Bombshell Convert

I am a feminist. That means that I believe that a system exists in which men and women are judged and oppressed based 

on their gender or sexual orientation. Furthermore, being a feminist means actively doing something about it, be it protesting, educating the public, writing letters to my representatives, staying informed, and donating time, energy, and funds that go towards exposing and breaking down this system. I love this part of my identity: shedding the blinders of ignorance has not made me angry or depressed by reality, but only fires me up when I see injustice after injustice and all the opportunities that can be taken to end this oppression. Do I believe it can end? You betchya. Do I see the light at the end of the tunnel? Not today, but I believe that someday the gender binary will break down, gay weddings won’t be an affair “separate but equal” to straight weddings, and women and men will not be judged by their sexual prowess or lack thereof.

Alright, now that I have defined a huge part of my identity, I have a confession to make. I bought a bra a few weeks ago from Victoria Secret. That’s not the secret–I think that Victoria Secret is a great tool for empowerment, with a grain of salt. I did not walk into VS, ask a woman to size me, and then buy a bra that fits me that I like and feel confident in. My friend and I went to the semi-annual sale for one reason: to buy myself a Bombshell bra.

The Bombshell adds TWO WHOLE CUPS SIZES to your natural measurements.  Not only that, but you can buy this bra in the classic colors, making them simple and unadorned for work. They also come in outrageous designs : mine happens to be red with gold glitz all over it. Oh-ho, and I don’t hide this bra out of shame and embarrassment. In fact, I’m sure to pair it with low-cut shirts that are a little thin so that I can see the glimmer of the gold thread in certain lights. (Read: any light). I’m not ashamed of my Bombshell, but I’m also aware that I should be.

When I put this bra on, I feel, if only for a few seconds, in proportion. Desirable. Pretty. Like a smoking hot babe that any individual should hesitate to speak to because my beauty makes them nervous. I get over that feeling quickly, though, and move on with my day, but when I catch my reflection in a window or find a second to breath in the elevator that thought flashes through my head and I have a new source of confidence in my next step.

Now, I think to myself Girl, how much more shallow can you get?

This is part of the problem that weighs women against men: products that inspire you to take confidence and pride in physical assets that won’t bring you any savory benefit. I am not aspiring to be a historian because I believe I’m a solid 7. But if I think so highly of myself, why should I wear a bra that maybe helps me up the rankings? When I work so hard to talk to my younger girl cousins about how brave, smart, or wise the Disney Princesses were instead of how pretty and dainty, am I contradicting that lesson by wearing this piece of clothing that, literally, restricts my movement but also plays into a patriarchal society that demands its women to be bountiful in all the right places? What’s the point in declaring my feminism, now? It’s like taking two cup sizes up, and one cup size from my real source of confidence: my competence and intelligence.

For now, I’ve convinced myself that, because I am not in the dark about gender and sexual oppression in this country and because I believe that we all partake in perpetuating this system simply by existing in it, wearing this bra and continuing  my plans to live a feminist life do not contradict. Really, it doesn’t matter if I wear an enhancing bra right now while I read my favorite feminist blogs (feministing.com and jezebel.com). And it really shouldn’t matter that I feel good about how I look in a wireless, padded, or heavily lined bra while I take signatures for a petition or register people to vote. Because for now, I think there are bigger fish to fry than my choice to look feminine and wear the Bombshell.

Advertisements

Don’t Call Me Brave

Hufflepuff. That, I am sure, is the house I would be in if I attended the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And although we Hufflepuffs are the butt of every joke, I think I would be happy there. Certainly, I am not smart like those in Ravenclaw, nor cunning like those in Slytherin. And I am definitely not brave enough to find a home amongst the Hermione Grangers and Harry Potters in the Gryffindor house.

Perhaps that is why I am so suspicious when someone comments on my bravery. When they suggest that I am brave, I assume they mean stupid or, at the very nicest, foolish. Surely they don’t really think moving across the country solely because I wanted to is brave. They must think I am out of my mind. What? You moved to a city you don’t know without a job? Hardly with a plan or excuse other than that you’ve lived in one zip code your whole life and it was time for a new one. Were they all out of zip codes back home? That they express jealousy of my freedom in that sense only says to me, “We are of the higher minded houses. We Gryffindors, Slytherins, or Ravenclaws plan, scheme, or strategize before buying that one way ticket. Sure, that may be holding me back from what I want right now, but it is the better way to do it. Just because you are happy doesn’t mean you are doing it right.”

And maybe that is what some of the people think. Those who care about me, I am hopeful, really are envious and really do wish they could do what I am doing. Because who doesn’t want to be happy? Why shouldn’t you go after what you want? And because I did that, does that make me brave?

Let me answer how I experience it: no. I am not brave. I am not stupid. I am not foolish. But I have that Can-Do attitude we Americans are so known for coupled with that cowboy Get’er done mentality from growing up in the west; from growing up with parents who expected a lot. And maybe just a dash of YOLO, for good internet measure. With that, and the knowledge that it’ll probably all work out and if not I can always go back to 85719, I will always leap and wait for the net to appear.

Fast forward to now, four months into this little adventure of mine. I’m wrapping up a handful of projects from NaNoWriMo, an internship, and a teaching contract. The next few months are a little frighteningly devoid of an income. Looking forward, well, frankly, (with the exception of a new zip code) I’m in the exact same place as I was a few months ago, and am poised to jump all over again. Because if that net doesn’t appear, and if I don’t land on my feet, well, I don’t have much choice but to jump again and again, until I get it right. What is it we Hufflepuffs are? Unafraid of toil?

er...Just to really tie up any loose ends, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists bravery as:  having or showing courage (and courage as: mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty). Wait, by that definition…

Look, I have a younger brother. If nothing else, I am able to withstand difficulty.

I Wrote a Novel in a Month

Or Why I Haven’t Been Blogging.

“Thirty days and nights of writing abandon” so says the masthead for the National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo, website. The Challenge: write a novel in a month. A novel in NaNo terms is 50,000 words, roughly 1,667 words every day. For those of you with memories of finals week still fresh in your mind, that is that final paper that you wrote at the last minute, every single night, for a month. And people choose to do this? Yeah, and I was one of them. One of something like 300,000 worldwide for a word count around 3,288,976,325 (this year).

