Making Rice, Making Do.

What i lack in Southern charm, my mother makes up for with every sultry ya’ll she smooths out of her mouth like butter. When she cooks, our table is swimming in vats of her fried miracle meat masterpiece she’s fondly named “Hannah’s Second-Helpin’ Chicken.” A friend of hers recounted their initial introduction, enumerating specifically that she was wearing her perfect pearls strung around her neck. My roommate frequently remarks that my ability to curl anyone’s hair (no matter the thinness or resistance to hairspray) is my Southern Superpower. I’m always quick to share it’s a superpower i inherited from my South Carolinian mother.

But easily, one of the most Southern things i have inherited from my mother (particularities with hot curlers aside) is an abundant love for steamed white rice.

She is the master of rice. Nowhere else have i had rice that compares – not the kitchens of Mount Holyoke, not the restaurants in Uganda, nor the meals consumed at friends’ homes. My mother’s rice is the kind of food i cling to as a measure of perfection. While some rice dishes may rank on a scale of goodness, none have ever paralleled Hannah’s Second Helpin’ rice concoction.

Part of what makes her rice so delicious is the particularity with which she makes it. In the unending panicked phone calls i’ve made to her asking for cooking advice (including, once, from Uganda) she’s quick to reiterate: rice is very, very precise.

“Don’t be sloppy with your measuring cup,” she shows me in my umpteenth lesson, bending down to be on eye level with the red dashes marking ounces and liters. Often as she does this, there is a persistently misbehaving strand of brown hair (curled, of course) that she tucks primly behind an ear.”You have to make sure it is exactly 3 cups of water.”

Over the phone, she reminds me the name for the recipe: 3-2-1 Rice. Precision in name, precision in numbers. 3 cups of water, 2 cups of rice, 1 teaspoon of salt. For the longest time, i couldn’t remember whether the three was for the grains or the water. Naturally, a few pots have turned a delicate shade of brownish-black as a result of my imprecision.

Living in Massachusetts for two and a half years now has been brilliant. I’m even growing to like snow. Living there has also been a lesson in just how Southern i am – even if i’ve spent the better part of my early adulthood in denial. Sure, i don’t own anything Carhart and will never suggest a BBQ joint for lunch. But i have a strong affinity for pearl earrings and i brew my own sweet tea (à la my mother’s recipe). The longer i live in New England, the more i come to make peace with – and embrace – the roots i have in Carolina country. The salience of my differences among my peers has been a wonderful part of this path of discovery.

And in five days, i begin the next big cross-cultural expedition to Scotland.

As i frantically decide between which map of Durham, NC to bring and put on my wall, i can’t help but think about how much more i’m going to learn abroad. I intend to try Haggis, explore the bowels of Edinburgh castle, breakfast at the Elephant House Café. I hope to grow in my sense of a globalized identity and engage critically with my own assumptions.

Learning who you are while abroad is a messy process. There’s plenty of journaling and contemplating and weepy phone calls ahead. Nothing is precise about identity, i think. But that’s also the adventure of it; for every homesick day i’ll have, assuredly there will be wildly wonderful moments where i can scarcely believe the world unfolding around me. For me, the most important thing right now is to focus on making those moments meaningful by being present in the moment. 

And when the days are so messy and i feel so foreign and disembodied, i’ll go home by making a bowl of rice. In all the messiness, there is still the precision of her 3-2-1 Rice Recipe. (Hopefully, i can even find that calm without burning the pot.) And the thing is, rice is still rice even when you’re 3,700 miles away from the woman who makes it best in the whole world.

current jam: ‘toes’ zac brown band

best thing: hanging paintings.

 

 

27 Days.

The last paper has been turned in, my hands washed with unnerving, maniacal glee (a ritual after every exam). My room is in an explosive state of disarray. There are socks to coax from the far corners of the closet, mugs of long-gone coffee to be scrubbed, and a car waiting to be stuffed with my material life.

It’s the end of another semester, and at the same time the beginning of the next big whirlwind adventure. The cliché of every door closing meaning only a window need be opened for a fresh breeze is apt, if expected. I’m having a weird sense of preemptive déja-vù: as i shove a pair of jeans into an oversize, obnoxious pink crate, i feel a prickling thought that these jeans will be carefully folded within a tattered suitcase in less than a month’s time. I’m making mental lists of which hats are best for wet-cold weather. The tabs in my Lonely Planet guidebook are accumulating. There are running playlists in the back of everything that (stereotypically) feature either bagpipes or lyrics about 500 miles. Or both. 

I’m so excited. I really, really am. At the realization that The Elephant House Café is less than a quarter of a mile from my flat, i shrieked (sorry quiet hours, i just couldn’t help it (also also, this is where JK Rowling wrote large portions of Harry Potter for people who do not professionally live online)). It just all seems so unreal, so far from the tangible packing lists cluttering my desk right now. Seeping, ever so slowly, into the corners of my finals-frizzled brain is knowing i am leaving the country for the most substantive time yet. But emphasis on the lethargically. And still, all i can fret over is what to get my brother for Christmas.

