From Me to Me

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Well it’s official, I just received my cap and gown and I’m graduating in December. I’m looking forward to being done with school but I can’t help looking back. I don’t think I’d change a thing honestly but there are some things that maybe I would change. Maybe I always knew and neglected them, or maybe I learned along the way. This I want to share.

 

So here it goes, in an address to my past self here are seven things for your consideration.

  1. Mary: your first love will break your heart; your best friendship will end; you will have the worst anxiety that you’ve ever had in your life; you will ruin dynamics, friendships and hurt people unnecessarily; and you will party a bit and not study enough. While having an unconventional college experience, you will have it all, and it will be more than you bargained for. Stop with the ‘woe is me’ you little dweeb and listen to yourself because I’m proof that we make it to graduation, and we do damn good outside of school.
  2. Move up here solo. You always knew that friendship wasn’t sustainable and despite your best efforts, there was no changing that without major change on both sides. Pay attention to the red flags; it’ll save you time and drama, and you’ll only have to move once.
  3. Those boys you think you could like romantically and try to date. Don’t. Just don’t. You know it’s not going to work out. They were fantastic friends, and you’ll miss them later. Keep them as friends. The one we didn’t date is probably one of the coolest humans. It will also help in those moments when Moscow feels like an island in the wheat. Keep those connections so you can see each other and chat!
  4. Something you’ll have to really work at. Just call your friends. Call home. You always feel better afterwards, so I don’t know why it’s so hard to do. And for the most part you can get a hold of them, you aren’t intruding, you aren’t an inconvenience. If they can’t talk then they aren’t ignoring you it’s part of adulthood’s learning curve. Everyone has their own stuff going on. It’s hard to sustain bridges without support and eventually some of them will crumble and some of them will burn.
  5. Ask mum when she got Breast Cancer. And, if it was estrogen receptive (it is) before you go to look at forms of birth control. Do your research don’t just get the shot on the spot. It works for others, but it’s still new and gets a little weird for us for a while so maybe save some grief and just don’t.
  6. Don’t work three very part time jobs until you’re exhausted. It’s stressful not knowing when you will or won’t have cash but it will also hurt your studying and especially with French it’s going to suck. Also you will walk away having liked none of those jobs.
  7. I only started doing this really this last year, but I should have done this sooner despite the juggling. Get to know your English department. It is made of the most phenomenal group of people who, despite common misconception, want to help even your uncommunicative class dodging butt. Go to class, talk to them, take their words in because they may not be illustrious or have the proper funding to do a lot all of the time but they know what they’re about and the crazy thing? They’ll check on you in their own ways! They’re empathetic humans, they have families, and they’re brilliant. Especially enjoy your grad students though, you’ll follow them on social media but let me tell you they relate and it’s inspiring to see them grow into published authors. You won’t regret it one bit. Lauren Westerfield is a kindred spirit with possibly the neatest reccomendations. Mike McGriff’s image heavy but his work is fantastic and so are his classes and his text recommendations. Erin James knows her stuff listen to her no matter how many times you have to re-read Cloud Atlas. Alexandra Teague is brilliant, her women in poetry class will make you think bigger. Brian Blanchfield will introduce you to all sorts of poetical masterminds and host probably one of the best groups. Stephan Flores will always have different perspectives to ponder and always has the best stories to share. Toby Wray and Jodi Nicotra are wonderful and probably some of the most personable people in charge you will ever meet. Anna Banks and Jan Johnson are experts in their fields so expect those classes to be outstanding.Also dude, suck up your pride go to the writing center and meet Mary Anne Judge and learn a thing or two. Nelson is a fantastic help when learning French it may not hurt to introduce yourself earlier. Mac Donald and Ladino are new to us in our last semester but there’s a reason that they’re legends before you even have a class with them, trust me it’s never a dull moment. Also bless Jen Baillargeon-Hauck for counseling you and going out of her way even when it wasn’t her job, she does so much its a wonder that she’s only one person.

Finally let me tell you where you’re at this morning. You’re listening to music with the person you love, they made you a coffee that smells heavenly, there are flowers on the table, and you feel like home together. You have a cat, a dog, and two beans that love you. Your friend group is pretty awesome and inspiring even if you’re still awful about keeping in contact. You can see all the fall leaves of Moscow out your window, you have goals and purpose which you didn’t before, and you’ve been actively working towards them for a while now. You’re writing, you’re involved, and you’re comfortable with others beyond the superficial customer service way that you thought was enough. Not to toot my own horn, but I’m pretty proud of us.