Heck yeah I did!

Heck yeah I did!

For the math whizzes out there, that doesn’t quite add up. If three hundred thousand people are writing, we’re coming up something like 12 billion words short. Clearly not everyone completes the challenge. But, I did! My 50, 102 words were part of those three billion words. I feel pretty accomplished  To be honest, there was a fair amount of personal back patting, but shoot, I deserved it! I’ve never written that much before.

So I’ve written a novel. Or something. I’ve written 50,000 words of a novel. Except that I haven’t even gotten the whole idea out… You have no idea how tempted I was to have the last official thirteen words be: “And then they were all hit by a bus and died. The end.” and just be done with the dang thing. But I didn’t.

Maybe you noticed that we are halfway through December and I’m still not blogging (sorry long lost drafts of October… I’ll get to you some day.) November has ended and yet, here I am, writing every day, still. Queue cramped fingers, crossed eyes, and yet more crumbs in my keyboard, all in order to achieve the goal, to write the novel.

The goal is different now, more intangible.  When you are counting each word, you have something to achieve. But now I’m just trying to finish the plot, and that isn’t quite as quantifiable. How do I know I’m done? Assuming I don’t send in the bus after all, that is. And when I’m done, is that a novel?

Saturn with its largest moon Titan.

Saturn with its largest moon Titan.

Before I can answer that question (if I can answer that question), I should tell you what it is about. It is about a National Park Ranger. At the Rings of Saturn National Park. Who gets wrapped up in a revolution to free the Saturnian moon system from the United States.

In the words of my esteemed friend Carolyn, “Is it supposed to be good?”

My answer: “Well…” Because I don’t know. I don’t even know what makes a good novel. What I know is: The science is good. The story is, if nothing else, original. And the characters have dimension, although I’m still working on that last piece.

So have I written a novel in a month? Not exactly. It probably won’t go any farther than the five free bound copies Amazon gives all NaNo Winners. Probably not more than five people will ever read it. But to tell the truth, that doesn’t matter. Because I beat this monster, this looming I never have so I never will mentality that kept me from writing seriously in the past. And you know what? Even if I am the only one who is, I can’t wait to read it.

But heck, it is a love story, wrapped up in the fight for good and evil, in outer space. What isn’t there to like?

The Domino Effect Of Hurricane Sandy: Why One Natural Disaster Changed Everything For Me

January has always been my least favorite month. It’s a No Man’s Land month and supposedly the saddest time of the year. Christmas and New Years festivities are over, the weather is biting cold, and the only holiday in the near future is Valentine’s Day, which both single and taken people often hate. I dread January as much as I dread the flu and dentist visits, but right now, I would like nothing more than for the first day of January to arrive. I want a clean slate after this disaster of a year. Besides, November has felt a lot like January so far: bleak, stressful, isolating, and joyless.

Two weeks ago, the New York City subway system shut down in preparation for Hurricane Sandy, a major storm set to hit much of the east coast. I figured Bloomberg was just trying to take necessary precautions because NYC hadn’t been ready for Hurricane Irene the previous year. Then I pulled up my inbox and found an email from my boss, who wrote to inform everyone that the office would be closed Monday due to the storm. We were all to work from home, he said, at normal capacity. I sighed and walked into the living room, where I found my roommate rummaging through the fridge.

“Do you want to go get some food?” she asked. “This will probably be your last chance to eat out for a while. Everything is closing at four today.”

Our winter coats in hand, we ventured down to 86th Street for our final big meal on the town. We were already getting thrashed around by the wind, which should have indicated to us just how serious Sandy was about wreaking havoc in our city. Traversing the crosswalk, I noticed a massive line streaming out of Fairway Market. Everyone was gearing up for the hurricane. Jen and I giggled, as we’d put together our hurricane survival kit the day before. Oh, how efficient and on top of things we were. The hurricane had nothing on us.

After scarfing down Chipotle, which hadn’t been particularly enjoyable, we made a pit stop at Duane Reade for some extra water jugs. Of course, the entire water aisle was empty. We had to purchase by the bottle, so we gathered a couple chilled bottles of Smart Water and Crystal Springs before retreating to the cash register. Before checking out, I grabbed the latest issue of Us Weekly, which had a smiling Jessica Simpson on the cover. The title read, “BULLIED FOR HER WEIGHT. MY DIET STRUGGLE. The new mom loses 60 lbs in 5 months the healthy way and ignores the haters — ‘I’m not a supermodel!'” I grinned, knowing all too well I’d need ample tabloid stories to keep me calm and occupied during the storm.

The following day, which was the day Sandy was supposed to barrel through NYC, my roommate and I worked from home. We spent much of the morning joking about how we were already going stir crazy. All would be well soon, though, as our offices would surely be back in business by Wednesday. At 10:30 a.m., I started to feel a pounding in my forehead. It was my caffeine deficiency. I needed coffee, so I phoned the Dunkin’ Donuts down the street, stunned when someone answered.

“You’re open today?” I said incredulously.

“Yes,” the employee responded in a clipped manner, undoubtedly resentful about having to work the day of a hurricane.

“Great, thanks,” I replied, already dashing out my front door to pick up coffee for me and my roommate.

Few people were outside. A concerned-looking traffic director waved me across the street, and a male construction worker ordered me to get back to my apartment as soon as possible.

“Come on, sir, it’s not even that windy yet,” I joked, tugging at my Victoria’s Secret Pink sweatshirt.

“It will be. Just you wait.”

Nevertheless, my roommate and I had our coffee and were happy. All we could do after that was wait for the storm to pass.

Monday, October 29, 9:00 p.m.

Flooded subway station

My roommate and I were beginning to feel restless and uncertain. We’d spent hours scouring the Internet for stories on Sandy, which had apparently destroyed a few areas in Jersey and pummeled the lower east side. A shark was reportedly swimming through the streets of NJ, the Jersey Shore was battered, and portions of Brooklyn were flooded.  I breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn’t moved to the east village as I’d considered in April. Would the upper east side come out of Sandy unscathed? Had we barricaded ourselves in our apartment for nothing? It seemed that way.

