"Alternative Facts," Pussies Grabbing Back, and What to Do Next

Hi friends! Hope you've had a good (or at least tolerable) month or so. I'm finally back to blogging, and I don't think there's anywhere else I could start than with the current political situation.

Inauguration Time

Well, Trump got inaugurated. So that happened, and we are now living in the crazy, scary unknown of a Trump presidency. The biggest piece of advice I have for anyone right now, whether you're into politics or not, is to stay engaged and informed. Listen to or watch every speech, hearing, and press conference (I'd start with the proposed cabinet's Senate hearings, personally, they're pretty crazy). There's nothing more proactive you can do than go right to the straight to the source. I say this NOT because the media isn't trustworthy (newsflash: THEY ARE, usually, more on this later), but because then no one can argue with you and tell you you're biased or uninformed.

If you didn't catch the inauguration, you can read the whole speech, with annotations and fact checks from Vox's fantastic team here. If you've been paying attention to Trump's campaign for a while, the tone and contents won't surprise you at all. But compared to other inaugurations, the mood was very dark and fear-mongering (sorry, it just was, I watched every second of it), and the crowd in attendance was smaller than in the past, which is a pretty irrelevant fact that turned into a much larger news story. 

FAKE NEWS?!? THE MEDIA LIES?

The new administration lost no time this weekend when it comes to the media. Trump's press secretary Sean Spicer held a briefing in which he refused to answer a single question and instead yelled at reporters for being unpatriotic liars (that was paraphrasing, don't yell at me, Sean). You can watch the clip here. Spicer was VERY pissed about one fact of media coverage for the weekend: what he referred to as "deliberately false reporting." What he's talking about here are the photos, first (I believe, correct me if I'm wrong) circulated by AP that showed a very obvious difference in the crowd at Trump's inauguration in 2017 and Obama's in 2009.

We now know the facts (or as close as we can get with crowd number estimations): an estimated 700,000 to 900,000 people attended Trump's inauguration on Friday, which is roughly half of the numbers that were present for Obama's first inauguration in 2009. Obama's second inauguration in 2013 drew about a million people (all according to Vox).

Why does this matter? It really doesn't, at all. If Trump and his team could've let this story go, we would've all gotten over it by now (or at least would soon) and be focusing on something more substantial. As Eric Levitz New York Magazine points out, the inauguration crowd numbers mean very little. D.C. is a majority African-American city, he notes, so it makes sense that that the inauguration of the first black President would draw a larger crowd. Trump received an extremely low number of votes in the District of Columbia, and the smaller crowd could've been explained simply by this, coupled with the fact that (as Trump likes to remind us), most of his voters are "average Americans" who maybe couldn't afford to or didn't care to fly to D.C. to see him inaugurated. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter, and no crowd size should ever be used to draw conclusions about a President. It is just a fact. But the way that Trump and his team handled this is extremely telling and important.

So first, we have Spicer berating reporters for irresponsible coverage (again, the pictures in question and the D.C. metro data the organization tweeted out are not exactly hard-hitting journalism, but they are facts) and stating "facts," like that the crowd stretched back to the Washington Monument when Trump took his oath of office. Note: It is extremely easy to prove this statement wrong, we have photos. The event was live-streamed by multiple outlets.

Then, the always lovely Kellyanne Conway telling Chuck Todd, in defense of Spicer/Trump/whoever had this idea's actions, that Spicer used "alternative facts" in this press conference. (You can watch it all here.) Now, I am NOT saying this because I am a crazy bleeding-heart liberal (that is irrelevant right now, because I am a journalist FIRST AND FOREMOST), but

THIS. IS. ENTIRELY. INSANE. AND. IT. IS. NOT. OKAY.

Yes, inauguration crowd numbers are a small thing. But using "alternative facts" as a defense is a HUGE issue. ALTERNATIVE FACTS = LIES. Plain and simple. So, sure, it's not hurting anyone if Spicer wants to embellish reality with his "alternative facts" about the inauguration crowd, but what happens when we're talking about REAL issues here? What happens when the press conference is about climate change, women's right, immigration policy, LGBTQ+ issues, foreign policy? Where is the place for "alternative facts" then? You can call me a big liberal baby for throwing a fit about this now, but let me be very clear: If we don't start off demanding the truth right now, we are never going to get it. And like it or not, Trump does not have a very positive history with telling the truth. We, as U.S. citizens, need to set a precedent. We need to demand better, and we need to demand the truth.

I don't mean JUST from Trump and his team (but let's please start there, since that is his actual duty and job as President of the United States). Demand the truth from the media, news organizations, and your fellow citizens. Engage, read, listen, watch, and think critically. If you think a news organization isn't being truthful, is being too biased, or isn't digging deep enough, PLEASE call or email them. I am extremely serious about this. If you don't care to actually challenge them and try to enact change, then you don't care enough. (FUN FACT: If you call The Atlantic to complain, it will be me picking up the phone as of 7 days from now, no joke, so PLEASE call and share your thoughtful criticism! I will gladly hear you out and pass it on!! Literally, every single one of you all have the right to opinions!)