 

This is a letter I would never send because I needed all of it to grow and I hope to those of you still reading that you can pull something out of it. I wouldn’t say life gets easier, I’d say parts do, parts get better, but in the last two years since moving to Moscow on my own I’ve learned to navigate it all. Navigating life becomes easier because I’ve grown, and that’s what I’m going to miss about college. But now I get to learn a new way to grow and if there’s anything my misadventures have taught me it’s that I should look forward to the next one.

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What Now?

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Like many women in the nation, I watched events unfold regarding the Supreme Court, namely Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination and subsequent appointment. I watched as a man accused of sexual assault got appointed to the highest court in the land. I watched, as a kindred spirit, as  Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony was cast aside. I watched a man turn vile and hateful towards every woman talking to him in that courtroom. I watched and recognized that any notion of the idealized “good ol’ days” where rapist couldn’t even be employed had died.

My parents, now in their late fifties, have talked about the good old days, when “men were men, ladies were ladies, and America was at its peak,” blah blah blah. They want to go back to that, and yet they endorse the administration that puts a man publicly accused of assault on the Supreme Court? When my parents were growing up, had a man been accused of sexual assault in such a public way, in most cases he would have been tried, and he wouldn’t have made it to the Supreme Court, at least not if those good ol’ days were as ideal as I’ve been told, but he’s a white middle aged man and in 2018 that’s a privilege that will bring a “respectable” person back from the edges of ruin.

And you know what? I’m mad about it. I’m mad, I’m scared, and I recently learned that others on the court, Clarence Thomas, for example, had been accused of sexual assault and maintained their jobs as well. It’s infuriating.

Men can be shamed and laughed out of their jobs for having a consensual affair but when they’re potentially a sexual predator, there’s somehow no way that they could have done it. No. I don’t subscribe to that and like many women I have a lot of feelings wrapped up in this for my future and my kids’ future, and frankly I don’t know what to do since the senate gets to make this decision and we the people have no say in it.
I’m going to vote. I’m going to do my part to make a change even if it seems insignificant, but what can we do right now? In a nation where hope is failing, and we have all of these immediate feelings, how do we deal with them and how do we cope? The university offers counseling to students, but how do we let this out on our own time? I know women who are having events to break stuff, so they can smash piñatas today and the patriarchy tomorrow. There are groups of sexual assault survivors on Facebook, on campus, and the U of I Women’s Center also has many great resources.

On my own time, I’ve been writing. I’ve been reading up on candidates. I’ve been cleaning, cooking, talking to other women to try and build them up during this time. I’ve been discussing with my male friends why this is so upsetting. I want to talk it out, but that’s not for everyone.

The problem is that life moves on, and right now, it’s scary to keep moving forward in this world and as a woman. So right now, if you are scared, inhale deeply through your nose and hold it for a few seconds. Let it go through your mouth, and breathe.

In our capitalist society, we shop, we make comfort food, we jibber jabber on about things that we don’t even care about because we want to please others, but that time is done. Women, humans, it is not your job to please anyone; you aren’t weak or crazy for being upset or scared. The people who work in counseling want to help you, your friends want to help you and if neither of them can help you in the ways you need, I’m going to tell you right now you don’t need them to, and it is okay to move on and look for other outlets for your own sanity. Be full, be sad, be angry, be beautiful, be smart, be creative, be who you are, and if that someone is upset right now, then be that and fight. Fight for sex education of all genders, fight for equal rights, fight to keep each other safe.

If you can though, focus on something positive. Clean, cook, smash stuff safely, talk, swear, scream, go for a jog, go hit a punching bag, read and escape to another world, write to build your own, get a squeezy stress ball thing, but you aren’t going to get anywhere by eating all of your emotions, or shopping into debt or lashing out at the wrong men, or deciding that humanity is garbage because this happened. One man got one job; he shouldn’t have. It shouldn’t stop you from pursuing everything you want.

Go out, go vote. Get the representatives that you want and be the hero that you and your daughters need whether it be voting or maybe running for office yourself one day.

