“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.

tumblr_mf89x4kcbk1rqg00io7_r1_500

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.

tumblr_n20vdpeyfe1r9ndd2o1_500

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.

tumblr_lyu4ou08zz1qbyodho1_500

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.

tumblr_ns0awvqlww1u90rb3o1_500

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.

 

tumblr_m9a46lavqx1rbl3zto1_250

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. 

For the Last Love. 

The first first love was when I was in eighth grade. You know the kind. The kind that makes you flush purple whenever you get a glance from them. The kind of Cady Heron, would be grateful for him to even ask me what day of the week it is infatuation. I asked him to dance at one of the fall mixers. He said no. The group of popular girls he was with laughed at me. I cried in my mom’s car on the way home, not even bothering to attach my seat belt.

The second first love was high school. We did a play together. He was everything I thought I wanted. One day he was asking people for gum and when I told him I had some, he hugged me. I carried that hug like a Holy Grail. I never asked for anything more. That was enough.

My third first love was in college. I saw him in the library and something shifted. I wanted to be around him all the time. Nothing made sense. I analyzed everything he said to me. We never went further than small hugs and high fives. That was enough.

Paralyzing, wretched fear. I was so afraid of doing anything, of getting hurt, that I worshipped from afar. I refused to see them as human, because that meant I would have to see myself as one too. I was too flawed, too weird, too damaged. Loving from a safe distance was enough.

Four years ago I decided that I had had enough of “safe” love, but I forgot to put my own boundaries in place. I threw myself into a love that was so all-consuming, so engulfing, that I completely forgot to see myself inside of it. When it fell apart, I fell apart too, because I hadn’t thought of what I needed to be within that love. In the need to be with this other person, I forgot to be my own. In the urge to take care of the one I desperately loved, I forgot to take care of myself. In the ashes, I realized I had a lot of work to do.

So this isn’t actually about the first loves. This is about the last love. This is about the love that will carry me through to the end of my days.

I feel that promises and vows shouldn’t be saved for white dresses and flower boughs. Promises should be made now. Promises I intend to keep. I love myself enough now to keep these promises. 

I cannot promise I will be neat and tidy. Sometimes it will appear as if my laundry pile will become sentient. But I will try. I will try every day.

I can’t promise an even keel. I will be angry, emotional, sad, happy, doubled over in laughter and breaking down into your arms in a flood of tears. I promise to trust you with these emotions, because I know you are fearless enough to handle it. In return, I ask that you are brave enough to do the same for me.

I can’t promise I will be a flaw free partner, who is perfectly put together mentally and physically. I can promise that my flaws, the kind that are damaging and traumatic, are constantly being addressed and worked on with the help of professionals. If you are going through the same fears and doubts and trauma, I trust that you will love me and the possibility of us to work just as hard on your own mental health, and dismantle the patterns that destroy strong foundations.

I can’t promise that my love will be easy. I can promise to try to liberate you through my love. Love, ultimately, should set us free.

I can’t promise to be a sideline participant in the grand performance of life, watching you as you make your way through the world, holding up a pom-pom and passively smiling. I can’t promise I will be the Good Wife. I will promise to be an active partner in every decision we make. Even the difficult ones. Even the heartbreaking ones. I ask that you do the same for me. We are in this together. 

I can’t promise I will be Giada de Laurentiis, barefoot and big-chested,  whipping up ravioli that would make the Pope weep. I will promise that the food we eat will be accompanied by laughter, conversation, and the happiness we find in each others’ company.

I cannot promise I will be a perfect Mom who makes all of the right decisions at PTO meetings. But our children will never know greater love than the love we give them, and I will try my hardest to be the best Mom I can be.

I cannot, and will not, promise it will be easy. I’m still trying to make my way in the world. I can’t promise we’ll have a lot of money, or that my career will be airtight. But I can promise laughter, and hard work, and hand holding, and embraces that go to the soul of you. I can promise inside jokes and gentle words and furious passion. I can promise myself, just as I am.

I will fail you, over and over again. And you will fail me. We’re human. We will pick ourselves back up and try again and again. We will choose each other, every day, forever, because we are better with each other.

Love is the only thing that keeps us from the wolves.

These are the promises I forgot to make, the oaths I thought didn’t need to be sworn. These are the vows I make for myself. Because right now, I have me.

