Fairy Parties and Polar Bear: Why I’ll Always be a Camp Person

It’s the middle of the night, probably around 1 a.m. I’m 12 years old, asleep on a mattress that my now-27-year old body would not be able to comprehend sleeping on — like, ever. Suddenly, I am awoken by the shouts of college-age counselors decked out in fairy wings and tutus, throwing glitter and announcing that there is a “Fairy Party” in the lodge (basically, the common room for just your age group). I love camp.

As discussed here on the blog before, I went to an all-girls sleepaway camp for nearly a decade of my adolescence. I loved it, so much that one of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn’t go back to be a counselor when I was the right age. Hindsight is 20-20, I suppose. Still, from the age 8 to the age of 16, I spent at least part of each summer at Rockbrook Camp in Brevard, North Carolina.

The summer always makes me miss camp — the camaraderie, the spontaneous singing, the traditions that make sense to absolutely no one but the people who experienced them. As Ira Glass recently posited in an episode of “This American Life,” there are Camp People and Non-Camp People. And I will always be a Camp Person.

Camp encompasses absolutely everything I loved about summers growing up: the fresh mountain air, the general enthusiasm for everything, the learning of new skills that may or may not come in handy in the future. But I think all the things I loved most about camp are wrapped up in the silly traditions, like the above “Fairy Party.” These silly rituals took something that present-day me loathes (being awoken by loud noises in the middle of the night) and turned it into something exciting, covered in sparkles and glitter and served with dance music and candy in the lodge.

Camps are full of these types of traditions, but these are a few of my favorites: the Fairy Parties, obviously; the Jungle Breakfast, when we were awoken at dawn to eat breakfast in the lodge in our pajamas and then got to sleep through regular breakfast; surprise shaving cream fights; Birthday Night, when instead of sitting with your regular cabin at dinner you were divided among 12 tables (one for people whose birthdays fell in each month of the year), and there was lots of cake; Biltmore Train, which is basically just lots and lots of ice cream; or unluckily bidding on a blind item on Auction Night, then finding out that it’s Polar Bear and your whole cabin has to go jump in the lake before breakfast (it was summer, but goddamn if it wasn’t still cold AF). The list goes on and on, and I wouldn’t trade it for a thing.

I like the unsanctioned traditions too, the ones that involve less planning and just seemed to happen organically each year — like the one rainstorm where everyone who’s brave enough rolls down the hill, or the unofficial fastest shower-er competition when the deducky (read: bathroom) is over-crowded (yours truly is ‘04 Champion). There are the unsanctioned prank wars (my year had a particularly vicious one with the year below us), the scary stories and camp legends, that one lunch or dinner that is somehow non-stop singing, the way muffins just taste better after the first activities of the day, and finding that spot in camp that feels like it’s just yours and being able to go back to it every year. I miss the inside jokes, the favorite songs, the favorite meals, the intense competition with the boys camp down the road — the little things that somehow manage to continue year after year, because people keep coming back and passing their unofficial traditions down to new campers. And so eventually they become official traditions, official camp legends, new pieces of the camp mythos, on and on for generations.

If I ever have a daughter, I will send her to Rockbrook. If for some reason she hates it, I won’t make her go back, but it’s hard to imagine this purely hypothetical child not taking to this place that I love so much. For so many summers, Rockbrook was my home, those cabin-mates my sisters, and all those silly traditions became more important to me than any holiday for the rest of the year. And my times at camp are still some of the fondest memories of my childhood.

A few months ago, I was waiting for a train at the Nevins Street station here in Brooklyn. As the train rolled in, I spied a girl with a Nalgene covered with a Dolly’s Dairy Bar sticker through the window, her face obstructed by the closed door. I waited eagerly to tell her how much I loved Dolly’s, how it was the highlight of trips to Brevard when I was at camp. And then the door slid open, and I realized it wasn’t just another random person who had been to Brevard: It was my cabin-mate of four years, and my sister for life, sitting fatefully in the train car I was waiting for on a Tuesday morning on a beautiful spring day in New York City.

I hadn’t spoken to her outside of social media in years, and we had a mere three stops on the subway to catch up, but it felt normal. Unhindered by awkwardness, we just picked up where we had left off. Since that meeting, she’s spent the past couple months hiking the Appalachian Trail — the most summer camp thing an adult can do — working her way from Georgia to Maine. It’s something I’d love to do but really don’t think I have the wherewithal for (although I’d like to think that if I decided to, camp would have prepared me well). My camp friends and I may be in different places now, all adults doing adult-ish things. But we’ll always have the Biltmore Train, and the sing-a-longs, and Polar Bear, and the Tevas vs. Chacos debate, and having to explain to non-camp people what a Crazy Creek is.

