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!

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Why I Choose to Marry

Don't want no wedding

Much like smoking, just say no!

“I’m never getting married!”

When I was young, this was my battle cry. While other girls my age were painstakingly planning out weddings with fluffy white gowns, ornate flower arrangements, and faceless grooms, I dug in my heels and said “No thanks, not for me.” Marriage was a way to put women in the house and exploit them for their labor. Marriage was a trap, and I was determined not to fall for it.

You see, my mom didn’t exactly sell me on the whole marriage thing. In her two marriages she was expected to fulfill all the household duties: cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the kids. She could have a job if she wanted, but it was more like an extracurricular: something that she could do, but if she did, she couldn’t neglect her “real” job.

Whenever I asked her about it, she would just shrug and say that that was marriage. It was just the way things were. They way they ought to be.

Well, fuck that! I didn’t want a job; I wanted a career. I wanted to make a difference. That’s what I was here to do, not clean dishes and make babies. This whole marriage thing was a scam. I was okay to have relationships, but the idea of binding myself to a man – to that life – was downright repulsive.

Now I find myself imagining what I’d look like in this dress — just… not in white.

But then I met this guy. This wondrous man, who showed me that relationships are partnerships, and the terms were up to those involved, not some arbitrary set of “traditional” roles. He did not demand that we have children. He understood that my career was an extension of me and that it came first. We would split chores. We would take care of our home together.  We would share a life – equally.

It never even occurred to me that it could be like that. Imagine, living your life with someone who wanted you to be an individual outside of your relationship. Someone who doesn’t demand you sacrifice yourself to the marriage or the home. Living in a “traditional” home, I spent my life fearing I was going to become a housewife. Anthony would rather I be me.

And that was when I realized: I still don’t want a “marriage.” I want a person. I want him. Don’t get me wrong. The legal rights are important for us to exist in our society as a couple, but, with them or without them, I’d still choose to be with him (similar to many others who still cannot marry).

I never dreamed of a white gown. I never even thought to dream of a partner for my life until Anthony.  Marriage is not a paper; it’s not a ceremony; it’s not a party. It’s a person and a relationship, both of which I would be foolish to let slip away.

That Unpleasant Moment When You are Completely Honest With Yourself

I hate my body. I hate the way it smolders and sweats in the summer, saturating my skin with filth, making me sticky. I hate the way it bloats — my face, my fingers, my feet, my knees — if the temperatures rises above 80 degrees.

I hate how no bra in the world fits my gigantic, bulbous breasts. I hate how they hang from my chest down to my stomach like an old woman’s, sagging like two sacks of flour from my shoulders. I hate that they force me into a hunch, making me look more grotesque than I already am. I hate that I have to wear a bra or my shoulders and back hurt.

I hate the way I jiggle with every step I take. Every molecule of fat in my body resonates with the shockwaves of my feet hitting the ground. Maybe it’s all this extra motion that’s really heating me up in the summer.

I hate my hair. How it breaks off and I have little pieces sticking up everywhere like I’m some child who got curious with a pair of scissors. I hate how the humidity frazzles it and blows it up like a goddamn A-bomb. I loathe how it curls up at the ends no matter how long it is or what the fuck I do with it.

I hate my thighs. Somewhere during college my they decided it would be cool to sweat and chafe painfully in the summer, making it virtually impossible to comfortably wear a skirt or a dress — which, ironically, would help me stay cooler.

I hate my face, how it can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be oval or heart-shaped, how my chin doubles up and sweat when I’m lying on my back.

I hate how my body never seems to respond the way I want it to. I can’t walk a couple of miles without feeling sweaty and miserable. I want it to get through a Muay Thai class — fuck, I would settle for getting through a warmup — without having to stop and catch my breath or without feeling like I’m going to hurl. I hate when I want to have sex but my body is “not in the mood.” Everything I do — or my fiance does — is wrong and mybody gives me a giant middle finger. I roll over and try to convince myself that Anthony isn’t disappointed — or that I’m not.

I hate the fact that I can’t eat whatever the fuck I want and not have to worry about getting fat and having the associated health concerns. I hate that by slipping up on healthy eating for only six months I bloated up eight pounds and gained an inch and a half on my waist. That’s not fucking fair. I can’t be perfect — why can’t my body cut me some fucking slack?