So i have 27 days. 27 days spent listening to terrible Christmas music and wearing wonky, homemade scarves. 27 days that will accumulate well over a 1000 miles to fall down at my own door in the semi-annual drive from New England to North Carolina. 27 days of blustery bliss and blistering farewells. 27 days to plot ways to run into JK Rowling at the local grocer. 

27 days to beckon in the next adventure, and say fond see-you-laters to my two stateside homes. 

Making Today Great.

At the helm of a particularly grueling day, i looked over my plate of perogies for dinner talking with my dear friend Olivia. After a staff meeting, we were sharing our woes over struggling to find presence in our days despite unending to-do lists. Olivia is the kind of friend whom i can always find new avenues of conversation with – what a gift of a friend. But that night i was somewhat preoccupied at first with stabbing at a perogie with too much force, knuckles whitening at the thought of the boxes as yet unchecked by 7 PM.

And then, with a steam-blowing sigh, Olivia said to me: “There was something you said to me at the start of the semester i think of all the time.”

Spreading from the corner of her mouth was the smile that made me sure we’d be friends when we met last year. My curiosity now thoroughly pricked, i rummaged in my head for what potential piece of wisdom i could have possibly given her. I was coming up short when she revealed the words i’d so conveniently forgotten:

“You said: tomorrow will come. And it will. I think about that all the time.”

For a bite into cheesy potato goodness, i was stunned. I said that? Damn. I need to be writing these things down more.

I chose, then, to smile at the recollection of words i had – frankly – forgotten. Our conversation rolled on, and i was almost too foolish to believe that would be the last to-remember phrase of the night.

She told me how she had also, within the same week of my apparent doling out of wisdom, had a meeting with her advisor. She had enumerated how excited she was for the coming fall and that she wanted to make this year a great year.

He then said to her, “make today a great day, because they only come one at a time.”

Make today great, because they only come one at a time.

I inhaled deeply, both the words and the smell of my last perogie, basking in the simple wisdom. Olivia and i shared a look of knowing, knowing that in our too-many-classes lives and overbooked work schedules, this is precisely what we needed to hear.

I’ve been trying to channel this into my life in the everyday. Looking at what needs to be done today, rather than trying to tick off boxes in my to-do list notebook for the whole week on Monday. Asking J three things he’s grateful for every day, and asking myself the same. Looking for small things that carry large weights of happiness, blessing, privilege, wonder. Trying to be still, be present. Tomorrow will come, but i don’t need to worry about tomorrow when focused on today.

And while i know it’s far easier to say such things than to live them, i’m working on it. Making today great is a self-help project i can get on board with (so to speak) because the commitment is to today. Not tomorrow. Not next month. Not for the next year. Today. Everyday is today, but they only come one at a time.

I’m making today great by taking time to rest, and not apologizing for it.

What will you do?

current jam: ‘love is easy’ cover by carrie hope fletcher & the vamps

best thing: 4 days. 4 days. 4 days. 4 days.

Wandering Writes: Scotland Edition.

Throughout the course of my two decades on earth (how trite) i’ve had an innumerable list of life ambitions. When i was seven, i dreamed of nothing more than a career as a dolphin trainer who worked as an author/singer/inventor on the side. I even had an old refrigerator box in my room that i used to collect tools to use for “inventing;” a favorite creation were DIY roller-skates (tennis shoes with matchbox cars taped to the bottoms).

I grew older, and though my interest in marine life abated, the desire to write and make music did not. Middle school was filled with dreams of the Big Stage and worrying over training bras. That is, until the African Highway Project in Mrs. Bade’s 7th-grade-social-studies class. In studying a myriad of different countries that comprised the vast continent, and speaking with several Peace Corps volunteers who came to share their experiences, i caught a bug. Maybe the virus had been planted when i went to San Francisco with my dad and grandma at the age of nine. Or maybe my transient life lived in eight states prior to the age of six infected me from infancy.

Whatever the source, by the time i left Culbreth Middle School behind me i wanted to live in Africa. Particularly, i wanted to go to Mali (that’s where the cute Peace Corps volunteer had lived. Naturally, it became my favorite yet-visited destination).

At the age of fourteen, my passport was stamped for the first time. I was Africa-bound, on a pilgrimage that would teach me two countries (Rwanda and Uganda) could not be more different from one another. That “Africa” is a very, very big place and i was madly in love with a very, very beautiful place called Uganda. I never made it to Mali, because cute-Peace-Corps-person aside, i’d been called elsewhere.

If the infection was dormant before, it was in raging contagion now. Four years and three more countries later, this blog was born and my bags were packed for ten weeks of calling Uganda home.

It’s been a year and half since that incredible summer, and over a year since i was privileged and blessed enough to travel abroad. But i’ve caught a virus i think will last my life long: i need to see. I live for bruising suitcases with exuberant boardings of planes. I’ve wanted to study abroad again, this time academically, for a long while.