There’s something unique about camp friendships, and I think it stems from all those weird and silly traditions along with the serious ones. The songs and the shaving cream fights are just as important as Spirit Fire: They’re what make me get all warm and fuzzy when one of my camp friends comments on a picture I post, or when someone says something that intros a camp song that I just can’t not start singing. Camp brought me friendships with people I never would have found otherwise, people who are so different but all so wonderful in their many varied ways. Camp is strange, and wonderful, and beautiful, and so hard to explain to those who did not have the privilege of experiencing it (and sometimes even if they technically did, but they’re just not Camp People). I am a Camp Person, and I will always be a Camp Person. Rockbrook Camp Forever.

Pride

June has been crazy busy around here, Much of it has been consumed with my move from one end of Brooklyn to another, plus there’s been a number of concerts, live podcasts, end of school/fiscal year celebrations, etc. And because of the stress and excitement of all those things, I kind of let it slide that June is Pride Month. I mean, it’s not as though I forgot completely, and I’ve worked various pride events that my employer put on. But this is my first pride as an officially out bisexual, and as the end of the month approached, I felt woefully unprepared.

This past Sunday was the official NYC Pride Parade, among other events. I felt like I should go, but I was torn. I was nervous about going alone; the queer friends I would normally go with were all whisked away to weddings for the weekend, and the straight friends who I would ask to go with me ended up having to work. I’m still sort of figuring out my place in the LGBTQ+ scene here in New York, and in general. I’m constantly going back and forth between “Am I queer enough to be in this space?” and “BISEXUALS EXIST AND ARE VALID GODDAMNIT.” So I was apprehensive about going into this long-existing queer space and not really knowing what to do. I’m not really a people person — or at least not a “let’s-go-to-this-place-and-be-surrounded-by-people” person. I was unsure of Pride etiquette. And I didn’t have anything to wear because of the whole moving thing.

Still, I felt…obligated, I guess. So I posted in my meet-up group to see if anyone had plans I could crash. There were a few takers, and I ended up spending the afternoon with some acquaintances walking around the West Village and attempting to enjoy the parade and the PrideFest street fair.

Like most parades, Pride has become fairly corporate. Big companies sponsor floats for promotion, but also as a show of support for their LGBTQ+ employees. Even with the logos, seeing the sparkly floats roll past as they blasted Whitney Houston and Cher was one of my favorite parts. The street fair, on the other hand, was perhaps a little too commercialized for my tastes. I listened to my guides lament the lack of independent vendors that used to line Hudson Street in previous years. Still, corporations buying tent space = lots of free promotional swag. And the food was good. So, it’s not all bad.

The parade itself is hard to get a good view of without arriving super early, and my cohorts and I were not about that “getting up early on Sunday” life. Instead, we perched on some scaffolding to watch at least a little of the parade, which brought my favorite moment of the afternoon: the great roar of joy when the Park Rangers carrying the Stonewall National Monument banner passed our section. I didn’t hear a louder cheer all afternoon.

We moved farther down the parade route, and I perched myself on a potted plant where I stayed for another hour, until my feet fell asleep and I sweat through my dress and I decided to call it night. I think if I had had more time to dedicate to my attendance, I would have been more enthusiastic. I might have gotten up early and found a good spot on the parade route, right up against the barricades (because I love a parade, but it kind of sucks when you can’t really see and there’s a very small tree digging into your calf). I would have bought this shirt and been ready for the crowds, and I probably wouldn’t have spent the entire day beforehand moving.

But despite my lack of preparation, I did have fun. Maybe next year I will plan better. Maybe I will attend the slightly more low-key Brooklyn Pride and stay true to my personal brand of almost never leaving my chosen borough. But this year, I left sweaty, covered in glitter, and with free toothpaste. And I think that probably counts as a success.

Brooklyn, NY to Louisville, KY Summer 2017

We drove a lot when I was a kid. Road trips were fairly standard as the highway was often the most efficient mode of transportation for getting to the small town that my grandparents made their home in, or to the tiny island off the coast of South Carolina where we often vacationed. I know as a child I complained from my spot in the back seat, murmuring the dreaded, “Are we there yet?” But I’ve grown to enjoy immensely the feeling of the road beneath my wheels…or under someone else’s wheels that I’ve borrowed, as I no longer have any of my own — such is life in New York.

