Thoughts and Prayers

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I was a freshman in high school when I first considered the possibility of a school shooting.

Someone had made an off-handed remark about shooting his classmates. Regardless of his intention–a failed attempt at dark humor, or maybe deeply-rooted cynicism– it was received as it should have been: seriously, and as a threat to our safety. That week, rumors spread throughout the school like wildfire: it would happen on Friday. He had a list. A few people were on his ‘safe list.’ We analyzed his personality and behavior. We asked ourselves if we were surprised.

Our principal composed a letter that we, in turn, gave to our parents. It stated the nature of the threat, the rumors, and how the faculty members were responding. I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember what it boiled down to: we would be safe.

Even so, many of us debated if we would come to school that Friday. That Thursday night, I pored over my Bible and texted my friends about how scared I was. I didn’t know what to do.

I’m not sure how or why I decided to attend school the next day, but I did. I wrote a Bible verse on my hand, because it gave me courage. My friend Lindsey wore a Superman shirt, simultaneously a cheeky response to the rumors and a middle finger to danger. Many of my classmates did not come to school. I didn’t blame them. There was fear and tension in the air that did not disappear until the last bell rang.

And thankfully, we were safe.

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I was twenty-three when I was told one of my cousins had been injured in a shooting. It was the sort of moment where everything stops. Nothing felt real–because we spend years watching the news and hearing these stories over and over again and it’s a distant problem, one defined by distant sadness and stilted sympathy, and then it happens to someone you love.

I stayed home from work. At the time, I was living with my friends Rose and Christina, as well as my older cousin, Chris. Our cousin Alyssa lived nearby. She came over. None of us wanted to be alone. We ordered pizza, because pizza fixes everything. Or at least, it used to.

There were many mass shootings before these horrible days in my life. And there have been many mass shootings after.

Columbine.

Sandy Hook.

Orlando.

Las Vegas.

Parkland.

So many, in fact, that I know this does not even begin to cover it. I cannot name or remember them all, and that horrifies me. Is this what we consider normal? Massacres that we cannot recall? Yet another news story that states that a shooting was the deadliest in our nation’s history?

To put it simply: I’m tired.

We should not have to live like this. High school students especially should not have to live like this. They should be shopping for prom dresses and dreaming about college–not organizing marches and calling our leaders out on their bullshit. And the victims deserve a hell of a lot more than our government’s thoughts and prayers.

You may not agree with me about gun reform. I can accept that. I’ll accept that begrudgingly, but that’s a rant for another day–and quite frankly, you can Google all the data that has led me to my current convictions. At the end of the day, violence is a multi-faceted problem and it requires a multi-faceted solution.

I only have ideas about what gun reform should entail, but I do know that thoughts and prayers are not enough. I don’t think they are meaningless–I pray every single day because I a) I am a Christian, and prayer is an integral part of my faith, and b) I believe it changes my heart, which in turn changes the world around me.

But faith without works is dead. And until we actively respond to this violence, we are worshiping an abstract, absent god instead of the God we claim to serve: the God of divine Love who is made manifest in Her people.  

Jesus prayed. He prayed a lot, actually.

And then he did something.

What are we going to do?

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First and foremost, we need to speak out.

Everytown has started a campaign called Throw Them Out, encouraging constituents to tell Congress that they support common sense gun laws. Remember: our government represents us–not the NRA. My personal hero Glennon Doyle explains more in this video:

 

Consider attending a protest in your area. The Women’s March is organizing a walkout on March 14; another is scheduled for April 20, the nineteenth anniversary of the Columbine shooting. On March 24, there’s March For Our Lives, a protest in Washington DC (and other cities across the US) to demand gun reform legislation.

We also need to respond with an outpouring of love. Support the people who have been affected by this most recent shooting; they have a long road ahead of them. Write a letter to students. Donate to the victims and their families. Give your loved ones an extra hug.

Have open conversations. Destigmatize therapy and mental illness. Hold our government accountable.

This issue is not a gun issue OR a mental health issue. It is AND/ BOTH. Which is why I am a mental health advocate AND a gun reform advocate. It’s also about toxic masculinity. It’s also about media glorification of killers. It’s ALSO about guns. Instead of arguing- Pick one and get to work. It’s gonna take all of us.

Glennon Doyle 

It will not be easy.

But we can do this.

Let’s make history.