But before everyone starts yelling as loud as they can, let's get something straight: If you expect your opinion to be heard and respected, please be educated on what you're talking about. Everyone deserves an opinion and they always will, but no one is going to engage with or place much value on yours if it isn't based in fact. Let's all agree right now to do the homework and be informed about what we're arguing about. (This goes for me too, obviously. I have a notoriously bad temper when it comes to things I care about, and I need to practice listening, learning, and thinking BEFORE I speak, too). The amount there is to know and learn and think about is overwhelming. I feel dizzy and tired just thinking about it. But knowledge and empathy are the ultimate tools, here, so please use them before you make an argument on something.

But McKenzie, what about fake news?!

A quick note on journalists: If you're reading this thinking skeptically, why should I believe any journalists anymore than you're saying I should believe Trump and his team? Aren't you all biased liberals with an agenda?

I HEAR YOU, I really do, but hear me out. First of all, journalists are taught ethics in school. That's the first thing we learn, along with the idea that facts trump all (pun intended). It is not a profession you go into and take seriously because you want to play with words all day and spread your own opinions, but one you choose if you feel morally and ethically obligated to disseminate the truth as widely as possible.

Sure, a lot of journalists are or seem to be liberal, but that does not mean (most of them) don't put their job and duty to their readers above their own political opinions, just like most public servants and politicians? No way. Even if you choose to believe that all journalists are liberal pawns (we're not), if you step back and look at reality as it is right now, you'll see that there is NO POINT in furthering a "liberal agenda" against Donald Trump in the media. This would be entirely pointless, and no one is going around making up lies to make Trump look worse. Honestly, at this point, he doesn't seem to need anyone's help on that one.

No sane journalist wants the president of this country to fail, so what would we possibly have to gain by purposely circulating lies? What is the next step of that master plan? Impeachment? President Pence? NO THANK YOU. No journalist at a reputable paper or magazine has any business in distributing lies, and as much as people like me are actively angry that Trump is our President, that does NOT change the fact that he is, and that I so, so hope he succeeds. Him failing will make the country worse for every single one of us, and no one wants that. There is a huge difference between being disappointed, wary, and skeptical and actively rooting for Trump's failure. No one (sane) is doing the latter. Also, let's face it, no one (or I guess I should say hardly anyone) is rolling in cash or being bribed to do X, Y, or Z thing in journalism. We're all poor and mostly overworked. I could go on about this for a LONG time, so if you have thoughts or further doubts, please talk to me, I'm happy to discuss and to listen. But for now, moving right along to...

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The Women's March!

I cannot tell you how happy I am to have been a part of the NYC Women's March on Saturday. More than a million people came together across the world on Saturday to express solidarity, supposedly for women and women's rights, but it felt like a hell of a lot more than that. Signs in NYC were covered in traditional feminist statements like "women's rights are human's rights" and "only weak men fear strong women," but that was certainly not all. Men and women around me held signs saying "SCIENCE!" (thank you to that sign-maker), "the pussy grabs back" (great), "we are all immigrants," and "black lives matter." There were so many more, and being inside the swelling crowd of humans who took over 42nd street from 1st to 5th Avenue, and all the to Trump Tower, warmed my heart and bolstered my confidence to yell louder, listen harder, and make a difference.

The protest was peaceful, and long. My friends and I met some fellow NU alums (much older than us), laughed with an adorable girl dressed as Wonder Woman with a sign reading "Girl Power!", snapped pics of women in giant vagina costumes, marveled at a beautiful RBG poster that someone had clearly ripped from their wall to march with, and laughed and chanted and marched with the men, women, children (and a few dogs!) who'd also taken to the streets. "This is what democracy looks like!" the crowd yelled in unison, and I have never felt more like an active part of a democracy than I do now, and it's never felt more important. 

You can argue back and forth about whether protests matter or make any difference, if this movement was intersectional enough, and how big the protests actually were (the Internet has been doing plenty of this if you're interested). But if I added one more face and body to the crowd that hopefully showed everyone who feels threatened by this administration and the future of our country that I AM WITH THEM and they are not alone, then I'm happy. 

What matters so much more, though, is what to do next. I've learned a LOT over the past year or so, and I'm taking this as the biggest single learning opportunity of my life as a baby feminist and activist (thanks, CYG). In the past, I have not done enough. I have not volunteered and donated and called my senators and fought BEFORE it was as gravely serious as it is now. I accepted things as they were. I thought that I was doing my part by voting and treating everyone in my own life with respect. I thought I was living my values, but I was not living loud enough. I was not living bold enough. But now, I'm going to. The time to be silent, to let others do the work, and to hope for the best is over. I wish I'd seen it sooner, but here we all are, and I'm going to fight like hell to make sure that the voices that have historically been silenced are heard. This is NOT about me, and if you still don't understand why people are so, so upset by this administration, I'm seriously not shitting on you, I just want you to try and understand. Think about these policies, these opinions, and these actions as though they were affecting your life every day. Think about what it would be like to live in a country that has made it very clear it does not want you or value you as a human being. Just think about it, please, and see how that would feel.

What can I do next?