Summer is the perfect time for a road trip, especially if that road trip means leaving Brooklyn. Summer in the city brings hot sticky days and nights that are not much better, as the stench of hot garbage invades every space. Sounds lovely doesn’t it? Trust me: Stick with your idyllic images of New York in the fall, because New York in the summer is anything but. So sometimes you just need to climb in a friend’s car and escape, and for Zelda and me, the perfect escape is back to our hometown of Louisville.

Road trips hardly ever play out the way we want them to. We’re too often hindered by time or money constraints to really give in to the romantic ideals of just following the road wherever it may take us. But sometimes we can almost get there. We can choose a rough approximate of a route, stop when we feel compelled, and let the journey be the destination. I’ve done this once before. For spring break during  my senior year of college, I foreswore the beach to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway and explore the wonders of the Appalachians with friends, eventually dragging them back to my hometown. It was pretty much everything I wanted. I stood on the Eastern Continental Divide. I saw the sun set over the Blue Ridge Parkway. I even taught a friend to drive a stick.

I found in planning that road trip that the best course of action is to have a few points of interest picked out to guide your route, and then to let the journey do the rest. This summer, I’m taking friends-of-the-blog Jason and Sarah for a grand tour of the old homestead, and since they are among those rare unicorns known as “New Yorkers with cars,” we will be kicking it road trip style. Now I know we won’t have time for the leisurely journey of my dreams (#adultingproblems), but if we  did, this is what it would look like. This is my rough guide to get your road trip from North to South started, from my current home to my always home. Turn on our first-ever playlist, Highway Cruisin’, and join me on the adventure.

Brooklyn, New York to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania

When you’re leaving New York, if you live in Brooklyn, I highly recommend you leave via Staten Island over the Verrazano Bridge. The tolls are a bitch, but it’s worth avoiding having to drive anywhere in Manhattan. Plus, the bridge itself is beautiful. If you’ve got at least three people, you can make use of that high-occupancy-vehicle lane and wave goodbye to the non-carpoolers as you speed by them (I especially revelled in this last fall when we left the city around rush hour, and traffic was at an almost standstill). As you cross into New Jersey via the Goethals Bridge (not as picturesque as the Verrazano, but it does the job), we can really get started.

New Jersey should come with an initial snack stop, preferably at Wawa. I learned of the wonder of Wawa from the many Mid-Atlantic dwellers at my college, who constantly sang its praises. It is, unequivocally, the best road trip food stop ever. Cue indie movie shopping montage: Grab a hot sandwich and a cold fountain drink; stock up on sour gummies, salty pretzels, and, if you’re lucky, some Old Bay Chips; and head back to the road, fully ready to appreciate the wonders that await.

Our first stop is Bethlehem, Pennsylvania — once the center of the American Industrial Revolution and the home of Bethlehem Steel. Fun fact: The Verrazzano Bridge you crossed to leave Brooklyn was constructed from Bethlehem Steel, not to mention many other American landmarks (including but not limited to: the Chrysler Building, Alcatraz, and the Hoover Dam). Bethlehem Steel declared bankruptcy in the early 21st century, and the steel plant has since been turned into a thriving arts and culture district called SteelStacks. The plant’s five tall blast furnaces, now defunct, stand as a backdrop to this new area, which is home to several arts venues as well as a casino. If you show up on a weekend, there’s bound to be something happening, plus it’s a short walk to any number of restaurants and bars in Bethlehem’s South Side. If you’re feeling done for the day, you can stay at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem. It’s supposedly haunted.

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

If you’re like me, your vacations mostly revolve around which museums you can go to and what historical sites you can see. The history nerd in me will never die, and our second guiding point on this fictional journey is an homage to that. Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is best known as the site of the Civil War battle that bears its name. The battleground is now part of the Gettysburg National Military Park, and in these times when the NPS is leading our social media rebellion, I feel it’s right to pay a little visit to one of our nation’s hallowed spaces. Plus I’ve wanted to visit since I had to memorize Lincoln’s famous address in the fourth grade.

The Battle of Gettysburg was the deadliest of the whole Civil War in terms of casualties, and President Abraham Lincoln, in his address, originally dedicated the battlefield as the Soldiers’ National Cemetery, four months after the end of the battle. If you’re pressed for time, you can make a stop at the visitor center, get the official map, and take a self-guided tour of the important spots via car (or you can download the map here). If you have a little more time, the site has daily talks and hikes led by park rangers. We here at Zelda and Scout usually opt for the latter; the people who work at places like this usually have an unrestrained amount of passion for the place, and, if you’re lucky, a little bit of theatrical ability as well (Years ago, Zelda and I had a particularly good experience with a Beefeater named Alan at the Tower of London. 10/10 would recommend).