Then the wind intensified.

“There it is,” Jen said.

“About time,” I responded, wanting the storm to do her thing and leave already.

Our lights began to flicker, so I decided to play a movie while we still had electricity. I went with “13 Going On 30,” which I hadn’t seen in more than a year, and watched the rom-com until the power went out. I sighed and looked down at my fully charged phone. It wouldn’t be that way for long.

As my roommate fired up a candle, we heard a loud boom outside. Then screaming.

“I don’t like the sound of that,” she said. “Maybe it’s just a baby crying.”

There was no weeping child, though. The concrete wall separating our building from the one next door had collapsed. Here’s how it looked the following day:

After rushing to the living room window, I gasped. Our building was surrounded by water. The courtyard was flooded about eleven feet. I glanced out my bedroom window and saw waves just a few feet below me. There was also an inflatable toy duck floating around. If we were to get any more rain, I feared, the water would reach my window and flood our entire apartment. My heart rate skyrocketed and I headed into the hallway, where I found many of my neighbors huddled up.

“Jen, we have to evacuate right now,” I yelled from the doorway, clearly going through the fight or flight syndrome. “Our building is surrounded by water.”

“If we were going to evacuate, we should have done it already,” she replied. She was so right, but I didn’t listen.

“I have a friend who lives in Harlem. He has power. I’m going to go stay with him,” I replied, throwing on a zip-up sweater and my Hunter rainboots.

“You’re going to run 30 blocks in 90 mile per hour winds? That’s how people die in these storms, Laura. They go outside and get knocked out by a tree or something.”

“I don’t want to drown here,” I told her.

“Well if you’re going to go anywhere, you need to put on better clothes. Your hoodie and sweats aren’t going to cut it in this weather.”

That’s when her boyfriend stepped in and asked me to stay put. They didn’t want to worry about me weaving through the streets of New York during a hurricane — let alone in the eye of the storm.

“You know, Laura, for someone as paranoid as you, you take a lot of risks,” Jen said, inspiring all of us to roar with laughter. “You got coffee in the storm and now you want to run to Harlem, which is unsafe in broad daylight, during a hurricane.”

“I ran track in high school. I can do this.”

Of course, I was being utterly insane and ridiculous, but that’s the fight or flight response for you. When something is wrong, I need to see it in full. I need to know exactly what’s going on, so in my rain boots, I stepped outside. Every car on our street was under water and the road was flooded, with some of the water trickling into our building. It was coming from the east river, and it flowed to the end of 2nd Avenue. The perks of living at the bottom of a hill.

“Are we going to flood?” I asked the superintendent, who was tapping at his iPhone.

“I don’t know. The basement and courtyard are totally flooded, but you’re on the second floor, so you should be fine.”

Just then, a young-looking girl from the fifth floor approached me and asked whether I wanted to accompany her to the bar on our block. We could charge our phones and computers there, she said. I nodded and promised to meet up with her later, as I was receiving dozens of text messages and calls from family members and friends. Besides, I wanted to stay outside until all of the water returned to the east river. I couldn’t simply drink merrily while everything around me eroded and crumbled.

Meanwhile, I was frantically texting my New York pals, many of which were safe and had power. A new friend, who grew up in Florida, kept joking that Sandy was nothing compared to what he’d experienced in his home state. He told me I was welcome to stay with him, and I regretted not making the trip to Brooklyn before the storm to do just that. I was also starting to feel stupid about the hysterical texts and tweets I’d sent out. My vulnerability was palpable and out in the open, so I decided that anyone willing to help me during that time was a true friend. I was stunned by the number of people that came forward and assured me everything would be all right. I wasn’t sure I believed them, but as the water began to make its way back into the river, I felt myself ease up. We’d be without power and heat for at least a few days, but our apartment would be OK. We weren’t going to lose everything, unlike so many unfortunate souls in Staten Island.

Once our street was entirely free of water, I walked to the bar. At the end of the room, I found the neighbor who had invited me out. At one point, she spilled beer all over my iPhone, and because I was drained and still in a state of shock, I didn’t even react. I simply wiped down the device, which was totally fine. At midnight, we retreated back to the building and headed to our designated units.

My roommate and her boyfriend were still awake, and we laughed about my panic episode. The fridge was beginning to lose its chill, so we finished the provolone cheese while it was still cold and safe to consume. She said she’d finished my tub of Half Baked ice cream, as I’d refused her advice to eat it during my freak out session several hours earlier. Already in survival mode, we scarfed down as much as we could before moving to our rooms, where we slept soundlessly in complete darkness.

Before hopping into bed, I clutched my rosary beads and said a prayer — for me, for my roommate, for my friends, for all of Manhattan, for Queens, for Jersey, for Staten Island. The damage had already been done, but I wanted good energy to sweep through the east coast. Boy, did it need some love and light.

Goodbye, neighborhood tree

Tuesday October 30 at 11:00 a.m.

My roommate and I escaped our apartment in search of coffee and bagels. We wanted something filling, as we didn’t know when we’d have a chance to feast again. We went with Bagel Express, which was packed. While waiting in line, she called our superintendent, who said we wouldn’t have heat or power for a week or a week and a half. We groaned. My hair was already started to frizz up and appear greasy. Where would I shower that day? Getting my work done was out of the question. We just wanted a reliable power source to charge our phones, both of which wouldn’t stop buzzing or trilling.

After filling ourselves up, we went back home, where we slept another few hours. It was the only thing we could do. The next day, we vowed, would be devoted to work. Starbucks locations across the city were closed, but we’d go to Effy’s Cafe first thing in the morning for WiFi and coffee. And we’d have a semblance of a routine again.

Halloween

That morning, I had a phone interview for a position at a women’s website. I’d recently been told that my job was at stake, so I was on the lookout for new opportunities. I chatted with the HR person outside of Effy’s Cafe, horrified when a loud ambulance rushed by and completely disrupted our conversation. I decided that wasn’t a good sign about the position, which seemed like a poor fit anyway.

