The sins of our fathers: it's our time to make amends

I equally can't and can believe this is happening. That today, over halfway through 2017, we're still arguing over whether people chanting racist slurs and complaining about "white oppression" are wrong or right or Nazis. Hey, guys — they're Nazis. It's simple. When you become a white supremacist, you are buying into the same ideals that rose to power in Germany in the 30s. And when you sit by and look to the side so they can pass you by, when you shrug and say, "Well, freedom of speech...", when you refuse to condemn because you don't think we can legislate morality...you are complicit. No, you might not be circling a Black church in Charlottesville or ramming your car into counter-protesters, but you are standing by and doing nothing, and that, my friends, makes you equally responsible.

Listen, I recognize that writing this post might be futile, because people are rarely convinced by logical arguments and whatnot. But at the same time, I have to do it. Because what happened this weekend in Virginia was...disgusting. And what I'm seeing from fellow white people, especially white Christians who have little to fear, is a lot of nothing. No condemnation, no horror, no disgust. Nothing.

Well, that's wrong. I am seeing something. I'm seeing a shrugging off of responsibility. An attitude that says, I am not like these people, I am not a Nazi, therefore I have nothing to apologize for and well, it's not my fault so I shouldn't have to speak out against it.

The internet won't tell me definitively who said it, but someone once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” And even though I can't tell you exactly who said it, I can tell you it's true.

So if you're a "good man" (er, person) you can't sit back and do and say nothing. Speaking out against these acts is the bare minimum.

And you know what? Sure, I didn't personally step out in hate in Charlottesville. But I am a white woman, and it is true that 53 percent of white women in America voted for Trump. It's also true that he refused to specifically condemn white supremacy, and that the website The Daily Stormer (which I won't link to because it's disgusting), took his comments as positive reinforcement of their beliefs, including "God Bless Him" at the end of their rundown of his statement. I mean, when Nazis are saying you're on their side...you're on their side.

So there's that fact: I did not personally vote for Trump, but the majority of white women did. Because white women all benefit from a system of white supremacy. Yes: women as a whole earn 79 percent of what men do. But wait, there's more! Black women earn 67 cents to the white man's dollar. Aka, white women, while still earning less than white men, earn more than Black women. There is inequality in this country, and inevitably white people come on top; and while white men benefit the most, white women definitely benefit from a system of white supremacy.

And that's what I'm apologizing for. No, I didn't choose to be born white and privileged, able-bodied and straight. But I was. And I live in a country that gives me privileges based on those factors. And the very least I can do is recognize that privilege, apologize for it, and work to equalize the playing field.

White men are scared — why? They're not in any real danger; unless that's the danger of losing their advantage.

And no, this is not a post where you can come and "not all white people" or "not all men" me. I'm not here for that.

I'm simply here to say, listen, fellow white people, we've been privileged all throughout history. We've been afforded and we've taken power and advantage where we could, and we've downtrodden everyone else. And sure, maybe it wasn't this current generation of white people who killed and corralled and stole Native American lives and land. Maybe it wasn't our generation who enslaved Black people and then freed them but kept them subjugated. Maybe it wasn't this generation who imprisoned Japanese people in internment camps. But it is this generation who is refusing to open our doors to Muslim immigrants and refugees who are forced to leave their own homes out of fear for their lives. It is this generation who is so afraid we're OK with building a freaking wall just to keep out Mexicans. It is this generation of white people who have benefitted from a history of white supremacy, and it is this generation of white people whose job it is to stand up and say "Enough already, it's time to equalize."

Maybe that means minimizing ourselves in order to be equal. Maybe it just means grabbing someone's hand and helping them along. Either way: do what you have to do to make up for the sins of our fathers.

I mean, guys, come on, this is Biblical! In the book of Daniel, he prays and asks forgiveness not only for his own sins, but for those of his fathers. He says Jerusalem is a reproach because of things past generations had done.

If you won't take it from me, take it from the mouth of a prophet: until we atone for the wrongs our forefathers wrought upon others, we will also be a reproach.

 

On a see-saw: a metaphor (duh) on needing others

Today I see-sawed savagely between emotions, swinging from finger-shaking beginnings of panic to heart-sunk depression to soaring giddiness to just plain tired. It's been an emotional week for me, all told; I've hit some real lows but also had some great fun. There have been tears and this sense of total lostness, like I'm wandering and will never be found.