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania to Huntington, West Virginia

But maybe history’s not your thing, or you just don’t want to spend the day wandering an old battlefield. Just get back in the car and head southwest toward the great state of West Virginia. I have some mixed memories about road trips through West Virginia. The fastest way to get from Louisville to Baltimore (where I attended college) was to cut diagonally through the state, and for a long time it was the bane of my existence: a stretch of 100 or so miles where there was nary a gas station to stop at, or so it seemed. But when you’re not trying to get from point A to point B in the most expedient manner possible, West Virginia really lives up to its state slogan: Wild and Wonderful.

Our next official stop is the greater Huntington area, but it’s a long six hours from Gettysburg to there, so I urge you to give in to your spontaneous road trip heart and stop whenever the spirit moves you along the way. Maybe grab a bite to eat in Morgantown, or pause to enjoy nature at one of the many state parks, or make a pitstop in Weston at the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum where you can take a paranormal tour — whatever floats your proverbial boat.

Huntington lies on the border of Kentucky and West Virginia, just adjacent to the town of Ashland – close enough that they could be lumped together as one greater metropolitan area (in order to get over my years of ingrained anti-West-Virginia bias, I hang on to that little nugget). West Virginia tends to get a bad rap, but it really does have a lot to offer. Huntington is home to Marshall University, several historic districts, a number of cultural festivals throughout the year, and the internet’s own McElroy Brothers (who’ve done a number on your author’s preconceptions about West Virginia).

If you’re there in July, you might make the West Virginia Hot Dog festival, and in August there’s the Rails and Ales Beer festival. If there’s not a festival of some sort going on, Huntington has eleven public parks equipped with walking trails and footbridges to help you take in the suburban Appalachian scenery. If you’re more of a thrill seeker, you can check out Camden Park and ride the Big Dipper, a wooden roller coaster built in 1958 (I’m more of a log flume girl myself, and they’ve got one of those too!).

Before you head out, stop at Jolly Pirate Donuts to grab some good good snacks to go in their signature treasure chest.  

Huntington, West Virginia to Louisville, Kentucky

On this final stretch of the trip, the only stops you should make are at distilleries (okay maybe there are a few other stops that might be worthwhile — some scenic overlooks, a cave or two — but you’re reading this blog, so we assume you’re in it for the bourbon). Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, and Buffalo Trace are just off your route, and I know from experience that both tours are well worth a stop. Buffalo Trace is an especially scenic distillery, and the guides there are as passionate about the history as they are about the bourbon. You will learn things, but you will also get to drink (though you do need to drive to your final destination, so drink responsibly).

Take the rest of the drive up I-64 to reach our final destination of Louisville. I’ll save my tips for all the things you can do there for another post — or several  — but in the meantime you can read about some of Zelda’s picks in the New York Times!)

Sometimes a break isn’t about where you go. Sometimes it’s just about taking a second to appreciate the scenery. Don’t just roll those windows down: Actually look at what you may be passing by. And if something strikes your fancy, go ahead and stop for a spell. You’ve got plenty of time.

Photos via: AJ Indam, CyberxrefWV funnymanKittugwiki

On Representation in Pop Culture

It’s been a rough couple of weeks here in the United States. I’m scared; most people that I come into daily contact with are too. And we have every reason to be. We’re living in the backstory of a dystopian novel right now. And in these frightening times, I’ve been thinking a lot about identity and privilege and personhood. I’m lucky: I’m a white woman in a liberal city, and I come from a solid upper-middle/lower-upper-class economic background. I’ve got parents who will support me if things get rough. I’ll be okay because of who I am. I wish everyone could have that feeling.

It’s hard for me to talk about our political atmosphere without getting overwhelmed with anxiety. There are a million things wrong right now, and the sheer depth and breadth of them all is overwhelming. I’m not going to be able to break them all down and figure out how to combat all of them, but I’m going to try my best to do as much as I can. I’m going to write postcards and call my senators and do something every week that maybe helps our collective souls. One step at a time. And because dialogue is important, and one has a responsibility to use whatever size platform one possesses, I want to use this week’s post to talk about media and representation and why it matters.