And yesterday i got the jubilant news that i have, officially, been accepted to the University of Edinburgh in Scotland for the spring semester!

Between now and my departure in January there are Visa applications to endure, Lonely Planet guidebooks to be earmarked, and painful goodbyes to withstand. The excitement of the impending adventure is overwhelming – grueling paperwork and all.

Fourteen-year-old me would have thought i was going to make a career out of traveling, living like this. Part of that girl is still very much alive in me. But for this semester, i aspire to take off the capital-F Future questions off the table for a little while. I intend to explore, and to let the excitement of exploration be enough. I intend to grow, pains of it and all, and i intend to embrace the change.

Right now, though, i’m just ecstatic. I can’t wait to share the photographs i’ll take, basked in nerdy wonderment, at The Elephant House Café (JK Rowling! Sat there! While writing THE BOOK!). I’m certain i’ll start slipping up and unconsciously imitate a Scottish accent (coming off as a total fake, i’m aware). I’m beside myself at the thought of learning and living in a new city with train tickets across the UK. But most of all, right now, i’m excited to share this news with all of you!

current jam: ‘then i met you’ the proclaimers

best thing: um, SCOTLAND.

Write Like Everything is at Stake: A Response to ‘The Pen is Mightier’ by Sarah Sentilles

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be truthful, gentle, and fearless.”

It’s no secret i have a great intellectual love affair with the writings of the Mahatma. Plastered on the cover of my notebooks are curlicued, hand-scripted quotes from his prolific works, laboriously detailed with ink and marker when preparing my school supplies for the semester. My study and subsequent commitment to a life led in nonviolent practice began with a sophomore English class study of Mahatma Gandhi’s life.

I don’t pretend the man was flawless, but i treasure his words. I treasure these words most when i am writing. Often i stare at the flickering cursor on a half-filled screen, repeating a mantra to myself: be truthful. be gentle. be fearless. Be unbridled by the possibility of failure. Be unafraid of honesty. Be loving. Be kind. Be fearless.

But sometimes, i’m not truthful enough with myself. I fret over participles, furrow my brow over clumsy phrasing – worrying my work will never be satisfactory enough. My stomach churns and i turn instead to making cups of tea or re-organizing the bookshelf. Tangible tasks that enable me to see an end. Clean, unperturbed by the messy process of discernment and requiring little courage. Sometimes the task of writing even a small term paper seems daunting, because i fear my own inadequacy will rob my ideas of their merit.

And yet, writing is an addiction. Writing for me is more than an academic requirement; it is a passion manifested in leather-bound journals tucked in all years of my life, photos infused with words scattered to the four winds of the internet. The torturous stomach clenching and tea-making is a ritual i thrust myself through in unending cycles of crumpled paper and tossed-out ideas, for no simpler reason than writing is what my life depends on. The way to make sense of a half-filled cup emptied by my Earl Grey consumption. The way to cope with the millions of burning words from the authors on my bookshelves. It’s a religion, it’s a way of coping with and being religious. It’s my sacrifice and my offering.

Though i do not know the path my life from hence will take, i am certain writing is central to the journey.

But the fact remains: women writers face an inordinate amount of sexism, bigotry, and misogyny in the publishing world. And women who write within religious spheres face a double-scrutiny of secular and sacred sexism. I recently stumbled across a brilliant piece by Sarah Sentilles on the Harvard Divinity School Bulletin entitled “The Pen is Mightier: Sexist Responses to Women Writing About Religion” (thanks to a tweet by my friend Erin Lane). I highly encourage you all to read the entire piece. In it, Dr. Sentilles articulates her frustration with sexist reviews of her most recent work, Breaking Up With God: A Love Story. She uses this personal example to engage in a critical conversation with the scope of sexism women writers have faced and continue to cope with:

“Unfortunately, this distrust of women’s words and the assumption that women do not know what they are talking about, no matter what their credentials or expertise or experience, are widespread in the literary establishment (though they are often coded as ‘reasoned critiques’). “

This distrust of the validity of women’s words isn’t news to me; i’ve been working to live into my feminist consciousness actively since that same sophomore English class in high school. I work for both the on-campus Speaking, Arguing, and Writing Center as well as for Women’s Voices Worldwide, a nonprofit that empowers women to use their voices most effectively within all spheres of communication, with particular attention to the double-standards women in public speaking face. My focus within my religion major is on gender and sexuality. My copy of Mary Daly’s Beyond God the Father is a highlighter and post-it note war zone.

But more than all of these put together, i have to defend my arguments and theological ideas daily by virtue of my gender. I claim saying “mankind” excludes me based on my sex, and somehow i’m whining or “overthinking it.”If i speak with too much authority, i’m pushy or aggressive. If i’m meek or apologetic in my tone, my opinion is overlooked.

Despite my sometimes crippling self-doubt or imposter syndrome, i refuse to be too afraid to not say anything at all. I will not apologize for speaking my mind. This doesn’t make me perfect, or always right, or better than anyone else. It means i refuse to buy into the idea that i should sit tight and hope for the world to change all on its own. But, as one of my favorite feminist authors Audre Lorde, once wrote in her essay “Uses of the Erotic,” women so empowered are dangerous. The threats against us magnify when we refuse to comply with sexist standards.

