Alone in a Crowd

Feature

There are more ways than ever to connect with each other. It’s hard to imagine an era when people awaited the arrival of their correspondence strapped in saddle bags. Longhand letter writing is a charm of a bygone time, and any small sect of people who still try to keep it alive appreciate it for its purity. There aren’t any of the trappings of modern communication. No visible friend counts, gifs, or emojis. Nothing flashy driving the want to stay in touch except suspense and imagination. Even email’s been leveled to one-liners or co-opted by instant messengers like G-chat and Skype. Blogs are popularized by purveyors of trends who want to teach you a lifestyle: how to wrap an infinity scarf or create a refreshing grapefruit spritzer.

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And in the middle of it all stands the behemoth social media. Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat have all morphed from handy tools to actual propellants of our culture. Tweets are regularly featured in the news. Emojis stand in for text within text. We get what the peach and eggplant mean–a far cry from actually having to woo someone into liking you in the first place, much less into your pants.

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With this insane glut, like Augustus Gloop stuffing chocolate in his face, one of the last things anyone would describe an average American as is lonely. It’s a natural conclusion that the more interactions you have, the less you’re alone. In a society of likes, followers, and subscribers, it’s hard to imagine anyone feeling stranded in a hollow abyss of loneliness.

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Getaway Girl

There’s no place like home.

Aside from the blatant cliche, there is a deeper truth in this quote. When we stay home, we stay comfortable. If you’re like me, you might have spent a lot of time wanting this. Then one day something changes. Maybe it’s a pretty photo on Instagram. Or a cheesy movie starring Julia Roberts, probably. Whatever it is, you get the bite. To leave. Not forever, of course. But to just go somewhere else.

As a single woman just passing the dreaded thirty threshold, travel felt to me like a foreign prospect (pun intended). In my somewhat dated perception, traveling alone for girls wasn’t all that common. And I, having no male companion to speak of, almost felt shut out of the opportunity for long-form vacations, believing they were reserved for couples in love or retirees with savings.

It wasn’t until I hopped my sixth or seventh plane in Southeast Asia, on the first big excursion of my life, that I realized my assumptions were all wrong. Not only was traveling easy for me, the fact that I was doing it my own way, on my own time, made it that much more fulfilling.

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Unfuck the World

I saw this shirt posted by Pitchfork from  Angel Olsen (a musician I’ve never listened to, but I know comes highly recommended). This paired with the recent news from London–the bombing, the vehicular homicide (among SO MANY other things, obviously)–brought a totaling body count to mind. Flesh heaped on flesh, red digits racking up, no time for a breath, blink and gone.

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Image via elevation.supply

Why is the world so fucked up? I mean, it’s not new. People have suffered at the hands of each other for centuries. Our whole history is made up of who won a war against who, who is memorialized for dying in it, and the nameless millions and billions and more who no one will ever know. Pride and greed top the obvious list for why our world is fucked up. Wherever there’s selfishness, there will be souls in its wake. It’s easy to point this out at a distance: Wall Street fiends, celebrity hacks, politicians and preachers–all often one in the same. We seethe at home, thinking that if they’d just WAKE UP or GET LOST, we’d all be better off. But it’s always boggled me how we wish for peace at large, yet within our own communities, we still foster discontent. In my mental wingback chair, I sigh and suppose… it’s because our primary needs of sorrow and neglect are erased by protective shields and barriers like anger and vindictiveness, which cause divide.

I’m not above any of this. I’m envious, I’m spiteful; I get sad, I get tired. And that’s part of being human. It’s impossible to eradicate all of it all of the time. There will always be something that gets under your skin, offends, pains, discourages. I don’t think the point is how to avoid reacting to any of that, I think what splits the difference is teasing forward that other part of yourself that says,”I want to try again,” or “let me understand,” not “fuck you” or “oh well.” Those are easy tropes. They can be funny while they are erase responsibility. But where is the emphasis on compassion?* Our collective culture doesn’t actively lift up language for healing. And I don’t mean that in altruistic ignorance. I mean the language that seeds what can happen when you choose to regenerate like a green plant instead of blistering under heated pride.

Pride isn’t the only cause for trouble in our world, but from where I can see in my little corner, and what I’ve had to deal with and encounter, a lot of the gratuitous fuck yous and self righteousness that feel good in the moment just perpetuate stand-offishness and aloofness could have been salved with the generosity of spirit. That thing that rings in the back of your mind and says, “We all bleed. This isn’t the hurt olympics. Help me.” Call me an idealist at heart (please do), but I do think that with each small step we take in our own lives to honestly account for our actions and feelings, the closer we will come to that embrace we all seek: hope.

*I read something somewhere once that was like, “The three hardest things to say in life are, ‘I love you. I’m sorry. Help me.’” I try not to waste my time wondering why it’s hard to say these things. I’m more interested in trying to open my mouth and say them.