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As I said, in many ways, I’m very lucky. I get to look at magazine covers and billboards and see faces like mine generally doing okay. I’m lucky enough to see people who look like me on television, in movies, described in books. These characters have jobs and families, experience love and happiness and adventures. I’m grateful for that. But not everyone is so lucky. One of the things that Zelda and I often grapple with on this blog is the feeling that our views are too insular. We’re two white girls with very similar upbringings, offering one viewpoint on the South and New York and our lives. And that’s hard for us. We want to bring in other voices, to highlight them and their stories as much as we can, and while we try, we don’t always succeed. Even looking back at our list of our favorite Southern movies from a couple weeks ago, there’s not a ton of diversity there. We know we need to do better. All media needs to do better. If we only tell a single story, how are we supposed to understand the struggles of others?

People of every walk of life deserve to see versions of themselves illuminated. It helps them accept who they are and stops the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes. And on the flip side, one of the best ways to cultivate empathy is to hear human stories about people of different backgrounds or different identities from your own. It helps you to imagine others complexly, to understand the things that bring us together and celebrate the things that set us apart. And while clearly I don’t have it as tough as some people, I can speak from personal experience when I say that representation is really important. Here’s why: I am bisexual. I came out to my small group of friends a little over a year ago, and to a lot of my family…just now, in the previous sentence.

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I come from a place where being queer wasn’t maligned, but it was heavily stereotyped. Certain people “looked gay” or “acted gay.” There wasn’t such a thing as a queer spectrum; identities were either homosexual or heterosexual, and bisexuality was for girls in a “rebellious” phase or for people who just weren’t ready to be “fully” gay yet. That kind of environment is still the case for many people. And these biases  proved really hard for me to get over, especially the idea that being bi was like some sort of sexual purgatory you were in until you “picked a side.” I didn’t learn about the Kinsey scale until college, and even then I wasn’t totally comfortable with claiming my pretty central place on it. There was a lot of socialized thinking that having a “girl crush” was a totally straight thing to have — and maybe for some people it was. But not for me. Slowly, I acknowledged my identity internally near the end of college. It would take years after that before I was able to come to terms with it publicly.

I was able to come out when I did because I was in an environment that made me feel safe, surrounded a strong support system. But the journey to that point, and since then, as I became comfortable telling people and owning my identity, was also thanks in large part to positive representation — specifically two characters: Clarke Griffin of The 100 and Darryl Whitefeather of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. These two are not by any means the first bisexual characters to grace television screens — far from it — but they were the first two that I was able to really connect with. They were the first, on shows that I watched, whose bisexuality was depicted as just another facet of their personality, not the be-all-end-all of who they were. It wasn’t overly sexualized; it wasn’t portrayed as a phase. It was brought up simply for what it was: attraction to two genders. It wasn’t the one thing that defined them, but it also wasn’t insignificant. It was a part of their story the same way it was a part of mine.

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My first encounter with bisexuality in the media was not as nuanced. The O.C. brought me the character of Alex Kelly, played by Olivia Wilde, back in 2004. Alex was great because she introduced me to the fact that there was such a thing as bisexuality. But a lot of her arc, and of Wilde’s performance, was hyper-sexualized. She didn’t have much of a personality outside of being a significant other to both Seth and Marissa, and with Marissa in particular her character seemed to exist as an object for rebellion and a method for Marissa to shock her mother, rather than as a three-dimensional human being with whom Marissa shared an intimate connection.

At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I was still a long way off from exploring this aspect of myself, so I wasn’t really looking for representations of this part of me. But as I went on, I continued to encounter bi characters that were similarly oversexualized, or even more so. The media made it seem like being bisexual meant you had to have a lot of threesomes, which just isn’t true. You can be bisexual and have threesomes, just like you can be heterosexual or homosexual or queer and have threesomes. But you can also be bisexual and not have any sex. You can only date one gender and still be attracted to two. Each person’s sexuality — bi or otherwise — is as unique and diverse as people themselves. But until recently, it seemed like all the bi characters I saw on tv and in films were one-dimensional sex fiends. And that started to hurt.

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Now Clarke and Darryl are far from the only bisexual television characters nowadays (which is awesome), and they’re far from perfect. They’re both white, which is not exactly groundbreaking, and they both come from relatively privileged backgrounds. But nevertheless, they’re the ones I connected with. I identified with them because they’re rounded, interesting characters whose identity is not rooted solely in their bisexuality. Clarke’s got other things on her mind besides relationships, having to save the world multiple times and all. But sometimes she wants comfort or companionship or a little fun, and she can get it from men or women. And while there are periods  of the show where she is in an exclusive relationship with a woman, that does not invalidate her bisexuality. Then there’s Darryl, who is wonderfully unafraid to claim his newly discovered identity — sometimes in song. His sexuality-discovery arc is one of the most genuine things I’ve seen on television.

