Ten years ago I moved across the country without knowing a soul. Covered in snow, the New London town welcomed me with drinks in a pub that kept me warm. I, along with the belongings I carried with me moved twelve times between Connecticut and New York. It was then that I called Harlem, Brooklyn, and Washington Heights my home. I wrote plays and journaled my travels as I began working a full time job that led me to DC, Chicago, Atlanta, and more. My heart called me back to California, and it’s here that I’ve resided for six years. There’s been a great deal of learning.
The biggest lesson is to be able to let things go, especially those elements outside of our control. Be in the moment and keep in mind that nothing is permanent. Depression is a hurdle and it’s important to be patient with yourself. Treasure the loves of your life and the dates you go on. You never know where it will lead or what that person will teach you. This decade bent my spine, broke me down, and lifted me up. I still feel I’m on the upward climb, and with me I carry the places I come from, the people who inspire me, and the words I have yet to write.
I look forward to seeing what the next ten years bring, knowing it won’t be perfect (perfectionism is overrated anyway), but it will be a new adventure that I will embrace with my whole spirit. Ideally while wearing my new Pride and Prejudice scarf.
This photo isn't easy to share. Neither is the story that goes with it.
I had just climbed the highest point of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. My parents and I were on a vacation visiting national parks across Utah and at the last minute we decided to check out the Grand Canyon. My dad had traveled there with his dad when he was younger and I thought it would be a nice moment for he and I to share. My dad's the one who taught me photography. His dad was also a photographer, and it kind of got passed down to me. My mom, who simply doesn't do heights, waited by the restaurant as my dad and I ventured along the trail to the rim.
When we got there, I climbed up this cliff, leaving my dad below with my camera and his (it was too sketchy to make the climb with my camera in hand). I had wanted this epic photo of me basically on top of the world. "Take a photo with my camera," I hollered at him. He looked at both cameras, confused. "It's the one around your neck," I said. He aimed my camera at me. I looked down and told him the lens cap was still on. "Why can't I see you?" he asked, just looking at the screen on the body of the camera. "You have to look through the viewfinder," I responded. "Okay, I have the perfect shot," he tried to convince himself. "You have the lens cap still on," I said. Tears were welling in my eyes. He didn't understand how to use a camera anymore. He could manage an easy digital one or his phone, but not a single-lens reflex camera (SLR) similar to what he taught me to use years ago, the one he gave me that he got when he served in Vietnam.
My dad took a photo of me. Luckily for me, it was from far away, because I couldn't stop the tears running down my face as I stood there. There, on top of the world, while my entire world was shifting below me. He was fading away right before my eyes. I climbed back down and we walked back to meet my mom at the restaurant (which is where she took this photo of us). The walk back to meet her was silent between my dad and I. We both knew something huge had just happened, but didn't want to acknowledge it with any words. Instead we kept moving, trying to enjoy the view.
This was only two years after my dad was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. It's been seven years. He's in the middle stage now, and doesn't really take any photos anymore. He goes on walks and listens to music. He's still the same human deep in there, but the person I grew up knowing, the man who taught me the art of photography, the fearless man who I used to go on epic hikes with, he's sitting back on the rim of the Grand Canyon with his own camera in hand, capturing moments of life and smiling.
I remember texting my friend, asking her if she thought it was weird that I was going to grab a drink with a male coworker one evening. I thought it was a little strange he asked me out, me knowing he was married, but it seemed friendly and innocent enough. We walked to a nearby bar, each had a beer, shared an order of onion rings, and that was it.
A couple months later, at the office holiday party, I remember dancing with some coworkers, only to look up to the balcony and see him watching me. I smiled. He smiled back. We had become friends since our first beer and onion ring outing. It was nice. I enjoyed hanging out with him.
A bunch of us continued the holiday party to an Irish pub nearby. I remember it was raining. I don't remember much else. It's all kind of a blur of images between me leaving the bar, this male coworker following me down the street, pulling me aside and kissing me under an awning. The only reason I distinctly remember the rain is because of how miserable I was standing in a puddle of water trying to hail a cab, trying to get away from this man as fast as possible after pushing him away. I remember sobbing to my friend on the phone as the cab drove me away. I remember asking, "is it my fault?" I remember the gut wrenching pain I felt that night. I remember feeling so incredibly low and ashamed. I didn't want to go into work. I didn't want to go anywhere. And I blamed myself over and over again for his actions. I counted it as my mistake. Maybe I had flirted too much. Maybe I liked the attention. Maybe I was looking for the attention from a man because the guy I was seeing at the time was treating me like utter crap.
