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Be Humble

If you care, don’t let them know. Don’t give yourself away.

I do let them know. It’s a compulsion. My inability to keep thoughts to myself is likely one of the more regrettable aspects of my personality. I long to be an enigmatic figure but I bring shame to my stoic waspy roots by being overly forthcoming in almost every aspect of my life. I make jokes where none are expected. I comment freely when no one has asked. I spend more time self-evaluating than anybody ought to be able to and still manage to reach the conclusion that my life is pretty great.

Part of it comes from the unreasonably high self-esteem I get to walk around with, because it is categorically easier to go through life as an educated white person with adequate resources and the unconditional support of loved ones. I know that everyone struggles and downward social comparisons are offensive, but they are also helpful if your goal is to not be a dick.

Truth: my life is easier than most people’s lives. Truth: I worked hard to be where I am. Truth: I did so with an incredible amount of love and support in a system designed for me to succeed and that ain’t nothing. For these truths, I choose to be grateful rather than to be proud. I am grateful that I have people in my life telling me I’m doing a good job. It is because of them that I believe it. Pride is a vice; it does not lead to freedom. At worst it leads to resentment of others who fail to reflect your elevated vision of yourself back to you. At best it leads to unmitigated self-absorption, and the universe knows my generation does not need more of that.

Gratitude is a virtue that begets humility and hard-work. Because I have been given many advantages, I choose to heed Kendrick and sit down, be humble. I have been provided with circumstances that have encouraged me to work hard and flourish. I am in a position to contribute positively to my community. For this, I am grateful. I am seated and striving for humility.

 

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Last Will and Testament

Here me out.

I’m not dying. I mean, not anymore than the rest of you. But for those poor souls who end up at my funeral, first of all, congratulations — you’ve outlived me, which means one of three things:

You’re a vegetarian.

I met an untimely death at the hands of Nashville drivers (most probable).

Or sushi and yoga were bad for us all along.

I only hope we did not all die in some apocalyptic everyone-at-once sort of manner. Because then you will have been robbed of the absurd irreverence that promises to be my funeral. And what a shame that would be. Please find herein my expressed wishes for festivities marking the occasion.

First and foremost, I wish to be taxidermied. Then I would like you to hire my least favorite people to carry me around the party, Weekend at Bernie’s style. There will be bonus points awarded to those who come up with the most classic scenes to act out with my stuffed corpse. Pics or it didn’t happen.

Other games to include funeral cliche Bingo. Look out for phrases like “long hard struggle,” “she’s in a better place,” and “blah blah God blah blah.” The middle square will read: “she was one badass bitch” because you don’t deserve points for something you’ll hear said that often.

Next, karaoke: dead lady’s choice, meaning songs I choose and expect to be performed in the following order:

1. Both sides now

2. Remix to ignition

3. Hallelujah

4. MmmBop

5. The Boy is Mine

6. One Request from the Audience

7. Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (entire album)

8. Sister Christian

9. Adam’s Song

10. Whatever you like

11. White America (to sum up my life)

The most important thing I want for my funeral is joy. I know I’ll reflect on these grueling grad school days with a smirk because I’ve had harder days I look back on with a grin. I’m grateful to be here and happy to be alive. If someone decides to mark the occasion when I’m not with anything other than what’s listed above, you set ’em straight, and do it with a smile.

And if you think life and death ought to be treated with more seriousness than I’ve given them here today, it’s my pleasure to agree to disagree. #likemotherlikedaughter

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Be Wrong! It’s Good For You. 

I love being proven wrong. Seriously. As a chronic self evaluator I feel strongly that having our thoughts, beliefs and assumptions challenged is one of the easiest ways to grow, if we’re open to it. And that’s a big IF. In a culture where we seek out self and thought affirming information both in news and research, I know how scary it can be to step outside the echo chamber of one’s own Facebook page. The like-minded communities we tend to foster are comforting but they carry the risk of becoming so homogenous that we cease to be challenged.

I have spent most of my life in relatively (and often overtly) liberal cities, the culture of which have been mostly in line with my own. The southern cities I’ve lived in certainly have their own individual flavors, as do the northern ones. Anyone who paints with brushes as broad as “The South” or “The North” hasn’t spent enough time in both because this is a big country and we have a LOT of different people living here. And those people each have different motivations, unique lived experiences and when election time comes everyone gets the same number of votes. They don’t have equal opportunity to cast them, but that’s not the topic of this post.

