On Sexual Assault and Healing: A Reflection After 10 Years

Today marks a decade. Gearing up for this I told myself I wouldn’t write anything. I told myself I’d let the day pass and not give any notice to it. I told myself my lack of acknowledgement would be empowering and a symbol of me regaining control over my life.

Funny how silence becomes a symbol after you find your voice.

I looked at the date multiple times today and it didn’t even click that this was the anniversary. Maybe it’s because I live a day ahead and half a world apart from where I was when it happened.

 

I didn’t make the connection until I sat down during my break at work and had some actual time to think. I looked at my phone, and for a split second, I wondered why September 19th felt so important.

 

That’s when it hit me.

 

Ten years.

 

What a significant milestone for reflecting on growth and healing after such a life-altering event. I thought I’d said all I needed to say when I last wrote about it on the eighth anniversary. I thought my reflections today would merely be a reiteration of my past writing.

 

All I know is that no matter the years that have gone by– each year, each day– there are more and more people who have endured similar experiences to mine. There are more and more people who are feeling the sense of isolation that I have since gotten past. More and more people who are just now taking those shaky steps towards healing, towards reclaiming their lives. There always will be.

I hate to sound so cynical, especially in this current age of openness and believing survivors: rape has existed as long as people have been around— it will exist no matter the number of socially conscious campaigns or “Me Too” movements that come into play. It’s a disheartening element of society. We can teach consent, we can support survivors, we can do our part to aid in the elimination of rape culture and survivor blaming, but I don’t think we’ll ever be able to eliminate rape. It was here before societal constructs, it will remain as long as there are selfish humans on this earth.

 

But no matter how sobering that may be, here I am, and here are so many of you others: living, breathing, existing. Trying our best to regain a sense of normalcy after something so utterly life-altering and heartbreaking. We’re here. We’re trying. We’re alive. And no matter the distance, we are in it together, coping as best we can.

 

And ultimately, that’s all I have to say. Everything else would just be a regurgitation of my past two essays. I’m here, I’m alive, I’m trying my best. I hope the same for you. And if you feel like things are beyond what can be handled on your own, please contact me. I will always make time for those who need me.

I said it best when I said it the first time:
https://carmenewiley.wordpress.com/2016/05/02/first-blog-post/

My heart goes out to all my fellow survivors. I wrote for you and, in turn, regained a piece of myself that had been missing for so long.

 

 

With all my love and understanding,

-C

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On the Eighth Anniversary of the Crime Against My Body

 

September 19th marks eight years since I was sexually assaulted.

I was 15 years old.

 

I’ve lived and breathed for approximately 70,080 hours since then. Not every day has been great, and probably a solid majority of those hours I’ve spent wishing I wasn’t there, but here I am; still living, still breathing, still trying to rebuild and heal from the trauma I endured. I still suffer from depression. I still suffer from PTSD. I still have stress dreams of being hurt like that again. I still feel uncomfortable when I go back to McAlester.

My pain has remained, evolving with me over the years; still real, still exhausting, still very much a part of my life.

 

But every year it gets a little easier. Every year I get a little stronger.

 

The best way I’ve been able to describe the feeling of being in the midst of a depressive episode is the feeling of being underwater–  my ears feel muted, my eyes don’t really focus on anything so my vision often blurs, everything feels slow, I don’t react to much at all. The only thing I can do is sit there, existing as a shell of a person. Depression is much more than being sad; it is an overwhelming sensation of emptiness. When I am depressed I feel like the biggest waste of space, like there’s nothing I could do to feel okay. I lack the motivation to take care of myself– I’ll go days without showering, without getting out of bed except to go to the bathroom. When I am struggling with a depressive episode I always catch myself wishing I could just dissolve, wishing I could evaporate into a mist and blow out the window.

 

I have a particularly vivid memory from a few months after the assault occurred. The pain I felt was still uncomfortably raw and new; I hadn’t had a good day in months.

My counselor’s office was located in an old house near downtown McAlester. The room where our sessions were held housed a comfy chair that was adjacent to a large window and across from a couch where my counselor would sit. One afternoon in early winter, I was dealing with a particularly severe case of disassociation. I was physically in the room but mentally and emotionally I was elsewhere. I was vacant. My counselor was talking to me, but I was only half listening. At this time, I was about three months deep into a seemingly endless depressive episode. I had forgotten what it felt like to wake up and not want to slip out of my own skin, what it felt like to not hate myself to the point of discomfort. I had forgotten what it felt like to feel; I had grown numb.

I was silent for the majority of that session. I remember staring out the window with my eyes fixed on two squirrels running around a large oak tree in the side yard. I was too tired to fight the tears that felt like they’d never stop. All I could do was cry. I didn’t know why I was crying, but that didn’t stop my tears from quietly streaming down my face and finding a final resting place on the front of my sweatshirt. My counselor was only sitting a few feet across from me, but she felt and sounded like she was a million miles away.

I remember hearing her say, “I know this is hard, but Carmen, imagine where you’ll be and how you’ll feel five years from now– or even ten. You’ll be amazed at how different your life is.”

“You’re wrong. My life won’t get better after this. I can’t imagine ever being able to feel any different from what I feel now,”  I thought to myself as I continued to stare at the squirrels scampering across the lifeless winter grass.

And I really, truly believed that. I  did not think it was possible for me to ever feel okay again. It had been months of the same emptiness, the same hatred, the same bottomless sadness, the same sense of discomfort in my own body. As far as I knew, at that point, this emptiness was my new normal.

 

For someone who revels in being right about things, I’m sure glad my counselor was right and I was the one who was wrong.

 

I’ve struggled for a long time with this now– I’ve been in denial about the severity of my sickness, I’ve convinced myself that a new medication or relocating to a new place would be the magic cure. I’ve self-medicated in order to fool myself into thinking things weren’t as bad as they actually were. As much as I wanted to wake up one day and all of this would be gone, I’ve had to face the reality that there is no magic cure; this is something I am going to have to cope with for the rest of my life.

 

It’s been eight years since I was sexually assaulted; seven and a half years since I went in-patient where I was formally diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder; a year and a half since I found my voice and shared my story for the first time on a public platform.

 

Each year on the 19th I take note of the positive changes in my life, of the ways in which I’ve healed. I compare how I felt around this time the year before to how I feel presently. Each year it gets incrementally easier. I have to remind myself that slow and steady wins the race; I can’t fix this with the snap of my fingers. There hasn’t been a year so far where this day has been pain-free. There hasn’t been an anniversary where I haven’t cried or felt angry. However, I have learned to cope with the memories and negative emotions that manifest themselves on this day in particular. I make sure I keep myself busy and surround myself with loved ones in order to distract from my impending pain. If I wallow, I’ll lose myself. It takes an immense amount of determination and self-control to make sure I take care of myself and treat myself with love on such a dark anniversary.

My annual reflection has made me more appreciative of the small accomplishments. It has allowed me to remember exactly where I was and how I felt on past anniversaries. It enables me to effectively track my healing process. Some years I feel like I’ve regressed, some years I feel like I’m in a much better place than I anticipated; some years I’m proud of myself, some years I’m not.

This year, though, I feel like I’ve done well. This year I’m thankful for the days I can get out of bed, I’m thankful for that moment of clarity when I feel a depressive episode winding down and I finally have the energy and sense of self-worth to take care of myself again. I’m thankful my depressive episodes are becoming less frequent. I’m thankful for my stubbornness, determination, and relentless pursuit of my desire to overcome obstacles. I’m thankful for my friends, I’m thankful for my family. I am thankful for the people who have both knowingly and unknowingly been a guiding light for me. I’m thankful for where I am and what I do, I’m thankful for who I’m becoming. I’m thankful I kept pushing for growth and healing even on the days that I couldn’t imagine my life ever getting better, I’m thankful I’m still here, I’m thankful I’ve yet to give up.

 

I realize that I may never feel okay on this day. I’m at peace with that– it’s a reality I’ve had to force myself to understand. I’ve finally accepted that this is something that will always be a part of who I am. That heinous violation of my body changed my life, contributing to both my character depletion and development. It has affected me and altered me. It has changed the way I operate. It forced reality upon a once naive and too-quick-to-trust young girl. Who I am now was strongly influenced by the aftermath of sexual assault, but no matter the various changes I’ve consciously and subconsciously made, not once have I allowed myself to be defined or controlled by trauma. I am an autonomous entity from that incident. I am still me and that can never be taken away.

 

Eight years later and I feel more secure and confident in who I am than I ever have in my life. I’m learning, with the help of an incredible support system, how to love myself. I’m learning to embrace and laugh at my quirks: my overbearing bossiness, my incessant need for accuracy, my impatience, my sharp tongue, and my prickly nature. I’ve grown tremendously, and I have to say, I’m really proud of myself.