I am so grateful to live in a time where Clarke and Darryl are on TV, and network TV at that. But the world needs so much more. We need more Clarke’s and more Darryl’s. We need more Annalise Keatings, more Magnuses, more Korras and Asamis. We need more queer characters and trans characters and characters who fall all along the spectrum. And representation is not just about gender or sexuality. We need more characters of color, more Kamala Khan’s and Miles Morales’s. We need Nyota Uhura’s and Zoe Washburne’s and Toshiko Sato’s. We need Jane Villanueva’s and Jessica Huang’s. Cassian Andor’s and Bhodi Rook’s. We need more movies like Moonlight and Hidden Figures, shows like Atlanta and Master of None. We need to let actors of color play characters whose central trait isn’t their race. We need to stop white-washing Asian characters. We need John Cho as a romantic lead, as an action lead, as a period drama lead, as…you know what, you can make John Cho the lead of anything, please and thank you.

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It is 2017, and with the world more diverse than ever, we need to acknowledge that the straight, cis, white Protestant is not the default person. So in this season of resolutions, let’s all try to expand our views of others. Let’s read and watch and listen to and elevate stories that aren’t our own. Let’s strive to see people as complex beings. The more diverse our media becomes, the better we can build empathy for the people in the world who aren’t like us — whatever “us” may be — so that we may understand the struggles of others and stand next to them on the frontlines of resistance. Let us build the modern canon so that it actually looks like the world today. The best thing about world building is that your world can be free from the socio-economic-political-racial-sexual-etc. divides of reality. You can make your own rules. And what comes out can be beautiful.

Pics via: LoquaciousLiterature; Fox; The CW; Hypable

Keep Marching On

Today’s post was supposed to be about something else. It was supposed to be about Florida and friendship and magic, the power of sunshine and Mickey Mouse ears and how wonderful it is to find a group of people who love you not just enough to not mock your squealing over Cinderella’s castle but to squeal right along with you. It was supposed to be about the squad, the team of four ladies to which Scout and I belong and which we hold so dear. It was supposed to be about long drives down a rainy highway singing along to “Hamilton” and the Spice Girls or crooning Blink-182 with a cockney accent. It was supposed to be about love and sequins and haunted mansions and the feeling of standing in the middle of a fireworks show with some of your favorite people on earth.

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But I’ll be honest: I am tired. I’m exhausted and sad and my spirit feels broken. I’ve spent the past 11 days walking around with a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat, each day assaulted by a fresh wave of outrage and despair. I wish those words were hyperbolic. I’ll admit there was a tiny part of me that hoped, in those quiet moments before sleep, “Maybe it won’t be as bad as we think. Maybe there’s a heart under all that Cheeto dust that cares about others. Maybe saner voices will prevail.” Instead each day of the current administration has come with fresh punches to the gut, trampling all over the things that I love about this country and spitting on the values that I believe make America great.

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I went to the Women’s March in New York, even though I wasn’t supposed to, even though yet another email arrived in my inbox that morning reminding me and my coworkers that the success of our company relies on its employees remaining unbiased. I understand the reasoning behind this prohibition; really, I do. Especially in a time when distrust of the media is so high, it is essential that we not do anything to further damage our perceived credibility. But when the actual morning came, sunny and crisp, I thought about history and I saw all the photos and statuses flooding my screens and I thought, “I will regret it for the rest of my life if, when my kids or grandkids ask what I did when the world spun apart at the seams, all I could say is that I ate scones and looked at art with their Aunt Sadie.

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In the crowds that thronged the streets of Midtown, trudging forward slowly, so slowly, one step at a time, I found an unexpected peace. There was no impatience or vitriol. Nobody was rude. Nobody shoved. Instead I found myself exchanging smiles and nods with complete strangers — not an everyday occurrence in this city. We chanted about love and community and democracy, about the value of black lives and immigrant lives and trans lives and climate change and a woman’s right to choose. Someone put a boombox in their window and we boogied our way down the block, marchers calling out requests (mostly for Beyoncé) to our benevolent DJ. There were old folks and young folks, parents with kids and gaggles of friends, people of every skin color and hair color and eye color, every race and gender, every stripe and style. Though our feet ached and our hands grew numb from cold, we marched with determination and resilience. As one of my favorite writers, Cheryl Strayed, put it, at the sister march in Washington, “Yesterday was so sad and it’s still going to be sad tomorrow, but right now, here, we are walking together.” A rainbow of signs floated above our heads, each glance catching yet another instance of creativity or wit or poetic eloquence. And for the first time since the election, I felt hope.