The Things I carry

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Women all over the world carry objects, purses, keys, water bottles, pepper spray, knives, tasers, and even concealed weapons for self-defense. We also go to and from places in groups, we “dress accordingly”, we mind our manners, and we even avoid certain events or areas, such as Greek-row at night, just to feel safe. I walk two blocks to my car after work, and I always try to be on the phone, or carry something that I am mentally prepared to fight back with. It’s a scary world we live in and even in the nicest neighborhood anything could happen. Furthermore, statistically speaking, anything is more likely to happen to women, regardless of our measures so what can we do?

Frankly, we shouldn’t have to do anything. Robbers, attackers and rapists don’t care who you are. If they target you, you are a target, there is no getting around that. However, there are measures we as women can take to defend ourselves, and though we shouldn’t have to, it’s better to know how to do it and not need it than to need that information and not know it.

From a young age I was taught how to box. My Dad is a large man, a gentle giant, and he thought that around age twelve, that I should learn how to defend myself in some way. You know when I began to go out on my own around the neighborhood, when I started hanging out with boys, and pre-emptive puberty was beginning to rear its head. It was fun, it was great exercise and I loved spending that time with my Dad. Then, there were times though he would get really serious he told me, “Hit them, make noise, and try to run away. Aim for center mass, (Groin, stomach, throat, head, nose, eyes, ribs) and, if you can’t run you keep hitting them until they can’t hurt you,” I asked him what he meant by that. He looked at me his tone getting stern, “Boug, if someone pins you and want’s to hurt you, you knock them unconscious. That might not work though, if they’re going to get up and try to hurt you before you can get away you hit them and don’t stop hitting them until they can’t. If someone wants to hurt you and you can’t get away, you try to kill them,” That stuck with me, and the boxing with my Dad suddenly became something else. As an adult this is a terrifying concept, and as a kid I couldn’t put it into words. I couldn’t fathom fighting someone off yet alone killing them. Taking a life? What did that mean?

Now that I’m older, I still don’t know that I could it. I certainly don’t want to but if someone wanted to hurt me, what could I do?

My Dad is not a violent man. My Dad has always been my safe space and protector. He fears for me on a level I am still only beginning to understand and in this world we live in I finally understand his point.

Unconscious people wake up, men fight through tasers and pepper spray, law enforcement of any kind is trained to do that, and then what? Most of the time they’re that much angrier. So how do we fight back? How do we learn?

When I was eighteen, I chose to take self-defense classes. These classes are offered at certain gyms, and on campus. It was empowering, and our class had primarily women students. I taught some of the basics to my friends. I learned how to disarm someone. It brought me peace to know my own capability, but it still wasn’t as easy when my sparring partner was a man larger than me because I couldn’t get the same momentum and I had to learn to adjust.

In the moment I don’t know that I could adjust. I really don’t, and it terrifies me. I wish women didn’t live with this fear but we do and while I’m not going to say learn self-defense, that’s your choice, but it’s not a bad idea. Learn how to throw a punch, don’t be afraid of hitting, get down get dirty, be a nasty woman, be dangerous because we live in a dangerous world. Don’t do it for fear though. Do it for you. Bring yourself peace of mind, tell your friends in your groups, at bars, show them how to fight in short skirts and how to disable someone reaching for their hijab or other religious headcovering.

Studies have shown that most attackers/rapist are cowards, and if you can fight back and make noise even for a few minutes they will run away and that could save your life. Your life matters, what you do with it matters and if you can protect it for a few minutes you could save it yourself. If you don’t want to learn self-defense though, it’s not your fault. Let me repeat that. IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT WHAT AN ATTACKER DOES OR DOES NOT DO TO YOU.

Even the most prepared women can still be hurt because, as much as they try, there will always be someone stronger, bigger and more prepared for the fight than they are. Self-defense training will not magically make you the best or more able, but it might just give you the leg up to get out of there and that’s all that really matters, and sometimes it’s as simple as hitting someone over the head with your metal water bottle.

Please stay safe. I hope you never need any of it. I wish we lived in a world where I felt I didn’t need it. Right now though we do, and I hope this helps inform you.

Facebook Friendships

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I grew up in a world where Myspace was a scandal quickly replaced by Facebook, which was also controversial because it allowed kids to talk to unsavory characters online. I was told never to talk to strangers online. I was told everything on the Internet was a lie.