Writing and speaking out when we are told we aren’t good enough to is the exact reason we should keep talking. Dr. Sentilles articulates that:

“Those who have written from the margins—feminist and womanist and liberation theologians, black critical theorists, postcolonial theorists—have always recognized the need to write as if their lives depend on it, because their lives often do. Words are world-creating and world-destroying; they can be used to liberate and to enslave.”

To write can be a way to dismantle the master’s house with tools the master never wanted us to have. As quoted by Dr. Sentilles, Mary Daly wrote “[t]he liberation of language is rooted in the liberation of ourselves.” We begin our deconstruction of internalized misogyny in utilizing our voices.

But what about the days when i never get past the tea-making? When the writing sits, untampered and untouched and unpublished, because i feel like it’s senseless or pointless or wrong? I don’t claim everything i write to be publish-able or even good. We all have to slug through the suck sometimes to make a breakthrough.

I’m not convinced, though, that my personal self-doubt is a symptom exclusively of a universal writing process. This very essay is not up for any kind of major publication par to Dr. Sentilles’ works, and yet her articulation about the faceless, sexist trolling of the internet and anger at unjust critiques resonated deeply with me. The writing process may be a freeing space,

“[b]ut what happens when your words are published? What happens when they are released into a sexist world, into a patriarchal culture in which reviewers and anonymous trolls have the power to frame how your writing is received? Writing this essay has been a powerfully liberating experience for me, but it is also terrifying. I was supported as a feminist when I was a student at Harvard Divinity School, but I was also disciplined for being a feminist, and I worry that I will be disciplined for writing this essay. I expect to be called whiny and strident and annoying and grating and hysterical and uninformed. I expect to be told I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

I so identify with everything she says here, from the trolls of the internet (i’ve been told i’m “too hot to be this smart” and i’ve been likened to a Nazi more times than i can count for saying patriarchy exists – because, apparently, calling out sexism as wrong is equivalent to mass genocide) to the simultaneous terror and liberation of writing. It’s almost meta, writing this, because as i do i wonder if the comments section will be filled with chastisement for talking about religion or gender.

In another portion of the article, Dr. Sentilles discusses how death threats have become normalized for women content creators on the internet. This past summer, one of my favorite vloggers, Laci Green, went offline for a few weeks because the police were investigating anonymous death threats that were sent to her accompanied by pictures of her apartment building. Laci, fortunately, is now back with a swing and fearlessly continuing to make her sex positive videos on YouTube. But the fact remains: she should never have been threatened like this in the first place.

Seeing what happened to Laci fills me with dread and hope. Dread that it happened. Hope that she persisted in putting content online despite the threats.

And ultimately, i have to chose to live in that space of hope. If i see only the bullying and violence women face, i miss the whole point of Dr. Sarah Sentilles’ article and Laci’s refusal to give up her online career. Right after Dr. Sentilles articulates her fear that she will be told she doesn’t know what she is talking about, she enumerates:

But I’m also hopeful that this essay will encourage people to engage in a conversation about what to do next, about how to respond concretely to sexism in the literary world—and to the sexism in our syllabi and on our reading lists for general exams, in the language of our liturgies and in the leadership structures of our communities and churches and synagogues and mosques. Because, really, when it comes right down to it, there isn’t much to argue with here. I am simply sharing data, stating facts. Facts that aren’t new. Facts that have been stated and restated for decades, for centuries.

I especially love the facet of conversation in responding to the sexism women writers (and content creators) face. In fact, it was this very prompting for a conversation that made me sit down and write this. I’m be-lieving i have something, as a young feminist and aspiring theologian, to contribute to this conversation. I’m choosing to not buy into imposter syndrome today.

Dr. Sentilles’ whole essay engages in the history of women writers, from Mary Ann Evans (a.k.a George Eliot) to today. Women have been coping with these double-standards in speaking and writing for as long as people have had voices, and the time has come for this conversation to radically grapple with the subtleties of such prejudice. For women who write about religion in particular, this has to occur in places wherein our faiths hinge: sacred spaces. Sacred places of worship, sacred places of conversation.

For, the fact remains: the work of feminism is not done. And, frankly, i don’t think there will be a time in my life when i look around and say “this is it, we’ve reached equilibrium.” But that is all the more reason to continue to try. To continue to write letters to the editors of magazines where reviewers use sexist language or the authorial staff is predominantly cisgendered men. To continue to engage in uncomfortable dialogue. And this means incorporating male-identified allies. It means educating ourselves and others in this transformative process. It means being in sisterhood with one another, in engaging critically with women writers and supporting one another as creative be-ings in a complicated world.

I think, for me, it means taking to heart the words scrawled on my Intro to Islam binder: “Be truthful, gentle, and fearless.”