Later on, my roommate and I went to her friend’s apartment on 71st Street. We stared at her television in disbelief, unable to comprehend the destruction in Long Island and on the Jersey Shore. A roller coaster was under water, boats zoomed through residential neighborhoods, and thick-accented, inherently tough Long Islanders were now homeless, despondent  and resigned. I suddenly felt very, very lucky, and so did my roommate, who’d just told me how unhelpful my hurricane panic episode had been. I agreed and felt awful about creating an anxious environment when that was the last thing we needed. Desiring a break, I asked my friend Catherine if I could crash on her couch that night. She said yes, and I jumped up and down at the prospect of getting to shower.

Saturday November 3

We finally had power, but no heat, so I headed to New York Sports Club to work out and shower. After an hour-long treadmill session and freshening up, I got dressed in the locker room and checked my cell phone. I had two new emails, one of which was from a prospective employer. I’d interviewed with his site a month earlier, but with Sandy and many responsibilities to attend to, he’d had to delay hiring.

At any rate, he wrote to say the company had offered the editing job to someone else. While they’d all loved meeting me (and I them, very much), another applicant was better suited for the role. I understood but couldn’t stop the tears from pouring out my eyes. That was not what I needed to hear in the immediate Sandy aftermath, let alone on a Saturday, but I appreciated being given a direct answer as soon as possible. That’s what I’d nagged them for all along, and he’d done the noble thing to notify me right away. The truth just gnaws at your soul sometimes.

Hours later, a new friend invited me to smoke flavored cigars with him in Brooklyn. Public transit was sort of up and running again, and if I hopped on about four different trains, he said, I could get to Park Slope. I was lukewarm to the idea. All I wanted to do was stay in my neck of the woods until everything went back to the way it had been prior to the storm, but was that realistic? I was a week away from losing my job, so clearly, I was in for some drastic changes, changes that would have occurred whether or not Sandy barged into our lives. She just so happened to do it right as I was getting demoted. As they say, timing is everything, and hers was especially bad.

To boost my spirits, I went out with Catherine and Hillary to some neighborhood bars. We started our night early to beat the crowds, but the bars were already overflowing with people at 8:30 p.m. They’d been that way all week. Everyone needed an escape from reality, and with many off work and without power, what else was there to do but cuddle up with a beer or shot of Jameson? As much as I enjoyed sipping glasses of Stella Artois and Blue Moon, my throat started to hurt around midnight. I was coming down with a cold, which had undoubtedly been caused by the stress of Hurricane Sandy.

Tuesday November 6, Election Day

My colleagues and I worked until 2 a.m. Wednesday morning, studying our Twitter feeds and cable news channels to stay up to date on election happenings. It was my last week at work, so my mom suggested I take it easy and focus on my health, but I assured her I wanted to finish strong and report on the election to the best of my ability.

At 6 p.m., my boss presented us with two boxes of Arturo’s pizza and a bottle of wine. Famished, I devoured three slices, but barely touched the alcohol. Every few seconds, I sniffled and coughed, much to my own embarrassment and shame. I repeatedly apologized to my coworkers, Andrew and Meenal, for being a cesspool of germs and gross entity. They didn’t care, as they were delirious from working all day and covering an uninspiring election for an entire year. At 11:00 p.m., I told them I would be heading to a SoHo hotel, where I’d be staying for two nights. The room was a gift from my mom, who believed I needed some personal space and to recharge after a hellish post-Sandy week.

Andrew gave me his blessing but added that the winner of the election would probably be announced on my journey to the Four Points Sheraton. He ended up being correct. As I checked in at the front desk, the woman behind me answered her cell phone and shouted with glee, “It’s over!” Judging by the jubilant nature of her tone, I figured Obama had been reelected. I have yet to meet a New Yorker who supports Romney.

“Romney lost?” I asked.

“Yup!” she chirped.

“Fucking shit,” I spat, immediately covering my mouth with my hand. “I’m sorry for swearing.”

“It’s okay,” the man at the front desk said. “I wanted Romney to get it as well.”

“I just worry about the economy is all,” I replied, my voice raspy as ever.

“Me too.”

I waited until the end of Obama’s victory speech to shower and down some NyQuil. It took me less than a minute to fall asleep, but I woke up in excruciating pain.

Wednesday November 7

I could not move. My glands were inflamed, my face hurt, my throat was sore, my muscles ached, and I was full of phlegm. There was no way I could haul myself to the office that day, so I stayed at the hotel, where I ordered room service and worked in my flannel cat pajamas.

A Nor’Easter was headed for NYC that day, so after an early evening nap, I went downstairs for some dinner. It felt incredibly lonely to eat by myself, let alone during a storm, but I told myself no one needed to be around sickly me. I also cursed the weather for bringing us more problems. We’d barely recovered from Sandy, and now we were getting six inches of snow. It didn’t seem fair. I wheezed into my Kleenex, hoping a good night’s sleep would repair my embattled body.

A waitress came up to me as I skimmed the menu. I must have seemed upset because she offered, “We have pizza too, you know.”

I laughed. Did I really look so young and immature that I couldn’t select something from the adult menu? I’d most certainly acted like a child since Halloween, but I asked for minestrone soup and chicken Alfredo, grown-up dishes. As I waited for the food to arrive, I watched Piers Morgan on the TV set a few feet away, feeling an unexpected rush of sadness that I would no longer be writing about his network of employment.

Thursday November 8

I woke up with crusty, bloodshot eyes. It looked like I’d been sobbing nonstop. I’d briefly choked up in the shower the night before, but there was no reason for me to have a splotchy face seven hours later. Then it hit me: I had pink eye. I’d seen the same cycle play out before: person gets cold, person coughs up a storm, person contracts pink eye from virus brought on by cold, which evolves into something much worse. I left work early to visit Urgent Care, which confirmed my pink eye and virus. The doctor told me to stay away from work and not touch anybody until at least Monday. That meant no socializing for a while.

“Home Alone”

On my way home, I text messaged my friend to cancel our movie and wine night, which he’d scheduled a few days earlier. I swore I wasn’t blowing him off, and he didn’t question my story for a second. It was a shame we had to do a rain check, though. After all, he’d agreed to watch “Home Alone.” Only a saint would comply with such a request. It was then that I realized just how many opportunities I’d let slip through my fingers because of some Sandy-related thing. She was awful, but I’d let a single storm govern my life and made myself sick over it. What a mess.

