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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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.

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?

Twenty-Something Expectations, Why Are You a Thing?

Listen, ladies. You're stock photo models, your lives are not that together. Stop making the rest of us feel bad.

I, like many young people, spent much my school days thinking about how great it was going to be to get out of school. I pictured the bohemian chic apartment in the city, the satisfying job with a nonprofit, spending my evenings with someone tall, dark, and handsome, and generally relishing young adulthood. Whelp, I’m a few months out of college, living in an apartment where the only perk is the ever changing array of props the neighbors use to hold open their windows, working three jobs to scrape by, sleeping with the same stuffed animal I’ve had since I was a baby, and generally cursing my twenties.

I hadn’t factored in this early period of adulthood. I grew up middle class and sort of expected I’d just stay middle class, with the middle class perks. I did not. I dropped right out the bottom and skidded to a stop somewhere near the DES office downtown. I spent my first summer wholly confused. Actually, I spent that summer hiding under my covers. Pity party aside, it was not what I’d expected.

And that was my problem. I actually never gave much thought to my twenties, and whatever I did consider was influenced by TV and movies, where being broke is endearing and cute rather than exhausting and, frankly, unhygienic.

Slowly, when I couldn’t excuse myself to my friends and family and had to admit to my poverty, I discovered that this is what being in your early twenties is like. I found out that not only my very middle class parents started out on food stamps working as part time cashiers, but so did the very middle class parents of my friends. Even my step mom, who I was certain was born not only with her shit together, but her stocks lined up, had it rough in her twenties.

Um, hello? Why did no one mention this before the fetal position? Ladies (and dudes), this is how it is! By keeping our silence we only perpetuate the myth that if you can’t get your bills together, and something definitely just scurried behind the toilet, and that, no really, you just like pasta this much you’ve done something wrong. I was blaming my crummy situation on my grades in college. As my very wise mother pointed out: That C in “Our Place in the Universe” isn’t why I haven’t gotten my foot in the door at a nonprofit.

Oh. No, yeah. That makes sense. So, blame the economy (like we haven’t heard that one before) or your major (what am I going to do with that history degree?), and definitely blame your twenties (see above), but cut yourself some slack. Reread Harry Potter, watch the new America’s Next Top Model, and buy that interview dress before you even send out your resume.

Most of all, don’t give up on yourself. You rock my socks. Besides, being in the black is for vintage photos anyways.

I’ll leave you with this blog entry I wrote in a fit of American style pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps motivation during a brief reprieve from my summertime blues. I will admit that I didn’t live by this, but I did emerge from the summer and have since embraced my twenties for all that they are. And even for all that they aren’t.

Tabula Rasa Souffle

Ingredients:

1 dozen eggs

Months of plans

All your hopes

Life goals

Childhood dreams

High expectations

Directions: In one basket place: eggs, plans, hopes, goals, dreams, expectations. Scrap. Begin again, minus above ingredients. Do what you can with half a box of pasta, ketchup, and an old banana. Fight the rising nausea, blame the banana. Go grocery shopping. Try new things. Meet new people. Don’t worry so much about following the recipe.

You should also know I got that job with a nonprofit.

Life, I’ve decided, is about pure and simple happiness

Life is always changing. Ebbing, flowing, creating, destroying, simplifying, complicating. We’re told to expect the unexpected, but generally just end up taking it for granted that ths only thing consistent is inconsistency. We complain and whine and vent, but continue on the same monotonous paths we’ve always been on. We ask for meaning and insist that there has got to be more to it than this. Life can’t just be about getting drunk, being a star student, making the most money or having the most prestigious job. Life, I’ve decided, is about pure and simple happiness.

Revolutionary, right?

We’ve been endowed with this right of pursing happiness, but who among us is actively searching? I know that I’m not. I’ve let myself stay stuck. To stay mad about my college situation. To question my life and my choices and who I am. Where is the happy in that place? It is far too fleeting and I haven’t been doing much to hang onto it.

Happiness, for me,  is in friends, relationships, sunshine, travel, newly printed books, the perfect day for driving with the windows down and the radio blasting. It is in a good hair day, in hard work, in getting the job you wanted or into the program you’ve been dreaming of. It is in the little and the big things — but the little things are overlooked and the big are overwhelming. We’d rather bitch about the unhappy, the things that don’t go our way and the mistakes we make. I’m over the bitching, the anger, the upset, the scowls. Bring on the joy, the peace, the smiles.

Don’t we owe it to ourselves to live in joy? I don’t think people deserve unhappiness. Sure, things will go wrong, and we will feel bad, it is inevitable. But why are we wallowing? I am done asking “why me?” and lamenting my seemingly disastrous circumstances. I’m stepping up. I’m calling myself out on all of my bullshit. I am going to claim my right to pursue happiness.

Why not? Its so simple. Life is not how much money I have or living to the expectations of others. Those things are unimportant. I am important. So I’m going to stop and admire the view, I’m going to blast that song that I love to sing along to. I am going to wear my hair how I please. I will laugh inappropriately. I will travel. I’m going to love. Make mistakes. Fail. Create. Try. I know that the weight of the misery I think I feel is nothing in comparison to the lightness of joy.

So the meaning of life, my life, is happiness. I’m going for it. Will you?