And I've been hit where I don't want to hurt, where I feel most confident.

In a weird way, I'm super confident that I'm a great barista. It's an odd thing to take pride in, but I do think I'm fairly good not just at preparing food and drink that will make people happy and content, but also at making them feel welcomed, at home, like Albero is a place they can chill and chat and sort of refresh.

I'm not gonna claim to be the reason Albero is that, because my coworkers are incredible, personable and really quite hilarious. They do just fine on their own at making people love the little cafe.

But I do believe I add something.

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And of course, of course, freaking depression has hit that thing that I'm weirdly confident and supremely proud of. I've been anxious over my performance and place in the company, and I've been concerned that maybe, just maybe, I'm not actually great at my job.

You see, some people are better than I am at being a barista. I've been told that I'm not the best, that others do a better job. And of course I translate that to, you're the worst, Karis, get out while you're ahead. Go sit in an office and cry.

I tell people that one of my hidden talents is the ability to turn anything into a negative. You can compliment me, tell me something incredibly nice, and I (almost) guarantee I'll be able to twist it into something horrible.

You're getting so good at making those Cappuccinos, Karis! you say, thinking you're paying me a compliment on my teachability and improvement.

Wow, I can't believe I sucked so bad that people noticed! I translate, not accepting praise because how can it possibly be true? How can anything good be true of me?

That's the root of this week's problems. There's nothing wrong with my job, no areas where I've been told I need to improve upon. It can be stressful, but so can any job. I enjoy my days off, of course, but that doesn't mean I don't love being in the building, pulling shots, baking croissants and talking up my favorite gelato pairing, the blackberry sorbet with chocolate (it's oh-my-lanta delicious, y'all!).

And yet.

And yet I panic, concerned that my bosses think I'm a failed investment and my coworkers giggle behind my back, mocking my incompetence. There are shining moments of goodness, when someone tastes my Latte and raves, someone else tells me the panino I assembled so carefully was delicious...that special moment when a customer howled with laughter at a joke I made and said it was the funniest thing she'd heard all day.

These are the reasons I get out of bed, the reasons I work at a cafe instead of trying to land a job in an office, in my field. Because I love the movement of it, the adrenaline, the humanity. The endless stories that come, the rush of inspiration at every new scrape of the door against the floor, every interesting angle by which the sun slants into the room.

There is so much life in my little cafe, and because I love it I fear losing it.

And so. So I've been shaking and sinking and losing myself in a mire of sadness and worry.

But here's the other thing about today's see-saws. Every time I swung back upwards, it was because of someone. Because a familiar face walked through the door and smiled at me, referenced a random running joke we have. Because a coworker patted me on the back and made a hilarious joke in accented yet beautiful English. Because we were training the new guy, making strangers laugh and feel at home in a place that is so not their home.

IMG_3137Because my photography-inclined coworker took a picture of me with the sun behind and said it was beautiful even though I felt as ugly as possible. Because they asked about recent updates in my life and genuinely, literally cared about my future, took time to ask probing questions and make sure I don't make the wrong decision. Because I'm making friends and it feels good, and I was so scared to leave Farinella because of my family there, but it turns out you can have family in two, three, four places and it's OK, it's all OK.

Because there's always an upswing.

The see-saw might take you down, slam you against the ground with such force your teeth clatter against each other and your butt stings, but it always goes back up. Even better — it eventually levels out. That's the sweet spot: the moment when you're hovering between the two, not on the ground and not in the air, just balanced, just stable.

But like, if you try to see-saw alone, you're gonna end up stuck on the ground or suspended in air. You need another person to balance you out.

We — you, I, your cousin, the dude you saw on the subway — we need each other. Life kinda sorta really sucks when you live it on your own. It's just no good. It's the people that pull us up, the people that balance us out. We can't do any of this alone. There's a reason God created more than just one person; it's because we're helpless on our own.

So today, I'm thankful for the people who pulled me up and balance me out. Sure sometimes they aren't enough to keep me from smashing into the ground, but so far, they've always been there to life me back up.

Some days, we are weak

  It was [mostly] fine. I've been depressed all week, but today was going pretty well.

And then, I couldn't start my novel.