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That hope has, I’ll admit, proven slippery. It is a fragile thing, difficult to keep hold of. But I am doing my best not to let it go. It is essential not to let go of one’s outrage. Normalization is a dangerous, even fatal thing. But it is equally important not to relinquish one’s hope. The march, and all the protests and postcard writing campaigns and phone banks and donations since, remind me that there are more of us. Where the election broke my heart and made me feel like my country had betrayed me, that it was not the land I thought I recognized, the resistance that has exploded in the face of injustice and hate has started to heal those cracks. There is still work to be done. And it will be long and hard and more often than not it will be discouraging. It will feel like the tide is against us, like we are slogging through quicksand doomed never to reach land before we drown. But we must remember in those moments that we are not alone.

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It doesn’t always have to be a march or a rally or a protest of thousands. Sometimes all it takes is coffee with a friend or a night spent drinking wine and making candles in your living room. But when you happen upon these moments that remind you of what is good in this world, of all the people around you who care, treasure them. Hold them, and yourself, gently. And then take that spark of love and tuck it in your back pocket. We have work to do.

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P.S. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and looking for guidance on how to balance self-care with rebellion, I found the article “How to #StayOutraged Without Losing Your Mind: Self-Care Lessons for the Resistanceby Mirah Curzer very helpful. We must take care of ourselves before we can take care of anyone or anything else.

Thankful

It goes without saying that 2016 has been a bit of a year. From shootings and refugee crises and legends lost to the festering dumpster fire that was this year’s presidential election, there is no shortage of doom and gloom around us. Even in this season of twinkly lights and cocoa, it can be hard to muster up much good cheer after a year this heartbreaking, soul-crushing, utterly devastating in so many ways. I began last week thinking 2016 had dealt us all the bad cards we could take (and then some), hoping to finish up the year with holiday festivities and the quiet hope that somehow next year would be better. And then, I sprained my ankle.

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I am no stranger to injuries of the pedal variety. In college, I managed to break my foot not once but twice, losing two whole semesters to crutches and casts and physical therapy appointments. So when, as I have done too many times before, I tripped on some stairs last Tuesday, my overwhelming feeling — other than the searing pain at my insole — was anger. I was mad at myself, for somehow managing to do this yet again. I was mad at my feet and their seeming inability to remain in one piece for more than 5 years at a time. And I was mad, so mad, at 2016, for delivering yet another kick when I was already so far down.

But here’s the thing: As I lay on my couch these past few days, a bag of frozen mango chunks on my foot, drowsy from pain meds and hydrating like it was my job, slowly that rage began to be supplanted by another feeling: gratitude.

In spite of everything and against all odds, I am thankful.

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I’m thankful to have a job with paid sick days, and a boss who was incredibly nice and accommodating and gave me the time I needed to heal.

I’m thankful to work with a group of incredibly kind, smart, and passionate colleagues, whose hearts are always in the right place. I’m thankful for all the emails and texts and snaps they sent me while I was gone.

I’m thankful for my roommates, who picked up prescriptions and made me dinner and watched infinite Christmas movies with me while I convalesced.

I’m thankful for my friends who surrounded me with love and support, offering help and food and puppy gifs to get me through the week. I’m thankful for the ones who gave me hugs, who texted, who brought me meatballs and cookies and refills so I could spend my apartment’s holiday party holding court on the couch. I’m thankful they slowed their steps to match my limps so I wouldn’t have to walk alone.

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I’m thankful for my family, who are always there for me no matter the geographic distances. I’m grateful for Skype and Facetime and bitmoji, which make the miles not seem quite as long. I’m thankful I’ll get to hug them in person in a few days.

I’m thankful for candy cane Hershey kisses and Seamless delivery people and Good Earth tea (now available online again!).

And I am thankful for art.

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I’m thankful for the ways artists of every media have helped me make some sense out of this truly surreal year. I’m thankful for the escape it offers, the comfort it provides, the conversations it sparks — how it keeps expanding the definition of humanity. And most of all, I’m thankful for the way it inspires hope. When countries and families — and ligaments — are being torn asunder and it seems that the forces of darkness have won, the best art inspires me to look for the light.

