Snow in the South

There’s something strangely wonderful when weather contradicts setting. It only snows once every few years in the south, and when I rolled over in bed last night to the sound of my fellow students laughing and shouting in the parking lot, I wondered if the weather report had come true.

All day people had been murmuring over the possibility of snow flurries in the middle of the night. And, with the rain and the frigid temperatures, it actually seemed possible. In states like Mississippi and Alabama, snow is cause for celebration and panic.

As the clock flicked closer to midnight, I pried open the blinds and peered out at the parking lot connected to my dorm. Snow capped the cars and blanketed patches of grass. College students skipped and ran through the lot, scooping up meager handfuls of snow to make icy ammunition in a coming war.

My best friend and roommate joined me on my bed so we could marvel over the unfamiliar sight of snow on southern ground. There wasn’t much, but it was enough to keep people out in the chilly air for a couple of hours.

Morning came and, with it, an email stating that certain morning classes were cancelled because of the snow.

I, having already showered and dressed, jumped back onto my bed and opened the blinds. Heaps and quilts of brilliant snow-covered the cars and grass. Lines of the frozen stuff topped tree branches. Everything was light and clean and shiny.

While I grumbled over getting up at seven in the morning for nothing, I settled down with my iPad and the giddy thought that it had actually snowed in Mississippi. How wonderfully strange.

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Only Girls Allowed: Sexism at Walmart

Heading to the Walmart in the rain that had been falling on Mississippi since the early morning, my only thought was to get inside so my best friend and I could do our grocery shopping. My fingers, chilled to the bones, ached around my umbrella’s handle, and I wondered if the cold would start up the pain in my joints that visited with every drop in temperature. With all of this on my mind I was mildly irritated to find a man blocking the entrance with his shopping cart from the inside of the store.

The man, somewhat advanced in years and wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, stood just far enough from the doors so as not to trigger them into opening but just close enough that I felt nervous approaching.

My worries peaked when the doors slid apart and he held up his hand. I really did not want to deal with any harassment right now, especially with how cold I was.

“Stop,” he said, a telling Southern accent crackling along his voice. “Only girls allowed.”

The tendons in my neck tightened, but I resisted the urge to swear at him and brush past. I knew from experience that old Southern “gentlemen” typically had tempers as long as fishing hook. Instead I worked at keeping my face neutral while my friend laughed in clear discomfort.

He laughed then, as if it were all some cute joke. Dropping his hand like he had suddenly become gracious enough to allow us to enter the store, he looked away.

We passed, and now I permitted myself an anger-filled swear under my breath.

I have become accustomed to people mistakenly addressing me by male pronouns because of my short hair and tendency to wear jackets that disguise my chest. I have been called “gentleman,” “son,” and “young man,” on several occasions, and each time it has stung for only a second before I convinced myself to laugh it off.

This time, however, I was not going to laugh.

Let’s break down exactly what happened here.

  1. I was in a hurry to get inside because of the rain and the cold.
  2. This man, for whatever reason, thought it appropriate to stand partially blocking the entrance with his cart.
  3. I, as an educated woman, was nervous about finding my path to warmth and shelter blocked by a strange man.
  4. He insisted I stop my progress because he apparently wanted to inform me of something.
  5. I, without thinking, did as he said since he was a man, and an older man at that (respect your elders, right?).
  6. While I stood half in the rain, this man proceeded to tell me that “only girls” were allowed in the store (apparently he owns Walmart and gets to decide who can and cannot enter).
  7. He looked directly at me when he said this, which I can only take to mean that he was mocking my short hair, a typically masculine feature.
  8. He thought it was appropriate to joke about me not being a girl (which I am not since I am a woman, but that’s beside the point).
  9. I did not talk back.
  10. I did not tell him his comment was rude and not appreciated.
  11. I did not make any sign that I wasn’t pleased other than a restrained glare.
  12. He laughed, clearly amused at either his comedic genius or my discomfort.
  13. I passed in silence, only expressing my anger when he was out of earshot.

This is the problem with sexism. Normally, I have a retort ready for classroom situations and other possible events, but sexism does not wait for you to have your powerful speech ready. It doesn’t even wait for you to get comfortable. It comes when you’re in a hurry, flustered, tired, upset, or otherwise ruffled. And it catches you off guard because you really aren’t expecting or wanting to deal with sexism on top of everything else you have to deal with (since you’re a fully fleshed human being with a life and personality outside of what sexist strangers think of you, but you wouldn’t think that for how they treat you).