I hate that my pants don’t fit. I hate that most of my clothing looks terrible on me. I feel misshapen, lopsided. I hate seeing outfits and thinking “that’d look so great on me if I was smaller.” I hate not being able to wear pants on my hips. I hate that I can’t wear a summer dress and look good in it without having to put on heavy-duty underwear (read: bra or spanx), which, by the way completely defeats the point.

I miss having friends. Real friends, not people I watch drink whenever they feel inclined to invite me. Someone who might have gone shopping with me last week. Laughed with me, kept my mind off of how hot and miserable I was. I hate how all my attempts to reach out to people and make friends have ultimately failed.

I hate how I used to hate coming home alone at night and how now that’s all I really want to do. I hate how sometimes it seems like no matter what I do, even when I affectively make change, I will still be miserable. I hate that I’m afraid that if my fiance comes up to Philly, I’ll drag him down with me.

I hate that I spent my mile-and-a-half journey this afternoon thinking about what I would say at Dad’s funeral if he committed suicide. I hate that I did the most desperate thing I could to try and make him fix things with me, and he still doesn’t want to meet me half way.

It always seems to come back to that, doesn’t it?

The Only “Girls” I Need Share My Surname

After watching the first three episodes of HBO’s “Girls” twice, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the show. I can see the truth in many of its criticisms, but I can also see the value in much of its praise. In particular, Heather’s post about finding value in the strong female friendships the show portrays struck me in an interesting way. I began to think that perhaps the reason I don’t necessarily identify with “Girls” is because most of my close friends are, well, dudes.

My best friend and me graduating from college.

This has pretty much always been the case. From kindergarten until now, I’ve always felt stronger connections with men than with women. And since this realization I’ve been trying to figure out why this has been the case. I think it’s been a combination of competition (what with the ever-ubiquitous array of female body image issues and popularity contests), the particular mental strengths and weaknesses I exhibit (spatial and mathematical intelligence is an overwhelmingly male trait), and a very interesting interaction that I can remember down to the second.

Fifth grade. (Gosh, that was a horrible year for me, wasn’t it?) The most popular girl in the class was named Brianna, and her best friends were Michaela and Sarah. At lunch, we would all go out and play four square (the game with the ball and the four squares drawn in chalk on the sidewalk, not the smart phone check-in game). The rules of four square are simple: you bounce a ball around and try to get people “out” of their squares  by hitting the ball towards them in such a way that prevents them from hitting it back toward you.

Because Briana was the most popular, she was in the “A” square, Michaela was in the “B” square, and Sarah was in the “C” square. Everyone else lined up for our chance in the “D” square, only to be taken out each time and to go to the back of the line. Until the one day I accidentally (seriously) got Briana out of the “A” square. All the girls walked away, to a different four square court to play the game, and left me alone in the original court. They didn’t talk to me for weeks, if memory serves. I think it was then that I stopped trusting women—I never had that feeling Heather described, that they would always be there for me, so I tended to abandon the females in my life (creating major friendship rifts and then opportunities for reconciliation, but I’ll get into that another time).

There are a couple notable exceptions to this rule: my mother and my sister.

My sister, Kimberly, is two years, two months, and one day younger than I am. She is an aspiring actress living in New York City. She, like me, has a multitude of things on her mind at any given time. For sake of keeping her privacy, I won’t talk specifically about her personal life, but Kimberly has had some hurdles to jump in her life. People keep telling me how brave I was to move to Philadelphia after college, but Kimberly moved to New York freakin’ City at age 18 to go to college. She auditioned for shows, got herself a job and friends and roommates, and basically owned her college experience. Now she’s focusing on her career full time, becoming a real adult. She’ll be 21 in a couple weeks. I love her very much.

But Kimberly and I were not always close. Indeed, when we were younger, we used to fight a lot. And not just verbally, physically too. I still have scars from some of those fights. But I think that came from a fundamental misunderstanding of each other. We’re very different people. I used to think to myself that I wouldn’t be friends with Kimberly if we weren’t sisters.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

See, growing up, we moved around a lot. Part of the reason I don’t have long-lasting female friendships is because I don’t have a lot of long-lasting friendships. In the pre-Facebook days, it was pretty hard to stay in touch with people in Hong Kong when we were living in Connecticut. The only person who was around the whole time was Kimberly. And yeah, that definitely contributed to my frustration with her and our relationship. She was always there, no matter what. She was the constant. And at the time I saw it as a bad thing, but now I don’t know what I would do without it.

The photo album caption for this photo is, “baby sandwich.”

