The real world or The Real World

This is my first semester in 18 years in which I am not taking a class. Not a single one. The next five months are dedicated to finishing my thesis (read: glorified research paper) and studying for my comprehension exams so I can graduate in the summer. And then…and then…

Several of the people in and around my life have asked me what I am going to do in the “real world” once I graduate. For a while, I went along with this question and gave some very satisfying answers about job prospects, traveling, and purchasing at least five more cats within the next two years. But I’m becoming irked by this question, not because I don’t have a solid plan, but because of its implication. Since when was being in school not a “real” thing? Will my Master’s degree be imaginary, some mathematical equivalent to non-existence, i? I certainly hope not, seeing as the time, money, and brain-space sacrificed has a definite value of 18 years—no more and no less.

Imaginary Kate posing at Imaginary undergrad graduation, posing with Real Grandma. What a headache.

Without a doubt, we’ve all talked about, dreamed about, wondered and skirted around this “Real World” concept, so I pose the question to you: what in the flying f*ck is the Real World and how do I become a Real Person in order to live within its space? If am on the cusp of entering this place, then I feel like I need some clarification in order to avoid becoming a nonentity. It is my understanding that this is a place where a body is not in school, has its own job, pays it bills, and has a few more responsibilities that make it a commendable part of a working society (Note: professional students CLEARLY do not meet these qualifications).

Barf

Do this for the Real World and you’re an automatic IN.

It’s not like this is something I can look up and research, either, seeing as MTV has a monopoly on the Real World and has occupied it since 1992. But if I take my lessons from this Real World, then there are certain themes for my new life to be on the look-out for:

  1. Prejudice
  2. Politics & religion
  3. Romance
  4. Sexuality
  5. Unrequited love
  6. Departed house-mates
  7. On-screen marriage
  8. Coping with illness

Interesting how I never experienced any of this in the last 18 years (well,  “On-screen marriage” might be tricky to argue, but my sass is on a roll). Maybe the point of school is to prepare myself for these “recurring themes.” Maybe the purpose of my Latin America seminars in 2011 and 2012 was to teach me that there are some fiercely homophobic bros out there who love to hate on AIDS-ridden gays. I’m certain that my Marine Biology class from 2008 amply provided the life-skills for when my roommate moved out and we scrambled to find a new one. And the most important lesson, one that was a tough learn in the History of Revolutions course I took in 2009, was that of unrequited love…for immediate and radical change brought on by the people for the benefit of the whole and not the few…oh, wait, that has nothing to do with MTV’s Real World, because that might have actual, long-term, and significant change as opposed to the “longest running reality TV show” claim to fame. THAT must be part of Non-Real World.

I am so not prepared for the Real World if this is what it takes. But if my hunch about “reality” is right, that finding a job, paying my bills, and interacting with a larger community that is outside of (but not necessarily separate or far from) academia, then I’m certain I will do just find and y’all can stop saying Welcome to the Real World!

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.

On Being a Chicken Vegetarian

Much like this pokemon, I trained to be a vegetarian.

I’ve been a vegetarian for about a year now. It’s been a long 2-year struggle, where I evolved from a weekend vegetarian, to weekday, to full time. Even now, I go weak at the knees for tuna fish and sushi. I decided to make this lifestyle change, at first because I had a partner who encouraged me, and then, when I moved to Atlanta, I committed 100% (give or take 30%) to no-meat meals.

There are loads of reasons why I changed my diet: to prove that I could, to eat consciously, to be healthy, to lose weight, to be Green, for animal rights, because obesity runs in the family, for my well being, to stave off cancer/heart disease/diabetes, to save money, to protest animal factory farms, because vegetarians have higher IQs, and more…

Oh, there’s that reason, too.

When people ask me why I chose to be a vegetarian, my brain lights up. I pull any one of those answers from a hat and sell my story. Then the meat-headed investigation: How do you get your protein? I hear that’s really unhealthy. I love meat too much! I’m a natural meat-eater. Are you healthy? How can you do that? Do you eat turkey? No… I’m serious… can you eat turkey? I answer these questions to the best of my ability and cross my fingers that said individuals don’t ask me about my thoughts on Vegan lifestyles. If you think the intolerance for vegetarians is judgmental, I pity the soft-hearted vegans.

I DARE you to call him a hippie…

Regardless of how prepared I am for these questions, my face will always flush, I feel flustered and frustrated, and stutter my way through a response. I have no confidence, whatsoever, when it comes to defending my choice. This insecurity is a little unfamiliar to me, an active, queer, feminist, liberal arts graduate student. Where’s my pride? Where’s my fire? Why am I so anxious about being judged for my diet, of all things?

Eating, in general, makes me nervous. What I eat, the amount I eat, how long I eat, how I make my food, what I make my food with, snacking, gorging, nomming, starving…the whole process makes me hands so clammy that I can hardly hold my cutlery. These feelings come from my parents, for the most part: my mother is a picky eater and my father has been on every diet that was ever published in a book, all of which he owns. Since I’ve become a vegetarian, though, my diet has made me feel less like a loser: I only eat ONE sleeve of oreos, I cook and bake most of my foods, switched from canola/vegetable oil to slighter amounts of olive oil, discovered the beauty of tofu and shallots. I love cooking now like I had never loved it before.