Friday November 9

At 7:35 a.m., I rushed out of my apartment and practically sprinted to Urgent Care. I’d spent the entire night coughing, losing my ability to breathe several times. I’d coughed so hard and so much, it felt like I’d completed an intense Pilates session. My entire body hurt and my throat was ragged and sensitive. Who knew coughing could be such a good workout?

When I explained all this to the nurse, she shrieked, “Oh my GOD!”, as if patients love hearing blatant fear in their medical professional’s voice. The doctor burst through the door moments later, brusquely asking, “What’s wrong with you?”

I repeated the story I’d shared with the nurse, and after listening to my lungs for thirty seconds, he turned to her and said, “She’s got an upper respiratory infection. Get her some codeine, nasal spray, eye drops, and antibiotics.”

“Wait a second,” I jumped in. “Can you tell me a little bit more about what I have?”

“Acute bronchitis. You’re going to need to take cough syrup four times a day for ten days as well as some antibiotics. If you plan on sleeping with somebody, use a condom, as the medicine will counteract any contraceptive pills you may be using.”

“Believe me, there’s no way I’m going near anyone for a while,” I said with a laugh. “Look at me!”

I hadn’t been able to wear makeup in days, I was getting over cough attacks, and I’d spent the entire week sneezing. I was not at my finest, and I was a danger to be around. Sex was the last thing on my mind.

After retrieving my meds at CVS, I went back to my apartment. The moment I saw my roommate’s boyfriend, I broke down. I sobbed  onto the kitchen table, inconsolable.

“When will things be normal again, Bradley?” I asked, my voice scratchy.

“I know how you feel,” he said, adding that he misses his home country and would give anything to visit. “When I broke my arm, I thought my whole world had ended, especially since I had many other problems going on at the time. But I healed, just like you’ll heal.”

I nodded and opened my bag, desperately wanting some of my cough medicine.

“Just three weeks ago, I was going out to bars with my friends, meeting guys, and wearing skirts. Then Sandy happened. We didn’t have power or heat for a week. I have pink eye and bronchitis. And I’m losing my job.”

“You’re going to be fine, Laura.”

I smiled, thankful I didn’t have to be alone in my moment of weakness. The drowsiness kicked in, so I went down for a nap. When I woke up hours later, I noticed a new email from my boss. He offered to let me work an extra week as a full-time staffer before transitioning to a smaller role as a part-time freelancer. I took a chance and inquired whether there was any way I could stay on full-time. There was not.

I made myself look on the bright side, which was that I still had an awesome writing gig in NYC, something countless aspiring scribes would kill for. Maybe freelancing would be better for me, I said, or at least a necessary change. Many of my friends were supportive, but a few inexplicably stopped talking to me. That’s the tragedy of the life I’ve chosen. A lot of people only value me for the work I do, and once I’m without it, I’m useless to them.

At 2 p.m., I conducted a phone interview with an up-and-coming female comedian I chose to profile for work. We talked for 45 minutes, and for the first time in months, it felt really nice to have a long phone conversation with someone. It wasn’t simply an interview, but a truly engaging discussion, which I really needed after a couple isolating weeks. At one point during our chat, I asked whether she had any tips for aspiring young actors.

“Persistence is important,” she said. “I mean, you must have had to work hard to get into your industry, too. It’s not easy to become a writer.”

“Yeah,” I replied, squeezing my voice recorder at the thought of being forced to take a less influential role in the field nearest and dearest to my heart.

Saturday November 10 (today)

After twelve hours of rest, I sprung out of bed and headed to Dunkin’ Donuts, of which I’m the foursquare mayor (a brag-worthy accomplishment if there ever was one). I ordered a medium coffee with cream and sugar, a water bottle, and a semi-bruised banana, which was the first piece of fruit I’d had in days. I need all the nutrients I can get.

Gathering my purchases, I darted back to the apartment. I was set to have a phone interview for a babysitting job and wanted to be composed and ready by the time the woman called. She reached out to me in the early afternoon, and once I’d confirmed that I’m indeed comfortable walking toddlers through the city, she set up a time for me to come meet her little one. He’s four years old, the same age as my nephew Lukey. We’re going to get along swimmingly, I know it.

Later on, my mom booked a plane ticket for me to go home for Thanksgiving. I was initially planning on celebrating the holiday with my Boston relatives, but with my employment situation taking a dip and my childhood home going on sale, it only seems right that I return to the house one more time before it belongs to a new family and becomes the center of their memories.

If all goes well (and no storms bust through NYC), I’ll be in California a week from today. I’ll be where the weather is eternally wonderful and anything but volatile, dramatic, fatal, or heartbreaking. I’ll get to prance around San Jose with my adorable nephews, attend my sister-in-law’s baby shower, eat dinner with my grandmother, catch up with my older brother, go on burrito binges on the beach, vent about everything to my childhood dog/BFF Roxy, get lunch at Walnut Cafe with my mom, and act like a stupid idiot again with my closest high school friends, Lauren, Nikita, and Crystal. I won’t have full-time work to worry about, so I can just be for once. It’s exactly the experience I need to start feeling myself again.

That Dreaded and Dreamed-of First

Editor’s note: This is the sixth installment in a series about losing one’s virginity, inspired by this project from Rookie magazine. Earlier authors include JessKate, GinaAnna, and Heather. It’s not explicit, but probably not for the easily scandalized, like the author’s parents…

During my freshmen year at college, fairly early in the term, I was at dinner with a group of my new friends. We sat around our — I want to say it was Indian — food and chatted about whatever was on our minds. Since I was with five guys, the conversation, unsurprisingly, was about sex. Specifically, it was about in how many states they were no longer virgins. I, being a virgin in every state, didn’t speak up. Finally, I couldn’t be tactfully sidestepped any longer. “How about you?” I didn’t know what to say. “Um?” Luckily one of the guys there that night came to my rescue and diverted attention away from me. The evening proceeded unmarred by my inexperience.

Except the whole situation stuck with me. I’m not used to having nothing to add to conversations. As we walked home that night, just my savior, another close friend and myself, I couldn’t help but bring it up again. Somehow during the walk it was decided that when I did — and none of us doubted that I would — lose my virginity, my savior would be the first person on the list of people to text about it. Like right, right afterwards.