 

I’ve accomplished a lot since 2009. I graduated high school in the top 10-percent of my class, I was granted admission to multiple top-tier colleges, I moved to Rhode Island where I went to Brown for five semesters, I worked on a farm in Hawaii for a summer, I’ve made a point to write for pleasure more, I stopped self-medicating, I took a medical leave from school for emotional rehabilitation purposes, I got a job back home in Tahlequah that absolutely changed my life and introduced me to my love for the hospitality industry, I moved to Colorado to finish my education, I overcame a binge eating disorder, for the first time in a long while I’m able to look at myself in the mirror and feel okay with who I am. I’m learning to embrace myself in my entirety. I can’t say by any means that I feel like I’m perfect, but I can say I’ve really caught my stride; I can say that I recognize how much I’ve grown in eight years and how hard I’ve worked to be where I am today.

Since moving to Durango I have made friends with people who, through always embracing their authenticity, have taught me how to be okay with who I am. I’ve made wonderful, thoughtful, and caring friends in all the places I’ve lived so far– I am thankful for each one of them, for the impacts they’ve had on my life, and the contributions they’ve made to my healing process. I wholeheartedly believe that everything happens for a reason and people come into your life when they do in order to teach a lesson. There is always something to learn.

In the year and a half since I publicly shared what happened to me, the post “On Sexual Assault and Healing” has received over 2,000 views. I have been contacted by various fellow survivors who have thanked me for finding my voice and telling my story. My primary intention of writing about my experience was to help those who have gone through something similar. Reading memoirs, most notably Jill Christman’s Darkroom, and hearing the stories of fellow sexual assault survivors changed the way I navigate my healing process. Hearing and reading other people’s stories have helped me recognize that I am not as alone as I once felt and that my reactions to trauma are both normal and valid. Other people’s stories helped me feel grounded at a point in my life when I was able to cope just enough to externally mask my struggles. It is my only hope that I have helped my fellow sexual assault survivors in a similar fashion through my writing and my candid discussion of struggling with both the mental health issues I face and the lasting impacts sexual assault has had on my life.

 

Sexual assault and abuse are gut-wrenchingly prevalent in our world. As much as I wish to take away all the pain from those who have experienced such abhorrent violations, I can’t. The best I can do is ceaselessly remind you all that despite your feelings of isolation, you are not alone. Your presence in this world is important. No matter how doubtful it seems, there will be light at the end of your darkest years, months, weeks, and days. You are prodigiously loved and you deserve every bit of it.

 

It has taken me many years to understand and accept that I deserve the love that has been given to me. It has taken me many years to rebuild my sense of self-worth and to recognize that what happened to me was never my fault. No amount of self-imposed lectures, telling myself I should’ve seen it coming, or internal chastising for thinking I was safe just because I went to school with those people can reverse what happened to me that night. I can’t erase the harm that was enacted upon me. What I can do, however, is keep pushing forward. I can keep reminding myself that I am worthy of love, success, and happiness. I can use my anger to fuel my path to healing. I can continue converting negative emotions into coping tactics that are both healthy and productive. I can continue to openly share my experiences. I can continue writing. I can continue talking. I can continue actively engaging in my new found refusal to remain silent.

 

Over the course of eight years, my progress may seem incremental, but for me, they feel like tremendous feats. Battling mental illness on a daily basis is exhausting. It is often difficult to carry out basic functions and take care of what is necessary. Avoidance is my go-to negative coping mechanism but I’m slowly and methodically training myself to tackle these obstacles head-on. Every day presents a new challenge, but every day I learn from those challenges and grow stronger in my ability to overcome. I am stubborn and relentless, I don’t know when to give up and I tend to run myself ragged when I am intent on accomplishing something, but I’m teaching myself to use such seemingly negative attributes as facilitation for healing.

 

While I have made a lot of progress, I still have a long way to go. Things aren’t anywhere close to perfect– they probably never will be, but that’s okay. I still struggle with the aftermath of sexual assault on a daily basis. Regardless of the circumstances, I will continue to push, grow, and exist. I will continue to progress. I will continue to learn how to love myself.

 

September 19, 2009, might mark one of the most negatively significant days of my life, but it also signifies the day that I realized the extent of my strength. Eight years has shown me how far I’ve come and how hard I’ve worked, I look forward to seeing where I’ll be in another eight years.

 

I couldn’t write for myself so I decided to write for others, and it changed my life.

-C

On a Shift in Food Consumption: a Recollection of Dietary Practices in the 1930s

“During World War II . . . every family member had a ration book that had to be presented when purchases were made. I don’t remember feeling deprived but candy bars were in very short supply for some reason. My dad died in 1943, in the middle of the war. He was a large man – six feet and two inches and weighed about 240 pounds. When Mother, my sister, and I were moving away from our home – Mother to a boarding house, me to a college dorm and my sister to San Francisco- we cleaned out a storage room on the second floor. Among the items was a very heavy suitcase. We opened it to find boxes and bags of sugar that my dad had squirreled away so he could continue to enjoy sweet treats after a meal”, recounted Phyllis Pearce, age 90. Phyllis, my grandmother, grew up in the remnants of a cherry orchard in Salem, Oregon, during the 1930s and ‘40s. She grew up eating a number of fresh fruits and vegetables straight from her family’s garden, meats from local areas and home cooked meals prepared by her mother. During our interview, she discussed the impact World War II had on food availability, as well as the development of frozen foods, and inventions of appliances that made the food preparation process easier.

“When I was a young child, and for years afterward, we always had meat, potatoes, and gravy for dinner and sometimes for lunch also. There was usually a salad and vegetable to go along with the main course, plus dessert of some kind,” Phyllis wrote. Phyllis also remembers regularly eating beef, pork, chicken, and rabbit, as well as salmon and other kinds of fish and seafood. Ed’s Rabbitry was a local shop in Salem that raised the rabbits. The rabbitry butchered, skinned, cut up and delivered whatever parts of rabbit the customer requested. “I loved rabbit until moving to Oakland, California in 1947,” wrote Phyllis, “Every morning as I walked to work, I passed a grocery store that had rabbits still in their fur coats hung up by their ears in the window.  For some reason seeing the bunnies like this killed my appetite for them.” Both of her parents were children of farming families and she suggested that their food preferences were a reflection of that. Additionally, she credits her father’s Irish ancestry and her mother’s German ancestry for why there were potatoes at nearly every meal.

My grandmother’s favorite meal as a child was sauerkraut and spareribs. She remembers in late summer every year, her mother would load up the car with heads of cabbage and empty five-gallon “crocks.” Her mother took the whole load of cabbage to an older German woman who would turn it into sauerkraut.  She sliced all the heads of cabbage, added salt and other ingredients that aided in the fermentation process, and put all of it into the crocks with a plate turned upside down on top to hold everything in the liquid. When the sauerkraut was properly aged, the crocks were returned to their home where her mother canned the sauerkraut for later use.

At the age of seven, Phyllis and her family moved into a house built in what had been a cherry orchard before that part of Salem was developed. The previous owners of the house had planted other fruit trees to supplement the cherry orchard, so she grew up eating cherries, peaches, apples, and apricots straight from the trees in her back and side yards. Additionally, her front yard housed two walnut trees from which her family also harvested. Her house sat on a very deep lot and they used the back fifteen to twenty feet as a vegetable garden. They grew peas, corn, green beans, lettuce, cucumbers, green onions, tomatoes, carrots and sometimes green peppers. Her mother frequently canned the fruits and vegetables because the trees and plants bore prodigiously, and there was no way they could consume everything before it went bad.

During World War II, frozen vegetables came on the market. Salem had canneries and added a frozen food plant around the time of the war. There was a shortage of help in the canneries and frozen food plants with all the, as my grandmother described, “young able-bodied men being otherwise engaged”; because of this, my grandma and her mother would work a four-hour shift at the frozen food facility. The invention of frozen vegetables was, arguably, the start of prefabricated and quick preparation foods. After the invention of frozen vegetables, around the end of World War II, frozen meals were introduced to consumers. The original two brands that she remembers were Bird’s Eye and Swanson. The original plate was a flat plastic, that later developed into a divided foil plate with sections for entrees, potatoes, and vegetables. To this day, Phyllis has and still uses three of the flat plastic plates that were a part of frozen meals. “The assortment of frozen foods available now would boggle the mind of that great-grandmother Michael Pollan cited in your prompt for this paper,” Phyllis asserts.

In addition to a number of new frozen foods available to consumers, the inventions of the electric refrigerator and microwave had a large impact on the way people would preserve and prepare food. The microwave allowed for people to quickly heat food items, it revolutionized the popping of popcorn and aided in the development and expansion of frozen dinners. Before the days of the electric refrigerator, however, Phyllis recalls having a very large ice box in her family’s house. Ice was delivered on a weekly basis, or more often if needed.  The ice man also had an ice house where her family, along with a lot of other families, rented a locker that they used to keep their meat, fish, and poultry.

