied. 

I know, finally, what love is. And more importantly, what love is NOT. 

Love is not ignoring. Love is not in-communication. Love is not ignoring problems and blaming it on the other person. Love is not refusing to get help. Love is not feeling like no matter what you do, the other person will never put you on the top of their priority list. 

I deserve a love that equalizes me. That creates in me a better version of myself. That doesn’t make me actively despise my life. 

Love should never put you in a cage. 

Love sets you free.

And in loving myself, I found liberation. 

I will never make those mistakes again. 

Ally 

“There Is Still Hope.” On Arwen and the Audacity of Optimism.

“If you trust nothing else, trust this. Trust us.” – Arwen, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

This is the nerdiest post I will ever write. You have been warned.

People tend to be quite surprised when I tell them my favorite character from Lord of the Rings is Arwen Undomiel, daughter of Lord Elrond, wife of Aragorn and Queen of the Reunited Kingdoms in the Fourth Age. It’s definitely a choice that’s a bit out of left field; when I say my favorite character from Game of Thrones is Dany, for example, it’s a much more obvious and clear decision. And while my choices for favorite Man, Dwarf, or hobbit in the trilogy are pretty obvious (Eomer, Gimli, ALL OF THEM DO NOT MAKE ME CHOOSE) my love and borderline obsession with Arwen will not be denied. Arwen Arwen ARWEN.

The reason for their surprise is quite obvious. Arwen doesn’t really have a whole heck of a lot to do in the main body of Tolkien’s text – the bulk of her story occurs in the first Appendix, “The Tale of Aragorn and Arwen.” In the main body, she appears extremely briefly in Fellowship of the Ring, then doesn’t appear at all in The Two Towers, and then shows up to marry Aragorn at the end of Return of the King. (Although people forget that the entire reason Frodo is able to go to the Undying Lands of Valinor at the end of the trilogy is because Arwen gave him her seat on the ship BUT I DIGRESS.) As far as Arwen’s personality goes, she spends most of the text doing the kind of bosom-heaving sighs that tend to drive me absolutely ballistic in most fantasy texts. She’s not as outwardly badass as Witch King-slaying drag-wearing Eowyn, or as perceptive and magical as Lady Galadriel of Lothlorien. She doesn’t even get cool songs and fun stuff to do like Goldberry in the House of Bombadil, or fire arrows like the film-only Tauriel in The Hobbit series. 

Tolkien’s women have been roundly criticized in their flaw-free, pedestal-straddling perfection, which is probably warranted. But I would like to argue another reading that might clarify why I’m drawn so much to Arwen.

I have an issue with female characters in fantasy/sci-fi texts being categorized solely as a Strong Female Character. You know, the type who is constantly swinging a sword, has zero concept of emotionality or humanity, and is basically, written EXACTLY like a man would be in the same part. I see some of this dichotomy in Eowyn, actually – Eowyn spends most of the text frustrated at the fact that she can’t fight alongside the men and ends up dressing up as Dernhelm to take part in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields. Granted, I LOVE this, so it’s not like I’m complaining about Eowyn.

In the original Miramax treatment of the script, Peter Jackson tried to figure out ways of including Arwen into the film that would bring her and Aragorn together physically. One of those ideas became Arwen turning into much more of a fighter, like Eowyn, to the point that images started floating around the Internet of Arwen coming to the Battle of Helm’s Deep and the actress who portrayed her, Liv Tyler, getting trained in swordfighting. Halfway through the filming of this scene, however, the screenwriters and Jackson realized that this probably wasn’t the way Tolkien intended for Arwen to be portrayed, and when they started to mine the Appendices they realized something quite remarkable. In Liv Tyler’s words, “You don’t have to put a sword in her hands to make her strong. This is an incredibly powerful and fearless woman, filled with so much hope, and belief, and that is strong enough.”

Arwen embodies hope. Hope in the face of utter doom and despair. She even tells her father there is still hope, even when he tries to tell her that Men will fail and that the time of the Elves is over. She is the heart of strength in the text. I will be analyzing several scenes in the film that highlight this fact.