I don’t give a shit about what sports teams you like, what movies you prefer, whether or not you’re a fan of musical theater, or if you’re gluten free. I don’t care if you don’t like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, or if you drink red wine. I don’t care if you have a million friends you’ve known since kindergarten or one good friend that’s seen you through it all. Do you care about things that make your heart beat faster? Do you show passion for life, and everything that it offers? Will you be brave enough to say “yes”? To life, to me, to love? Do you love me so much that you can’t be without me? Do I offer the same for you? That, in the end, is all that matters.

You’re out there, somewhere. I won’t say you’re waiting for me, because my last love won’t be passive. You’ll be living, actively and hungrily, and we’ll collide like two stars.

Collide with me. Change the world with me. Love and live with me.

It’s not much to ask. 

ally

Gifts in the Garbage.

I am the one thing in life I can control
I am inimitable, I am an original
I am not falling behind or running late
I am not standing still, I am lying in wait
Life doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints
It takes and it takes and it takes and we keep living anyway
We rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes
And if there’s a reason I’m still alive while so many have died
I’m willing to wait for it.
Hamilton, “Wait For It”

I spent this summer feeling like garbage. Not in the sense that I was sick, or mentally disturbed (there were times where I did feel like that, of course). But I felt like literal, human garbage. Like I was someone you could tie up in a neat, fragrance-packed knot, and place on the road for the trucks to sweep up or the cats to find.

I don’t say this for pity. I don’t want your pity. It was what it was. It is what it is.

A few months ago, I went through a very traumatic, very messy situation. It was traumatic because I made it traumatic. It was messy because I went in like a hammer. I think Miley got it wrong when she said she came in like a wrecking ball. A hammer goes for smaller targets. It hits hard. You can aim a hammer.

I was all in, entirely committed. A little too committed. Sometimes I acted like I should’ve been committed. And I gave up too much of myself. Not because I was being asked to, I want to clarify. None of this was coming from anybody but me. It was my first time feeling anything that real. I felt like I had to be whatever fit the very model of a modern, major woman. Because that would have made us fit. That would have made us last. That would have made me worthy of whatever this was.

At times, I became someone I didn’t recognize. I muzzled my voice.

But it was okay! Love changes you sometimes, so it’s okay. Love makes you change everything about yourself to fit a highly idealized picture in your head that will probably never come to fruition because for the love of god you’re human. Right?

I imagined wild pictures of a blissful future, papering over my vast problems. I kept running out of money, which deeply embarrassed me because it reminded me that I was nearly 30 and didn’t have a full time job, which made me feel like a colossal failure. I didn’t get into a PhD program, which ruined my conception of what I thought my life should be like. I cried all the time. I gained weight. I felt useless. Like garbage.

But I pretended it was fine. Everything was fine, I told myself as I stared at my phone, night after night, because God forbid I engage in actual conversation. God forbid I actually open up. I was so afraid.

And then it all fell apart.

Afterwards, I went a little, well, crazy. I tried to demand answers. I found myself circling a drain of self-loathing I thought I had left behind when I kicked my eating disorder, but now since I didn’t want to binge or hurt my body, I lost days of my life to tears. I lost people in my life that meant the world to me. When I look back at the time, I feel deep guilt and embarrassment.

My problems – my attachments, my inability to be my own person, my lack of stable finances – ate me alive. I didn’t really have a life outside. So when this major event happened, I didn’t just lose one aspect of my life. I lost people I considered my family. I lost, what I thought was everything, because – and this was a big epiphany – I had nothing left of myself anymore.

So there I was. On my own. And I had no idea how to handle it, because I had no life outside of this thing that had consumed me for so many years. And of course, I did all of the things people do in these situations – I threw out everything that meant something during that time, I Facebooked things I shouldn’t have, I looked at pictures of new relationships and used them as excuses to get really, really sad. But I started to realize that maybe the reason this was all hitting me so hard was because I had allowed myself to be so consumed by something, that I completely forgot to take care of myself and my own needs. And as a feminist, that realization didn’t just break my heart. It pissed me off!

If any young girls are reading this – do not make those mistakes. Have your own life. Because when things go wrong, as they sometimes do, you will find yourself feeling marooned in a vast sea of your own making.

My friends kept telling me “you’re handling things remarkably well.” That amused me, because my friends weren’t seeing me when I would go home at night, lay in bed, look at the laundry that wasn’t done, the floors that weren’t swept, the garbage that wasn’t taken out, and be unable to sleep for hours because of the pit of gnawing anxiety that had settled itself around my heart. Why should I take out the garbage? The garbage is still here. It’s inside of me. I can’t let go of garbage in my heart.