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Reclaiming Valentine’s Day

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For someone who proudly claims to love love, I am incredibly cynical about Valentine’s Day.

Once upon a time, it was a holiday of innocent, childish glee. Every year, I trekked the aisles of Target, searching for the perfect Valentine’s Day cards. Spongebob or Disney princesses? Puppies or zoo animals? Chocolates or lollipops?

Then, I labored over my “mailbox,” decorating an old shoe box in pink and red and nauseatingly delightful hearts. On Valentine’s Day, school had a special kind of thrill: we were having a party. We wandered around the classroom, dropping Valentines into the festive mailboxes and snacking on our chocolate. I would practically skip home from the bus stop, ready to guzzle down more chocolate and watch Valentine specials on TV. Back then, Valentine’s Day was as special as Halloween is to me now–and those who know me well are fully aware that Halloween is pretty damn special.

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These happy Valentine’s Day traditions died in middle school and high school. My excitement also fizzled out, because I had no boyfriend or romantic life to speak of. As I endured the day at school, my heart hurt in the way that only a teenage girl’s heart can: I was aching to be seen. Preferably by a cute boy waiting at my locker to hand me flowers and a teddy bear. I mean, really. Was that too much to ask? Everyone else had a cute boy and flowers and teddy bears.

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Of course, not everyone in high school had a boyfriend. But this is how I felt as angsty teenager who had yet to experience her first date, or first kiss, or first anything.

A few years down the road, I was dating someone during Valentine’s Day…and to my surprise, I still hated it. I hated how we felt like we had to do something special, just because it was February 14th. I hated the Kay’s Jewelry commercials (more than usual, anyway). I hated how a day about celebrating love seemed to be limited to romantic love. Most of all, I hated how the holiday made so many single people feel miserable.

(To be clear, I know that many people don’t care about Valentine’s Day at all. I also know that any holiday–even Halloween–has the potential to make people miserable. But the spirit of teenage angst doesn’t die so easily when you’re a hyper-sensitive/empath/people-pleaser.)

Fortunately, it’s 2018, and the way we celebrate is changing. Here are some of my favorite ways to reclaim Valentine’s Day:

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Practice self-love. 

We tend to think that once we learn how to love ourselves, we’re set for life; in reality, it’s an ongoing journey. So why not use Valentine’s Day to acknowledge how wonderful you are? Write yourself a love letter. Take a bubble bath. Do yoga and marvel at all the amazing things your body can do. Take hundreds of selfies. Buy yourself a gift. Do that thing you have always wanted to do. However you celebrate, remember the wise words of RuPaul: “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else?”

Celebrate friendship with Galentine’s Day! 

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Out of all the wonderful things the show Parks and Recreation has given us, I think Galentine’s Day is my absolute favorite. In typical Leslie Knope fashion, she invented her own holiday: Galentine’s Day, which is all about celebrating and having fun with your lady friends. The options are limitless–as long as you are having a girls’ day/night out, you’re doing it right. Even Hallmark celebrates Galentine’s Day!

Create your own traditions. 

If you still want to celebrate, do it on your own terms. On our first Valentine’s Day, Drew and I built the dopest blanket fort in the history of blanket forts. Last year, we opted to skip the Valentine’s Day date and watched Last Week Tonight with our BFF/roommate Kate instead. Drew and I still aren’t sure how we want to celebrate this year, but we know we like keeping it low-key. Don’t let the pretty pink hearts and jewelry commercials tell you what do.

Join the revolution.

Justice is what love looks like in public, so stand with your sisters and fight against violence towards women (whether they are cis, trans, or gender non-conforming). Organize or participate in a local V-Day. Adopt love as an ethic and join the Revolutionary Love Project, where your voice can be a force for social good. Love is more than romance, after all.

We believe it’s time to reclaim love as a public ethic. Love has been captured by greeting cards and pop songs as personal and romantic — too fickle and sentimental to be a revolutionary force. But the greatest social reformers in history grounded entire movements in the ethic of love.