In Fellowship of the Ring, Arwen’s part is expanded so she, not Glorfindel, takes the injured Frodo across the River Bruinen to Rivendell. At one point, confronted with the Ringwraiths, she does wield a sword, Hadhafang (which belonged to her grandmother Idril, I TOLD YOU THIS POST WOULD BE NERDY), but she doesn’t actually use it. Instead, she connects to nature itself, and causes a flood to trample over the Ringwraiths to save Frodo’s life. In the book, this spell is created by Elrond, and I LOVE that they gave it to Arwen in the movie because it highlights a strength that comes from nature and a communion with the things around us.

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Nin O Chithaglaer, lasto beth Daer – Rimmo nin Bruinen dan in Ulaer!

Immediately following this moment, she cradles Frodo to her chest and prays that the Grace she has been given as an immortal Elf be passed to him, so that he can be spared from the poison of the Morgul blade. A badass sword-wielding woman who can control the elements but is not afraid to show naked emotion? Yep.

I feel like the film version not only heightens Arwen’s role in the film, it makes her environment more complicated and ultimately more feminist. When she binds her soul to Aragorn and forsakes her immortal life (which critics have called “the greatest sacrifice in the entire story”), it calls into mind the idea that the entire storyline involving Arwen in the movie is about a woman gaining, losing, and then definitively reclaiming the power of her own choice. Everyone keeps telling her that her choices are wrong, or dangerous – Elrond, her father, tries to dissuade her from staying in Middle Earth by painting a heartbreaking verbal image of what her life will be like if she gives up her immortality. She will have to watch Aragorn die, walk the Earth alone, and then die broken under the fading trees of Cerin Amroth (the spot in Lothlorien where she and Aragorn pledged their love). It’s a devastating scene.

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This image, of course, scares the living shit out of Arwen, which I kind of love. She isn’t passively making choices without an understanding of the consquences – this kind of grief frightens her tremendously. Rather than just pressing on and suffering in silence, she makes another choice – she heads to the Grey Havens to pass to the Undying Lands.

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But Elrond, the tricky bastard he is, forgot to mention one tiny little thing he saw in his vision: Arwen and Aragorn have children. And on her way to the Grey Havens, Arwen has a vision of her son, Eldarion, and the image is so overwhelming to her that she ends up reclaiming her original choice. She just turns right around, heads back to Rivendell, bitches out her father for not giving her all of what he saw, and tells Elrond to reforge the shards of Narsil into Anduril, Flame of the West.

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And he does. And he finally lets Arwen make her own choices. Are they bad choices? It doesn’t matter. They are HER  choices. And one of the core tenets of feminism is the fight for every woman to have the ability to make her own choice.

So you’ve got a proactive, autonomous woman firmly believing in the power of hope. That, to me, is a different kind of courage, but one that is infinitely more relateable than swinging a sword around.

This kind of hope can be a serious detriment in today’s world, when so many people are dumpster fires of negativity and self-loathing. I used to date someone who mocked me when I stated that I believed that things turned towards the positive, and actually laughed in my face when I told him I believed things happened for a reason. “That’s incredibly naive,” he said, with the tone of a college professor delivering a verbal smackdown on a student who immediately becomes deflated and disillusioned with everything in the world. As if i wasn’t aware that this world can be painful and cruel. I know the world can be a shitty place. I choose to believe in hope IN SPITE of these painful realities.

Arwen reminds me that this kind of hope is not naive. It is one of the clearest, strongest forms of bravery we have. At the end of Return of the King, Arwen faces the fact that she will lose Aragorn and she will die alone, she faces the knowledge that there is much grief and pain ahead of her, and she doubles down on her choice and marries Aragorn anyway. She chooses hope over despair. Love over fear. I can’t think of many choices in the text that are more brave than that.

 

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Adorable people are adorable.

ally

PS – on a much less serious note, I absolutely love that the camera immediately cuts from Arwen and Aragorn kissing at the coronation to Elrond’s face, and he’s got this small little half-smile and it’s like he’s going “Sure, okay, go hump my daughter, I’m totally cool with this.”

PPS – this post is inspired by the fact that I just got the whole trilogy on Blu-Ray and I’m feeling all of the feelings. I’m also planning on re-reading the trilogy this December. Expect lots of feelings then too.