I feel completely paralyzed and terrified. Because I'm so excited for this novel but what if...what if it's not good? What if I can't get the words to come out? What if I'm bad at this whole writing thing and should just give it up.

I know that as soon as I get into the swing of writing, I'll be excited again and the momentum will bear me forward and I'll spend my pizza shifts biting my nails and thinking about storylines and how to weave them; about characters and what they're going to show me next; about setting and descriptions and how best to dance with the words.

But right now I'm frozen by indecision and fear. How do I start that first sentence? What if I start it wrong and the whole thing collapses, trying to rest on the weight of an incompetent sentence?

Ah, the insecurity. It haunts me in everything I do, but the worst is when it haunts my writing. Because that's one thing I've been sure of for almost my whole life.

When I was in elementary school, I started telling people I was gonna be a writer when I grew up. I was confident in my writing, and have been for most of my life. It's one of the few things I'm not insecure about.

My looks? My positive feelings for them balance on a hair, and I can swing in a day from thinking I'm beautiful to the conviction that I'm the ugliest being ever made.

My smarts? Some days I feel witty, clever, intelligent, and then I'm swamped by how dumb and worthless I am.

My customer service skills? I go from patting myself on the back for being friendly and charming to hitting my head on the wall because I'm rude and awkward.

Everything, anything about me? I have a love-hate (but mostly hate) relationship with myself.

Except for my writing.

Except for today, when I'm starting something new and the desire to be perfect is a weight I cannot bear, a burden I can no longer carry.

I want — need — to be the best in all things. I have this idea in my mind that somehow I'm starting at a disadvantage, that there are points against me. I talk a lot with my counselor about this feeling of inadequacy, this impostor syndrome, as though I stole the chance at life from another potential human way back when I was nothing but a sperm trying to fertilize an egg. And maybe that's why I try so hard to be the best; maybe that's why, when I'm not the best, I am so hard on myself. Maybe that's why my default reaction and punishment is death to myself. Because I don't believe I deserve life.

Sometimes when I'm talking to people, they think I'm a perfectionist and I desire to be the best because of pride. And it is that, to an extent.

But it's also because I'm searching high and low for a reason for my existence.

And today, I can't find it. I want to write this book, oh, how I want to write this book. I'm ready. I'm ready, my gosh have I been ready to be a writer since the first time I realized books could still be written.

And yet. And yet here I am, wondering if I deserve to breathe.

Oh, guys. This depression is so hard some days. Some days I just cry for no reason, I feel like there's a boulder on my back just pushing me into the ground. Some days I feel like my insides are being scooped out by an ice cream scoop, like they're cracking wide and spilling like a fault line in an earthquake. I feel shaken, vulnerable, desperate, afraid, weak.

Some days I'm fine with being depressed. Some days I feel like a conqueror, like a warrior, like someone who can bring hope to someone else and overcome even the darkest and slipperiest shadows.

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And some days I'm just tired. So bone-tired.

 

Today I'm tired. But I don't have the luxury of giving in anymore. I have responsibilities and friends and loved ones, and for that — for the pizzeria that needs me, for the friends who for God knows what reason seem to love me, for the people I love and don't want to miss out on, I'll get up and I'll work and I'll go forth.

And I guess I'll write my novel, and I'll hope that when I wake up tomorrow I feel victorious again. One can only dream, I suppose.

 

The anti-suicide manifesto

It's not a secret that I struggle with depression. Or that I was diagnosed as bipolar. What is, I assume, a secret, is how much those two things affect me on a daily basis. How often I am incapacitated by my emotions. How many times I retreat into my prison cell of a mind and torture myself with thoughts of how little worth I have, how insignificant I am, how things would be better without me... Even in New York, in grad school, in this world of journalism, I fall victim to my own insecurities and self-hatred. I thought coming here would change everything, but I've realized ... I can't be changed by a place, a career or a person. No outside influence is going to swoop down and rescue me.

There will be days when I truly believe I can't go on. And my salvation has to come from the inside.

A while ago I developed a mantra, a life motto if you will:

But that wasn't enough. I still flirted with the idea of ending my life. I still felt agonizingly alone. I still wondered if I had what it took to survive.

Until a few days ago. I was on the train, ricocheting on the tracks, and I wondered what would happen if the train detailed. If I died. What would people say? What would they feel?

And if I died through my own will?