We are always #StrongerTogether, but if you think you've done your part by participating in the march, you are part of the problem (like I was until very recently). That was the first amazing but tiny step, and it's only the beginning. Make every day of the next four years (and hopefully the rest of your life) count and strive to be an informed, engaged, attentive, and politically active citizen. It's your right (and your duty) as part of this country!

The Women's March on Washington founders have started organizing next steps, so I'd definitely recommend following along on the site. The first step is to write a letter or postcard to your senators, so please join in on that! 

If you want to do more (I know I do), you can follow along with this Medium post by the wonderful Nicole Silverberg (who's an NU alum, #honored to share your alma mater, Nicole). She breaks it down step by step and explains basically everything you can do at this point to make a difference, and I'd suggest reading that post through from start to finish. 

I am significantly less #woke and engaged than others, but I'm also trying my best to change that, so here's what I'll personally be doing:

  1. Calling my senators every day. You can find yours, their names and numbers, here. Even though I'm moving to DC soon, I'm going to be sticking with my old buds representing Ohio in the Senate since, let's be honest, DC is liberal and engaged enough without my voice. I set an alert in my calendar, where I included both OH senators' phone numbers, that will go off every day at 12pm. I WILL be calling. You can bet we're going to get super friendly.
  2. VOLUNTEER. I have not done nearly as much of this as I should have so far in my life, so that is all going to stop, and I will hopefully do as much as humanly possible to make up for it, starting now. Here's where I'll be starting. My super active/smart friend Kristin (most of these descriptions are hers, btw) sent me a great list to get me started, and if you have any suggestions that are DC-specific since I am very new, I'm all ears.
    1. Planned Parenthood (duh) - nonprofit that provides reproductive health services for women and men, including abortions (yes, they provide abortions! but that is just one thing of many), birth control, STD/STI testing, breast exams and cervical cancer screenings, vasectomies, LGBT services, and sex education. Trump has vowed to defund the organization (which probably doesn't mean exactly what you think, read about it) but will mostly result in restricted services for low income individuals on government-provided healthcare. PLS correct me if I'm wrong, but this is how I understand it.

    2. The American Civil Liberties Union - works to defend individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution 

    3. EMILY’s List - political action committee that works to elect pro-choice Democratic women candidates to public office. 

    4. NARAL - political advocacy group focused on fighting for women’s reproductive rights and freedom. 

    5. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) - advocates for victims and attempts to change policy surrounding domestic violence

    6. The National Immigration Law Center - fights for the rights of low-income immigrants through litigation, policy analysis and advocacy, and various other methods

    7. The National Immigration Forum - immigrant advocacy group that offers various programs to integrate immigrants into the workforce and obtain citizenship

    8. National Organization for Women (NOW) - an activist organization, foundation and PAC that advocates for equal rights for women.

    9. The Reproductive Health Access Project

    10. Running Start

    11. She Should Run

    12. The Southern Poverty Law Center

    13. The Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights

    14. Sister Supply

  3. Donate! I know as well as anyone, since I've been mostly financially independent and totally broke for the past few years, that this can be tough. But honestly, if you were lucky enough to go to an awesome school like I did or live in a cool city like I do now, chances are VERY high that you have a few dollars a month to spare. And that's fine! It all makes a difference! I'm starting low with monthly donations to a few of my favorite organizations and increasing them as I can after I move.

 

That's all for now

Originally, this was supposed to be a different blog post. I had other plans and two other ideas up my sleeve that I wanted to get out this Sunday, but this is more important. Maybe I'll post again tomorrow! Or maybe I'll be so busy drowning in boxes and moving tape and my feelings to post for a bit, I'm not sure. But the next thing you can expect from me is definitely a very long, very personal, very info-filled post about getting a job in journalism after graduated from one of the country's best J-schools. Spoiler alert: IT IS HARD AS HELL. I've gathered a lot of tips, tricks, and info in the past 6 months of searching (in case you missed it, I'm finally employed for real!!!! Hence the moving to DC thing), and I want to share it ALL with my baby journo friends, classmates, and whoever else out there. 

And with that, I'm out for tonight, because I want to watch TV and I need a few minutes to clear all of the boxes off my bed so I can sleep. 

In closing, because this post couldn't end without this, THANK YOU to my mom for raising me to be a freakin' nasty woman. I don't think I've ever been more thankful to be raised by (and alongside) amazing, strong women. My mom taught me to be as loud as I could (but always to know when to shut up and listen), to never back down from my opinions and what I stand for, and to demand the respect, equality, and the future that I deserve. Sure, I got in trouble for being opinionated and "bratty" in school many a time, but hey, nasty ladies are always going to get some shit. I'm so thankful, mom, that you raised me to fight for everything that's right, and to fight for myself. It's women like you that are responsible for all the nasty young ladies (AND MEN!! Feminism is NOT exclusive) marching the streets all over the country and world yesterday. Thanks for teaching me to be a better person every day, and to care about other people and their rights as much as, and sometimes more than, my own. 

Bye, 2016.

Happy holidays! And happy almost 2017!