Be truthful: expose the sexism, especially where it hurts. Be gentle: love yourself, even on the days when the critics are going for the jugular or the words just won’t come. Be fearless: write like everything is at stake, fierce in conviction.

best thing: work & the internship.

current jam: ‘shake it out’ florence + the machine

Home to Home.

Tomorrow marks my first full week away from North Carolina, though the days that have comprised this seven-fold seem of the substance of longer stuff. A friend of mine, who is always rife with clever sayings and perfectly-timed quips, once remarked that “my days are long, but my weeks are short.” I’ve never felt there was more truth to this statement than when the semester commences.

In the span of these seven days my mother and i drove some 800 miles up I-81 to get to my beloved Mount Holyoke, hauled and moved and otherwise shoved all of my belongings into my new room, convocation occurred, classes started, and i had my first meeting for my fall internship with Women’s Voices Worldwide. Needless to say, the mere spewing out  of my schedule alone has me winded!

The drive was really splendid – for once, no crashing thunderstorms in Southern Pennsylvania to keep us on our driving toes. We discovered a fabulous new lunching spot outside of Charlottesville, VA, called the Blue Mountain Brewery (i highly recommend the cheese plate!) and – despite some minor undercarriage faults – mom came to the rescue in every hairy situation.

the last bojangles for a long while!

mom the mechanic extraordinaire!

the view from our outdoor table at the brewery was exquisite!

…but not even the view was as marvelous as the cheese.

The room, too, is fully lived in now; the posters are hung, spaces left on cork boards for more postcards (ahem!), and the books waiting to be read as the semester unfolds. The Roommate and i are back exactly where we left of – practically married and loving every minute. Making a space our own is always such fun – and this year proved no exception!

from “the waking” by theodore roethke

 Life back home – home here, not home there – is really good. Steady. Known. I’m settling back into the comfort of the anticipated – junior year is, truly, an unexpectedly marked change. My metaphorical baby fat has finally been shed and muscle memory is setting in.  It’s going to be a full semester, for certain, but the robustness of it i think is what will make it worthwhile!

current jam: ‘she walks right though me’ alex day

best thing: michelle obama.

“It might not be easy, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not simple.”

The time for leaving is fast approaching. I’m still so much of a conflagration of thoughts, senses of melancholy and anticipation coursing through. Really, though, there are no thoughts i have on leaving that (brilliant, as ever) Ze Frank has not already espoused in succinct video form:

 

There is one thing i feel a disconnect to in his video, though. The part where leaving is the going, without the coming back. Of course we often leave knowing we can never come back – back to the time we left, the person we were upon departure. It’s part of the transience of human existence, i think. When i leave Chapel Hill, again, this week, i’ll be leaving a part of who i am behind. It’s inevitable. But i also feel that it’s ever a shedding of another layer of skin, to reveal a new and vulnerable and malleable layer underneath. A layer that needs strengthening.

However. I do come back. Maybe it’s the time of my life that i’m in – being twenty, in college, still dependent on my parents and yet living apart like a quasi-adult. There’s no permanence to my geography, so the leaving is always with an eventual bent towards coming back. It’s perhaps less frightening this way, but it certainly isn’t comfortable, either.

I learn by going where I have to go(theodore roëthke) 

current jam: ‘skinny love’ cover by meghan tonjes

best thing: burritos.

Hate with Hate Won’t Work: Marriage Equality and Where We Go From Here.

I’m the first to admit i was infuriated and despondent in the wake of the (albeit expected) news of Amendment One’s passing. It was crushing because, more than anything else, i knew we hardly stood a chance in defeating it – but i had genuinely hoped that we could overcome the odds. I knew my despair was shared among many: my new feed was cluttered with colorful language and statements of disappointment over its passing, for which, i won’t lie, i took some real comfort in. But there was also a lot of hateful slanders from these very people against those who had voted for the amendment, which was far from soothing. Rather, images that compared the counties who voted for the amendment and counties with the highest concentration of college graduated with snide captions over the lack of formal education breeding stupidity left a sour smell in my nose.

For even in the midst of this hurt we all shared, an oft-quoted line from  Dr. King’s speeches and published works came to mind: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” 

In responding to those who voted for the amendment with spiteful comments about the low percentage of people with college degrees who populate their counties, or snarky remarks concerning their personhood, we are fighting hatred with hatred. Do i think they should have voted otherwise? Of course i do. Does this make me entitled to sneer and be as equally cruel towards them as they are to me? Absolutely not. Such an argument makes me no better than they are. It may be the easy choice – to go for the low blow, take the hard-hitting swing, but such a smack speaks more of my unchecked privilege than it declares my allegiance to fighting for justice.

Besides, the comment most especially concerning college education is inherently incredibly classist, and it shows the nastiest side to liberal intellectualism. It’s the we’re-better-than-you-because-we’re-enlightened argument which (hello!) is the same premise under which the anti-marriage-equality campaign is founded. Both arguments are praising an institution (the church vs. higher education) and both drive a divisive line between “us” and the ungodly “them.”