“When I was a child most of what I ate was homegrown, so it was healthy,” stated Phyllis. Though when it came to items from the grocery store, she remembers most items, particularly meat, having fewer requirements for safety than what is claimed now. Despite the fewer safety requirements, Phyllis believes the meat when she was growing up was safer than the meat available to consumers now because the meat they had growing up was all local and it did not contain the number of additives it does now. In terms of the quality of fresh foods, Phyllis does not think much has changed over the years. She does, however, believe that canned and frozen foods have become safer and better as opposed to when they were first introduced on the market.

The interior of a grocery store has changed greatly since Phyllis’s childhood. You can now purchase toys, cards, magazines, beer, wine, all dairy products and an assortment of frozen foods, which she described as astonishing in comparison to what used to be available in grocery stores. The stores are also much larger and have a greater assortment of food for people with varying taste. Phyllis believes the choices at the grocery store have significantly improved from when she was a child. She also believes food safety has improved, citing inspections at grocery stores that should make meat, produce, frozen foods, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables much safer. She also noted that “sell-by” dates were never mentioned when she was growing up and also credits that as a significant improvement in grocery stores communicating freshness to its consumers. Wages, when my grandma was growing up, were very low compared to today’s wages. Prices, she believes, have risen accordingly.  She also guesses that about the same percentage of income goes to food now as it did when she was an adolescent. As a result of prohibition, alcoholic beverages were removed from public sale, so the array of bottled goods is amazing in stock at the grocery store today is something she considers amazing. She recalled that her dad used to make his own beer in the basement of their house. “It was not unusual for a bottle or two to explode. Ah, the good old days,” Phyllis reminisced.

Overall, diets of Americans have departed from homegrown foods and family farms. There is much less of a connection between the consumer and their fresh produce. Meats travel considerably more miles from the butcher to the table than they did when my grandma was growing up. As a result of the search for convenience and the invention of easily prepared food items, the majority of Americans are no longer taking the time to grow their own foods; some consumers do not even bother to eat fresh foods in any capacity. Many processed, prepackaged, and ready-to-eat foods are front-runners for American consumers.

“Food still tastes better when I don’t have to cook it,” Phyllis added jokingly.  As a result of dietary restrictions due to health problems, Phyllis pays more attention to what she eats. When she was younger, she had more of an appetite because she was more physically active. She has happy memories of her mother’s cooking and, despite her partialness to the convenience of certain frozen foods, nothing frozen can match the home cooked meals that were carefully and lovingly prepared by her mother. She has a healthier diet now because of fewer sweets and less heavy meals. She explained, overall, that she enjoys well-cooked and prepared meals, noting the expansion of choices in today’s market.  However, some things, like the sauerkraut prepared by her mother’s acquaintance, can never be duplicated. “I still like sauerkraut, but commercially canned doesn’t begin to measure up to what I had as a child,” she added nostalgically.

Diets of Americans in the 1930s and 1940s were very different from the diets of Americans today. The invention of frozen vegetables and frozen dinners, arguably, was the start of the departure from fresh produce and other less processed food items. In addition to the development of the prefabricated meal, the invention of the microwave aided in the journey to easier and faster-prepared meals for the American consumer. According to my grandma, the quality of fresh fruits and vegetables have remained the same; however, the state she lives in is well known for producing lots of fruits and vegetables and she directly benefits from the local growers. As a whole, American diets have shifted more toward the convenience of mass manufacturing and farther away from the intimacy of local production.

On the Passing of my Grandmother

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July 29th marks the anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. It’s been a year and I continue to struggle with her absence in my life. Losing a grandparent is always difficult, but there’s something particularly tough about the loss of your last grandparent.

 

My grandmother lived in Southern California so I didn’t get to see her every day, but my mom made a point for us to see her at least once a year. Despite not being able to see her on a daily basis, my heart still aches from her absence. I miss getting newspaper clippings in the mail or emails with links to interesting articles from her. She was a woman who valued education above nearly everything else. One of my last memories of her was in the summer of 2015. I was out in California for my cousin Carlos’s wedding so my brother, sister-in-law, and I went to visit her. The first thing she did after hugging us was to request that my brother (he’s very tall) hang up a potted plant for her. She then showed us around her new apartment. She took us to her office where she was showing us the work she’d been doing for her book. My grandmother, a former junior college history professor, had started researching our family’s lineage in her retirement and was in the process of finishing a book that traced our family’s history back to the 1400s or so.

“I researched the wrong side of the Davenports and didn’t realize it until recently. I’ll have to rewrite about ninety pages of what I’ve done so far, but that’s okay, I’ll have the book finished by Christmas,” she confidently informed us.

I remember hearing her tell us that and feeling so in awe of my grandmother. At that time, she was a little over two months from her 90th birthday, and here she was telling us about the book she was trying to finish. My grandmother was sharp, and I mean really sharp. She was easily one of the most intelligent women I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. We played Scrabble every time I visited her and I won against her maybe two or three times. She was constantly reading, constantly expanding her already expansive knowledge. She traveled the world with her research. But, frankly, it wasn’t just her intelligence that was so endearing about her. She was strong and fiercely independent. She always knew what she wanted and was frank and concise in her communications. She was the woman I aspire to be.

When her health started to deteriorate, my aunt set her up with one of those Life Alert buttons. One day she was gardening and accidentally bumped the button. In response, Life Alert called her home phone to check on her. Of course, since she was outside gardening she didn’t hear the phone ringing inside. When she didn’t respond, they called my aunt and uncle, so they immediately went to her house to check on her. Instead of finding my grandmother hurt or in any form of distress, she was outside gardening (one of her most beloved pastimes), happy as a clam and completely oblivious to the worry that had befallen my aunt and uncle.

I love this story because even when she was at a point in her life when her physical health was beginning to decline, she was still enjoying the things she loved and was still engaging in them as an independent individual. Her strength radiated through her.

She was the type of woman whose presence and way of carrying herself could be intimidating to certain (read: weaker) people. But, you know, those are the best kind of women– the women who have something about them that is mildly terrifying but in all the best ways possible.

 

I remember where I was when we found out my grandmother had passed away. Last summer I had decided to transfer from Brown University to Fort Lewis College. In late July, my mother and I traveled back to Providence, Rhode Island to close out my storage unit. We flew home the 29th, my dad picked us up from the Dallas Lovefield airport and was taking us to this catfish place in Denison called Huck’s. The restaurant was crowded, but after about a twenty-minute wait, we were seated in a booth towards the back of the restaurant. We ordered our drinks and food and then my mother received a phone call from my aunt. My grandmother wasn’t in a great place health-wise for about a week or so leading up to that day, so the call seemed somewhat routine– a daily catch up from my aunt about my grandmother’s status. Except, this time, my mom was gone for a long time. My dad and I busied ourselves with the trivia cards the restaurant had on the table for patrons to use whilst waiting. Finally, my mother returned to the table. I looked at my mother’s face and knew my grandmother was gone before my mother even opened her mouth. I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach.

“Mom’s gone,” she said as she choked back tears. I remember staring at the table as my own tears began to roll, unrestrained, down my cheeks and into a puddle on the plastic covered table. I couldn’t lift my head because I knew if I made eye contact with my mother, who was sitting across the booth from me, I would start sobbing audibly and uncontrollably.

Not long after my mother returned to our table, our waitress brought our food. I had ordered fried catfish with coleslaw and beans. I love food, particularly southern food– I especially love good slaw and good catfish– it’s one of the numerous pointless subjects on which I have an incredibly hard opinion (for the record, slaw made with mayonnaise is trash– heavy cream is the best).

I couldn’t eat; I had completely lost my appetite. I had this wonderful plate of food in front of me and all I could do was cry while I replayed in my mind one of the last phone conversations I’d had with my grandma. I had called to check in on her and was telling her about my decision to transfer schools. She said, “I’m proud of you, dear.” She told me she was pleased with my decision to keep my happiness at the forefront of my educational experience and said that she knew I would be successful no matter where I was. I sat there and I thought about all the times it took me too long to email her back and wished I’d been more prompt. I thought of the hours we’d spent playing board games at my house and hers. I pictured her sitting in her favorite chair right next to her back patio at her old house, her fuzzy blanket covering her legs and lap while she read the LA Times. I pictured the little, bemused smile she would get on her face and the twinkle in her eye when she saw or read something she found humorous.

 

I didn’t stop crying until long after we’d crossed back over the Oklahoma border.

 

I remember sitting curled up in the backseat of the car, listening to my parents talk about my grandmother’s passing. They shared stories of her strength, her snarky comments that entertained us all, her love for learning and travel, her appreciation for a glass of wine and good food.