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Musings

“If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor indifferent place.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

I like this quote because it can be applied to anything–not just writers, not just artists who struggle to find inspiration to create. It’s defeatist to observe your life and assume there’s no place for growth or change. There is more than often something to be evaluated (for better or for worse), improved on, or learned from. Even if we go slowly or repeat old habits… reflection isn’t a worthless skill. And because we’re all human and WILL definitely go slowly and repeat old habits, I don’t think change is usually meant to be grand and sweeping. It’s the small steps that ultimately amount to something. A slight change in opinion of someone or a belief. Cleaning one corner of a room at a time. So on.

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Art by Bhavna Mehta.

Nonprofit Work and Women

Most of us have been fattened for the 9-to-5 grind since high school, and herded to the proverbial slaughter through college and then the workforce. Many pursue practical degrees meant to secure a steady paycheck. Business, marketing, or the omnipresent communications degrees are popular. If you chose a more creative path (theater, art, writing), you’ve probably been met with a blank stare. “What kind of jobs are there for that?”

It’s ingrained in our society that success comes to the common working man only through being tethered to the same job for years, putting up with the daily grind, always keeping in mind what you stand to lose if you quit. Some people genuinely thrive in a traditional corporate environment. These jobs can be reliable. They offer structure and security; without them, many of the products we use every day wouldn’t exist.

Friends and I have lamented all the responsibilities we’ve loaded up on ourselves that would be hard or impossible to manage if we quit our jobs tomorrow.

A drawback, though, is that you’re locked into whatever vision the company promotes or where it wants to go. For-profit companies have owners and shareholders, and at the end of the day, any profit is meant to go back in their pockets. You know, the invisible “man” somewhere out there who everyone either hates or has sadly resigned themselves to. The entire thing is meant to be a closed loop. There isn’t a lot of creative wiggle room or many chances for employees to spread their wings besides “moving up the ladder.”

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Abortion.

A great interview with Dr. Willie Parker just went up on Jezebel.com. I encourage you all to read it. He gets at the core of a lot of the abortion and female rights debate by addressing human need. He is also a Christian, which adds an intersectional element most people want to ignore or say isn’t valid in this age. His thoughts are introspective and researched. I applaud him!

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Image via Salon.com.

Here are some pull quotes:

In your book, you write about how the religious right has hijacked moral authority over the abortion debate and that the left has failed to come up with a similar moral argument. What moral argument should the left present?

The left has failed to come up with an argument because the left has conceded on the basis of, what I think, is an intellectual arrogance. They think that the facts will speak for themselves and they think that religion is so antiquated—some people even think that we live in a post-religious world; that nobody really believes in God or prayer. That has opened a space that the people who are opposed to abortion have been more than willing to fill with misinformation and encroachment of other peoples’ ability to make their decisions.

The argument that I have, with regard to abortion being a moral issue (and not necessarily a religious one) is that I believe that men and women are equal in their agency. If women have moral agency and autonomy, that means that all processes that occur in their body should be governed only by that woman’s decision-making. So what that means is that people should not be able to have laws that will allow them to be preoccupied with the well-being of a fetus that a woman’s carrying than they are with the woman. You can’t care more about the fetus that a woman’s carrying than you do about the woman who’s carrying it.

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These times.

My heart is heavy for all the mayhem in the world. Though it’s nothing new, and every day brings a conflict, personal, national or global, something about today’s news of the shooting in San Bernardino sits heavy on me. I’m currently at a loss for how to articulate all the different ways we can be hurt and abused, and I feel art is the only salve because of the supernatural way it carries all our questions and uncertainty. So, here are some lyrics from a song by the band Jars of Clay (song below), which I keep typed out on my refrigerator, because it so simply illustrates a lack of answers. It acknowledges grief and failure, and somehow there’s comfort in knowing we’re all working uphill.

liars and fools; sons and failures
thieves will always say
lost and found; ailing wanderers
healers always say
whores and angels; men with problems
leavers always say
brokenhearted; separated
orphans always say
war creators; racial haters
preachers always say
distant fathers; fallen warriors
givers always say
pilgrim saints; lonely widows
users always say
fearful mothers; watchful doubters
saviors always say

sometimes I cannot forgive
these days, mercy cuts so deep
if the world was how it should be, maybe I could get some sleep
while I lay, I dream we’re better,
scales were gone and faces light
when we wake, we hate our brother
we still move to hurt each other
sometimes I can close my eyes,
and all the fear that keeps me silent falls below my heavy breathing,
what makes me so badly bent?
we all have a chance to murder
we all feel the need for wonder
we still want to be reminded that the pain is worth the thunder

sometimes when I lose my grip, I wonder what to make of heaven
all the times I thought to reach up
all the times I had to give
babies underneath their beds
hospitals that cannot treat all the wounds that money causes,
all the comforts of cathedrals
all the cries of thirsty children – this is our inheritance
all the rage of watching mothers – this is our greatest offense

oh my God
oh my God
oh my God