Which is why i was not comforted, vastly, by these statements. In the moment it may have been satisfying, but that’s the thing about the path of nonviolence: it is a way of life for courageous people, ergo it is not easy. I’m not trying to say everyone should believe in nonviolence or think like me (because who am i to tell you what to think?) but i do think if we’re going into this fight for the long haul, we ought to look to our forbearers and glean what wisdom we can from their victories. The last time North Carolina amended its Constitution it was to ban interracial marriage. I think, then, the ancestors we must turn to are not from the distant past, but from the immediately preceding history wherein people of all colors stood together to fight institutionalized racism. I personally thus find Dr. King’s words to be all the more relevant.

Yesterday, though, the country took a turn when President Obama publicly announced he was for marriage equality. To be totally honest, my initial reaction was: “About damn time, Mr. President!” But the importance of what he was doing still resonated deeply with me. The timing of it, coming so close after the loss in NC, was clearly artfully planned – but also an enormous risk. North Carolina is a swing state in national elections; we may have voted Democrat for the first time in sixty years in 2008, but that’s no guarantee we’ll do so again. In lieu of the tremendously powerful conservative vote displayed in Tuesday’s gubernational election, i think what President Obama did was a bold, and thus all the more commendable, action.

But he’s not the only one working for this. The most powerful response to Amendment One’s passing that i have yet seen came from an Episcopal bishop,* Bishop Curry of North Carolina. His words are pointed at all sides of the fray; he takes a religiously-founded stance for marriage equality but also holds his comrades in this accountable in decrying those who have said hateful things to the people who voted for the amendment. Whether or not you’re a person of faith (and not that my opinion on your autonomous decision matters but, for the record, i still love and value you and your rights even if you are not a person of faith) i highly encourage you to watch his response.

Most of all, however, i know i need to remember the humanity present in all of us. This isn’t a one-time, lizzie-writes-a-blog-post-and-is-now-a-saint thing. Rather, i know for myself i must choose to recognize this humanity in all of us every day – and most of all on days when this fight is exhausting and hurtful and i am at my most vulnerable. But in the words taken from the essay “Gandhi and the One-Eyed Giant,”by freedom fighter Thomas Merton: “love triumphs, at least in this life, not by eliminating evil once and for all but resisting and overcoming it every day.”

further things of interest: a petition to repeal amendment one; also, a counter-voice critiquing the slippery language of president obama’s marriage equality statement.

current jam: “tomorrow will be kinder” the secret sisters, from my playlist in response to the amendment’s passing.

*For friends who may or may not know: the Episcopal church has been at the forefront of the religious fight to ordain people of queer identities (you can be gay and/or female and still be a priest in the Episcopal church).

Thoughts from the Journey: Homeward Bound.

My Dad flew up Thursday afternoon to assist me in moving out and, consequential of my sleep-deprived, exam-taking state, do part of the fifteen hour drive home. I turned in my final exam and, within no less than thirty seconds, my phone started buzzing with the news that he was at my dorm ready to start moving me out.

We wasted no time. Nothing less than a tornado of sweeping-up and placing-in-boxes and balling-up-in-bags cleared through my half of the room. No matter where i am or where i am going, the first items to be packed and unpacked, always, are my posters. It doesn’t feel like my space without color splashed on the walls in the form of treasured photographs or Van Gogh prints; it feels too somber to begin departure without un-doing the creation of my own space. When the walls are stripped, the room belongs to someone else again.

The room now relocated to the back of my car (code name: The Firebolt), we embarked Friday afternoon. Details only reveal the sweet sorrow of parting, and leaving sounds too callous. Embarking, it seems, is the most appropriate. A journey, a voyage, a temporary coming-and-going. My life, these years at university, seems to be an ebb and flow in the most non-figurative of senses.

Enough waxing lyrical; finals seem to have drained me of sensible writing. The journey commenced, the departure encroached, and Massachusetts was bid adieu. Through Connecticut we flew, and into endless hills and thunderstorms of Pennsylvania we held fast. We took our dinner in Scranton at the advice of my favorite Marauder and MI-6 agent, whereupon i ate breaded ravioli (delicious), Dad ate a french sandwich au jus (no beef for me!), and we shared a brownie (or warred over, depending on whose perspective). Fans of the office might appreciate the restaurant in question:

(it wouldn’t be a larry-lizzie journey without the signature dad-drinking-coffee-for-fortitude shot!)

There were hotels to select, and radio stations to recollect, and free wi-fi to prey upon for the father (and more ice-cream eating for me):

(of note: this computer is his, not mine. they are twins, naturally, but i think it sweet every time i see it!)

…before the time came to take up the wheel once more.

And then, lo and behold, we came upon a town that, were it found on Caprica, i think might be the laughingstock of the entire Battlestart Gallactica. The sign is mildly obscured by poor lighting and droplets of rain, but it reads “Frackville.” I laughed and longed for summer time ample enough to watch science fiction shows.

Night drew close. Gas was consumed by the vehicle, sleep taken by we who, for the day, had occupied it.