And of course, in the deepest recesses of the night, the fear that snuck up on me and has been tiptoeing around the edges of my soul since I was first thrown down at the playground. There is no point to love. You will be put out into the street with the other garbage, and taken away to rot.

My therapist says I rely too much on an arbitrary timetable for my life and that I’m being way too hard on myself. To that, I responded, “I’m hard on myself because no one tells me not to be.”

When you live the life I live, surrounded by people who have done ridiculously accomplished things, it can be hard to not feel like a little troll in the corner belching out inadequacies left and right. My mom used to joke around with me that I have the skin of a tortoise. Hard, impenetrable, impervious to mockery or jokes. And in 80% of my life, that’s true. Not when it comes to this. When it comes to this point in my life, every setback gets me in the soft underbelly.

I tried to stay as busy as I possibly could because any time i was alone, I felt the white heat of grief come in like a torrent. I spent several hours in my car, listening to songs girls listen to when this shit happens (obviously Taylor Swift’s entire discography got played the hell out this summer) and slowly, quietly, saying goodbye to a version of my life that I thought would come true and didn’t.

Now, there have been absolutely incredible things that have happened to me personally this year. I wrote an Afterword to a book that got published. I spoke at a conference. I got a job as a freelancer. I published an article on Upworthy that got nearly 2,000 likes. I talked to several people about possibly writing a book. I’m probably going to end up writing more than one book by the time I’m 31. I’m back in theater when I thought I would never get on stage again. I’m singing again, and in front of people! And now that I’m singing again, I never want to stop. So, of course, there were parts of this year that I wouldn’t take back for a second, and I’m so happy and grateful for those parts of my year. And for the first time ever, I actually like being by myself, making my own choices, and developing my own voice.

But to get to that point, I had to fall apart, and this year, I fell apart. I fell apart a hundred times. I felt humiliated, heartbroken, abandoned, you name it. I still feel like I’m falling apart every once and a while and I have no timetable for when I will stop falling apart. You can’t put a time limit on how deeply you feel, how wide you grieve. Eventually, I know, it will get easier. When you break a bone, the part that broke becomes the strongest place on the bone after it heals. I should be entirely built out of titanium. And I don’t want this experience to take away my capacity to love, because that’s one of the best things I do. I love people so much, I forget to like myself sometimes.

People appeared in my life. They took my hand. They wiped away my tears. And they told me I was the furthest thing from garbage. Slowly, like a caterpillar starting to break through the cocoon, I’ve begun to believe what they’re telling me. I started to laugh. I remembered what it felt like to play. I took long walks. I started meditating again. I remembered what it felt like to lose yourself in the arms of people who hold you tight, who aren’t letting go, who honest to goodness won’t leave.

One of my favorite sayings stems from a Buddhist proverb – “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I think at this point of my life, I was ready to be taken apart and put back together again by the teacher called Life. I was ready to be forced to look at the parts of myself that were, in fact, garbage – the addictions, the compulsions, the mania, the loneliness, the pained – and toss them out into the street.

When you’re in pain, you can’t be of service to anyone. So my job right now is to sit with this pain, and to deal with it, and to not burden someone else with my shit. I will not be seeing anyone, at all, until I am done feeling this pain. To do otherwise would be a great disrespect to the work I still have to do on myself. Lord knows, I have a lot of work to do. But I want to do that work. Jumping into a new relationship, or a new anything, wouldn’t fix what’s going on in my heart and mind. It would put a Band-Aid on it. I don’t want easy fixes. Give me the hard lessons that make me a better person.

I still have all of the same problems but my mindset about them is shifting. The other night, I went to go visit my new nephew. He’s long, with huge arms and legs, and my other nephews don’t care about money or traumas or break-ups or loss. Their world revolves around this new, pink, wrinkled thing their mommy brought into the world. The middle one (my godson) had a terrible stomach bug so he wasn’t allowed to get too close to the baby, but while my sister and I were talking, he sneaked up to the baby and put his hand on his foot, and I noticed and didn’t say anything because he was holding the baby’s foot. It was one of the most beautiful act of love I’ve ever seen.

May I always remember that within the garbage lies the greatest gifts, and may I have the courage to wait for the next gift.