If I could go back in time and redo that event, I would clearly and calmly tell that man just what I thought of him, expletives included. I don’t care how old you are. You do not get a pass on sexism and rude jokes made about someone’s appearance. That man did not know the insecurities I have had to face since cutting my hair so long ago. He didn’t know about all the snide comments people thought were okay to make about how I looked like a guy or a lesbian.

But, you know, even if he did know, I don’t think he would have cared.

Something We Need To Discuss

Panic attacks are things uniquely terrifying and humiliating.

I don’t plan on talking much on here about my personal experience with panic attacks and anxiety, but I feel like it is important to discuss this kind of fear and anxiety in light of how our society handles mental health.

We (or, at least, Americans; I cannot speak for other countries) live in a society where mental illness is not seen as serious unless it affects someone other than the afflicted. We all mourn the loss of lives taken as a side effect of untreated illness (as we should), but how many grieve the cases where a single person fell apart inside without assistance, where they may not have reached out to hurt someone, but they also did not reach out for help. This, most likely because they feared the ridicule and shoving off that would probably come with it. Empathy is key to being human. We have to learn, as a society, to care for the individual, not because they may harm others (that is important of course), but because they are human too and in pain.

I suffer from cued panic attacks. This means that there are certain situations and things that trigger an attack. My attacks include shaking, sweating, heavy breathing, accelerated heart rate, the feeling that I will be sick, and an intense fear that stays with me as an undercurrent for the rest of the day. Normally, an attack will only last for a few minutes, the longest stretching into roughly an hour. However, they don’t just come in a simple burst of the above symptoms. Little jumps in blood pressure, a twisting feeling in my stomach, and a tightening of my muscles can come briefly throughout the day. Those feelings often pass immediately and do not affect the rest of my day, unlike a full-blown attack.

Without going into too much detail, my triggers relate to a certain situation that centers on an individual from my past. Glimpses of someone who looks familiar to that person may make the tendons in my neck stand out. I avoid that stranger, heart beating fast the entire way. A buzzing sensation may take up space in my stomach when I go somewhere I might see this person, and only after I find myself safe will I clench my fists to get rid of the shaking in my hands.

Sometimes it’s not so easy to escape. Sometimes it seeks me out when I’m least expecting it. One instance came up when I received an anonymous message on a website I frequent that brought a surge of bad memories with it. It was one of my worst attacks, and I kept glancing over my shoulder the rest of the day.

The point of all this is that not everyone is willing to share the information I have just posted. And with good reason. In the past I have been told that I am over-dramatic, making a big deal out of nothing, and I need to suck it up and move on. It is a painful and difficult thing to share one’s experience with anxiety and mental distress, so most people don’t. They are told on a daily basis that other things are more important than their mental health, and if they ever express concern for this issue they are being melodramatic or making it up.

It has taken me a lot of work on myself to get to the point where I feel comfortable telling people about my attacks and the issues that accompany them. I was blessed enough to be with someone who understood my problem and did not pressure me to put on a good face and pretend like everything was alright. I was also blessed to take up a station in a work environment that made me feel protected and loved; my coworkers and my boss did not question my feelings or actions, instead offering whatever assistance they could provide to make me feel safe and comfortable. These people, whether they know it or not, did a lot in helping me accept and work on my problems. Their empathy and willingness to accommodate me made it easier for me to admit to having a serious issue and ask for help.

When you suffer from a panic attack, you feel like the whole world is closing in on you. Your body betrays you and leaves you shaking and often in tears. It can be demoralizing and humiliating to have anyone see you like that. You feel like a child or an idiot. You fight to get control of yourself, and it makes it worse. Finally, you have to give in and let the fear take over what is supposed to be yours: your mind and body. That feeling of no longer being autonomous or even a whole person is terrible and something I would not wish on anyone.

If anyone reads this and identifies with what I have said, I encourage you to find someone you can trust and ask them to listen. Even having someone sit with you and let you vent is supremely helpful. There are services available, and I encourage anyone who is financial able to take advantage of them.

Mental health is as serious as physical health, and it is time our society treated it as such.