My favorite vegetarian bible book thus far, Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer, is home to favorite food-quote: “Stories about food are stories about us—our history and our values.” This puts me at ease, because I feel as if I’ve begun a new chapter. I want to write a meaningful story with my food, and the past year was filled with a lot of french fry fights, drive-by cheese shootings, cookiebrowniecupcake craves, and plenty, PLENTY of cheeseburger desires. I can’t shake off my intense want for certain meat foods. Lately, all I can think about is diving into a pool of corndogs. But that can be part of my food-story, where I approach a carnival-feast mountain and choose to go around it instead of climbing up and sinking in.

On letting go of who you want to be and accepting who you are

With less than a month to go before I’ll have completed my undergraduate education, there’s been a lot of reflecting going on around me. As I look back on the person I’ve become and the person I used to be, it’s hard for me to imagine how I got to where I am today.

Call it what you want—growing up, gaining experiences, or maturing—I’ve changed since my freshman year.

Thinking I wanted to be one of these was fun for a while.

When I entered college, I was pre-med. I wanted to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. The prospect of a career as a doctor was intriguing to me, partly because of the money and stability, partly because I had no idea what else to do with my life and I had liked biology in high school. As I exit the University of Michigan, I’ll be pursuing a career in journalism. Undoubtedly, I won’t have a stable career. Journalism, as a profession, is one of great movement. I’m assuming I’ll have more than a couple job changes before I’m 25. Who knows, I might even change professions again.

Right around the same time I decided to pursue journalism, some other changes were happening.

For my first two years of college (and this probably applies more to sophomore year), I had in my head an idea of who I wanted to be. The old me used to go to the library every day. I finished papers well in advance of when they were due. I used to proofread everything. I used to attend every single class period. I would wake up at 7 a.m. every morning, including weekends, just so I could say that I did. If I wasn’t in bed by midnight, something was wrong. I would forego hanging out with friends because I had an orgo exam. But I wasn’t doing wonderfully in school. It was frustrating to work so hard and still feel like a failure. I made my bed every day and kept my room spotless. I wanted to appear perfect to the outside world, but I was shy and scared. I never participated in class, oral presentations scared me, and I was self-conscious about everything. I would stress about every little imperfection.

This is so cheesy, right?

Eventually I came to the realization that I wasn’t enjoying myself. I dropped any pretense that I was, or could ever be, a perfect human being. I started to let go of some of the control that I felt I needed. I changed my major to something more attainable (Brain, Behavior, and Cognitive Science). I began to open up more in front of my friends. I put my flaws on display.

Whereas I used to suppress all emotions and pretend to be happy all the time, now I can recognize my unhappiness. I used to be content. Looking back, my emotions were flat-lined. Now, I even let myself wallow in unhappiness and self-loathing, but it only makes those happy moments that much better. I’m definitely having more fun. I’ve learned to not take myself (and life) so seriously. I participate all the time in class without worrying that everyone thinks I’m stupid; oral presentations in front of a class of 80 are no sweat.

I’m hesitant to call my old self insecure, but looking back, that had to have been the unrecognized root of at least some of my problems. Not all the changes I’ve experienced were positive. Some have had negative effects on my life, but I’ve matured and I’m embracing the new me. Or is it the real me?

The sexiest thing a woman can wear

I have a complicated relationship with magazines. I say I hate how Cosmopolitan articles focus more on male satisfaction than female gratification, but my friends point out that I still read every issue, so how much could I hate it? This is similar to my complicated relationship with Starbucks Pumpkin Spice lattes: I know they’re evil, but I just don’t quit.

In my constant diet of  Seventeen up through Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Marie Claire, and InStyle, there are a few pervasive claims I’ve noticed in these glossies. One of these is the idea that shampoo you can use on yourself and also on a horse is a positive. Another is the claim that confidence is the sexiest trait, act, or item of clothing a woman can wear.

I’ve heard my entire conscious life that a confident woman is sexier than a Victoria’s Secret model. The idea of what is sexy obviously varies, but the cultural ideal of what is sexy – even the version that includes “smart” along with “thin” and “attractive” – doesn’t exactly make for confident people. I’d like it to be true that a girl who knew how awesome she is would be asked out before a girl who looked like a Victoria’s Secret model, but that requires more airbrushing of the truth than your average VS catalog.

Because confidence has been elevated like this, trying to seem confident has become more important in the minds of would-be sexy ladies than the pursuit of actually being confident. Instead of pursuing the kind of confidence that involves owning up to cellulite, dealing with jealousy of others’ success, or admitting you struggle with believing the value of your voice, we pretend to be confident because we think it will make us sexier. I know I’ve spent nights pretending I loved myself because I thought it would make me seem more intriguing or alluring.

But unlike other factors that make you sexy, confidence isn’t like new bustier. Confidence is a complicated cocktail of age, experience, and intention – one that doesn’t always get you noticed from across the bar. A short list of things in your closet quicker than confidence are high heels, push-up bras, and leather. They’re also more likely to get you noticed sexually.

Like the fact that chocolate has calories, the fact that the people who are most at peace with themselves aren’t the sexiest, most-pursued people is a deeply lamentable fact. Claiming they are only further jumbles the already-twisted path towards confidence. Here’s some real advice the magazines ought to feature: don’t use the same shampoo on yourself that you use on your horse, and don’t try to be confident because you think it will make you sexy. Trying to be sexy and trying to be confident are both worthwhile at their respective times, but let’s not pretend that one leads to the other.