Maybe you noticed, and maybe having a list of people to update afterwords gave it away, but I was not ready for sex at 18. I wasn’t waiting for anything or even anyone in particular. But I wasn’t willing to jump into bed with just anyone. I was content to be a virgin; yet  another sign that I wasn’t ready.

Queen Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen – I would not have been okay with that nick-name…

Only, I wasn’t content being a known virgin. A few months later, 19 now but still virginal, my coworkers, both of whom were older and infinitely cooler than I was, were complaining about the dry spells they were stuck in. “Don’t,” they warned me, “have sex until you have some regular partner, because the in between is horrible.”

“What?” I protested my status as virgin, “but, I’m not…” How had they known? Was it stamped on my forehead, written there with red lipstick?

“Also,” one cautioned, “don’t lose it with some guy you don’t know.” Nothing like walking out of a frat house without so much as a goodbye to make you feel like a whore, she recalled of her first time. “But,” the other reasoned, “don’t think it means you’ll be in love after.” He remembered crying and telling his partner how much he loved her right after. It didn’t end well.

Suffice it to say, I was ready for the shift to end.

I remained — mostly because of my friends: the biggest adoptive family, who had all decided I was America’s Little Sister — a virgin for the next 2 years. And finally was ready. But I was still single. And generally not much of a partyer. And altogether unsure of how it would just happen. I am a goal setter, so I set my goal: lose my virginity before I turn 22. All I needed was the guy.

Whom I met at work. I liked him from the moment I met him, even engaging him in some of my most classic awkward flirting. For over a year, nothing happened. As much as I initially liked him and continued to like him, I liked pretty much every other guy in “the office” just a little more. It was awful of me, but he was my back burner guy, the one I went to when no one else was responding to my texts. But slowly, and after a few disappointments with the others, the back burner became my only burner. And I was okay with that. He was sweet and silly and good to me, what wasn’t to like? He also had all the right appendages to satisfy my goal. It was November – my birthday was only four months away. It was time to act.

It started as a Facebook chat session while I wrote an essay that turned into a midnight Taco Bell run. Don’t worry, it gets classier. It was midnight. On a Wednesday. And I was in a man’s apartment. We both knew why I was there.

But instead of getting down to it, we started a movie. Road House. Not an amazing film, but not the worst thing to get buzzed to — buzzed enough to not mind when yawning stretches turned into cupped breasts. I think my fondest memory of the whole night was when, partially undressed, he carried me to his bedroom. Still in the fairy tale, and under the influence of alcohol, it happened: The first penetration. I had a moment of clarity, the same I have every time I realize I’ve achieved a goal, before I relinquised all emotion to the experience.

Which, frankly, went on for far too long. He was significantly more experienced that I was and while he was charitable to my general ineptitude, he also was determined to get what he wanted out of me. Long before he’d finished I was composing the text that’d need to go out. Besides, I had school in the morning and was pretty ready to go to sleep.

“Well,” I said when it was over, gathering my underwear and putting my clothes on, “it was nice to see you.” And then I left. I checked off my virginity both with a goodbye (of sorts) and without saying I love you. I didn’t even wait to get out of his apartment to send my victory text.

On First Love and First Loss

Editor’s note: This post is part of a series about losing your virginity. This series was inspired by this Rookie Mag post. We hope it offers a glimpse at the experience of losing your virginity and all the complexities that come along with that. These pieces have hints of the explicit and are not for the easily offended.

I could write a post for you all about what it was like to lose my virginity, at 16, to the then-boy (though I thought man) I was sure I’d spend the rest of my life with.

I could tell you the details I remember. They are few, but stark: The green underwear I was wearing, which had an embroidered goldfish on the front. The bedroom, its captain’s bed, its navy sheets, its elaborate videogame setup and custom-built computer – trappings of a smart and spoiled boy.

But I don’t think I can write that post for you. I think that first, I have to tell you it’s hard when the person you want to eviscerate on the glowing screen in front of you has grown into a person you love and respect, a person you once wanted to hurt more than you had ever wanted anything in your short life, and whom you now want to protect and show charity and, hardest of all, forgiveness. It’s also hard when you know he’s reading this (hello, friend) and will wince with recognition at the above description of the fish underpants, which he once loved. You remember.

I have to also tell you that it’s complicated when that person you now, bafflingly and almost magically, want to protect, broke your heart into so many pieces you’re still finding them, in the wash, ground into the pulp you sweep from your floor, several homes removed, in the essays you try to write about love and sex and forgiveness. He shattered you, and most of the reason you don’t remember that momentous (or, in your hazy recollection, decidedly lackluster) occasion is that you’ve blocked huge swaths of your life with him out.

I want to tell you that I remember our first kiss better than I remember typing the above paragraph. We were in seventh grade, and our blossoming love had thus far been played out over AOL Instant Messenger, where we sent each other frantic and hot-handed messages of desire, punctuated with emoticons (so many emoticons) and the bad spelling that tries but fails to mask good, true, gut-wrenching feeling: “Luv ya.” He rode his red BMX bike to my house. I met him around the corner, wearing a navy tank top spangled with rhinestones and bell-bottomed blue jeans. He had on a yellow baseball cap which, my God, I can picture so clearly it aches. We talked, shyly. He gave me some gum. He said he had to go home. Someone leaned forward – was it me? – and we kissed, like people who knew what they were doing, from a place of great want and great maturity and great feeling. It was possibly the best first kiss in the history of great, doomed love. It was epic. He rode his bike home without touching the handlebars, arms held above his head in triumph, whooping. I know because he told me. This, you guys, was young love, but it was big love.

I want to tell you that, considering how young I was when I “Lost It,” as the kids (used to) say, we talked about it a lot, and we moved slow. Remember, we began our hot and heavy journey in the seventh grade, and this was not a slow burn. The wait was excruciating, but in the meantime, we did, as the kids also say, “other stuff.” We were good at other stuff. We lived for other stuff. I know I’ll regret writing this the second I’m a parent and have to imagine the hormones coursing through my own 13-year-old progeny, but really, 13 is the best age for other stuff. Remember how BIG everything felt at 13? Remember how raw all your nerves were, how sensitive every receptor, how the world began and ended several times a day, how great and big and wide and gaping and real you felt all the time? Now, imagine that as a physical sensation, as new and unbelievable pleasure. Yeah, it ruled.