My grandmother may be gone from this world, but she left behind a plethora of stories and memories for us; she left behind an example for all the women in our family of what it is to be independent and determined, to exist without relying on others. She left behind her family who shares her genes; within those genes, we have her strength, we have her intelligence, and we have her stubborn determination. My grandmother may be gone from this Earth, but I remain, and as her grandchild (her only granddaughter), I am an extension of her.

Coping with the loss of a grandparent is especially difficult, regardless of whether they’re your first grandparent to lose or your last. You miss them even if you didn’t get to see them every day; you find yourself longing for interactions with them that you might’ve taken for granted while they were living. No matter the amount of time that’s passed, you’ll still feel a pang of sadness when you think of them. There will be certain experiences that will reopen the wound on your heart their departure left behind.

 

I still want to cry when I hear the break in my mother’s voice as she speaks of my grandma. I still find myself re-reading articles and emails she sent me years ago. I still miss her and I’ll probably never stop; but despite all of that, I find peace in having my mother and my aunt– two women who were raised by her and loved her as much as we all did. I find peace in knowing that I carry within me the same intelligence, thirst for independence, and stubborn determination that she flawlessly exhibited.

 

Rest in peace,
Phyllis Marguerite Ryan Pearce (September 30, 1925 – July 29, 2016).
Your legacy lives on through your family.

On Being a Hopeless Romantic

A hopeless romantic who has been burned one too many times:
I dip myself in black,
painting a picture of independence, certainty, and strength
to disguise my charred edges,
to hide the fragility of my heart

A hopeless romantic who has learned to stop diving headfirst;
I dip my toe into the water,
checking the depth of the individual
before I toss them the anchor of my trust

A hopeless romantic who has buried romanticism
beneath a soil dense with spirited willfulness and self-deprecating humor,
in an attempt to protect that aspect of my character.

I dip my hand beneath the Earth,
running my fingertips across the slightly scarred exterior
of a once unblemished seed,
hidden from people who would rather feed on vulnerability
than respect it

From Jefferson to Boudinot: An Examination of How Archaic Ideologies of Race Remain in Contemporary America

If an American citizen were to be interviewed in 2013 about whether or not racism was still a problem in America, most people would probably answer no, citing the election of Barack Obama for two presidential terms as a reason to consider America post-racial; however, 2016’s presidential election of Donald Trump shed light on the stark realities of America’s persisting racist climate. Despite an overwhelmingly common misconception among a subset of naively hopeful voters within the United States, the election of a black man does not amend the deep-seated racism on which this country was established. The notion of race and the nonsensical hierarchy of race that quickly followed was established by white colonizers in an effort to justify slavery and the genocide of Indigenous peoples. The social elite of a newly budding America effectively secured their financial successes through the use of non-white bodies— the exploitation of slaves provided free labor while the extermination and forced removal of Indigenous peoples freed up land to be settled. Wealthy white men, many of whom had integral roles in the founding of this new nation, saw America as a blank slate on which to craft a new system that would directly benefit them, as well as to secure their carefully cultivated privilege for their posterity. The writings of Thomas Jefferson, one of America’s most notoriously racist founding fathers, as well as the writings of Elias Boudinot, a wealthy mixed-blood Cherokee man, contributed to both the heavily racialized foundation of America and the maintenance of an intrinsically racist sociopolitical climate in which America resides today.

“All men are created equal,” is, arguably, Thomas Jefferson’s most well-known written statement— a staple within the Declaration of Independence. The aforementioned claim by Jefferson has been used throughout history as one of the many ways to prove that America is a land of opportunity with a government crafted to protect its citizens. Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia” seemingly lies in direct contradiction to his call for equality in the Declaration of Independence. “Notes on the State of Virginia” details the ways in which Jefferson perceived black people to be physically and psychologically inferior to white people, and should be considered nothing more than second-class citizens. Many of his descriptions are not new to the contemporary reader— Jefferson’s writings played an integral part in cultivating the mindset that helped lay the foundation for America’s unrelenting white-supremacy problem.

Today, white-supremacy is represented in the media through talking heads such as David Duke and Tomi Lahren. Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and self-described advocate for European-Americans, was unrestrained in his support for Trump’s virulent campaign. In a 2016 National Public Radio interview, Duke, who was running for Louisiana State Senate, was asked if he thought Trump voters were also his voters. “Of course, they are,” adamantly proclaimed Duke, “. . . I represent the ideas of preserving this country and the heritage of this country, and I think Trump represents that as well” (Domonoske). The heritage of this country, despite the insistence of the dominant narrative, is not the rags-to-riches fairytale that is taught in public education systems throughout America. The heritage of this country is one of settler-colonialism, genocide, and the manipulation of the oppressed. When Duke claims that he wishes to preserve the heritage of the country, he is not referencing the supposed story of equal opportunity America boasts, he is referencing the come up of white Americans and their fixture of control within society. Tomi Lahren, much like Duke, preaches about racism against white Americans. In an interview with Charlamagne tha God, a rapper and radio personality, Lahren complained about being a target of racism by commenters on her videos who called her a “racist cracker” (Tomi). For someone who regularly screams about “liberal snowflakes”, she is quick to call herself a victim of racism for being called a cracker.

The problem with claims of white people experiencing racism is that, by definition, it is impossible for white people to experience racism; the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, an organization created by educators “dedicated to building an effective movement for social transformation,” define racism as racial prejudice plus institutional power (Cushing). In other words, racism is a result of people within a group that hold social power and are actively carrying out racial prejudices and discrimination in order to maintain their oppressive social and institutional control. Since people of color lack the social and institutional control to actively oppress white people, they are not, by sociological definition, being racist. Lahren’s inability to grasp such basic notions is, in some ways, reflective of Thomas Jefferson’s inability to recognize the humanity of slaves— they both make faulty claims that are selected exclusively to support their racist rhetoric.

“Notes on the State of Virginia” begins with Jefferson addressing the foreseeable question of why not integration post-emancipation. His justification of segregation relies on archaic scientific observations that were widespread notions at the time his book was published; however, the justifications on which he heavily relies prove themselves to be both ludicrous and antiquated. Of the numerous offensive observations Jefferson makes, there is one that stands out in particular: “They seem to require less sleep. A black after hard labour through the day will be induced by the slightest amusements to sit up till midnight or later, though knowing he must be out with the first dawn of the morning” (Jefferson 764). Jefferson’s reasoning is playing off a slave’s ability to cope with the atrocious working conditions to which they were forcibly subjected. He is taking strength and resilience and turning it into a perceivably negative characteristic— keep in mind that claims of “needing less sleep,” as well as the incorrect perception of heightened strength that developed as a fear-mongering tactic in the Jim Crow Era, go hand-in-hand with the caricaturizing of black people as animalistic. Both these misconceptions quickly evolved into the stereotype of the aggressive black man. Like many white writers describing non-white people in this time period, Jefferson is hyper-critical of the supposed differences he perceives between races. When he gets close to making a positive comment, he follows it up with a painfully negative statement. “[They are] at least brave and adventuresome;” Jefferson states at one point, only to continue with, “but this may perhaps proceed from a want of forethought, which prevents their seeing a danger till it be present.” It appears as though he can only recognize a positive trait to a certain degree, then he must promptly erase any perceivable inkling of respect for non-white people by discrediting any positive trait with the statement of an assumed flaw. The construction of his aforementioned observation is the written equivalent of luring a mouse to a trap with a piece of cheese, only for their necks to be snapped immediately after.

Jefferson’s bold claims against integration would cause many readers to question how a person who famously proclaimed, “All men are created equal,” could turn around and make such blatantly racist claims. However, despite the two bodies of work appearing to contradict one another, it is important to recognize that at this period of time, America was operating under the Three-Fifths Rule. Slaves were not considered to be men; they were not even considered as full people— they were considered to be three-fifths of a person. When drafting one of the most famous lines of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson was not writing with slaves in mind— to him they were subhuman; he was writing to and about white people exclusively. The audience to which Jefferson is writing becomes blatant when the reader recognizes the subhuman standing that slaves held at this point in time.

Though the Three-Fifths Rule is no longer in technical existence today, there are laws within America’s mass incarceration system that exist as whisperings of this once popular rule. The Three-Fifths Rule was originally intended to, as defined in The New Jim Crow, “enhance the political clout of slaveholding states by including 60-percent of slaves in the population base for calculating congressional seats and electoral votes, even though [slaves] could not vote” (Alexander 114). Today, under the Usual Residence Rule, the Census Bureau counts inmates as residents of the area in which their prisons reside. These inmates tend to, but not exclusively, come from minority communities within larger urban areas; the areas in which prisons exist typically are rural and predominantly white. The number of representatives for state legislature is determined by population. Through this transference of population count, the Census Bureau is actively taking away from the number of representatives allotted to districts that house minority communities within metropolitan areas and increasing the legislative representation in predominantly rural and white areas (Alexander 114). While the Three-Fifths Rule was considerably more transparent in its intentions, the Usual Residence Rule functions in a similar, albeit more covert, manner.

