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.

Just Keep Rolling Along

The first time I remember taking a train I was 19. My roommate’s grandfather had died that week. They were very close, and she was utterly devastated by the loss, so her boyfriend (at the time, my other best friend) and I decided to go down to Long Island for the funeral, for support. Now it’s true that I may be forgetting some other journey in my youth, and I’m choosing to omit little jaunts on the Conway Scenic Railroad on summer vacations to New Hampshire. But this was the first trip that stuck. I bought a ticket, boarded a big Amtrak snake of steel, and rode it south.

The trip was an emotional one. I was hurting for my friend, searching for a way to make things easier for her, inexperienced in dealing with this kind of all-consuming, world-altering grief. I was lucky at that point; the only major loss I’d personally suffered was that of my paternal grandfather, and I was only 5 at the time, so I was far more traumatized by the sight of my own daddy crying than at the knowledge that I would never see the big man with the deep voice who read me the Cajun Night Before Christmas again. There was something about the permanence of this loss — Christina kept begging, in a broken voice, for the chance to talk to her grandpa just one more time — that hit me like a freight train (no pun intended), the awful forever-ness of it. But despite the emotional toll, the trip also planted the seed of a great source of joy and happiness for me.

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I love trains. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a great road trip as much as the next person, and I have this thing about airports and cloudscapes and the world spread out in miniature below a 747’s window. But if I had to choose, there’s no question: I would do all of my travelling on rails. I know I’m not alone in this. Scout is also a rabid train devotee, and among the general population trains seem to inspire a romanticism that no other mode of transportation quite does (except for maybe those vessels that fall under the category of “the sea,” but that’s a whole other story, and more to do with the landscape traveled than the vehicle in which one is doing the travelling, I think). A few years ago Amtrak even started offering mobile “residencies.” Writers could apply and, if they were chosen, they would get to crisscross the country for free, round-trip on one of the company’s longest routes, while the rhythm of the rails got their creative juices flowing. In the first round alone, they received over 600 applicants: 24 were chosen. There are songs about trains, and poems, and folktales. And even though the United States lags far behind most of the other continents in terms of train travel, there still seems to be something quintessentially American about rumbling along a track that cuts through small towns and wheat fields, under urban grids and over river deltas.

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There are of course practical factors that make train travel ideal. It is efficient (if you stay within a certain set of departure points and destinations, particularly when talking about American travel). It requires none of the security rigmarole or early arrival times of air travel. It doesn’t necessitate the focus or engagement that driving does, enabling you to, say, write a blog post while in transit. But I think the true appeal of train travel lies in the bones of the structure itself.

A train travels along a track, on wheels that hug rails, which cut through the landscape in an uninterrupted stream from Point A to Point B. This means two things. One, there is a rhythm to train travel that neither planes nor buses nor automobiles have. It’s even in the name: Toddlers across the country will delight in discussions of choo-choo trains and their chug-a-chug-chug.  The train rocks you, gently, as it propels you forward. It’s why, when Scout and I made this month’s playlist, we dismissed any song without a sense of momentum, of forward motion, of purpose. You can feel it in your bones. Two, a trip by train allows you to see.  Now some people will argue that a car or plane does this too, that by driving you see the road and by flying you get a big picture panorama of the distance traversed. And both of these statements are true. But neither of them let you really see the trees that line the road, the cars that sit in driveways, the geese resting on a lake. Planes go too wide and cars too narrow. But from the window of a train, you can watch the whole coast go by, uninterrupted. You see the landscape transform and, at this time of year, the leaves shift into increasingly violent shades of scarlet and saffron and tangerine.

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I went to Washington, D.C., this weekend to visit my sister, after a week that had been, emotionally, a lot. There were many factors to this, many of which are still too fresh or too personal for me to articulate in this space, but suffice it to say that this trip, planned a month ago, turned out to be very timely indeed. Friday afternoon, I boarded my train and found myself a window seat. We burst out of the tunnel into New Jersey, the sun shining defiantly on watery canals and trees just kissed by autumn. And something inside of me started to unclench.

@sadieharlan I'm coming for you!

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I am not unhappy in New York the way I was when we started this blog. As a whole, in fact, I have come to love it, to love my life there and especially the people that make it whole.  But not hailing from such a frenzied, urban environment, I do find that my lungs remember how to expand just a little further, my shoulders to ease down that extra fraction, whenever I get out of the hustle and bustle.  And there’s something about the train in particular that pushes me that extra mile. I relax into my speckled teal seat, stare out at the yellow leaves streaming by, feel the chug-a-chug settle into a steady rhythm in my gut, and despite whatever else may be going on, I feel just a little more at peace.

And so I put in my headphones. I hit play on our new autumn playlist, Eva Cassidy and Brandi Carlile and Houndmouth filling my ears. I opened up my laptop. And I began to write.