I want to say that considering all the incredibly vivid memories I have of that kiss, of that other stuff, it’s weird how little I recall of that first time. I remember feeling brave, and weird, and vulnerable, and opened up, and safe, and beloved, and weird again. I remember not telling anyone for months because slut shaming has been alive and well at least since I was 16 and it was not something my friends were participating in yet, and then I remember the first person I told was my Orthodox, Hasidic Jewish best friend who was not even allowed to touch people of the opposite sex, but she was so ridiculously cool about it, for which I thank her and love her to this day. I remember other times, and I remember feeling more and more physically rejected as our relationship deteriorated. I remember being called fat. I remember going to sleep alone on a trip to Paris, and crying and crying at the vast distance between us in the tiny bed in the tiny hostel with a view to the glittering Eiffel Tower. I remember when I knew it was someone else, and I remember vividly, sickeningly, the first time I pictured them together, the little sigh he always let out as he vanished into a kiss, the sparkle of his very very green eyes.

What I want to tell you about today, here, now, you and also You, is not about first sex but about first love. I want to tell you how it brands you, how it scorches, how it, the good kind and the bad kind, which are one and the same, stays with you for the rest of your life. I want to tell you love is vast and important and impossible, and I want to tell you I have felt that, I have been eaten alive by that, and I have survived it. I want to tell you to kiss deeply and fuck passionately and say I love you through your tears and roar and roll your eyes and gnash your teeth with love, whether first or tenth or last, because it is powerful and necessary and dangerous and fucking PURE. I want to tell you that losing my virginity to the man who would break my heart is something that hurts every day, but something I will never regret.

What would you do?

No fear.

Last night, I went to a talk downtown for the Portland Data Visualization group. The event was held at one of the many tech startups in town, and on one of the walls was this motivational slogan:

“What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

And it got me thinking. I’m a fear-motivated person; only recently did I realize this about myself. And because I talk to Anna every day, I know this about her, too. This text message conversation ensued:

Me: What would we do if we weren’t afraid?
Anna: Love harder. Jump higher. Lie less. Create more.
Me: Build. Stretch. Grow. Learn. Guess. Fail. Flourish. Conquer.
Anna: Maybe we should try this.
Me: A social experiment. A living experiment.

So we presented to each other some options for conquering our fears. I don’t wish to speak for Anna, so I won’t reveal her plan, but I am going to get rid of 50% of the things that I own. I am going to start working on a new coding project, even though it feels impossible. I’m going to ask my boss when we are going to do a progress review. I’m going to talk to my roommates about some of my concerns about our co-habitation situation.

I’m going to start living my life in a way that is best for me, regardless of how afraid I am to do so. And I would like to present this challenge to you, dear STTF readers, as well.

What are you afraid of? Is it snakes? Go to the zoo and hold one. Is it asking for a raise? Set up a meeting with your boss. Is it telling a romantic interest how you feel? Write him a letter. Think of all the things you could do if you weren’t afraid.

Then go do them.

We want to motivate you. Leave a comment here listing something, anything, you’re going to do in the next month to conquer your fears. Come back and give us updates, I’ll do the same, and we’ll start conquering our fears together. We are strong, incredible young people. We have the whole world ahead of us, but only if we take it. So let’s take it.

Of Condoms, Gravity, and Love

Editor’s note: This post is from a series about losing your virginity. This series was inspired by this Rookie Mag post. We hope it offers a glimpse at the experience of losing your virginity and all the complexities that come along with that. These pieces have hints of the explicit and are not for the easily offended.

Losing my virginity was an incredibly normal event. My Mom taking me to church to tell me that Santa Clause wasn’t real was a more traumatic affair (“WHAT ABOUT THE TOOTH FAIRY?!” was my overly-loud response from the back of the pews). Getting Beanie Babies as gifts after I scored goals in my childhood soccer games was more fulfilling than my first bedpost notch—Scottie the Scottish Terrier was my first (Beanie Baby, that is). In fact, I anticipated writing the follow-up romantic email to my boyfriend MORE than the sex that necessitated the email.

Losing my virginity was, in a word, boring. I was at my boyfriend’s house and it was summer time. At that point, we’d been together maybe about eight months and were, of course, in love. I didn’t know anything about anything when it came to sex except that there should be a condom, the girl goes on top (because gravity “helps keep those suckers down”), and that you have to be in love. We didn’t know to check the expiration date of the condom (a moot issue in the end, as even if wasn’t expired, the latex was probably warped from sitting in the glove box of his car during Phoenix summers). I was 15 and had seen enough in my Cosmo magazines about the wiley ways of the “cowgirl.” And we were, of course, eversomuch in love.

Anyway, it was summer, we had a condom, we were in love, and I got on top. I knew it would hurt because I had done my research. It always hurt the girl and it was always ecstatic for the boy (thank you, Cosmo). I didn’t expect it to hurt the way it did, though. I felt nauseated: no sharp pain, no hemorrhaging, no ripping. In fact, I became very nervous that I might throw up on him and my palms got very, very clammy. So clammy that I slipped and nearly cracked his chest open with my skull. Risking physics, we switched positions and he got on top. That’s when I learned that methodical, rocking movements also nauseate me.

Suffice it to say, it was a very short affair and I am now the victim of motion sickness and varying degrees of vertigo. I don’t know if having sex during high school, having sex when I was young, or having sex when I wasn’t mature enough messed around with my relationships. I have always wondered how my boyfriend remembers it—how any of the boyfriends whose V-cards I swiped remembered their first times with me. I wonder if it hurt for them, if they wanted to throw up.

I am proud to say that the sexy times has turned into a much more pleasant experience, and continues to be so as I learn more facts about keeping my body healthy. I delight in having “the talk” with my partners about what our game plan would be if the shit hits the fan (embryo-formation wise). I like learning about new contraceptives (someday, male BCP, someday), ways to detect STD’s (did you know that trichomoniasis looks like the foam from your Starbucks lattes?), and being so completely comfortable with someone that we can talk about preventative measures, testing dates, and sexual health.