Rain Storms and Finding Comfort

In case you didn’t know, the weather in the south is fickle and temperamental, prone to sudden tantrums and bouts of rage. Yesterday and today have seen the strength of those episodes.

As I made my way through Alabama and Mississippi to my private college located just ten minutes outside of Jackson, I found my hands gripping the steering wheel tighter and tighter. Rain lashed and pounded the windshield, and I nearly hydroplaned three times. Swaths of rain and gray obscured taillights and turn signals, and I started praying that God would just get me safely to campus.

My hands ached hours after releasing the wheel, and I discovered an irritating crick in my neck from hunching over so much. But I made it in one piece, only to discover that the closest parking spot to my dorm was across the street in a huge lot.

Have you ever tried carrying in a heap of clothes and other essentials all by yourself? I don’t recommend it. My shoulders are still speckled with burst blood vessels from where my backpack straps dug into them.

Today saw a massive swell of rain and wind, leaving my feet red and icy after walking to and from the college bookstore (also across the street) with my textbooks. The street has morphed into a chilly River Styx, with street signs acting as ferrymen for disheveled students who could not care less about the cars grumbling at their stop signs.

However, despite all of that, I find myself in a fairly good mood. Whether it was the success of my first pair of classes, the happiness I felt at obtaining two Norton Anthologies, or the anticipation of a Chinese buffet waiting for me, I have retained a calmness I did not think would stay with me.

I’m sure I could philosophize and muse on what this all means (the storms of life against my success and attitude), but I really don’t want to. For now, I just want to enjoy the softness of my blanket and the Green Day songs spewing from my laptop speakers.

But who knows? Maybe I’ll have a great epiphany and expound on all of this tomorrow.

Until then.

Making Friends and Drinking Coffee

I know I said on Twitter that I would be reviewing Gangster Squad today, but that’s going to have to wait.

With that feeling of restlessness creeping up my legs once again, I grabbed my purse and keys and made for my nearest Starbucks, which isn’t actually the nearest but is my favorite and where I worked this past summer. As I gave the cashier, a handsome man with dark hair and broad shoulders, my order, another employee got into line behind me.

I could tell he was on his break, because the workers always doff their aprons and hats when their not working. He gestured to my pants, saying that he liked them. Who wouldn’t really? They were practically denim on an acid trip with the multicolored flower design that ranged from deep purple to pale pink.

I thanked him, and he introduced himself as Adam. Adam, all limbs and blonde hair, told me he had just started working here a few months ago and was happily surprised to learn that I used to work at this very store.

We chatted for a minute while I gave the other cashier my card and name, and then I went to a table at one of the huge windows.

For a while I sat there with my peppermint mocha and book on feminism until four young women climbed out of their car and entered the buzzing store.

The first thing I noticed upon seeing them was that they all looked different. None of them sported the same hairstyle, an unfortunate trend I had come to notice while working as a barista. I sat stunned and in awe for a moment, thinking, This is what body and appearance diversity looks like. This is what I want to see in movies and television shows. (I would be remiss if I neglected to mention that the diversity did not go as far as race. They were all white.)

One woman, whom I would come to know as Jane, wore a halter top that barely covered her stomach, and she looked completely comfortable in it. Another, Sarah, dressed all in black and had her dark hair pulled into a fluffy ponytail. A redhead, Anna Catherine, swooshed along in an ankle-length skirt and brown leggings. Page, who walked close to the front of the group, had dark hair on her arms and a small birthmark on her forehead.

Part of me wanted to approach them and tell them how amazing they were and how beautiful they each were in their differences. But I have always been shy, though I am working on it currently, and I stayed put.

I needn’t have worried though, as Jane came up to me and complimented my boots, which laced up in the front and zipped along the sides. We talked for a moment on how we liked this style of boots, and soon the whole group was gathered at my table.

For what could have been an hour, we discussed university life, coffee, and high school marching band. It was truly a wonderful moment for me because I realized just how diverse people’s personalities can be. In no time, I discovered the shy one, the quirky one, the outgoing one, and the calm one. They were all so different, and yet I could tell they were good friends from the way they laughed and leaned on each other.

I only wish I had spoken up and asked to exchange numbers so we could continue our conversation later, but my shyness overcame me. They walked out with waves and friendly words, and I hope we meet again, perhaps when I’m back at Starbucks for the summer.