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It's Christmas morning. Presents have been opened, hugs exchanged, breakfast eaten, and a second pot of coffee brewed. My mom and sister are napping (as are the dogs), so I'm here, on my computer, content to be at home and smiling slightly that this is the first year I've truly been happier to give gifts than receiving. Probably because I finally have enough money to actually take pride in what I'm giving, but that's another story. Christmas has never been a huge deal in my family. We (my mom, sister, grandparents, and I) love each other. There is no drama. There are no extravagant gifts. But there's Christmas dinner and a walk for the dogs on this breezy, Ohio December day (no snow, though). So in the meantime, I'm at my computer, putting a few thoughts down on paper (uh, blog post) because my mind is quieter than usual and my heart is full.

2016 is almost over. I could fill this posts with rants about how this was the worst fucking year ever

or ramble about how I'm handling "adult life"

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or go the other way, and talk about how the New Year is a *~*special time~*~ for change and self-actualization. But I don't really think any of those things are true. (Except that I am that dog meme, that part's accurate). But while I'm not a proponent of New Years Resolutions or making a big deal out of flipping the calendar another year forward, I do have a soft spot for the ends of things. Although, honestly, in one of my more blindly optimistic ways of making sense of life, I've always thought of them more as new beginnings. I like celebrating times past, but not as something I'd ever really like to return to. I get too excited about what's to come, about the endless realm of possibility that both thrills and terrifies me. So, instead of going on and on about this year's shortcomings (re: political issues, but this blog is not for politics so if you want that, go look at the rest of the Internet), I'm going to talk about the one thing that I've been actively engaged in all year: storytelling. This is the year, or at least this second half of it, that I started my career in earnest. Of course, I'm still 23, 6 months out of college, so I'm not doing anything earth-shattering, and probably won't be for some time. But I'm on my way, slowly taking steps toward the future that I want, elated to be out of school (even though I love school) and actually moving (clumsily, slowly) toward the career I want for myself. 

If you're wondering what I even want to do, I want to tell stories. I want to help people feel a connection to other human's lives, even if they have nothing tangible in common. I want to write, or create video, or produce audio, or whatever gets me there in whatever format fits. I want to share things that matter and open people's eyes to realities outside their own daily lives. But, like I said, I'm 23. My dream job for the next 6 to 12 months is to be someone really important and brilliant's assistant, and write at night or early in the morning when I'm off the clock. Or, you know, something like that. Anything that will help me learn and get me where I need to be. So in the absence of my own thoughtful and well-researched writing, I thought I'd collect some of the best writing and audio-storytelling I'd consumed this year. Well, at least as much as I can remember. 

A quick note, because I know people on the Internet are fucking trolls and love to yell: This is not an exhaustive list. These are not "the best" stories out there, but the ones that stuck in my head and came forward when I sat down to write this post. Some are long and some are short, some are funny and some actually made me cry (not that hard to do, but still). I also don't necessarily agree with every opinion expressed in these pieces. But damn, if that's how you're choosing what you consume, go out and find something that will open your mind a bit.

HAVE MORE SUGGESTIONS? OR WANT TO TELL ME I HAVE BAD TASTE? Comment! (But if you're mean, I'm probably just going to yell back).

 

FOR READING:

(articles, not books. stay tuned for book recs when I get my shit together and stop working multiple jobs so I have time to read)

 

FOR LISTENING:

(podcasts episodes, because I love them and you should, too)

  • Longform – (whoops sorry there are tons this is my fav podcast)
    • 218 Wesley Morris
    • 215 Krista Tippett
    • 202 David Remnick
    • 193 Robin Marantz Henig
    • 183 Jia Tolentino
    • 182 Heather Havrilesky
    • 179 Heben Nigatu and Tracy Clayton
  • Any Gilmore Guys episode with Jason Mantzoukas or Aisha Muharrar because I’m obsessed with them and they're fucking hilarious. Try being sad when you have this playing on your phone.
  • The Ezra Klein Show
    • Ta-Nehisi Coates: “There’s not gonna be a happy ending to this story"
    • best conversations I’ve had about the election, with Molly Ball
    • Malcolm Gladwell on the danger of joining consensus opinions
    • Hillary Clinton. Yes, that Hillary Clinton
    • Dr. Leana Wen on why the opposite of poverty is health
  • Reply All
    • #76 Lost in a Cab
    • #74 Making Friends
    • #64-74 On the Inside, Parts I through IV
    • #62 Decoders
    • #52 Raising the Bar
  • Heavyweight
    • #2 Gregor
    • #1 Buzz
  • This American Life
    • 602 The Sun Comes Up
    • 593 Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee
    • 592 Are We There Yet?
    • 589 Tell Me I’m Fat
    • 581 Anatomy of Doubt
  • Millennial
    • #30 Thirty-Year Plan
    • #24 Will Work for Free
    • #20 Haves and Have-Mores
  • The Heart
    • Mariya—Extended Cut
  • Call Your Girlfriend
    • Episode 70: Chosen Family
    • Episode 62: Women-Only Weed Utopia
    • Episode 60: Lady Villain
    • Episode 54: I’m Every Woman
    • Episode 50: Joy of Missing Out
    • Episode 48: Let’s Have Another Round
    • Episode 45: Right Hand Woman
    • Live from LA! With Rebecca Traister

Yay! But seriously: If you have suggestions for any type of media you like to consume, I want to hear them!! This has been the year of podcasts and keeping never-ending lists of articles to read for me, but I'm always looking for more. The challenge is just finding time to read/watch/listen to it all... but we're getting there. 