I remember sitting in a psychiatrist's office the morning after the holiday party. The appointment had been scheduled for weeks, but timing worked out great for me. He recommended a therapist to me, which helped me deal with some of my issues with men. Not all, because they never go away completely. I can't forget the other married one who groped me in my car after a small cast party which I was the designated driver for, me hoping he was too drunk to forget that uncomfortable situation. He wasn't, and wanted to pursue an affair (to which I said hard pass). I can't forget the guy I worked with at the feed store who pinched my ass (to which I turned around and punched him in the arm). More than that though, I can't forget the stories I've heard from my friends, both male and female over the years. And you know what? It's not fair that we have to continue to relive these moments, to share these accounts, in order for everyone else to wake up and pay attention.
Sure, expel Harvey Weinstein from the Academy, but let's not focus on one awful human being when we need to shine a big massive light on this systemic problem that's been going on for years. Going back to what I wrote about in my last blog, The Tyranny of Masculinity, this is something we need to find solutions for instead of continuing to point out the problems. As Jackson Katz (seriously, watch his TED talk) says, "We talk about how many women were raped last year, not about how many men raped women... Even the term 'violence against women' is problematic. It's a passive construction; there's no active agent in the sentence. It's a bad thing that happens to women, but when you look at that term 'violence against women,' nobody is doing it to them. It just happens to them... Men aren't even a part of it!"
While I do think it's important we hear and share the #MeToo stories, we also need to keep in mind that the perpetrators people are writing about aren't just monsters that go away when we turn the light on. No, these are people in our everyday lives. One of my favorite Instagrammers, @feministastic posted this today and I had to share because I couldn't have said it better myself:
This is not to say that #MeToo is a bad thing at all; just that, once again, the burden falls on the oppressed group (people who have been assaulted/harassed) to appeal to the moral sense of their oppressors. @femmefeministe explains, "Each time I pour my soul into a piece about assault, I draw out words and put them together with the hope that someone will feel connected or some sense of solidarity.
I write for victims, but I also write for those who don’t know what it’s like, I have written with the hope that those of you who have never felt themselves shredded and stripped of their autonomy will hear us and fight alongside us because we need more people to stand up against rape culture.
We march, we carry signs, we hold hands, we cry, we scream — but who’s listening? Sometimes it feels as if no matter how many times we write our stories, no matter how many statistics we show you, you don’t really care. For a moment you ingest our pain; you read details and see flashes of images pushed into the sentences we stitch together. Perhaps you almost feel a sense of revulsion, or even guilt.
You think we were raped by monsters, but the people in our nightmares are people like your fathers, your brothers, your friends... How many stories will we have to write for you to care? Or have you read too many of our horrors? Are you desensitized now? Your friend made a rape joke, but hey, he’s a good guy. Right?
I won’t tell you about the person who destroyed me. I won’t tell you about the scars. I won’t tell you about the night terrors or the depression or the anxiety or loneliness — because, to you, I’m just another bitch who was probably asking for it. I’m a statistic you will forget, these words of mine, you will forget but I will go back to bed and not have the luxury of forgetting.
I am tired of proving to you just how difficult it is to recover. I cannot do that labor anymore. The numbers are out there for you to research: the essays, the songs, the art and the speeches are there for you to absorb and carry within your heart so that perhaps one day you can find the time to actually help us dismantle rape culture.”
So yeah, #MeToo. And yeah, I hated being reminded of that male coworker who followed me after the office party years ago, because it brings me back to that moment of sobbing in the cab. I don't want to relive that, but I also don't want young men and women to have to live through situations like that themselves as well. That's the thing though, isn't it? It shouldn't have to fall on the survivors to prevent it from happening again. We've done enough and have lived through it. What about you? Those who are remaining silent. Those of you who are standing by watching all this happen. Those of you reading the statuses and the comments, saying how you get in almost fights defending harassment. Those of you who say you're heartbroken seeing so many of your friends share #MeToo. Those of you who have witnessed sexual assault and said nothing. Done nothing. Those of you who enabled people like Weinstein for years, knowing full well what was going on. Where's your action with all of this? And what are you going to do now that you know the monsters aren't just going to go away because we've turned the lights on?