All

An Open Statement to Colin McEnroe.

If you stand for nothing, what will you fall for?Hamilton, “The Room Where It Happens”

This year, I’ve started to get into the concept of “getting paid to write things.” So far, it’s been awesome. I’ve seen my work published in the Hartford Courant and on websites such as Hello Giggles and Upworthy. I have a lot of teachers who have been instructing me along the way – one of my oldest friends was a journalism major at UConn and she currently teaches courses on communications, and one of her biggest pieces of advice to me was “Always be aware of context.”

This seems particularly apt today. I was driving to work and was parked in the garage, gathering my things, when a friend of mine texted me the latest editorial from Courant writer Colin McEnroe. The article proceeded to conflate the recent remarks made by my Dad and the actions of Luke Gatti, aka, “Drunk Asshole At UConn Who Really Wanted Mac and Cheese” guy (look for an article about that, written by me, coming soon to Hamilton-Griffin!). The article basically stated that the words and actions by Dad and Luke Gatti are coming from the same place in the soul, and one guy is being defended while the other is being arrested. He also called Dad an “invective spewing troll”, which, to be honest, is a great insult.

Once I stopped crying (not kidding; I put the phone down and sat in my car and sobbed because, yes, I’m a 30 year old woman, but that’s my Dad, man), I got really, really angry.

I don’t even need to tell you how this article got it wrong. But I’m going to attempt it. Because as a journalist, a writer, and an all around human, I need to clarify how this article gets things wholly off.

  1. On the “Women who bitch and moan that there’s no attention paid to women’s basketball aren’t lining up to buy tickets” comment: I have several friends my age – several female friends – who go to a ton of sporting events a year. They don’t go to any female basketball games, or really any female athletic events. Yet, they complain about the lack of attention paid to female sports. As a feminist, I feel that this is a bad move. We as women need to pay more attention. We don’t tap into our power because we are taught we don’t have any. It shouldn’t take a goddamn 60 year old man to call us out on our false feminism. Five years ago I dated a guy who told me, to my face, that he didn’t give a shit about women’s sports. And yes, athletes such as Serena Williams and Ronda Rousey are straight up killing it and that’s fantastic. But they are the exceptions to the rule. And the fact of the matter is, I’ve heard male friends of mine refer to the WNBA as “dyke league.” (Wait. Former male friends. That’s better.) The media won’t pay attention if we don’t.
  2. On the “Some of our fans are so goddamn stupid it’s unbelievable” comment – They are. Not all of them. Not by a long shot. But a subsection of our fanbase simply refuses to go to the games because they’ve gotten bored. They feel entitled. They feel indolent because we win all of them. They leave the games before they’re over. (I know, I know – the traffic out of Storrs blows, and this is a way to avoid traffic. I completely understand that argument. But it just doesn’t look good!) In this way – and I know this is a surprise – Dad is actually calling out the type of culture that breeds people like Luke Gatti. Entitled, spoiled people who want what they want and rage when they don’t get it. THAT is the culture we should be concerned about, not the people who are demanding we see the emperor as he really is. And that is who Dad is pointing his verbal trigger at. He’s probably seen the video because he’s more obsessed with the Internet than I am (…seriously) but I bet he looked at Luke Gatti swinging and swerving his way through the Student Union and thought to himself “that kid is everything that’s wrong with our culture today.”
  3. COMPARING MY DAD TO LUKE GATTI. LIKE. WHAT.

If you watch that video, you do not see someone making rational, thought-out points of view regarding gender biases in sports, or trying to be inflammatory for the sake of sparking a conversation, or even someone who’s trying to make jokes and perhaps falling flat in portions. You’re watching a young man, clearly told from a young age (by his parents or by culture or by whoever) that the only thing that matters in this life is him getting what he wants. Now. No exceptions. And anyone else in his way should be shoved, spat upon, or called a f*ggott (or, in the case of his arrest at UMass-Amherst, a n*gger).

My father, for all of his faults, is why the University of Connecticut is the way it is today – a top-flight research institution with some of the best funding in the country. He is also the type of guy who starts something like the Sandy Hook Scholarship program, no questions asked, two days after a massive tragedy rocked our state, because that’s the kind of guy he is. You will never see him bully someone because, unlike synaptic brain farts like Luke Gatti, he actually wants the game to be better. You will never see a better ambassador for the game of basketball.