 

In summary...

There were lots of existential crises this year. Like, once a week. Ask my roommates. I cried a lot (but that's nothing new). I lost some friends, but made some new ones. I felt like a hot mess that everyone was for some reason treating like a person who "had their shit together." BUT I don't think I've ever grown more as a person or a writer than I have in the past six months. I've learned to have continually high expectations for everything I do, but not beat myself up with I fall short. I've had to struggle through job offers, rejections, tons of cover letters, and many interviews to figure out what the hell I actually want out of my career. (I'm still working on this. There's apparently a lot to consider.) I've had to learn to take myself less seriously and not freak out about anything and everything that goes wrong. I've had to deal entirely with my own bank account and income, actually make it in NYC (!!!!), and think about what I want for my future, financially and otherwise. I've had to deal with all of the situations in which people I love are more important than I am while also balancing with the fact that my early 20s are the best time to be selfish and figure shit out for myself. I've had to let go of people who bring me down, and not feel bad about it. I've had to think about what in the world I want out of life, and deal with the fact that this could change every day, and that's okay. But mostly? I think I'm a better person than I was a year ago. And if nothing else, I have a college degree and an income that I didn't have 12 months ago, so that's cool. I'm pretty damn excited. 2017's going to be cool, I think. So stay tuned.

 

Love still trumps hate.

Love still trumps hate, so I'm not going to spread any more of it today. But white Americans, please look around you. Think about looking in the eye all of the Americans who are not you, do not live in your reality, and woke up this morning feeling afraid for their health, their families, and their futures. No one should ever feel like that in their country. Yes, I understand that people vote for their own personal interests, but if you're going to do so, take a look around and acknowledge what you're overlooking in the process. No one's health, happiness, safety, or sense of belonging is worth less than whatever is on the other side of that equation. We all need to try to understand and respect each other a little better for this country to move forward, not backward.

Americans of color, LGBTQ individuals, women, religious minorities, etc., I stand with you. And I am so sorry that you were let down. That we let you down. This country is all of ours. And all we can do is try to move forward together.

Work, lift weights, contemplate life, repeat.

First thing’s first: I pretty much suck at blogging.

I’m not going to apologize, though, since I’ve been putting this on the back burner for a few very good reasons. I’m hardcore on the job hunt (my Excel sheet of jobs I’ve applied for is truly stressful to look at) and I’ve been working my ass off freelancing, working full-time, and trying to keep up with the things I truly care about in my personal life (the gym + important people, mostly). So no apologies for the lack of blogging, but I do want to keep it up when I can so I can actually get back in the habit once I have my future here in NYC (or ya know, wherever life takes me) more set in stone.

I’ll start by updating everyone on my monthly goals, because that’s the only thing on this blog that actually resembles continuity. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s up:

Get more serious about powerlifting/strength training

This one is absolutely happening. I’ve been working with my friend Meg (@MegSquats, check her out, she’s strong af) for a few months now with powerlifting programming and I absolutely love it. Meg and her boyfriend Ryan have me on a 12-week program specifically to increase strength on the four big compound movements that are used in powerlifting (bench press, deadlift, squat, and overhead press) and it’s generally been going well. Following the program as I have it now, this should have me testing my new maxs in about a week and a half. Let’s do this. (More on powerlifting coming later, so stay tuned for a post entirely on this if that interests you!).

Stretch every day

This is straightforward and I’m pretty much just going to have to suck it up and do it. So far, so good.


And now, for some rambling.

On the subject of life being overwhelming and me trying to meet a million goals at once, I’m just going to come right out and say that this hasn’t been my best month on a personal or emotional level.

Over the past few weeks, my life has been a constant back and forth of very strong emotions. I’m a pretty emotional person in general (the list of tv shows, books, and movies that have made me cry could be the rest of this blog post), but this has been something else altogether. My feelings have oscillated dramatically and relentlessly, from so excited I can’t sit still, feeling thrilled with every aspect of my life to more dejected, unsuccessful, and truly sad than I can remember feeling in my life. Disclaimer: I am totally fine. Even when I have these feelings, they come with a sort of awareness that I’m being too hard on myself, but it’s a very unpleasant state of mind to be in while it lasts. It’s getting better. Things are calming down. I’m coming to terms with the fact that life doesn’t come with a mapped out plan and who I am and where I want to be can change every single day, and maybe it actually should. But this dramatic time of all the feelings has also made me notice a few things about myself, which I'm going to verbally process here, not so much because I think other people care, but because really breaking down how I feel makes me understand myself better. And if someone else does glean something from it, then awesome. Here's what I realized:

1. My measure of success relies far too much on the outside world and circumstances that are out of my control.

I think this is a common one for type-A perfectionists, especially those who are used to being affirmed most of the time (basically my whole generation, of a certain type of upbringing). Succeeding becomes sort of like an addiction, but every time subsequent time you get your fix, the hit is a little weaker. You need a little bit more to feel as good as you did about yourself before. I don’t have a full-time job lined up after the end of 2016. I’m constantly torn between whether my crazy idea to chase a career in journalism was a good idea or the worst plan ever. I feel wildly out of place and lost without an exact plan for my future, like I’ve always had before. None of these are inherently bad things, but the bad part is that I so often catch myself thinking “Does this mean I’m a failure?” in response to something like not getting a job or hearing back after emailing a contact.