This post is about smiling when you’re proven wrong. Mazel Tov to you! What a wonderful opportunity you’ve been given to broaden your experience of humanity. I have recently found myself spending the 8-5 in a brand new place with people who have customs, perspectives and a vernacular entirely foreign to me. And I’ve only traveled an hour from the safety of my current urban center. I’ve spent 22 of my 29 years below the Mason-Dixon and ain’t never met people like this before. They lend out medical equipment knowing patients will return it, they regularly offer to drive patients to outside appointments they can’t get to and they always ask how your mama or daddy is doing. Based on how many conversations I’ve had/heard about the Bible and Trump this week, I can all but guarantee we come from very different religious and political perspectives and how great is that? Because people are more than who they vote for or pray to.

Healthcare can be a unifying point for people working in or needing it, which makes it a good meeting place for otherwise polarized individuals. Being an eternal optimist (albeit a cynical one) I still believe we have more in common than not but too often we make assumptions about what other people think and why they think it. Some people are just selfish and some people are just racist but assuming these things about entire groups does nothing to foster mutual respect, without which we will never move the conversation forward.

People are more complex than a party platform and time is more effectively and enjoyably spent learning about them and letting them learn about you. This is the only way we break stereotypes, both our own and the ones others hold of us. So add small town Tennesseans to the list of things I was wrong about. Also on this list: olives, running, Sarah Silverman, Amy Poehler, hot yoga, anchovies and marriage. These are all wonderful.*

*Marriage is still pretty dumb, but I love Jared so much it makes the list.

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Tuk Tuks and Inspiration: Better Experienced than Described.

I don’t know how to write about inspiration. It’s a feeling and those are difficult to illustrate in words. I remember a lightness that rushed over me during a tuk tuk ride in northern Thailand in November of 2012. Jared and I stayed up late into the night watching Fox News, which was comically the only available coverage of the US election. The results hadn’t fully come in when we had to leave early in the morning for an overnight hike into the jungle. The timing was such that we might not learn the results of our nation’s election until 48 hours after it occurred.

2012 felt different than 2008; it felt like the test of a heavily-scrutinized president that I very much wanted to see reelected. It wasn’t for the fear of his opponent. Especially in the context of our current political landscape, Mitt Romney seems like he probably would have done a pretty good job keeping the country safe, which for some people is enough. However, he likely would not have come out in support of marriage equality, gone to bat for women’s reproductive rights or made any honest acknowledgment of the systemic racism that permeates our law enforcement and justice system.

These are considered by some to be soft issues and inherently secondary to national security and the economy. I’ve been called immature for prioritizing them but if accessible healthcare, affordable education and equal rights under the law are idealistic and unattainable, I’m not sure what we’re spending so much trying to protect. If fear is the main theme we operate under, we build nothing. With so much anxiety, there is no room for creativity. When our energy is focused on being great, we lose the capacity for for being good.

Four years ago, I sat in a tuk tuk that rattled along a dirt road out of town and headed for the jungle. Jared turned on his phone for a brief moment to see if any text updates would come through. Right before we lost service, a message from his brother read: Obama wins in a landslide. The feeling I had that day and night was one of elated optimism. As a country, we had decided that goodness mattered and not just for 47% of us. We didn’t beat our chests and we weren’t afraid. The next four years would see the expansion of healthcare, the recognition of marriage equality, and a policy that began to prioritize climate change as a national responsibility. In these four years my partner and I found ourselves and each other; they have been personally and communally transformative; easily the best four years of my life.

Today, I do not feel hopeful or optimistic, but I will also not be discouraged. I still believe that love is stronger than fear and exposure to difference makes space for understanding. The next four years will not see the end of the progress because we are all still here. We will create art and take care of each other and stand up in support of what we believe and protest what we don’t. We will become the inspiration. We will be the good.