Yes, there are times he’ll say things that make my head crash down onto the desk. Yes, I listened to that podcast and there were a few moments where I thought to myself “Oh God, Dad, shut up.” Here’s the interesting thing, though – that podcast is part of the Grantland network. A network that up until very recently was spearheaded by a guy who actively despises women’s basketball and made many comments about his hatred of it (with the exception of D, because she “plays like a man.” Which, if you think about it, is just as misogynist). So the fact that Grantland had my Dad on there in the first place was a gift, because it means they are moving in the right direction, and he was able to reach a lot of people he may not have reached before.

The people who hate women’s basketball are always going to hate it (idiots). They’re going to hate it because they think it’s boring, because they want to watch people dunk. But I would encourage anyone who thinks like that to watch any of the footage from any of last year’s NCAA men’s games, which was like watching a 2 hour rugby match where it was JUST scrums and no action. I don’t want to watch two hours of grown, sweaty men trying to shove their heads up each others’ asses. (I’d be better off watching the GOP debates. BAZINGA.) Give me fluidity. Give me brains. Give me something that’s beautiful to watch.

Dad is trying to get people to watch a beautiful game, beautifully played. Luke Gatti wanted bacon jalepeno mac and cheese and felt no shame about trying to punch a university worker in order to get what he wanted. Comparing the two of them is inflammatory, but almost worse, it’s bad journalism.

Dad at least stands for something. Luke Gatti stands for himself and no one else.

What do you stand for, Mr. McEnroe?

ally

P.S: Also, uh, Luke Gatti wore sweatpants, and flip flops with SOCKS. My Dad wears Brioni ties. He would NEVER.

Forgiveness

Forgiveness. Can you imagine? Forgiveness. – Hamilton the Musical.

To everyone that has ever hurt me. 

I forgive you.

I forgive you even though it hurts. 

I forgive you when anger would be easier. 

The one who pushed me down in the playground. 

Who called me fat. Four-eyes. Whore. Skank. 

Who called me everything but my name because my name would have made me a person in your eyes. 

Who loved me when I didn’t like myself. 

Who made me feel like nothing else mattered so much. 

Who never answered my calls. 

Who told me to get over it when I cried for help. 

Who never told me anything at all. 

Who gave me silence when I wanted answers. 

I forgive you because I know no other way. It is not easy for me to feel indifference. To feel apathy. I just feel. I feel so much. 

I cannot feel nothing when it comes to the people who’ve broken me. Or, wait. They tried to break me. 

I think of you when the air turns cold. I wonder where you are now. If you’re happy. If you are wondering where I am. 

I cannot live in what ifs. I have to forgive. 

I forgive because I can’t do anything else. If I hold on to feelings of anger and hurt I will disintegrate into an ashen cloud of my own self loathing. 

I was angry at you because I allowed you to take over my life. So, I am angry at me for allowing myself to be consumed by another person. Another person that I loved so much I gave up the things I loved for them. I hate myself for that. I forgive myself for that.  

I sometimes wish I could start my life over in some spots. I would go up to the kids who pushed me down in the schoolyard and I would punch them in the mouth. Not because I want to hurt them. Because it would have meant I had a fist in the air called justice. Because it meant I would not have let them break me. 

I would have told those mentors who recommended I lose weight to fuck off. It would have saved me six years of eating disorders. 

I would tell sixteen year old me staring with wild eyes at the handsome boy in her play to stop wasting time on boys who are unavailable because for ten damn years I made a habit of holding doors open for men who weren’t even there to walk through the space I created. 

I would have loved you a little bit less. Because it would have saved me some space for my own self love to flower. And I would have told you every day how much you meant to me. To your face. And I would have put the damn phone down. 

I spent too long in a spiral of self loathing and hatred because I was putting people in my life who created that cycle for me. 

But right now the only thing I can do is look back on the myriad of incidents and accidents that compose my life and forgive. Forgive everyone. Because that’s the only way we can truly heal. 

I can’t forget, of course. But with every forgiveness, every act of love, the weight in my chest gets lighter. 
I forgive because I know no other way. 

I forgive you. I miss you. I forgive me. 

Ally 

I Am Not Crazy.

One of my favorite lines from Stephen Sondheim’s Passion is when the ugly, sickly Fosca tells handsome soldier Giorgio “I know I feel too much. I often don’t know what to do with my feelings.”

This summer, my feelings threatened to overtake me. To the point where I kept thinking to myself, “Does everyone think I’m crazy?”