In reality, the answer is obviously no. No one, no matter how amazing they are, gets literally everything they want, and I know that. But then why does being without a plan make me feel so lost? I could psychoanalyze myself and say that it has to do with my deep desire to have control of my life (true), but I also think it’s inherently a part of the culture that I’ve been shaped by. Success is measured by tangible things, especially in higher education and the crazy New York City job market. It’s how much money you have, how many people you command, how prestigious your title is, what people think when they read your resume, the split-second reaction to seeing your alma mater listed on your LinkedIn. What does any of this truly tell us about someone’s goals or whether or not they met them? Nothing at all. And expecting myself to live up to everyone’s expectations, and letting them color what my own are, is something I need to eradicate from my life.

I think I have a weird mindset in this area because I spent so much of my young adult life fighting to make other people think I was **insert desirable trait here** (smart and deserving, mostly). In my group of friends in high school, I was the one who wasn’t naturally great at science or going to do amazingly on my SATs. In college, I often felt like the awkward scholarship kid who stumbled into j-school among classmates who came from prep schools and powerful families, and I was just going to fake it til I made it. (DISCLAIMER: Yes, I know not everyone at Northwestern came from any of these things, but when the conversations got into getting internships or affording certain things, it absolutely seemed like it to someone who was as self-conscious about where I came from as I was). This is not an excuse for me feeling like I more than deserved the success once I got it, but I’ve always believed that understanding yourself is the key to becoming a better person (slowly but surely), so at least this knowing about myself this is a step in the right direction.

2. I could drive myself completely insane with possibilities.

This quote from Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar is an absolutely accurate description of how I feel about making important life decisions. Minus the awful, depressing part at the end. But her description of inner emotions is, like so much of Plath’s writing, incredibly on point.

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

This so much describes my inherent conflict with decision making that I wanted (and still want to, but waiting on it because $$) to get a little tattoo of a fig tree. The beauty of it is that it’s so sad and wasteful, but to me, so relatable. The idea that in choosing one possibility, and therefore passing by so many potential other choices, drives me absolutely insane. But now I’m wondering if this really is just me (well, me and Esther). In 2016, we are so acutely aware of all the potential lives we could be leaving. We’re bombarded with other people’s lives and choices constantly via social media. If you can take it all with a grain of salt and not compare your own choices, then there’s no harm in it at all. But if you’re like me and are constantly wondering “what if?” it can be a whole lot more damning. Of course, it’s silly, because I know that every single choice I make will soon just become part of my past, something that is what it is and I can’t question anymore. I'll build my life and future choices around it, the indecision will slip away, and I’ll never know the outcomes I’m missing out on. But it’s a hard pill to swallow when, for the first time, it feels like there are simultaneously endless options and no options at all.

3. I care more about being a good friend, daughter, sister, girlfriend, and person than I do about my career. But I still care about my career a lot.

This sounds cliché and like I’m trying to convince you all that I’m actually a good person, but this one’s entirely true. In the midst of all my freaking out about my future (in a short-term and long-term sense), worrying about money, and generally dealing with all the shit daily life throws at me, I’ve come to a realization that’s entirely unrelated, one I wasn’t even looking for. I think I actually know what’s important to me now, which is kind of cool.

I obviously care about my career a lot because I like working hard, I like having goals, and I have the crazy dream that some day I can do something that will make a difference in someone’s life the same way that so many writers I admire made a difference in mine. But that is not going to make me happy. Having a great job isn’t going to make my life full and whole. Sacrificing everything to push myself as hard as I can in my professional life is going to leave me sad and angry. And if that means I’m not going to be some super successful someone, the kind of person that gets talked about and looked up to, then I am entirely fine with that. This is probably one of those realizations that’s like a light bulb epiphany moment for me and all of my more down to earth friends will just be like, “Well, duh.” But I have the suspicion that at least based off the terrified looks on some of my classmates’ faces at graduation, someone’s going to get where I’m coming from.

And speaking of important things, I'm using this as an excuse to put in random pics of people (& dogs & things) that are important to me #noshame

 

So that’s it for now! I hope you enjoyed my random life musings, as always.

PS: check out the illustrations on my website! I did those when I was putting off writing cover letters again last weekend, because apparently I’m a *~*v amateur designer~*~ now. But really, it was super fun, so tell me what you think (even if it’s that they suck). 

Failure Is Fine (But Let's Talk About Context)

It's only been 16 days, and I'm back with another post! ... I swear I'm working on it. Despite my goals, including keeping up with this blog, life continued to happen and September became probably the busiest month I've had in a very long time. Between working my real job, working my many part-time jobs (mostly writing + research), trying to blog and ramp up a social media presence for myself (YouTube anyone?), visiting my fam and boyfriend, and whatever other random life things you can think of, this month has been a lot and I basically alternate between *I'm so excited about life and the work I'm doing I can't sit still* and *I could pass out standing up on the subway* many times a day. No complaints, though. Things are going well. 