20 Hours in America: Why We’re With Her

Dear readers,

This week’s post was supposed to be a boozy one. I was going to make fall cocktails, most likely of the bourbon variety. I had plans to kowtow to Scout’s crazy anti-pumpkin sentiments and eschew that classic flavor for toasted marshmallow and maple and chocolate. But I, like many of you, have been consumed of late by pre-election anxiety. And so I found myself this weekend unable to write anything but this.

This election is so important. Every election matters, it’s true, because a democracy is only as strong as its citizens’ participation in it. But this year, it’s about more than who will fill the Oval Office for the next four years. It’s about who we are — as a country, as a people. It’s about the values we want to define our nation and the legacy we are choosing to build on or throw away. I’m not talking about specific policies here (although I would argue that the United States is way, way, way better off than it was in 2008, and as someone who got a job straight out of college, who benefited from my parents’ health insurance while I freelanced and interned and temped, and who has seen the people I love be able to marry those they love, regardless of their gender, I am extremely eager to see the work of Obama’s presidency continue). I am talking about something deeper than that.

We are a nation of immigrants. My ancestors came from England and France, Ireland and Spain, Germany and Poland and Russia (I am, as you might guess, a bit of a mutt). And that makes me utterly un-unique in the American scheme of things. Everybody here, at some point or another, came from somewhere else (Unless you are 100% Native American, and even then there’s an argument to be made about migrations from Asia centuries ago. But I digress). And we came seeking a fair shot at a better life, something that wasn’t offered in most other corners of the world.

At our best, we are a nation of tolerance, of collaboration. The arc of history is definitely long, and there are still miles and miles to go until every American is given a fair shot regardless of their identity or circumstances, but it does bend toward justice, and that angle gets a little more acute every time we come together. We are a nation of kindness and compassion, a nation of respect. And today, in this election, we have to choose if we want to continue down this path, paved by blood and sweat and tears of all those that came before, or if we want to abandon course and descend instead into a miasma of hatred, ignorance, bigotry, nativism, xenophobia, and arrogance.

I’m with her. Maybe that should be obvious, but I feel the need to say it, to shout it, to proclaim it to anyone who can hear. We are given a choice this week between a racist, Cheeto-dusted, human dumpster fire who treats women like objects and minorities like trash, and the most qualified and experienced candidate to ever grace our ballots (in my opinion). Hillary has devoted her entire life to public service. And if you look at her track record, you will see consistency in her values, in her devotion to women and children and families and helping every American have a fair shot. But also, and perhaps more importantly, you will also see change, a willingness to listen and learn and evolve. I do not deny that she is imperfect. But neither am I, or you, or any person. And when you live your life under a microscope, with the glaring spotlight of public opinion trained at you, you are bound to emerge decades later a bit bruised and battered.

I want to believe that this country is still the one I love. That we will choose love over hate, compassion over blame, inclusion over isolation. We are strongest together. So let’s show the world what our America stands for.

Vote. Dear God, please vote. Tell your friends, your family, your neighbors, that random chick in the supermarket, to vote. Find your polling place. Make a plan. And when you vote, think about what you want to tell your grandchildren (or your friends’ grandchildren — hey, procreation is not for everyone) when they ask which side of history you were on. Tell them, you were with her.

Love,

Zelda

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P.S. As someone who works in the oft-maligned media, I have been under a particularly inescapable deluge of election news over the past 18 months. For the record, the things that I find most help alleviate politically induced depression, anxiety, and/or panic are:

  1. Yoga
  2. Chocolate (I’d like to take this moment to thank Levain Bakery for getting me through this election season. Also Diet Dr. Pepper.)
  3. Videos of cute puppies, especially when they are sleepy
  4. Listening to the Beyoncé+Dixie Chicks version of “Daddy Lessons”
  5. The West Wing (Though this can also be demoralizing, as you realize how far removed our reality is from the wonderful world of Bartlet and McGarry and Cregg and Lyman and Ziegler and Seaborn and Moss and Young. And yes, to anyone who’s listening, I do really want that t-shirt.)
  6. Spending time with those you love
  7. And most of all, getting off the sidelines and getting involved, whether that means giving money to a campaign, canvassing and volunteering, or making phone calls from the privacy of your own home. I phone banked for the first time this year, and it could not have been easier. There is still time, and votes to get out, if you’re interested: hillaryclinton.com/calls.