Much like Jefferson, Elias Boudinot makes clear who his audience is through the way he writes about non-white people. Boudinot, though born within the Cherokee Nation, was of a wealthy mixed-blood family who sent him away to boarding school to be educated in the Western tradition. He is most well known as a traitor to his people—he was among a small group of Cherokee people who signed the Treaty of New Echota, which ceded the land on which Cherokee people resided to the federal government. Boudinot and the other signees left before they could be forcibly removed and were able to claim and secure the best, most agriculturally prosperous plots of land (Boudinot 591). As a result of the Treaty of New Echota, Cherokee people were forcibly removed from their homelands to Indian Territory, which is present-day Oklahoma. This landmark removal is famously known as The Trail of Tears. His assimilated way of thought rears its ugly head not only through his actions but through his writing as well. In his first letter as editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, Boudinot makes clear his intention to please the federal government through his avoidance of criticizing their heinous crimes at all costs, as well as through the self-deprecating language he uses when discussing Indigenous peoples.

The Cherokee Phoenix, a newspaper that was intended to be written by and for Cherokee people, produced its first letter from the editor that was not, in fact, written with the audience of Cherokee people in mind. Boudinot goes to great lengths ensuring that the Phoenix will not be used to “intermeddle with the politics and affairs” of the federal government (Boudinot 594). Additionally, when discussing his fellow Cherokee people, he is adamant in his claims that Indigenous peoples are still capable of assimilation and being removed of their “savagery.” “Sufficient and repeated evidence has been given,” he states, “that Indians can be reclaimed from a savage state, and that with proper advantages, they are as capable of improvement in mind as any other people” (Boudinot 594). Boudinot is perpetuating the notion of Indigenous people’s intellectual inferiority that was used by colonizers as a way to dehumanize Native people, making their extermination an easier feat. This tactic is a nod to the unabashed anti-Indian rhetoric within the media that was produced by the white elite around the time of Manifest Destiny.

Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow writes, “American Indians became a growing impediment to white European ‘progress’, and during this period, the images of American Indians promoted in books, newspapers, and magazines became increasingly negative.”  Boudinot is proof that claiming Indigeneity does not make a person exempt from adapting to and abiding by a settler-colonial mindset. Boudinot is, arguably, engaging in assimilation from within the tribe, rather than the typical practice of an outside force pressing for assimilation. Rather than shipping children off to boarding schools on opposite sides of the country or outlawing traditional cultural practices, he uses his power within the Cherokee Nation to spread his westernized forms of thought and to make decisions that negatively impact the very same people for whom he claims to speak and represent through his position of power as editor of the Cherokee Phoenix.

Boudinot, a firm believer that assimilation was inevitable, sought to bury all traces of Indigeneity. In his letter to the public, he is directly advocating for the assimilation of Indigenous peoples. “. . . [I]t is not a visionary thing to attempt to civilize and Christianize all the Indians, but highly practicable” (Boudinot 595). This line is one of the most telling statements he makes that proves to whom he is actually speaking. If Boudinot were, in fact, writing to the Cherokee people, he would not be writing about Indigenous peoples in the third person and he would not be writing in such a tone that attempts to convince the reader of the possibility of assimilating Natives. Boudinot is writing to white people and the federal government under the guise of representing the Cherokee Phoenix as a whole. Boudinot has a bad habit of misrepresenting his tribe— he did so when he signed the Treaty of New Echota, something the Cherokee National Council actively spoke out against, and he did it again in his letter “From the Cherokee Phoenix to the Public.” Boudinot was a wolf in sheep’s clothing—he claimed Indigeneity, but his ideologies were that of a white man’s. His writings and actions are reflected in current misnomers regarding Natives— he boasts passivity in regards to the federal government’s heinous crimes against the people he claims to represent and seeks to prove that, despite the intellectual fragility of Indigenous peoples, they are still capable of adapting to white culture. Boudinot was an active participant in the erasure of Indigenous bodies and cultures.

Throughout history, Indigenous peoples have struggled with erasure by way of a number of different avenues— misrepresentations and legal regulations are among the most prevalent. Adrienne Keene, a Cherokee citizen and professor of Ethnic Studies at Brown University, writes, “Colonialism is still going on today, and part of that process are structural level policies and practices that seek to paint Native peoples as inferior” (Keene). The notion of Indigenous inferiority, created in an attempt to dehumanize and justify the genocide of Native people, has survived and flourished over the years by way of common stereotypes that developed at the time of colonization, and have not ceased in their development over the years. Additionally, many restrictive laws and regulations were put in place to stop Indigenous peoples from engaging in their traditional cultural practices, as well as to limit their upward mobility. The boarding school era is a prime example of such: young Native children were shipped off to opposite sides of the country and were typically around other children who did not speak the same languages. These boarding schools were notorious for physical and sexual abuse of its students. The goal was to “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” a mantra made famous by Carlisle Indian School’s founder Richard Pratt, creating a false air of benevolence around the purpose of boarding schools— eliminating “savagery” was seen as a humanitarian effort at that time. The federal government traumatizes young Indigenous children through the westernized education system, prepares Native people for exclusively service-level jobs, and then wonders why graduation rates are so low and poverty is high among contemporary American Indians.

The federal government’s tactics to oppress Native and black communities are not much different from one another, they merely change forms and are concealed differently. Over the years these practices appear to dissipate; however, they are merely recrafted to adapt to the changing times. Jim Crow Laws emerged in response to the antebellum South’s struggle to reclaim white control as freed slaves were steadily working towards equality (Alexander 22). The era of Jim Crow Laws brought forth a new form of slavery. Former slaves were being arrested for minor crimes and fined heavily; the majority of those arrested did not have the financial capabilities to pay off their fines, so the state sold them off to a number of corporations throughout the South in order to work off their debts. In addition to forced free labor, convicts were stripped of their rights as citizens, many of those rights reflected the same ones that slaves lacked (Alexander 22).

Jim Crow Laws are clear examples of the ways in which slavery has altered forms over the years to adapt to the changing climate. For all intents and purposes, convicts, both in the Jim Crow era and in the present day, are slaves; the only difference between when slavery was legal and the years after emancipation, is that those who are subject to this system are referred to as convicts rather than slaves, and the abuse of these individuals is justified in their act of committing a crime. Thomas Jefferson’s assertion that black people can be no more than second class citizens has been maintained through years of institutional racism and fear-mongering. Though Jefferson has long since passed, his ideologies have remained deeply rooted within the federal government’s perpetuation of white supremacy. Many people think of white supremacy in the overt form— hooded Klan members and “whites only” water fountains; white supremacy does not have to be blatantly obvious in order for it to exist. In many cases, particularly in contemporary America, white supremacy has been disguised in the form of laws and regulations that prevent black and brown people from upward mobility. The racist ramblings of a former president and the self-deprecating descriptions by a traitor of his people have trickled down over the years, becoming less outwardly recognizable and adapting to an America that is attempting to become more socially conscious.

While social consciousness is making its way to the forefront of America, it plays an interesting dual role. Social consciousness, depending on the way it is learned and practiced, can do one of two things: it can either open the individual’s eyes to the atrocities committed throughout the development of America as well as shed light on the present problems riddling the country, or it can create a false sense of security in an individual, making them believe that a heightened level of social consciousness will instantly cure America’s ailment of racism. The voting results of the 2016 election prove this to be true. Saturday Night Live aired a skit on their post-election show that begged the question “Is America racist?” Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, the only two people of color in the skit, laughed at their white friends’ surprise. The reactions of the white people in the room represented the subset of the disillusioned left that is subject to the notion of thinking that heightened social consciousness is the cure-all. While heightened social consciousness does aid in the unveiling of America’s structural racism, it is useless without the implementation of critical thought.

Slavery, despite the Emancipation Proclamation, as well as all the other ways America tries to boast its freedom-loving lands and laws, is still kept alive through seemingly well-concealed avenues of control. Racism, as Michelle Alexander explains, is highly adaptable (Alexander 10). This adaptability is made clear through the series of legal reactions America has had to the freeing of slaves and integration. With each step toward progress, American legislators have made counter steps to preserve archaic ideologies of race— emancipation was met with Jim Crow, devolving into the sham of “separate but equal,” and presently manifesting itself as restrictive laws regarding the presently and formerly incarcerated. Critical thinking contributes to a person’s ability to question and draw comparisons between blatantly racist laws of the past and covertly racist laws of the present. Without this ability, people will continue to stomach the dominant narrative of America’s rosy land of freedom instead of seeing America for what it is: a cesspool of genocide and greed. To say that America has distanced itself from slavery, racism, or any other form of bigotry is a sham. Slavery and racism are as intrinsically American as apple pie.