 Reasons why life is awesome, pt 1

Reasons why life is awesome, pt 1

 Reasons life is awesome, pt 2 (not pictured: Leah, Delaney, & Mugsy)

Reasons life is awesome, pt 2 (not pictured: Leah, Delaney, & Mugsy)

 

Before I launch into my latest thoughts on life, let's do an update about my goals for the month of September:

Complete Whole30? 9/10

Yep, I'm giving myself a solid 9/10 for this one. Let me explain. Here's what I HAVE been doing:

  • sticking mostly to the rules I set myself
  • teaching myself to be more thoughtful about what I put in my body
  • finding out that some things (dairy, alcohol) really have been messing with my stomach all along, and it's probably best that I keep those to a minimum as indulgences here and there but keep them out of my regular dit 
  • avoiding eating just because I feel like it or I'm stressed
  • sticking to this diet plan at least 90% of the time
  • getting a little bit better at cooking 

And here's what I HAVE NOT been doing:

  • being obsessive to a point where this becomes annoying to myself or others 
  • sticking exactly to this diet every second of my life (I have totally eaten protein bars with added sugar, some stove-popped popcorn, milk chocolate, and probably something else that I've forgotten and I AM NOT SORRY)
  • binge-eating food
  • being hungry or not satisfied with what I'm eating 
  • imposing my diet or choices on others 

The bottom line: the whole point of diet challenges like this is to learn how to treat your body with respect and kindness and figure out what works for you in a long term, sustainable way. It is NOT to follow every aspect of an arbitrary diet plan to a T until you cry because all the food you have in your apartment is non-compliant and you don't want to go out and buy more at that very moment. If you don't agree, that's fine. But if there's one thing I've learned from working in health & fitness journalism (and being personally obsessed with fitness & nutrition) it's this: health is not a one size fits all solution. It's totally different for everyone, and it would be way easier if you could just say "okay, this is the way to be #healthy so I'm going to do it," but it's not. You have to try things out for yourself and it's a lifelong learning process. So all in all, Whole30 has been what I wanted it to be, meaning a chance for me to explore what works for me and what doesn't, and to change my general eating habits just a little bit.

Note: Yes I am going to keep going until the end of the month, mostly. But maybe with like an 80-85% followthrough rather than 90 or 100% because I have a life and I live in NYC and I'm going to make the most of fucking awesome food sometimes.

Go back to therapy? 10/10!!

Yes! This one I can report that I have 100% accomplished my goal, so that's cool. And it's maybe okay that I waited this long to update my progress on these, since I just saw a new therapist for the first time yesterday (but I'm going to continue going, obviously, so it's all good). I really do not think the Internet needs a full rundown on my therapy sessions (gotta draw the line somewhere), but it's definitely a good thing for me. And for everyone! I have zero tolerance for therapy stigma because you gotta take care of yourselves mentally and emotionally. You can be totally okay and go to therapy because why stop at okay when you could feel even better and understand yourself a little bit more? 

Meditate for at least 5 minutes a day. 2/10 :( 

Lol. This was a total failure, and a great example of how I overreach and stretch myself too thin a lot of the time. I work a ton. (Ask my roommates. The typical McKenzie thing to do at home is hide in my bed with my computer while working on freelance work.) And with all that work, and being a normal human who gets tired and grumpy, comes wanting to SLEEP when I finally turn in a story at 10pm and have to get up at 6am for work the next day. So yeah, instead of pulling myself together for five minutes most nights to mentally focus (because for me, meditation is still hard AF), I lay in my bed like a beached whale, unable to move, and talk to my boyfriend on the phone or listen to podcasts until I fall asleep. I feel kinda bad about it, because I'd estimate that I've only actually been getting the meditation in once or twice a week, but also it was inevitable that I slipped up somewhere. And I'm glad it was on my own self-inflicted goals than, say, a project that I was getting paid to complete. Failure is fine, it's fine, guys.

On the bright side: with inspiration from one of my coworkers, who is super into guided meditation which is great for me, and as always, my mom, I'm going to keep going on this! For now, I'm just going to do it when I can and when I remember, and in the future, maybe I'll set it as a full goal again. But in the meantime, I'm at least getting somewhere by doing it sometimes rather than never! 

 

Conclusions (on goals & life):

Writing a few sentences about this small, tiny failure got me thinking about something a lot bigger. Why am I so obsessed with setting goals for myself in the first place? Partially, it is out of a genuine determination and drive to be a better, smarter, kinder, more thoughtful human. But another part of it that isn't super fun to talk about is that it feels good. I thrive on successes, so the more goals I set, the more chances for that feeling of succeeding. I never thought about it this way in the moment, when setting a goal, but it's totally true. I've trained myself to value praise (both internally and from others) over all else and to fear failing like crazy. I've basically trained myself like you train your dog to sit or roll over, except I don't even get a tasty treat when I do it.

So this all got me thinking. Failure has a weird place in our culture. It's simultaneously glamorized and demonized, especially in the world of business, entrepreneurship, and fitness (all places where I expend a lot of my mental energy). So let's break this down a little.

On a personal level:

Failure IS FINE.