Not Unhappy

I’ve tried to write this post multiple times before. I’ve never succeeded. I’ve never finished it, because I constantly worry that talking about my depression will make me seem petty or weak, that because I don’t have it as bad as some people, people won’t understand why I just can’t deal with this seemingly little problem. But I’m trying to overcome that, to recognize that my feelings — my mental health diagnosis — are completely valid, and I’m allowed to acknowledge them. My experience is mine, and I don’t have to compare it to anyone else’s. This story is mine to validate

(Illustrated by Gretchen Cutler from You’re the Worstwhich has produced the most accurate TV story line about depression that I’ve seen)

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Let me start at the beginning. When I was 14, my mom came home to find me curled up on the floor in a corner of my room sobbing. It was the third or fourth time that month that it had happened, but this was the first time she had found me. She asked me what was wrong, and I half-yelled through a runny nose and continuing tears that I didn’t know. I didn’t understand why I was crying, but it just kept happening. She told me to tell my doctor at my upcoming check-up.  After more tears and trying to explain that just working up the will to do things was hard, my doctor put me on anti-depressants, and I started going to a counselor. I was lucky: No one wrote me off as just “moody” or hormonal or whatever other excuses people use to explain away mental illness in teen girls. I got the support I needed, and because of that, it didn’t get worse. The meds and the counseling helped. They really did. But once I felt “normal” again, I stopped going to the counselor. Once I felt “good” again, I stopped taking the antidepressants. And by the time I graduated high-school, I felt like I had my “issues” fixed.

But depression doesn’t just go away. It sits dormant for a while and then comes rushing back all at once. I suppose “rush” isn’t really the right word. It creeps in and slowly weighs me down. It did that most of junior year of college. Slowly, it crept back into my life, making it harder and harder to do things: to get out of bed, to go to class, to write papers, to see and talk to my friends. That was the first time I had felt like that in a long while. The crying bouts returned, and eventually I went back on anti-depressants to get through the end of the year. That winter I switched meds because the original meds I had been taking made me so tired that regaining the will to do things was cancelled out by not having the energy. I’ve been on those same meds ever since. Sometimes I try to stop taking them because I think I feel okay, but it never sticks. And since I’ve moved to New York, the spaces between bad bouts have gotten shorter. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m in this city, or maybe because I’m getting older. But I’m not going to try to rationalize it. That doesn’t work for me.

I’ve had three really bad periods since I moved here. The first one was in my first six weeks in New York. I hadn’t started school yet and spent a lot of time lying on the floor of the tiny apartment I was sharing with three other people trying not to cry, and failing. I would have mild anxiety attacks on the subway; I’d start shaking and not be able to think straight, sometimes hyperventilate. It got better, slowly. I made friends and had people I could open up to. I took my medicine on a regular basis. I worked through it. Funnily enough, Hurricane Sandy hitting actually helped. It distracted me.

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The second period was two years ago. It began when I forced myself to go to a friend’s birthday party, even though I had a panic attack on the steps of my apartment building as I was leaving. I was shaking and hyperventilating and crying, but I told myself that I should be able to support my friend on her birthday. My body was telling me not to try and interact with people or the world, but I tried to ignore it, to push past it. I ended up bursting into tears at said party and making a quick exit. Thankfully, my friend understood. She had gone through similar struggles, so she got that sometimes you don’t get to choose when you’re high-functioning and when you just can’t. That particular period culminated a few months later with my crying through a fight with my mom at a brewery in Portland.

Then there was last week, in which the crying bouts that had haunted my teen years came back in full force. A lot of things are changing at my job right now, and I tried to chock it up to that. But the truth is, I’ve felt it coming for a while. I’ve tried to keep taking my meds and maintaining self-care strategies that have worked for me in the past. But something just broke, and all the crying I’d been holding in until I got home or ducked into a bathroom stall came pouring out of me. I cried at my desk four times last week, prompting my co-workers to ask what was wrong. I answered that I was fine, it’s just a bad week, a bad month. And most people just chock it up to the changes that are happening around me, which is fine. But I know it’s not going to go away once the dust settles.

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And that’s the most important discovery I’ve had to make, and accept, about my depression: It doesn’t just go away. Even when I feel okay or good or great, it’s always there, in the background. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I have to be the one to keep it in its place. Which is hard. Just thinking about finding a therapist in this city sends me into a whole anxiety spiral. That’s the issue, really —that taking steps to treat myself long-term makes everything worse in the moment.

It’s not that I’m unhappy with my life. I think that’s important to say. I really, really love my life right now. I’m in a great place with great friends and a supportive family. I’m so lucky, in so many ways. But my depression doesn’t care about that. It does what it wants. It doesn’t care that my birthday is soon, or that I’m supposed to get drinks with friends. My depression doesn’t give a shit about my plans. I’m not going to be able to just snap out of it when I’m in that place. And I’m working to treat it, to keep it where I need it to be, I can’t win depression, I can’t beat it, but I can manage it. But it’s a long process, and a hard one, and some days it’s just too much.

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I’ve been wanting to write this for a while — to share with Z&S the thing that makes writing for this blog hard for me sometimes. This is part of me, and of my life here in the city. Maybe it doesn’t totally fit into the theme of the blog, but as usual with New York life, we make the pieces fit the puzzle, not the other way around. I’m happy that this feels like a safe enough space that I can talk about it. I’m glad to have created that in my life.