In this day and age, it is important that the writings of Jefferson and Boudinot continue to be read and analyzed through a number of different lenses in order to help draw connections between an antiquated America wrought with slavery, racism, and genocide, and contemporary America wrought with those same attributes in a subtler form. Both Jefferson and Boudinot express ideologies that are still reflected in present society, proving the adaptability of white supremacist notions. These practices are deeply rooted in the foundation of America through a series of lawfully implemented regulations and will take, presumably, decades to dismantle; however, change can be made at the individual level through social consciousness, the utilization of educational tools, and well-developed critical thinking skills.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Alexander, Michelle. The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. N.p.: New, 2010. Print.

Boudinot, Elias. “From The Cherokee Phoenix to the Public.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, edited by Nina Baym, Robert S. Levine, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2013, 592-595.

Cushing, Bonnie Berman. Accountability and White Anti-racist Organizing: Stories from Our Work. Roselle, NJ: Crandall, Dostie & Douglass, 2010. Euroamerican.org. Web. 21 Apr. 2017. <http://www.euroamerican.org/Library/Resources/Occupy/White_Priv_Terms_Resources.pdf&gt;.

Domonoske, Camila. “Former KKK Leader David Duke Says ‘Of Course’ Trump Voters Are His Voters.” NPR. NPR, 05 Aug. 2016. Web. 21 Apr. 2017.

Jefferson, Thomas. “From Notes on the State of Virginia.” The Norton Anthology of American
Literature,
edited by Nina Baym, Robert S. Levine, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 763-765.

Keene, Adrienne. “When You’re Invisible, Every Representation Matters: Political Edition.” Native Appropriations. N.p., 17 May 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2017. <http://nativeappropriations.com/2015/05/when-youre-invisible-every-representation-matters-political-edition.html&gt;.

Tomi Lahren – Giving a Voice to Conservative America on “Tomi”. Perf. Tomi Lahren and Trevor Noah. Comedy Central, 2016. The Daily Show. Comedy Central, 1 Dec. 2016. Web. 21 Apr. 2015.

 

On Using the Internet to Combat the Spread of False Information

Alt Title:
How to Not Look Like an Idiot When You’re Trying to School That Sorry Son-of-a-gun You’re Arguing With Online

The Internet is a really phenomenal tool— honestly, it is. Through various social media platforms, users have the ability to instantly connect with people all over the world. The Internet has made it much easier to access varying perspectives, different schools of thought, and a plethora of new information. Information that once had a price tag on it— information that at one point was only accessible through elite education systems— is now at our fingertips. The interconnectedness of the world is powerful. Social media has become a primary tool in fighting the false narratives that mainstream media has repeatedly tried to create. The Internet has provided a wide-reaching voice for the people, allowing us to share knowledge with one another, listen to others, and hopefully create a view that transcends our physical limitations of place. However, despite all the goodness that the Internet can create (and, admittedly, the aforementioned description is wildly idealistic), there is plenty of bad that comes from this sharing of information.

What I am seeing more and more regularly is the spreading of misinformation. This is particularly problematic in the new era of “alternative facts.” First of all, let me LAUGH at that positively ludicrous term— let’s call a spade a spade, alternative facts are falsehoods and nothing more than that. So, in light of all this nonsense, I think it’s even more important to discuss the validity of claims made on the Internet. Something I learned in both writing academic papers and training people at the coffee shop where I worked is this: you absolutely have to assume the reader (or trainee) is uninformed. In other words, you need to explain things that you typically would assume is basic knowledge. With that being said, NOT EVERYTHING ON THE INTERNET IS TRUE.

Give me one more second. Let me say this one more time:

NOT EVERYTHING ON THE INTERNET IS TRUE

In fact, most of the things on the Internet are probably not true. The beauty of the Internet is that anyone can post information; the downside of the Internet is that anyone can post information. You see where I’m coming from? The freedom to share ideas can be incredibly beneficial; however, it can also be incredibly detrimental, especially when the things being shared are untrue. I skim through Facebook posts and creep on Twitter debates on a regular basis (it’s my guilty pleasure). Through this “research” (read: creepiness), something I’ve noticed is that people often fail to review and process information through a critical lens. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen people share satirical articles with the utmost sincerity. Satire, for those of you reading this who do not know, is basically a form of humor that ridicules/criticizes the absurdity within politics and (sometimes) popular culture. In other words, satire is a joke, and you will be too if you share an article from The Onion thinking it’s a legitimate news source.

In addition to satirical articles being shared as fact, I have also noticed that people really enjoy sharing falsehoods in arguments. This is something I’ve observed affects people from all over the political spectrum—this is not exclusive to right wingers or left wingers—this is a problem that effects ALL people who are unwilling to take the extra step to confirm facts.  Just because your mommy told you that the Oklahoma’s capital city is Tulsa does not mean it’s true. I get it, you probably love your mom a lot and you probably would like to believe that she’s always right (it’s comforting, is it not?) but that statement is not true. Just because you love your mom does not mean you cannot question the validity of the things she tells you. In fact, you should question the validity of everything anybody tells you. You should even question what you think you know. (And if you were to question the validity of what your mom told you, you would discover for yourself that the capital of Oklahoma is Oklahoma City and not Tulsa.)

Actually, the Internet makes it relatively easy to confirm the validity of claims people make— and I’m not just talking about the claims made by people on your Facebook feed, this also includes the claims made by the sketchy “news sources” (if you could call them that) that are regularly shared on social media. This is super basic, y’all. This is the stuff we learned in junior high when we first started writing five paragraph essays. If my underfunded Oklahoma public school system could teach me this, I’m sure you probably learned it too. (Not to diss Oklahoma public education, but I mean, come on, in 2015 our public education system was ranked at 48th in the nation. YIKES.)

With that being said, let me refresh your memory on fact checking: Make sure that the website(s) through which you get your information is valid. Before you even finish that article about President Obama’s “real” birth certificate, scan through the “About Us” or whatever similar section they have. Does the “About Us” section mention the word satire (or any variation of such)? Does the “About Us” section look sketchy and poorly put together? Does the “About Us” section fail to inform the reader in any way about how information for the website is collected? If the answer to any of those questions is “yes”, then you’re probably not on a reliable website. Actually, this is such a widespread issue that the Los Angeles Times published an article about a professor who created a compilation of fake news sources to help stop this spread of misinformation. Identifying fake news sources is a bit easier than identifying false claims made by individuals; however, thankfully, it is still relatively easy to determine if someone is bullshitting you online.

You see, this magical tool called Google comes in handy in more ways than trying to figure out how to chop an onion without losing a finger. Let’s say you’re perusing Facebook and you happen upon a debate between two people you knew in high school. You notice that one person, in the midst of this multi-comment argument, makes the claim that “the American flag was banned from the DNC.” You think, huh, well that’s a little weird. And you’re ABSOLUTELY right. That is a little weird, isn’t it? Instead of completing that thought process with, “Oh, well, they probably know what they’re talking about” you should complete it with, “DO they really know what they’re talking about?” After that rightfully critical thought, you should take to Google in order to determine if that claim is true. Thankfully, when googling a false claim, Snopes (a really great myth-busting tool) is typically among the top results. If Snopes does not appear among your top searches, then you can use your newly found (or newly reminded) skill of determining the validity of websites. Examine the “About Us” section, research the author’s credentials, check other articles on the website to see if they seem fishy too. Make the extra effort and use your critical thinking skills. If something seems too good to be true, too weird to be true, etc., then it probably isn’t true; HOWEVER, don’t leave it up to that feeling. Make sure you prove that feeling to be true or false by confirming these claims with valid evidence.

In short, when you share information on the Internet, it is important you approach it in the same manner as if you were writing a paper. Is what you’re saying true or false? Do you have evidence to prove what you are saying is true? Are you regurgitating notions force fed to you by peers, authority figures, the dominant narrative, or all of the above? You should be critical about information shared by everyone, especially the information you share. The inability (or lack of desire???) to question the validity of statements is how people like Tomi Lahren have weaseled their way onto a national platform. A lot of times people make radical claims based almost entirely out of personal bias and flimsy knowledge on the general subject, and hope they stick. It is imperative that we collectively work to develop a more critical lens when examining information presented to us on the Internet.

Actively work to ensure that you are not the fool.

I know it’s just the Internet or just social media, but listen to me: your words are powerful. Your ability to spread truth or even “alternative facts” (let me remind you, those are lies) is incredibly powerful. You might not know it, but there are probably people who read what you write on social media platforms and think that you know what you’re talking about. Hell, YOU might even think you know what you’re talking about. And that’s the thing, you probably think you are right, but chances are, you might not be. So, before you share the truths you think you know about politics, (or whatever your favorite subject to debate is) make sure the things you think you know are, in fact, valid.