You will never look at this the same way

I wish I had known – REALLY known – what sex appeal meant when I was 15, but I guess I needed the adventures to experience the follow-up.

Why are People Such Jerks about Food?

I should print this out and give it out to haters

I read Kate’s post last week about being a “chicken vegetarian,” and I found myself nodding in agreement. However, I loves me some meat. I eat paleo, which means I consume only meat, fruits, veggies, and nuts (I also tack on dairy). But even though I scarf down steak like a red-blooded American, I still get condescending remarks and “concerns” about my health. I’m pretty much ready for it to stop. Like, yesterday.

Obese and overweight people encounter this phenomenon all the time, and I’m sad to say it’s not just them. For thin people it’s the “eat a sandwich” movement. I’m neither of those things, and I still get it. It’s like everyone has a degree in nutrition they didn’t tell me about. So what’s the deal?

It’s not because these people care so much about the health of everyone around them. If it were, they’d kindly sit down the girl who chokes down six Red Bulls during the day. They wouldn’t be tolerant of the people who regularly come to work hungover. In fact, it’s more common to see contests with regards to these habits, to see who can abuse their bodies better than their friends.

When it comes right down to it, I think that, unlike our consumption of religion, politics, music, or sex, where most people recognize that there’s not one right way to do things, people tend to think that there is only a narrow set of foods to eat. The government Society has been selling us one diet since we were children, and we think that, since that information is based on government agricultural subsidies science, much like two plus two, there can only be one answer. This brings us to:

SOMEONE’S a little judgmental

News Flash #1

Scientists (and their work) don’t always agree. In fact, they more frequently disagree than agree. For just about every scientific study that comes out there are five others that produce different results. This puts your diet in just the same amount of flux as any other aspect of your life. You are not so right.

News Flash #2

Human bodies are different! If I proclaimed that no one ought to drink milk, you’d look at me funny—and for good reason. Not everyone is lactose intolerant. What constitutes an effective diet is going to differ based on genetics, psychology, and environment. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

We are lucky enough to live in a society that supports all manner of diets. We have a wealth of food available to us. Every person gets to choose what works best for them, just like our religions, philosophies, politics, and sex.

So, please, stop telling me that I’m going to die at 32 because bacon constitutes 30% of my lunch that day. You’re not a nutritionist, and even if you were I’d tell you that I feel great and that you can kindly fuck off. Henceforth, I will just assume you’re jealous of my food. Sucker.

This One Time, When I Was a Virgin …

Editor’s note: This post serves as, hopefully, the first in a series about losing your virginity. This series was inspired by this Rookie Mag post. We hope it offers a glimpse at the experience of losing your virginity and all the complexities that come along with that. These pieces have hints of the explicit and are not for the easily offended.

When I was in high school, I hung out with a pretty sheltered group of kids. We were the theatre and band kids, and not the sexually active kind. I was a lot more promiscuous than I ever told any of them. When asked the question “Will you wait until you are married to have sex?” I, like the realist I’ve always been, said, “Gosh, that sounds like a lovely and romantic thing to do, but I don’t think it’s a realistic expectation to put on myself.” This was appalling to most of the people I hung out with because abstinence-only education taught my friends and me that sex before marriage would lead to an inevitable STD upon first penetration.

The other thing that separated me from my friends and their sexual journeys was this huge secret I was keeping. I was feeling the feels for my best friend, and, oh yeah, she was a lady. It was one more complication on top of all the talk of boyfriends and losing your virginity. The desire I felt strongest, and still feel today, was this yearning for a connection with someone. I wanted so badly to fit in with that image of being in high school with a boyfriend and exploring bodies in an innocent high school way, but that wasn’t meant to be my story.

In my pursuit of this partner, I took to the only social media outlet available to me as a senior in high school: MySpace. The ultimate resource for everything from booty calls to all those STDs I mentioned earlier. I went out with about a dozen guys, trying to explore my sexuality and understand why I always felt so different from my female peers. I had some pretty terrible dates and admittedly put myself in some dangerous situations because meeting people on the internet in 2005 was not ideal. This is where I met the guy who would take my virginity.

His name was Oliver, which was so charming to me, and he was a red-headed scrawny college guy. We had chatted for a few weeks until he was in town from his fabulous college life to visit with his parents, so we seized the opportunity to meet in person for the first time.

I don’t recall going into this date with the intention of losing my virginity, but that’s how it went. We met in the Safeway parking lot because I like to keep things classy. He went in to buy us alcohol while I waited in the car, which was so cool to my 18-year-old self. He came out with the only thing I could suggest he grab: Smirnoff Ice, the high schoolers’ go-to adult beverage. Then we drove out to the middle of the desert for some privacy, lively banter, and booze.

Now, I know what you are thinking: “Jess. Are you telling me that you drove out to the desert in the middle of the night with a stranger and a six pack of Smirnoff Ice on purpose? Did that not strike you as a potentially bad thing to do?” Frankly, no. It sounded like a dangerous thing to do, but I was looking for that experience.

What began in that Safeway parking lot was hardly the safest way to go about losing my virginity, but Oliver was really a nice guy. He didn’t come with expectations. Up until that point, I’d never had more than a glass of wine at my cousin’s wedding, so three Smirnoff Ices put me well over my limit. We talked in the front seat of my car, and he suggested we move to the back. I knew what that meant, and recall feeling ready for it. There wasn’t much to talk about once we positioned ourselves in the backseat of my car. I don’t think there was a discussion of the status of my virginity, but by the end of the night, it was unquestionably out the window of the claustrophobic backseat of my Honda Civic.

Looking back on this experience, I can honestly say I have no regrets. The loss of that virginity felt inconsequential compared to the first time I slept with a woman. It was a test, an answer to some questions. So, why wouldn’t I just consider the first time I slept with a woman to be my actual “first time?”

First times are a hard thing to decipher when you are challenging the norms of sexuallity. I may technically have two sets of first times, but the actual first time was the first time I took my clothes off in front of someone else. It was the first time someone attempted to please me. It was the first time I made myself vulnerable sexually to another person. Regardless of his gender, this was my “first time,” and I’ll always remember it as such.