This is wrong.

The world we live in today does still have those seedy, back water channels, and frankly kid’s who can’t be on the Internet intelligently will run into trouble in some form. However, the stigma around internet strangers needs to come to an end, because if you know people and can network you may find support you didn’t know existed.

Around this time maybe three years ago, I was added to a Facebook group for Women and a few trusted friends by my cousin and her friend. The group was called something like Awesome Ladies. (It’s still a private group and only members can send invites, but I was told to use discretion when discussing this).

It started as a small local group for girls in Coeur d’Alene, and most of them were older than me. Frankly it was intimidating being in a group with all these people. I had a few friends in the group, but I didn’t know everyone. I still don’t know them all however being friends of friends with these people and being in the group gave me the privilege to get to know them through their posts.

At first, it was mainly women’s health, small gripes with people, (mostly ex’s) and general things that as women or people born as women  would struggle with. Flash forward to today and the conversations have been able to grow and evolve because there are those of us who came out of our shells to find relief in comforting another person who shared the same issues. We started talking we post about many topics: when the diva cup became more widely used, different and new forms of birth control, vaginal problems, our sex lives,’ all of it. Once one person opens up a topic it is never disregarded. We have a few wonderful admins who will always respond because on some topics it is harder to get the ball rolling but this Facebook group brightens my day. If you would have asked me three years ago if I thought this would happen, I never would have thought it was possible but, here we are.

It has allowed me to network with very strong people and as of 2017 the name changed to something like awesome babes. For some members this allowed them to express who they were without fear of being judged for being in the LGBTQ+ community. The group is still predominantly women but we have made a rule that if we can trust you with the deepest secrets of our souls, you can belong to our group. Think of it like Lowry in Little Women.

This group created for me a safe space but it wasn’t until this last year that I started joining other groups and noticing that my friends were doing the same. Groups that sell things, groups that report lost animals, groups that are for people with depression or anxiety. All of these wonderful support systems exist and only now in 2018 at age 22 am I able to really utilize them.

In high school, knowing people had the same issues I was having was enough, but I followed the stigma and didn’t engage in the conversation with what I was going through. I stayed silent when I shouldn’t have until my senior year. Only then when I realized that these weren’t strangers but siblings was I able to engage and grow with them.

Now, I’m not endorsing joining random online groups, that’s a bit sketchy, but local groups with good admins who post interesting things? Yes absolutely join those groups. They’re more like online clubs.

I started a Women’s Writing group on Facebook and we talked so openly and unashamedly about how we hated the old dead white mans perspective (the established norm for writers over the last few centuries) and how we could do better. We did do better too. We got and gave writing insight. It was me some friends and friends of friends.

My partner joined a group that posts memes for kicks and deals with the struggles of depression. He’s shared some of the insights with me and for some people while it may be awkward and scary, the biggest relief is that you are not alone. You don’t have to be, you can be inclusive, you can trust some strangers online as long as you know who they know. You can interview them even. These groups have evolved out of scandal into places of safety and even with kids in high school this kind of networking can be invaluable.

It was for me.

Girlfriend Limbo

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What do you do when your partner has kids and you aren’t their stepmom? As a woman in this position, and mostly being me, I never asked myself this question because I never expected to be with someone who already had  kids. I never saw myself as a mother, especially not so young, and my age creates a difficulty in starting this conversation. I think it’s a conversation that needs to happen though.

Continue reading “Girlfriend Limbo”

Work Place Entrapment

Not asking for it

“I did work at a mall in college- I think working retail/customer service is one of the most hideous jobs in the world.” – Jayma Mays (Actress/Singer)

I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks so. I have in worked in retail since high school, in almost every capacity. While I made some great connections while working at those places, the job of putting on a happy face and trying to help everyone is exhausting. And what made it worse? Even after I was at my job for two years and was trained as a manager, no one believed I, a young woman, knew anything.

They would ask to speak with the department managers, or in a few cases, ask if there was a man they could speak to. Both men and women have done this and are probably doing it somewhere right now, much to my chagrin. Most of us are familiar with this narrative, but unless you’ve worked a service job or talked intimately with someone who has faced these issues, you can’t imagine how retail employees feel trapped. I think it’s high time to shed a little light on this.