-C

On Being the Younger Sibling

I have one sibling. He is five years my senior and has been my role model for as long as I can remember. When we were children, he and I used to create new worlds for ourselves— the woods behind our house were a backdrop for limitless storylines, our tree fort would transform into whatever we could imagine. My brother made being a kid in a kid-less neighborhood fun. He taught me how to climb a tree (although I fell out of it and am now afraid of heights), he taught me how to shoot a gun, and helped me develop a thicker skin. He even was kind enough to keep the secret of Santa’s true identity from me so I could find out for myself when the time was right.

He’s always kept my best interest at heart. I know I can call him about a plan I have and he’ll help me examine it through a critical lens. He always gives me advice, whether or not I ask him for it. He generally gives good advice, as long as it’s not about anything that’s exclusively emotional. Once I called him crying after a friend of mine had done something very un-friend-like and he ended up talking to me about real estate prices and the probability of me having a roommate (in other words, it’s unavoidable that I will have to deal closely with people in my personal life) to afford an apartment in a metropolitan area, based off the average salary of a person working in the hospitality industry. It makes me laugh to think about that phone call because I know that was his way of telling me to roll with the punches, pick myself back up, and to expect future disappointments from people I thought were friends because dealing with people (both good and bad) is inevitable.

When he was in junior high and high school, my mom had to regularly remind him that he was “not the third parent.” He’s the kind of person who shows you he loves you by being a little controlling. I absolutely despise being controlled, but I do know that his bossiness and [sometimes unsolicited] advice is all because he wants me to be okay. I know that my brother loves me immensely and I am thankful to have a sibling who cares for me as much as he does.

My brother is picky— not really in an annoying way, he’s just specific about what he wants and how things are done. He does things with precision and makes decisions that have been carefully calculated. My brother is wary of people until he knows he can trust them. I am not that way. A part of me, probably larger than I would like to recognize, is incredibly naïve and idealistic. I open my heart up too quickly and, consequently, I’ve dealt with a lot of disappointment and heartache.

My favorite thing about my brother, besides his sense of humor, is his steadiness. He does a beautiful job of appearing calm and sure of himself even when he is not. He and I conduct ourselves differently— he remains composed no matter the situation and tends to act out of logic rather than emotion. I, on the other hand, wear my emotions plastered across my face regardless of how much I try to hide them. I’ve cried in public more times than I can count. I cry when people talk about something passionately, sometimes I cry for no reason at all. Hell, I’m even crying as I type this.

Though my brother’s calmness is admirable, it can be wildly intimidating— at least from the perspective of the younger sibling. One could say my brother appears to live a charmed life: he went to Stanford after graduating high school, met his future wife while studying abroad in Italy, attended UCLA Law School after graduation, and is now an attorney in Southern California. “Appears” is the key word in that statement because even though he does not express his struggles to the outside world, that does not mean he avoids struggles or challenges altogether. He certainly endures them, he just does a better job than I do of keeping those things private. I have to remind myself that even though he does not tell me how and when he is struggling, that does not mean his life is free of struggle. I have to remind myself, too, that he and I face different challenges.

My brother and I have different lives. We are separate people.

My love and admiration has often led me to compare myself to him. My parents made a point to always let us know we are equally loved and not favored over the other, so my desire to compare stems from within and isn’t a result of parental pressures. My parents recognize that my brother and I, despite sharing genes from the same two people, are two totally separate entities. They recognize that we are special and beautiful in our own ways. We have our own fair share of unique quirks and flaws. They know it, and I’m sure my brother knows it too, but I struggle to grasp this concept. I have to remind myself that no matter how much I want to be like my brother and I want my life to follow the same seemingly charmed path as his, I am my own person. My life has its own path.

Let’s take the timeline of his post-high school life and compare it to mine:
After high school, I attended Brown University. By the end of my sophomore year, I chose to take a medical leave for depression and social anxiety. I took three semesters off. In that time, I returned to Oklahoma where I worked two jobs, rented my own apartment, and managed my own bills. I returned to Brown the semester I would’ve graduated had I not taken a medical leave. During my first semester back at Brown, I fell back into a deep depression and was faced with a difficult decision— is the academic rigor worth compromising my mental health? Since the answer to that question was no, I transferred this past fall to a college in Colorado.

For months, I have guilt tripped myself over leaving Brown. I have told myself I am a failure, I have told myself I gave up, I have told myself that I’m unsuccessful compared to my brother because he made it through a top tier institution and I did not. When I am not in an unhealthy mental state, I do recognize that all of this is untrue. I made the right decision when I chose to transfer, I am much healthier where I am now. I also recognize that my decision to transfer was a health-based decision and was in no way related to my intellect. Just because I won’t graduate from a rigorous institution like he did, does not mean I’m any less capable of success. Just because my life follows a different path than his, does not mean that my capabilities are limited in any capacity.

I am twenty-two and I am still working on my bachelor’s degree. When my brother was twenty-two, he was in his first year of law school. But you know what? That’s okay. That’s okay because my brother and I are two different people. His strengths are not necessarily my strengths and vice versa. However, despite our many differences, my brother and I also share a number of similarities. My brother is smart, successful, and hardworking. I too am smart and hardworking, and I certainly have the potential to be successful. I’ve never laughed with someone as much as I’ve laughed with my brother, no one else in my life understands how it is to constantly have sweaty hands and feet, or all the joys (and frustrations) that came along with being raised by Ryan and Roger Wiley.

As the younger sibling, it’s easy to find yourself working towards your older sibling’s accomplishments and making their goals your own. It’s easy to see the way their life is playing out and convince yourself that it is a blue print for your future. It’s easy to compare yourself and make yourself believe that you are less than because you aren’t exactly like the older sibling you have idolized for most of your life. It might be easy to do all those things, but in my experience, it’s the difficult things that tend to be the most rewarding and do the most good. It is difficult for me to not compare myself to my older brother. Frankly, it’s difficult for me to not compare myself to anyone. I have to constantly remind myself that I am unique and special in my own right. I cannot and should not allow other people to dictate my self-satisfaction. It’s easy for me to be horrible to myself, so I have to actively try to not tear myself down and ridicule my every little move. Sometimes being okay with yourself requires that little extra effort.

Everyone has their own lessons to learn. I might admire my brother’s calmness and ability to separate emotionally, but that does not mean that my emotions are bad. I mean, yeah, they’re certainly inconvenient and can often be painful and tiresome, but I do know that there have been times when my ability to empathize has helped me teach my brother to be more compassionate when interacting with loved ones. I have to remind myself that even though I’m the little sister and my lived experiences have been different from his, I have a few things I can teach him too.

I am thankful to have a role model as secure and sure as my brother. I am thankful to have parents that remind me that I should not use my brother’s life as a barometer for my own success. I am thankful for all my lived experiences, both good and bad, because they have shaped me into the person I am today. I recognize that I am not finished being shaped and I will face more challenges, endure more heartache, experience more bliss, and have plenty more reasons to celebrate as my life continues.

Being a younger sibling can be weird when you have an older sibling who is easy to put on a pedestal, but you know what— I’m thankful that I love my brother enough to wholeheartedly believe that he is pedestal worthy. He is my oldest and dearest friend. As children, we created worlds; as adults, we share ideas, innumerable laughs, and a mutual respect for one another.

Even though I struggle with comparing myself to my brother, I am bursting with pride to have such an intelligent and composed older sibling. I couldn’t imagine my life without him.

-C

The Pains of a Word Snob from Southeastern Oklahoma

I remember vividly the first time I read a book by myself— Arthur’s Underwear by Marc Brown. It contained the word amoeba and, as a five-year-old, I was incredibly proud of myself for being able to pronounce such an advanced word on my own. I rushed back to my mom’s room to share with her my accomplishment. “Amoeba, amoeba, amoeba,” I repeated over and over again, trying to burn the word into my brain. After that milestone, I tore through books with unmatched voracity, hungering for beautifully crafted sentences, new words I could discover, and a world in which I could lose myself. Reading independently, however, was not how my love for words began. Before I could read or write, I would dictate stories about fairies, and other mythical creatures that I believed lived in my mother’s garden, to my older brother who would furiously type them up for me on the word processor. At that age, I was a big fan of run-on sentences and the word “and”; we can say my stylistic approach as a young writer was stream of consciousness.