To be honest, I couldn’t have moved to the east coast if she wasn’t here, if I didn’t see her a few weekends a month. Siblings can be the annoying thorns in your side, but she knows me better than anyone else (except my mom, which I’ll get to in a second). I’ve known her for her entire life, we’ve shared some pretty incredible experiences (snorkeling in Australia, for example), and I know that no matter what happens, she will be there for me. I always thought she wouldn’t understand what I was going through, that she was too self-absorbed or that she didn’t have the experience necessary to bring me up from my lowest lows. But often, she’s the only one who can. She believes in me in a way that not many other people do. And I believe in her. And we have this weird telepathic connection such that when I’m feeling sad, I get a call or a text from her. And vice versa. It’s awesome.

And I could write pages and pages about my mom. She’s such an amazing woman, coming up from so much hardship and putting herself aside any time I’m freaking out about my job or my roommates or a boyfriend. She, like Kimberly, always has my best interests in mind. Honestly, I’m going to cut it off there, because she deserves her own blog post. The maternal figure is sacred in my mind, especially because of how she always understood me, even though most people didn’t. Because she pushed me to be friends with Kimberly when I didn’t want to. Because even in my deepest moments of despair, she believes in me. She sees all the beauty in the world that is sometimes hard to grasp. I have so much admiration for that.

I didn’t realize how my relationships with my mom and sister had changed my outlook on friendships with women until I watched “Girls.” I realized that although most of my close friendships are with men, I’ve definitely been fostering more relationships with women. And I feel like I have my newfound appreciation for Kimberly to thank for that. She brought me out of my fifth grade four square darkness and into the light. Women can be catty and competitive, but if you give them a chance, they can also be extremely caring and loving.

So ultimately, I don’t feel the exact same camaraderie that Marnie and Hannah share in “Girls.” But I feel like I’m getting there. As a wise women once told me, “You just… you just have to focus on your mind.” It didn’t make sense at the time (seeing as it was skiing advice from an eight-year-old Kimberly Diamond that caused my dad to almost fall off the ski lift laughing), but maybe that’s what I’m coming into. Being myself and being able to open up to women in my life is something my mom and sister have taught me, and I think will make me a better person in the long run.

On the Value of Confrontation

I began writing this post as a beautifully parsed, blog-optimized list. We all love lists, and I was ready to give you 3 great reasons why you should confront more people in your life. But I decided that this is much better expressed as an anecdote. I want to tell you how I came to value confrontation and why it is so important to me.

It all goes back to my mother. These things often do, don’t they? Unlike many parents, Mom never gave me “because I say so” as a reason for anything. I always received a rationale and was encouraged to disagree. Being the obstinate child that I was, my mother and I often debated. Being the precocious child that I was, I often won.

Mom was never afraid to talk things out, to speak up when I upset her, or to listen to me when I had similar complaints. Doing this created a space of openness and honesty between us that we maintained into my adulthood. She was the first person I told when I had sex with my now-fiancee (spoiler: she was not happy about it). She was the first person in my family I told that I did not believe in God (again — not happy). But because we were not afraid of confronting each other, we were able to learn from and understand one another. It was hands-down the best part about our relationship.

Far too many people — women in particular — avoid conflict in their lives. They think that confrontation somehow damages their bonds or makes people not like them. This is simply untrue. Good relationships are strengthened by disagreements. They inspire trust and communication between both parties. In contrast, the people and alliances that cannot withstand conflict are not worth your time. They will eventually fail either way.

If having good relationships wasn’t enough, consider this: I hated my mother. I hated her because the resentment I held for her festered and grew in me like a mold through my life. I never told her about the continual emotional distress she placed on me. Despite all of our conversations, all of our openness, I couldn’t tell her that one of the largest sources of pain in my life was her.

Mom is dead. I can’t resolve our conflict now. I carry that animosity today — and may for the rest of my life. I don’t want that anger, but I can’t get rid of it. Perhaps if I had not been afraid to tell her, to disagree, to conflict like we always did, I would remember Mom with much more fondness than I do today.

So when someone — anyone — hurts you, weigh your reaction carefully. Consider the benefits to be gained if you confront them. Consider the price you might pay if you don’t. Now, doesn’t a little disagreement seem like it might be worth it?

Getting Over My Fear of Orphan Life

Sara in "A Little Princess"

Late Thursday night, my BlackBerry rang. Having been unable to sleep due to immense anxiety, I leaped out of bed to grab the phone. Before answering the call, I breathed a sigh of relief as the word “MOM” spread across the screen in large print. Upon hearing her voice on the other line, I began to sob.