Every retailer store I’ve worked at uses the classic model “the customer is always right”. That’s not a bad way to treat people who have gotten a bum product or have questions, but it is very seldom true. The customer is not always right.

Correcting customers in the wrong is like herding cats. They could just go with it, they might realize what you’re trying to do, but most of them will go their own way or may snap at you. This creates fear of the customer, especially when they change very quickly.

You’re probably thinking, but wait, isn’t the company supposed to protect employees? Can’t management handle these situations?

Companies, say they can and managers can only handle so much and most of them aren’t even prepared to handle situations. Training videos might describe and demonstrate how to handle a grumpy customer or when to get a manager, but every situation is unique and management just can’t always be there. This creates both a feeling of independence and one of isolation.

Now for the most part there is hope—grumpy customers usually just vent or go to Customer Service or can be handed off to a department. The problem I have faced as a woman is when primarily male customers start to get to friendly, flirt, ask out, or in a few cases make blatantly sexual advancements. In my case, I’m lucky none of them have gotten physical, but that is not always the case.

I worked with a girl, we’ll call her Gene. Gene worked in a clothing store, and she was helping a man find some pants. Management was in a meeting and while we all had our radios on, we all had different projects in a fairly large store. Gene helped the man even though she could “feel his eyes wandering.” They talked for a while, because in the world of retail you want to get to know your customers to help them. He started making comments, trying to flirt. Gene felt uncomfortable but was polite, trying to keep things professional. He took this politeness as an invitation to ask her out. She declined. He got very mad and started yelling all sorts of obscenities which I heard, and I rushed over to ask the man as politely as possible to leave. He called me and the other mostly female workers other obscenities, and then management escorted him out of the building.

Now if you’re wondering why Gene didn’t radio for back-up initially, let me remind you. In retail/customer service positions, politeness is key. Presentation is key. You cannot be rude to a customer unless it is a last resort, because bad behavior on your part reflects poorly on the store, and in many places can get you into trouble. We had a good management team but it’s hard to call for back-up when your customer is standing right there watching your every move. In some cases, it’s genuinely terrifying. So radioing for back-up vaguely usually results in “What do you need?” “Is it a question I can answer?”, and when you don’t have a radio, you can’t just hand a customer off to someone else in the same way at all.

I can tell you that after this, we developed phrases, we had signals, and for a while we tried to help customers in pairs because it was so scary. There is no one you protect more than your friends at work, because they really do become your family.

The worst thing is though, while not to this extreme those little microaggressions that have made me as a woman uncomfortable happen every day, and retail workers have to put up with them. Eyes will look everywhere they shouldn’t, people will get asked if they have significant others, what they’re doing later, when they get off, etc. Certain regulars will pick you and go only through your line and say “See you later” in an all-too-familiar tone. The worst things that happened to me were verbal, but I refused to interact with those customers again, and I told my management so. Did I still have to interact with them if there was no one else around? Yes. Did I plan my quickest escape route as soon as I registered they were in the store? Yes. Did I smile and do my job despite my skin crawling? Yes.

Is politeness while someone working a reason to flirt with that person?

No, it is not. It never is. They’re doing their jobs and their job should not include compromising themselves so that you leave happy.

Or at least that’s what every retail handbook says.

As I Am: An Origin Story

_DSC0479.JPGBy Mary Emert

Hey, all. Welcome to my story. I’m a Creative Writing major with emphasis in both fiction and poetry, but I’ve tried my hand at non-fiction and there’s something entrancing about the real that I can’t escape. So, while writing for the Women’s Center, I will do my best to tell the real story as I see it or as others may see it. I like the notion of truth, and I hope that I can shed light on different truths, but what that means? I have no clue.

My truth is that I have always been surrounded by strong people. That didn’t always help or prepare me, but it gave me a leg up. My mom was a marine raised by a single mother, is a breast cancer survivor, and has a strong personality, to say the least. My dad has a very large, strong family and was a single father before meeting my mom. Despite only having a high school diploma, he is one of the smartest men I know. He’s worked on cars, houses, and has probably given me some of the best advice, “If it hurts you or somebody else, don’t do it.” I try to live by that.

I can’t identify the exact moment I knew I was a writer, or a feminist, but I remember injustice.

Continue reading “As I Am: An Origin Story”