I am a snob about a lot of things, one of those things is “proper” word usage. I am a word snob who grew up in southeastern Oklahoma, where words and grammar are butchered more than the meat we smoke. “The annual EYE-talian Festival is this weekend,” an announcer would proclaim on the radio; I would cringe. Teachers at recess would scream, “The bell has RANG!!” My ears would bleed. Students would say, “I ain’t got none,” and a part of my being would shrivel. “You ain’t supposed to say aint, ‘cause ain’t ain’t right,” was always my retort, I reveled smugly in my correctness and sense of superiority. I could go on forever— “wrassling” instead of wrestling, “warshing” instead of washing, double negatives ran about as rampant as the outlaws who inhabited the area, and every carbonated beverage was considered Coke— but I won’t.

The funny thing is that while I was so caught up in everyone else’s improper grammar and twang-y interpretations of words, I never noticed my dad’s blatant drawl. I first noticed it when I called the home phone during my freshman year at Brown University. I had been on the east coast (you know, where they say beah instead of beer and say cah instead of car) for a few months, so my ear had adjusted a bit, and that familiar Oklahoma twang was no longer a part of my every day. The answering machine clicked on and out of homesickness, I stayed on the line to hear my dad’s voice. “This is the Wiley resiDENCE,” he drawled. “Please leave your NAYme and NUHMber.” At the age of eighteen, I finally realized why people in other parts of the country asked us where we were from after my father finished speaking. His twang, though a surprise to me because I never noticed it, makes sense. My father grew up in Sapulpa, Oklahoma, a little town southwest of Tulsa. He grew up wild like most Oklahoma boys do and despite many years of formal schooling and time spent outside the state, he still maintained his twang. Though I lack the twang that my father has, I still say some words the way he does—for example, I put the emphasis on the first part of the word insurance. My brother, smug from abandoning his twang after many years of living in California, likes to point out my mispronunciations. Everyone in my family is a pretty big fan of correcting people.

I believe the reason I never picked up my dad’s twang was because my mom stayed home with my brother and me when we were kids. She did not go back to teaching until I was in kindergarten. My mother is from Southern California. She has a relatively standard accent until she is with her sister, then she sounds like a recovering valley girl, or when she gets mad and her thirty years of living in southeastern Oklahoma creeps out in a slight twang and heavy use of the colloquialisms popular in our area. My mother was a special education teacher who primarily taught students with dyslexia. I grew up in her classroom, eavesdropping on tutoring sessions she had with students— I enjoyed listening to her teach vowel/consonant patterns and watching her teach students to break down words so they could understand their meanings. “Look at the root word,” she would say as she covered up the prefix and suffix. Her precision in her use of and love for the English language rubbed off on me. I paid attention to the way she spoke and made a point to model my speaking skills after hers.

For my last two years of high school I attended an all-Indigenous boarding school in northeastern Oklahoma. It was funded by the Cherokee Nation, but was open to all citizens of federally recognized tribes who met the criteria for admittance. It was here that I picked up a number of slang terms that I use exclusively with my former classmates— “dassss” was a way to express displeasure with a situation, “choogie boy” was term of endearment regardless of gender, despite both terms being heavily gendered (choogie means boy in Cherokee, so we were basically saying “boy boy.” I never understood the redundancy, but I went with it anyway).

A lot of the parents and some of the kids I went to school with spoke in a twang that was laced with what would be considered a “rez” accent. This particular dialect was familiar to me because of my grandpa. Mvskoke was his first language and since Mvskoke and English do not contain all of the same sounds, he often struggled with the pronunciation of certain English words—for example, the Mvskoke alphabet lacks a “guh” sound, the closest is a “kuh” sound. My grandpa was shamed in both public school and the mission school he attended for his inability to speak English without his throaty Mvskoke accent. As a result of this, he chose to not teach his children (my father and his siblings) how to fluently speak Mvskoke because he did not want them to feel the way he did about the English language. Unfortunately, his decision was not a rare one for Indigenous language speakers who experienced forced assimilation and othering by way of the English language. However, despite none of us being able to speak the language fluently, my family and I still use Mvskoke words here and there in our daily lives.

My relationship and experiences with the English language are relatively vast. I love the English language and its poetic qualities; I have always embraced new words and made a point to incorporate them into my everyday speech. I understand the language from a technical perspective thanks to my mother, and because of that I tend to have a bit of a superiority complex; however, I still have a very subtle looseness (it rears its head when I am sleepy or inebriated) to my speech as a result of growing up around the slow, melodic drawls of southeastern Oklahomans. I recognize the ways in which the English language has been used as a tool for colonization and see the direct impact it has had on my family, as well as other Indigenous families and communities. My relationship with English is almost as complex as the English language itself, and I am thankful for that; it has helped me recognize the good and bad within the language and has made me slightly more sympathetic, though not very, to other people’s linguistic interpretations.

On the Greatest Woman I Know: Happy Mother’s Day

When I think of my mother, I imagine the way she smells: subtle hints of earth and whatever organic lotion she has decided is her favorite for the time being. She never smells like detergent because she opts for the unscented kind. She rarely wears perfume. Her scents are warm and inviting.

I’ve always admired my mother for being herself. Not long after my parents got married, they moved to a small town in southeastern Oklahoma where they raised my brother and me. My mother was (and still is) the one who is not like the others. She stands out with her wild hair—tamed by a hair clip she probably found in an antique store or from an artist at a farmer’s market— and her long, flowy skirts that are accompanied by a pair of clogs or Birkenstocks. I’ve never met anyone from our little town who looks or acts quite like my mother. Even after thirty years of living there, she still stands out. It’s beautiful, really. It would’ve been easy for anyone to change themselves so they could fit into a new place, especially a small town like the one we’re from, but not my mother. After all these years she’s kept herself happy by being who she is and by doing the things she loves.

On warm days you can find my mother in her garden. If she’s not gardening, she’s sitting on the swing admiring the beauty that she single-handedly created—she hauled all the rocks herself that span the garden’s perimeter, she’s tended every bulb, seed, and blossoming flower, and managed to keep the pesky deer away from her hostas. She has dedicated time, energy, and love so we can look out the kitchen window and see a work of art. She gave me a place to read whilst surrounded by nature; she gave my brother and me a place to let our imaginations run wild; she created a place of peace for her family. Her garden reminds us of her dedication to creating beautiful things.

My mother is an artist and a teacher. I put artist first because it is her passion and now, in her retirement, she can finally pursue her passion full time. She is a gifted oil painter. She once told me that with each painting she completes, she learns beneficial skills that help her become a better artist. I like that she still sees the importance in learning and getting better, despite her immense talents and the skills she’s already refined. Maybe that’s the educator in her; she sees the value in learning. My mother taught special education for many years. I remember being jealous of her students when I was little because it felt like she was always in her classroom or always doing something for her “kids.” I knew how much she loved them. Since I’ve gotten older, my jealousy has been replaced with gratitude. I am thankful for the time and effort my mother put into both her classroom and her students. She saw potential in her students— potential that others often overlooked; she encouraged them and helped them see what she saw. Many of my mother’s former students have come to me with stories of her kindness— providing them with winter coats when they did not have one, giving them food when they were hungry, embracing them with her love when they needed it most. But out of all the wonderful things she’s done, my favorite to hear is “Your mother taught me how to read.”

My mother wears many hats and plays many different roles, but above all else, my mother is a mom. She takes her job seriously. She loves my brother and me unconditionally and beyond measure. She is protective. She wants what is best for us and hurts when we hurt. When we were younger, my mother made a point to foster a sense of creativity and adventure in both my brother and me. Weekend trips to Tulsa so we could go to the Gilcrease or Philbrook were not uncommon. She would explain to us the background of the artists she was familiar with and the techniques they used. She would ask the docents questions when she did not know the answers, showing us the value of learning and being inquisitive. My brother and I both love good food and love to cook because of her. My mother in the kitchen is truly a remarkable experience. We rarely ate out, so my brother and I had the privilege of growing up eating home cooked meals that were made with top quality ingredients and seasoned with copious amounts of love.

A couple months ago, my mother sent me an email that truly embodied who she is and what she values. She wrote to me, “You and Chebon are my greatest creations—I couldn’t have asked for better canvases. I love you both so much. Do good deeds. Learn to take care of your resources and become self-sufficient. Be kind to others. Smile at grouchy looking people—they may be hurting inside and your smile may ease that pain for a moment. Continue to hold doors open for others regardless of gender. Remember to be grateful for sunrises and sunsets, and the people who have encouraged us to look forward and believe in who you want to be.” These words reminded me of what a sincerely outstanding person my mother is. She wants her kids to be happy and to be good people. She does not measure our success by how much money we make or the colleges we attended, she measures our success by our own happiness and how we treat others.

I am proud of the woman my mother is. I miss her kind eyes and her tender heart. I look forward to going home so I can be wrapped in her earth-scented embrace once more. She’s the type of person everyone needs as a friend, but somehow I am lucky enough to have her as my mother.

 

 

Happy Mother’s Day to the best woman I know. I am elated to be your daughter.

 

-C