This isn’t how I normally react to phone calls from my mom, but I’d been worried sick about her for nearly 24 hours. She typically calls or text messages me numerous times each day, so on the rare occasions I can’t get a hold of her, I fear something horrible has happened. It may sound crazy to you, but if you knew my mom’s constant correspondence with family members, you’d be puzzled by extended absence on her part, too.

“Why are you so upset?” she asked. “I hosted a dinner party and kept my phone upstairs.”

“I was scared you were in trouble,” I said. “I don’t think I could take it if you died.”

“I’m fine, Laura,” she said. “I’ll do my best to stay healthy so I can be around at least another thirty years for you, but even if I’m not around then, I’d hope you would realize you have a lot of people in your life who love you.”

You may think I jumped to conclusions by assuming my mom’s MIA status meant she was no longer with us, but there are many reasons why radio silence from her end would put me in a state of panic. As many of you know, I lost my dad to cancer in high school, so burying another parent now would make me an orphan at 23. In the 1800s, it wasn’t so unusual for people to be parent-less at this age, but times have changed quite a bit since then. With the “emerging adulthood” phenomenon, many of us lack the funds and maturity to fully break away from our parents. With the exception of phone service (thanks mom!), I’ve been financially independent since October, so money wouldn’t be a problem if my mother were to meet her demise. I wouldn’t, however, be mature enough to cope, and I’d probably end up following my New York friends around like a puppy. I’m not going to even mention how much it would crush me not to have my mom in my life.

I’ve spoken to several friends about this, and they’ve all said something along the lines of: “Your dad passed away when you were just a teenager, so wouldn’t losing your mom in your twenties be easier?” Absolutely not. In fact, I’ll venture to say it would be much harder for me to lose a parent as a young adult than in high school, as I was well taken care of and attended to when my dad died. I led a comfortable life in suburban northern California and was months away from starting college. While waiting for the birth of their first son, my brother and his wife looked out for me all the time during that difficult period of my life. So did many others. That wouldn’t necessarily be the case now. I live on a different coast than my older brothers, who have always been more like parents than siblings to me, so I’d be apart from the relatives who could help me most. You lose a parent as a child and everyone wants to take care of you. You lose a parent as an adult and everyone expects you to handle the logistics and believes you’re grown up enough to deal with tragedy.

Sara and her father in "A Little Princess"

This wasn’t the first time I worried something had happened to my mom. A few months ago, I received a phone call from a hometown neighbor who said she spotted my Jack Russell Terrier, Roxy wandering around some of the lawns on our block. The night before, high winds had whipped through the state of California and destroyed lots of property, among the damage being my backyard fence. After that blew down, Roxy escaped and explored the rest of the neighborhood. Thankfully, my neighbor found her and took her in, but was calling to see if my mom had gone on vacation.

“No,” I said. “Why?”

“Because we’ve been trying to reach her for hours and she hasn’t answered the phone,” she said. “No one is answering the front door, either.”

“Well, she’s probably at work,” I said.

But I couldn’t reach her, either. It was then that a million possibilities rushed through my head. What if she’d finally been defeated by Highway 17, the deadly, foggy road she had been taking to and from work for 15 years? The stretch of freeway is known for taking the lives of the unprepared, distracted, or just plain unlucky, as its a windy road nestled in  mountains where deer frequently cause vehicle pileups or accidents. I worried my mom had joined many others in becoming a victim of Highway 17 during bad weather.

You’d think my worries would annoy my mom, but she has vowed to text me every single day to keep me posted on her agenda. She left a voicemail for me last night that went something like this: “Hi, Laura, I’m just calling to let you know that I’m okay.” I laughed a little, realizing how silly she must feel about notifying me everyday that she’s still breathing.

That was when it dawned on me that I cannot sit around worrying about becoming an orphan. It is going to happen eventually (if I’m lucky, because let’s be honest, it’s wrong for parents to survive their kids), and fretting about it will do nothing to prepare me for the awful day that hopefully won’t come for several decades. But even if it does, I have many friends and family members who would help me get through my loss, just as they did when my dad lost his battle to the c-word. A fearful life does nothing for my relationship with my mom, so I’m promising to just accept things as they happen from now on and have faith that I’ll be able to endure whatever comes my way.

I'm free!

Tell me, friends, what is your biggest fear, and are you going to liberate yourself of it?