There are moments in life when you’ll think you’re crazy. When you’re going through a time of severe grief, occasionally the thought maybe I’m losing my mind will flash across your consciousness.

There are times that I’ve literally sat on my yoga mat, with my hands in prayer position, asking God to take away my ability to feel so much, because it would mean I would be free of this heart-crushing, torrential flood of grief that every once and a while still manages to knock on my door like a shitty friend who wants to ruin your day.

It’s gotten easier. But every once and a while something will happen and I’ll be struck by another wave, and I attempt to stagger out from under the blue crush, pulling my hair out of my face and wiping sand out of my red eyes.

Walk. Fall. Get back up. Walk. Fall. Get back up. Walk. Fall.

This is my place to say whatever I want, and right now, on the cusp of turning thirty, I’d like to state something for the record.

I’m having some money issues. I’m working four jobs and I’m barely making ends meet. My check from work hasn’t come in yet, so I had to ask my parents for money the other day and was profoundly humiliated by the experience. I haven’t seen my nephews in a while – every time I see them I want to lock myself in a bathroom and cry because I’m terrified I’ll miss my window and I won’t be a mom. I lost friends this summer and I miss them every single day. My condo is a holy hot mess. I have a giant hole in my heart that I’m attempting to paper over. I sometimes feel like a gigantic failure. I’m scared a lot of the time and I cover it up with bravado.

Yet for all of this…I am happy. Honestly. I’m happy. I’m happy in my bones. Because this summer, I sat with all of those issues and problems in my life and I realized that they do not measure the weight and depth and breadth of the most important thing – my soul.

Every time I feel all of those indescribable feelings – every time I feel crazy – I look up into the sky, tears streaming down my face, and I say two words.

Thank you.”

Everything – and I mean everything – happens for a reason. I have been a complete and utter mess for the past four months, full of heartbreak and scorn and anger and confusion and tears and every other emotion you can possibly think of. But I’ve also made the decision to sit with that grief. To be alone with that grief. To lean into that grief. To refuse to give in to the things that would distract me from it. So this summer, I didn’t drink, I didn’t binge eat, I didn’t compulsively exercise, and I didn’t distract myself with meaningless hookups or rebound relationships. Any time I could be alone, I took it and I worked it to the bone. I sat still. I prayed. I ate ice cream. I cried buckets.

I had a lot of thinking, feeling, and growing up to do. My wonderful friend Jordan told me “Use this time as the karmic gift that it is and just really get in there and do the work.” I wasn’t going to see any improvement in myself, my career, or my future if I avoided the painful truths I had been concealing for a long time about myself. So I sat with it. And I discovered some serious ugliness at the core of my being, the nasty stuff at the center that I don’t let anyone else touch. It floored me. It gutted me. It ultimately released me.

I started to speak my truth. I told the truth. About how I was feeling, how I was thinking, and how people’s thoughts and actions affected me. No matter what. If someone asked how I was doing, I told them. I went down swinging. And I don’t regret a single thing I did, or said, during that time. I began to be impeccable with my word, and to never regret anything I say. I told the truth, even when it hurt. Even when I really didn’t want to. I cut people out of my life. I welcomed people back into my life. I felt more at peace than I ever have before. I realized I was happier than I’d been in a long, long time. And not the strange euphoria that is fleeting. I felt a deep sense of reconnecting with myself. Of remembering who I am, what I am, and what I need to fully feel happy.

On the cusp of thirty, I have big goals.

I will get a job. I want to be a writer, or I want to be involved in education. That much is a given. I know that eventually I will do something that makes my heart beat faster and allows me to help impact the world around me.

I will be a better friend, colleague, and performer. I want to be involved in theater until I can’t walk anymore and they have to wheel me onstage and off.

I will a husband (or he’ll find me). He’ll give my soul a home, and my future babies a father. I will not date until I know I can be ready to receive that kind of a gift. Does that sound crazy? Or does it sound like a woman who knows exactly what she needs. Also, there’s a big difference between “want” and “need”. I don’t “want” a boyfriend that will fill in the spaces of my loneliness just for now, only to dump him off later with the other retreads. I “need” a soul partner that will complement me in the ways that will set me free. I can’t afford to mess around. I want something real, something permanent, and something that will last forever.

Until then? I am spending a lot of time cleansing my soul. It’s been cracking me open. Clearing me out. Setting me free.