And here’s a photo (that’s probably offensive):

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Long Distance Relationships

Sometimes they work. Especially when you’re both busy taking busy to the next level. It has now been 18 months since my person and I lived in the same state and we have 12 more to go. We’re super codependent at night so sleeping apart is just the worst. Seriously, I hate it. But during the day we’re obnoxiously independent, as evidenced by our shared refusal to compromise our goals. We’re not jerks; we each happened to be given opportunities we couldn’t turn down at the exact same time. One of us could have set their goals aside for the good of the relationship, but instead we decided to have it all.

Best decision ever.

This accelerated nursing curriculum is intense, and the only thing I can imagine being harder than doing it alone might be doing with a partner’s needs to consider. Jared works for Amazon; I’m sure you’ve heard of them, they sell books online. And praise be to whatever-deity-you-choose that he is the type of person who hears 16-hour days and thinks bring it on. Don’t get me wrong; being apart is tough for all obvious reasons: hugs make everything better, traveling is stressful, texts don’t convey tone, watching NFL together on FaceTime is hard because his feed is always ahead of mine because everything gets to The South later. You know, basic relationship stuff.

But it’s easier for a whole bunch of other reasons: When one of us has to spend all day in class or working and then come home and continue working, there’s no one to disappoint. Our reliance on verbal communication has sharpened a set of skills I think are crucial to sustaining relationship happiness. We have found joy in new activities that the other isn’t at all interested in; for him it’s learning how to box, for me it’s watching network TV in bed while eating a cheese plate.

Point is, we’ve both got goals. And we’re in this together.

We liken our current arrangement to two members of the same tribe having embarked on separate expeditions to learn skills and gather resources so we can bring them back to the village and build a stronger hut. We’ve been together since we were tiny baby 19-year-olds. This is probably the only time we’ll ever live apart so we’re embracing it as a short part of the long journey we’re on together. We have become better apart and that will make us better together.

As for right now, I know it’s easier for me to be supportive of him working all night from afar and he doesn’t have a panic attack every time I eat in bed.

It’s a win-win.

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Real Talk:

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Last Cigarette Ever

I can remember my first cigarette ever, stolen from my mother’s pack of Virginia Slims 100s and enjoyed on the roof outside my teenaged window. It would mark the beginning of an era for me, one that would characterize both my adolescence and young adulthood. I can appreciate that only a handful of these cigarettes had a metaphysical impact on me rivaling the damage all of them were obviously doing to my body. But I was willing to gamble then and still believe now that the impact those important ones had on my being was stronger and more lasting than the physical harm they did to my lungs.

I’ve always been told that lungs regenerate and am learning now in school just how that occurs and it’s really quite remarkable. The skin lining the lungs has to go through four stages before the damage becomes irreversible, so as long as you don’t smoke long enough to get to that fourth stage, eventually your lungs will return to normal. It’s amazing to me that the trauma my lungs have been through can be righted with time, through no effort on my part other than simply no longer smoking. This is certainly something that physical damage has over emotional.

Emotional trauma has long been a reason to start or keep smoking. With that said, emotional trauma is often one of the things that shapes us the most. I can remember more than a few extra cigarettes smoked on nights of tears or too much drinking, but I also remember the ones that started friendships that would become life-long bonds. Smokers bond faster than non-smokers because we have this wonderfully terrible habit in common that leaves us with nothing else to do but chat. The friends I made smoking on the stoop my freshman year of college are still some of the best people I know. They are the people who know me, inside and out, the ones from whom I could hide little because we’ve shared so much.

It was a cigarette that introduced me to the love of my life and one that marked the moment when my mother passed. Both of these events impacted me in irreversible ways and I’m not sorry to have them marked in my memory with a cigarette. The first gave him and me what seemed to us infinite time to get to know one another and, for that, he remains my best friend seven years later. The latter gave me a moment of pure existence to truly appreciate the gravity of my mother’s passing and the numerous amazing, hilarious and heartbreaking moments that preceded it. Had it not been my instinct to reach for an American Spirit at that moment, I would have been robbed of something that has probably shaped me more than any life experience thus far.

That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Quitting smoking comes in second.

It has now been more than a year since my last cigarette and that era in my life has come to a close. My body is on its way to repairing itself, but thankfully the impact the cigarettes had on my existence will be mine forever. The truth is, as hard as it all was, I wouldn’t trade my smoking days for anything. They made me who I am and they were fabulous.

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