We awoke at what in college might be considered the crack of dawn (save for the crew team, perhaps) and traversed more roads through Pennsylvania and Maryland. It was whilst in West Virginia, however, that we drove past a landmark notable for its importance in American Civil War history and for me, most recently, in a paper i wrote for a class on the conscious of women in the lives of Frederick Douglass. Though John Brown was not to be seen, I delighted in recognizing Harpers Ferry (which is, apparently, meant to be spelled sans-apostrophe) and took it as a validation that education can manifest itself usefully in the world outside college.

Through West Virginia we drove until we reached her mother, Virginia, guided so fruitfully by one of the two identical road atlases kept stocked in The Firebolt.

(Also of note: Amherst, blurry at the bottom of the above photograph, bears the same name as a neighboring town to Mount Holyoke. There is also a South Boston in Virginia, which made me feel as though we had never really left Massachusetts to begin with).

(every good road trip requires its own unique 6-CDs-long mix!)

While my father drove, i burned CDs filled with old loves and tunes of Carolina. The Avett Brothers, Ben Folds, and Old Crow Medicine Show were featured prominently in the latter category, whilst Billy Joel and Elton John occupied the former.

Whilst in the Shenandoah Valley, we pulled over for a scenic stretching break wherein more classic Larry-and-lizzie photo-taking awkwardly occurred until, thank goodness, a couple from Missouri offered to take our picture in exchange for us taking theirs. Strangers on the road and in snapshots. The mountains were painted like the colors of the Van Gogh works that had so recently collaged my walls. I took solace in this.

thanks, friends of the road.

I took the driver’s seat, and my father took over the camera. There were lunches to eat, and my first solid jolt of sweet tea since March. Alongside Jerry Falwell’s memorial we ate southern chain food and, though i was acutely aware this was not yet home and in no way did i blend in, there were hints of Carolina growing closer. The air was getting thicker, the dogwood scent more potent.

Before long, there were signs indicating what tastes had taunted and scents alluded to. Chapel Hill was nigh, and summer was really here. Mango Jerry played juxtaposed to Keltic Electric; we sang an out-of-key harmony.

And now here i sit, somewhat at a loss. I knew the semester was wrapping up too fast – it always does, after all – but this happens more than i care to admit. I grow more and more restless, ready to tear down the posters and roll them into their boxes bound for home before i give pause to remember that home is a complicated word. Simon and Garfunkel plays on repeat, the rain taps at the window, and the cats are here. This is home. The room behind is no longer mine, and yet come fall there will be empty walls ready for the stringing up of new photos and old memories. A time in between, the season of weeding, blooming where i am planted. Come what may.

Reflections on the UGANDA 2012? Event

“Pain is an irrational thing, but there are practical and employable tactics we can use to work through it. But arresting one man is not going to ‘clean up’ the pain of an entire country – or an entire region, which is in East Africa.”

I said something to this effect two Wednesdays past at the aforementioned Uganda 2012 event. It was probably less cleverly phrased in actuality than in my memory, as i tend to be considerably more gawkish in person than when hidden behind a laptop keyboard – but the sentiment remains. The #Kony2012 campaign began as something building off of emotional energy – the ‘irrational’ side of human nature – rather than assessing the practical and logistical ways we, as Global North youth can empower and actualize Ugandans to work through the trauma of recovering from war. This isn’t to say empathy or compassion have no place in action (i argue they are at the core of all empowerment) but you cannot channel your emotions alone into a movement that could, via governmental policy, potentially impact the lives of thousands (if not millions) of people. Compassion is key, empathy is needed, but to act on emotion alone renders no progress.

Which is why we had gathered last week to talk about what we could do, beginning with a critical conversation concerning UGANDA in 2012. In this, my goal as the event coordinator and facilitator was two-fold: i wanted to engage in this discussion in a way that actualized and recognized Uganda without putting the “face” of the problem as a face of a man who has instigated incredible pain and travesty in the country – with full understanding that being able to have this very conversation meant i had to recognize the privilege i posses, as a white American university student with leisure time and the resources to learn more readily available to me. Secondly, i wanted us as a crew (whomever showed up) to leave the event feeling, if nothing else, to have learned enough to want to continue to seek bigger, harder questions.

I’d like to think i achieved my two aims.

We began the event with, well, yours truly, making an opening statement to something of this effect: You are all most welcome in this place.* We would like to begin by acknowledging that it is a privilege for us to be gathered in this space discussing these global concerns. Furthermore, as you have no doubt noticed from the title of this event, we are talking today about Uganda in 2012, not the internet-driven “Kony2012” campaign. To this end, this gathering is not intended in any way to attack Invisible Children, its affiliates, or supporters. We will be incorporating thoughts on the film into our conversation today, but we want to make an effort to give light to and engage in the complex history of Uganda and its peoples, not just the face of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The event itself today will be a little atypical in format; it is a panel-led conversation. Our panelists will make brief statements concerning their area of research, after which i will guide us all in a group discourse with key framework questions. I therefore invite you all to speak out and voice your opinions and questions but simultaneously encourage you to be respectful of all our fellow human beings in this space.