Really, it is. Failure is fine, if you're really, really trying. Failure is fine if it's the alternative to expecting yourself to be superhuman. Failure is fine if you acknowledge it, get back up, and try again. Failure is not fine if you let it define your life or you as a person. Failure is not fine if it's your expectation. Failure is not fine if you accept it at face value. 

If you're afraid of failing at something (even something small, like not reaching a small goal you set yourself), you're never going to accomplish anything. And if you're afraid of talking about failing, then you're probably not totally confident in your abilities.

For me, a person who's always seen failure not only as an incomprehensible thing I was afraid to even think about or define, but as an outcome that would immediately overshadow everything I've ever accomplished, accepting and coming to terms with failure (in a larger sense) is something that I really needed to learn to do. I have failed more in the past year (I've touched on this before). But this year has also been the biggest for me in terms of growth, self-acceptance, and self-love. I don't think that's any sort of coincidence because I finally faced the thing that paralyzed me (failing) and learned to deal with it. I'm not going to pretend that failing feels good, because it doesn't. It's never exactly fun, but it's also not paralyzing anymore. For someone who's dealt with anxiety and perfectionism for a very long time, it's also kind of a relief, as long as you bounce back from it. It's a small reminder that you're human, that the world isn't always fun or fair, that life doesn't get you down, but that in fact, you yourself do, and it's up to you to pull yourself back up, too. 

On a larger level:

And this got me thinking a bit more. What kind of person am I, how self-centered and unaware, that I get down on myself for failing to accomplish small, arbitrary goals that no one but I even care about? Part of it makes sense. My obsessions with not failing come from a deep insecurity (financially, mostly, and I'm now terrified of failing if it means not being able to provide for myself and those I love) and an innate need to succeed and be praised. That's fine, we all have our problems, and those were built into me by my environment as a kid. But if we're going to talk about failure, I'm not going to trivialize it. My personal failures are inconsequential to literally everyone who isn't me and the only reason I even talk about it is because, maybe, someone else can relate and be a little bit happier and more at peace with their own life.

But the way we culturally talk about failure is something a bit different. 

There are a lot of bullshit stories out there about how failure is great. It's kind of in fashion, at this moment, to talk about your past failures. But only in the context that you, now a successful but not pretentious and relatable person, are willing to reflect on your past failures that inevitably end in successes. After all, no one would be reading or caring about your failings if you hadn't succeeded in the end. I get that. The way we think about failure in a larger sense is weird and disingenuous. It's all well and good for some fancy startup founder or businessman (or, say, JK Rowling, who I love but this is still true for) to stand up on a TED stage and talk about failure. But the context is what's framing their failure as something that is okay. It's bookending a string of failures with the shining successes that define their careers.

So let's not get ahead of ourselves. In any way I fail, at least for my small, personal goals, I will be okay. If I don't get the job I want, I will still be able to pay my rent (as long as I have some sort of job at all and work a lot). If I don't meditate daily, I may be more stressed and anxious, but I will still be a functional person. If I do something stupid and reckless (spoiler: I probably won't because I'm boring and safe that way), I don't have a criminal record, I'm a small, white woman (sad but true that this matters), and I will probably be able to bounce back without ruining my life. At least at the moment, I'm in a position with a tiny bit of a cushion that makes this possible. I'm privileged, in this sense (even though I worked my ass off to get here).

If a black man fails to get home at the normal time and is out on the streets at night, in the wrong place, his tiny failure might result in his death (this is more of our society failing him than him failing himself, but you see my point, just a simple, tiny coincidence. If you need some more context for how awful things COULD be, go read this and this and this). If someone living in true poverty fails to make it to work exactly on time, they could lose their job and not have food on the table. If someone who wasn't given the education or support system that I was as a kid fails to graduate high school, they may never get into college or get a job. If a single mother (like mine) had failed to keep it together in difficult circumstances, we all could have lost a house or our futures.

(I'm trying to keep this blog critical and make myself hyper-aware of all the ways in which I'm privileged. It's a really good exercise, really. Not only do you feel more empathetic and compassionate towards others, but you also don't get down on yourself for stupid shit and instead recognize all the ways you're lucky. Well, most of the time.)

So this is all to say that failure is fine - if you're in a position to still be okay, if you have a safety net. I wish I didn't have to write this entire section, that everyone in the world had the chance to try something hard, fail, and get back up again because someone else had their back. But they don't. And I did. So if we're going to talk about failure, let's keep it in context. Really, this is all the more reason not to (as young, educated, fairly privileged people) let our small failures define ourselves because in so many ways, we've got a hell of a lot going for us. That was a long digression, but I'm constantly infuriated by the way people (mostly white people) dismiss the ways in which they are lucky to talk about the ways in which they are not. I am NOT belittling anyone's problems, even my own, because the ways in which we struggle are all different. But I have to recognize that when I look at myself in the mirror and see the ways in which I've failed, other people would look at where I am and think about nothing than how lucky I am to be, living, surviving. 

So, here's to failing some more this year, but only as a result of trying REALLY FREAKIN HARD to accomplish some shit, too. And being aware, if I feel the inclination to get down on myself, of all the ways my life is awesome.