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I also asked my fellow cynics on Facebook and Twitter how they chose to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and I think they had some pretty solid suggestions:

“Candy. That is all.” -Samantha

“I just ignore it. Till the day after when chocolate is on sale.” -Kathi

“Self care and buying myself flowers and chocolate covered strawberries.” -Alyssa

“When I was single, I would ignore it. This is my first ever Valentines Day in a relationship, and it’s not a huge deal to me but I’m still excited to celebrate. We will keep it low key…exchanging small gifts and for dinner, order pizza & eat it in the candlelight. Friday night, we will go out to dinner (it’s what works best with our schedule) and go see Black Panther.” –Mary Ann

“By Valentine’s Day, do you mean pitchers and catchers report day?!?” -Lindsey

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However you choose to celebrate, I hope you have a wonderful Valentine’s Day! ❤ May we spread love wherever we go, no matter the time of year.

Read and Resist: Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Welcome to Read and Resist, a blog series where I review books that amplify marginalized voices and address social justice issues. This includes fiction and non-fiction books (especially #OwnVoices), so if you have any suggestions, please let me know! 

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Between how outraged I always am with the patriarchy and how our nation is in the midst of important conversations regarding sexual assault, Moxie could not have found me at a better time.

I’ll admit it: I judged the book by its cover. How could I not? The library had it proudly displayed with other new young adult novels, and in case you don’t know, I am all about  badass ladies. And hot pink.

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Vivian, the book’s protaganist, was especially relatable to me because she is seen as someone who abides by the rules. I always feel like marching into a temple and flipping over some tables, but at the end of the day, I reallyreally hate getting into trouble. Similarly, when Vivian sparks the feminist revolution at her high school, no one suspects it was her–and she constantly wonders what her mother, grandparents, and friends will think when they find out.

The revolution begins after a boy in Vivian’s class quips that a girl should make him a sandwich. Considering that every girl I know has heard this “joke” a bazillion times (and guess what, everyone? It’s never funny), I immediately believed in Vivian’s small-town Texas high school. After a few similar incidents, Vivian takes inspiration from the Riot Grrl movement of the ’90s and anonymously distributes a zine to her classmates. She calls it Moxie, and invites fellow Moxie Girls to fight back.

One of the most wonderful things about Moxie is how it addresses intersectional feminism and internalized misogyny. In one of my favorite scenes, Vivian and her friends are discussing a Hot-Or-Not-type system created by the boys in their school. The winners, Vivian realizes, are always the same type of girl: skinny and blonde. When her African-American friend points out that they’re always white, too, Vivian admits that she has never noticed. “Well, no offense,” her friend replies, “But you wouldn’t have, because you’re white.”

 

Vivian’s mother also admits to not including black and brown women during her days as a Riot Grrl. The scenes are honest and poignant, and Vivian is able to acknowledge her privilege in a way many of us are not.

In terms of internalized misogyny, Moxie recognizes that some girls are hesitant to identify as a feminist. In Vivian’s case, her best friend thinks the word ‘feminist’ is too strong and the feminist movement is too radical. Her boyfriend, too, has trouble understanding some of Vivian’s views. It’s an especially heart-wrenching look at how we love those who do not share our own convictions. As Vivian’s mom so wisely puts it, we all grow up hearing the same bullshit.

And Vivian has her fair share of bullshit to deal with. Later on in the novel, she becomes friends with a cheerleader–a cheerleader who she used to judge and do her best to ignore. I did my fair share of cheerleader-bashing throughout middle school and high school, and this aspect of the novel made me want to hug every girl I once needlessly despised.

Reading about the Moxie Girls is a beautiful experience. Instead of tearing each other down, they lift each other up. It’s the feminist community I dream about. They start to break barriers built by race, sexual orientation, and high school hierarchies. When shit gets real and the girls start to fear suspension and expulsion, they fiercely protect one another. In every page, Moxie reminds you of the power that every girl has inside her.

“It occurs to me that this is what it means to be a feminist. Not a humanist or an equalist or whatever. But a feminist. It’s not a bad word. After today it might be my favorite word. Because really all it is is girls supporting each other and wanting to be treated like human beings in a world that’s always finding ways to tell them they’re not.”

Fortunately, Moxie Girls exist outside of the realm of fiction. Moxie Girls Fight Back! is the book’s official Tumblr, and the blog includes feminist resources and even a mix tape!

Needless to say, Moxie gets all the stars. Five out of five, I guess, if you’re making me follow these arbitrary book review rules. I still don’t like getting into trouble. But Moxie there are more important things–namely, taking part in the revolution.

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How do my fellow Moxie Girls fight back? What feminist books are you loving right now? Let me know in the comments or contact me through Goodreads or Twitter