I am not crazy.

I am simply remembering what it feels like to get cracked open.

ally

Why I Am Boycotting the NFL for the 2015-2016 Season, Even Though I Love Football

I originally posted this as a contribution piece to the website Hamilton-Griffin. 

Let’s just get this out of the way first and foremost – I am a gigantic football fan. Some of my earliest memories from childhood are of running around on the blacktop on top of the garage across from the old football field at the University of Connecticut while my parents made hot dogs and hamburgers on a tiny grill. I played football with my brother on countless summer days, until he got too big and I realized that I really didn’t want to get tackled by a six-foot athlete. I support the New York Giants first and foremost, but because my family is from the Philadelphia area I’m fine if the Eagles win, too.
I know all of the rules and all of the regulations surrounding football, and it’s not because I’m trying to get men to like me. I just genuinely love the culture and camaraderie of football and sometimes, it’s fun to watch guys strap on pads and slam into each other over and over again. And when the game is played right, it’s a beautiful thing. There’s a reason why so many people watch and love football – because there’s a lot of tradition around it. I tailgate with the same people every year, and Football Sundays are a wonderful excuse to sit inside and watch The Red Zone all day.
So why I am boycotting a sport that I love for the entire 2015-2016 athletic season?
I am tired of what the NFL has come to represent – a money-grubbing, abusive cult of personality that continually disrespects its female fanbase, and is a huge source of danger to its players. This has been something I’ve felt long before Deflategate. Deflategate, and everything adjacent to it, has been a cover for much more serious issues that the NFL has refused to address in recent years, especially with the reign of Roger Goodell. Conversely, Deflategate is a symptom of a larger problem of permissive, under-the-table dealings that serve to only subsume the larger viewing audience into a culture that does not question. It only watches.
The NFL’s attempts to bring women into the boy’s club have been interesting at best, and laughable at worst – One of the biggest examples of this has been the Tampa Bay Buccaneer RED Movement that has been touted as a brilliant way to bring women into a bigger understanding of the game, but in an organization that still doesn’t know how to handle its rampant domestic abuse problem, these kinds of programs seem like too little, too late. (UConn, too, has tried to bring more women into their football program, but through offering seminars wherein men “explain” the rules of football to women over cosmopolitans and with the promise of a free, pink helmet. Why can’t I just talk about football without the gendered accoutrements?)
There have been a lot of articles about the domestic violence trend that courses through the NFL – the number one story about this in the past year was obviously the Ray and Janay Rice abuse case, which was rightfully discussed over the course of a year. But that argument has been done to death. Instead, I’m going to state that the cult of masculinity is not only harmful for the women who participate in this culture, but also dangerous for the players themselves.
In 2002, forensic pathologist Bennett Omalu discovered a progressive degenerative disease that he named chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE. He discovered this after examining the brain tissue of several former NFL players who passed away due to dementia or suicide (CTE can only be definitively diagnosed postmortem). Omalu’s findings were largely ignored by the NFL, which led to many players attempting to get the truth out in extreme ways. NFL standout safety Dave Duerson sent a text message to his family requesting that his brain be used to study the traumatic effects of concussion on football players, and then shot himself in the chest. He was found to have CTE after an autopsy was performed. And of course, one of the more famous examples of CTE-influenced suicides is the tragic death of Junior Seau, whose family has opted out of an NFL settlement and is proceeding with a wrongful-death suit. More than 20,000 players will benefit from a proposed settlement that could exceed $675 million. But the NFL seems to assume that money will fix the traumatic aftershocks of repeated concussions.
Omalu’s story will be shown in the upcoming Will Smith film Concussion, which originally was meant to be a hard-hitting expose of the failures of the NFL to protect their players. However, the NFL ended up coercing the production team behind the film to “avoid antagonizing” the organization, and also so the NFL’s image could be protected. In a statement, president of Sony’s domestic marketing Dwight Caines said they would “make sure we are telling a story and not kicking a hornet’s nest.”
This is a hornet’s nest that has already been kicked, Mr. Caines. The hornets are out and they are furious. The NFL is the clueless bee farmer attempting to shove the hornets back into the nest. And while my boycott of this organization is probably not going to do anything on a grand scale, it’s something that I feel good about for the time being. It is the actions of individuals that can change everything. One only needs to look at Bennett Omalu, or Junior Seau, to be certain of that fact.