With my co-coordinators Professor Holly Hanson, chair of the MHC African & African-American Studies Department and Saran Sidime, one of my best friends and future Secretary-General of the UN. Photo by the lovely and talented Mohini Ufeli!

We then moved around the circle, as there were only 20 or so gathered, to introduce ourselves with reasons for coming. Some were required by their professor (but i like to think they found the time valuable nonetheless) and most others because they had seen the Kony 2012 film and wanted to know another perspective. It was the perfect size gathering; small enough that everyone could speak if they wanted – giving it a real conversational air – but not so small that people felt obligated to speak.

Photo by Mohini Ufeli, of Vocal Lens Photography.**

From there, some of the panelists gave an outline history of who the LRA are, why they came to be, and why supporting the UPDF (Uganda Police Defense Force, which is the Ugandan army) as a means of ending the war is not a viable political alternative. We talked of Archbishop John Baptist Odama and the religious leaders who slept on the streets with the night commuters and, transitively, of the attention given to the victimized children long prior to Invisible Children’s presence. The point was made that night commuting has ended, Joseph Kony is no longer in Uganda, and the real problem Uganda faces today is rebuilding a country recovering from a traumatic guerilla war. Such a dilemma is more psychological than anything else- and therefore more complex than the capture of one single person.

I could enumerate the rest of the conversation, but i feel it would be better if i instead recalled the highlights that stand out to me now, two weeks away from it. Most of all, amidst the conversations about what reintegration of child soldiers looks like and detailing the power of fair trade purchasing, i saw hope. I shy away from clichés as much as possible, but the frankness of such a feeling needs its proper name. The horror of war is, ultimately, an irrational thing. To attempt to hold the idea that human beings can enact such atrocities on one another is simultaneously terrifying and almost impossible. This is why IC is right to react to war – and why emotion-centered films are so effective in invigorating action within people. But to be lost is the sorrow is to lose sight of what a dear friend of mine, Dr. Fr. Emmanuel Katongole, often says: “lament is the heart of hope.”

Wanting justice isn’t a wrong thing to desire. But we have to critically examine what we mean by justice; does deploying more violence in the form of military action really mean justice will be brought forth? I think not. Claiming an American military action will end a war is such a limited way to view Uganda – and it loses sight of the most crucial aspect to healing: forgiveness. Having hope doesn’t mean covering town with posters of a criminal. Having hope means listening, processing, churning through ideas and making mistakes. Hope is the power of reconciliation, hope is what i saw when my peers knew that something was wrong with the documentary that rendered it, as one student put it, “impossible to have a rational reaction while watching the film because it is so emotionally manipulative.” They came anyway. Just because one film presented one skewed side didn’t mean they couldn’t seek out the questions on their own.

And ultimately, that is what we were left with. There isn’t a universal plan for action. Seeking peace isn’t as easy as a painted sign or letter to congress. And, to be totally fair, IC is stepping up their game in handling the critiques so well. I applaud them for that; i also must thank them for making such a controversial video. I say now as i said then: “let’s be real: we wouldn’t be gathered here to talk about Uganda 2012 today were it not for this internet buzz spawned by Invisible Children. On some level, we owe that to them.”

But peace is complex, and the first step in unraveling the complexity enough to see the knots as individual pieces rather than jumbled balls of yarn is understanding. Continuing to ask the questions, to dig deeper into history and read continually about on-the-ground information. If its purchasing power you want to employ, buy fair trade Ugandan products. Support micofinance outreach and loan to small business owners. But know that capitalism isn’t the ultimate truth to curing afflictions on this scale.

It has taken me considerably longer than i intended to write this blog post; in part, this is because i am in a musical and exams are encroaching closer than comfort prefers and, well, i do occasionally leave the internet in my wake whilst sitting outside and reading Dorothy Day. While i do feel slightly guilty for not talking sooner, i am glad i waited – because a few days ago, i stumbled across this gem via some friends met in Uganda:

I highly encourage you all to watch this video; it is a more community-focused mini-documentary on the need for a nonviolent resolution with the LRA. On a personal note, i have met almost all the people interviewed and have critically engaged in some wonderful, challenging, gut-wrenchingly-hard conversations concerning the meaning of forgiveness. It is a powerful film that serves as a beautiful counterpoint to the Kony campaign. Most of all, though, i think it says everything i just did but more eloquently, more directly, and from the people whose voices matter far more on the subject than my own.

current jam: “it gets better” fun. (i cannot stop listening to this song. just cannot.)

best thing: putnam goes up in less than a week! if you live in the valley, there’s a facebook event for you.

**photos by the lovely & talented mohini ufeli, of vocal lens photography! (go leave her & co-photographer, ify’s, facebook fan page some loving!)

* i realize i use this phrase with considerable frequency here with not context; it is something that was told to me over and over when in uganda. i mean it to offer that same hospitality, as much as i can in my smallness and via the internet.