And that's when I promised myself that wouldn't happen. That wouldn't be my story.

Because I'm a writer, I wrote. I wrote a manifesto explaining exactly why that wouldn't happen.

It was supposed to just be for me, to keep on my desktop and remind me of my pledge. But I'm also an oversharer with an intense need to be known and understood. So I'm doing the same thing I did a few months ago with my definition of success: I'm sharing.

Below, for the world to see and hold me accountable to, is my anti-suicide manifesto.

I am not someone who died too young. I am not full of unrealized potential. I am not a sad obituary of one snatched away too soon. I will not be published and celebrated posthumously. My funeral will not be filled with hundreds of peers who can't believe I'm gone so early. My life will not be snuffed out in its prime.

There will be no tears of disbelief, no sobs, no anger at me or God. My parents will not witness my demise.

I am no cautionary tale.

I will be someone who chose life always, no matter what. No matter how many scars litter my arms, no matter how many tears scald my cheeks, no matter how many days pass without the sun. Rain, shine, hurricane, tornado. Fall, winter, spring, summer. In my 20s, my 30s, my 60s and 80s: as long as it is in my power, I will choose life.

I am not a statistic, a number, a blip on a police scanner. I am not a memory, a ghost or "somebody that you used to know."

I will not be the granddaughter, niece, cousin, friend you refuse to speak of. Some days I might be the granddaughter, niece, cousin, friend you refuse to speak to. But I will be there.

I will be at every birthday party, in every family photo, part of every wedding.

Holidays will not be sad because they remind you of me. They will be joyous because I will be there to make you laugh.

Through everything, I will remember: He. Is. Here. He is life, He is here, and so am I.

I am not death. I am filled with life.

This is the closest thing to a suicide note I will ever write. It is my anti-suicide note.

That is my promise, my vow, my oath.

The Idea Machine, or, how to actually write a good story

A while back, a friend asked me how I get my story ideas. I told her I have a machine in my bedroom, and anytime I need a story, I crank the lever and it shoots out an idea. It's kind of like a pitching machine, so I have to get all geared up in my helmet and gloves and I have to dive for it to catch it before it vanishes into thin air and never gets told.

That's a total falsehood, by the way. I did not tell her that; I just thought it might make the story better if I took some liberties with it. Which, now that you mention it, is how I get most of my ideas anyway: I hear a story, a snippet of conversation, a characteristic, and I expand on it and fluff it out until it becomes something bigger, sometimes even bigger than myself, and I write a story.

I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that my most recent novel idea came from a news article I read about a woman who tried to kill her children. As little as I know about her story, it gave me the seed of Keira's story, and I've spent the past couple of months--and will continue to spend the next few months--delving into her life and seeing where it takes me.

Because the other part of that story I told that's a falsehood is the concept of the Idea Machine. There is no such thing. There is no magical machine, no fairy godmother, no fount of inspiration writers use to pull novel and short story ideas out. There is only life.

Which, frankly, is so much better than any magical water or glitter-blowing old lady. Life itself provides the inspiration for stories. And what more intriguing, mystifying experience is there than life? Created and woven together by a Master Storyteller, billions of insignificant creatures, moments, exchanges coming together to form a beautiful tapestry of a story. And us puny human storytellers, sitting in front of it, picking at threads and seeing if we can weave our own small replica of the Master Tapestry.

I think I just mixed about three metaphors there, which you're totally not supposed to do. But I like it, so I'm just gonna leave it there. Life is the only thing we've got to inspire us, but it's the best thing we could ask for.

Just think about how many times you've looked at someone else's life and wished it was yours, or contemplated how fantastic and unreal it seemed. You look back at your own life and all you see is a blob of tangled threads. But take a few steps back and you can see that your life tapestry is just as intricate and beautifully woven as your friend's. Multiply that intricacy and beauty by seven billion, and that's how many different tapestries you have to choose from when picking your story.

It's totally okay to mix and match when writing. Take your good friend's perfect hair, your best friend's skills, your sense of humor, your favorite TV star's problems, and voila, you've got a brand new story that's never been told before.

To write a great story you don't need a magic machine. You only need some creativity, a hefty amount of attention to detail, and a good bit of conflict. Mix it all together and start sharing. There you go: you're a storyteller. I can't wait to hear what you've got to say :)