I do not know if these college women will ever read this post or even know of this blog, but I would hope that they know just how much their laughter and conversation improved my day. I wish them the safest journey back to their campus, and I hope we may cross paths again in the near future.

Choices Made at Twilight

So crawl on my belly ’til the sun goes down
I’ll never wear your broken crown
I took the road and I fucked it all away
Now in this twilight, how dare you speak of grace

As I mentioned in my first post, I have a special affinity for Mumford & Sons. Now, while “Babel” is one of my favorite songs of theirs, “Broken Crown” is certainly in my top five. These lines, show above, are the main reason. I could write an essay on the religious symbolism in this song, but for me it’s more personal.

I think most people have been involved in a relationship that ended on a sour note. Whether that was because of dwindling passion or a painful betrayal, the hurt is real and scarring. It can make it almost impossible to open up to another person later in life. Why invest time and care in a loving relationship when there’s always the chance of feeling that pain again?

I think the line here that really hits home for me is the second one. How many people do you know who tried to make you into something they wanted, who tried to dress you in what they liked, or tried to change you while disguising it as an honor? Sometimes these people really do have your best interest at heart, but if they aren’t listening to you or what you want then they’re hurting more than helping. The crown they try to put on you to make you look better is actually broken, and this risk of cutting yourself on it is real and dangerous.

That’s why it’s sometimes more important to “take the road and [fuck] it all away.” Making mistakes is uncomfortable, but it is important to growth and maturation. Making your own choices and standing by those choices is imperative to becoming a strong, confident person. Then we can be happy knowing that we did what we thought was right instead of letting someone else live and act for us.

For that last line I highly suggest that you sing it in a snarling, angry voice, because it brings to mind all of those hypocritical people who showed you no mercy when you messed up but insisted you give them grace for their mistakes, especially the mistakes that marked you indelibly. Forgiveness, mercy, and grace are all important and necessary traits, but standing your ground when someone would rather you lie down and take their abuse is also important.

On a final note, the song also contains a verse that speaks to the entirety of this post. “Now in this twilight our choices seal our fates.” The choice to submit, to defy, to love, to leave, and to live on our own terms decide the directions of our days. The choices are often easy. It’s standing by them that’s difficult.

Restlessness and Hot Water

I like to make taking a nice, hot bath a habit. I don’t mean I take one once a month in addition to my daily shower. No, I mean that if I have time off from school and start to feel restless, I will take a hot bath everyday. Most often I am accompanied by a book of my choice, mainly nonfiction or how-to. I let the water gush steaming into the tub, warm up the spot where my back will rest, and sink down with my book held aloft and in a nervous vice grip.

Half the time I don’t even stay in the water long because I start to sweat, and that seems counterproductive. So I typically spend a quarter of an hour soaking in the water and sometimes the bubbles while I read the majority of an essay.
Wondering what my point is? Pretty much this: from time to time, we humans get a little antsy.

Personally, I am a notorious fidgeter, and my friends and family rightly complain that this makes me a horrible companion at the movie theater. (I will inevitably get stuck with the oldest and squeakiest chair in the whole cinema. I swear. It’s science.)

But I don’t just get antsy in the my-leg-is-going-numb-and-I-think-this-is-what-a-stroke-feels-like way. I often get restless when it comes to how I live my life on a daily basis. I start to wonder if what I’m doing is really worth the time and effort it takes to do it. And often times I think it’s not, that I’m just wasting my time and should go do something more important.

Then I remember something a good friend of mine recently told me. During an emotional crisis, I called him just to have someone feel sympathy for me (something I firmly suggest to anyone in an emotional crisis). He said a lot of wonderful, kind, and touching things to me, but the thing that will stay with me for the rest of my life is what he said in regards to our mutual love of writing and my tireless goal of seeing my words published.

“Sarah-Rachael, whenever I feel like giving up on writing and like I’ll never be any good, think of you. You’ve written, what, five books, and you’re only eighteen. You’re amazing, and I need you around. I need you, because you are my motivation to keep writing.”

I paraphrased a bit, but you get the gist. It doesn’t matter if people out there don’t know my name yet. I inspire and motivate someone dear to me, and that is more than enough to keep my butt in my chair and my pen in my hand even if my leg does start to fall asleep.
And if it does, I’ll soak in some hot water and remind myself that the restlessness will pass.