Basic Rule: Scariness of an arthropod is directly proportional to its number of legs.
Note: Inverse rule applies to reptiles.
When I was young, my parents took us on a road trip. Like nearly all our vacations, we were camping in our lovely pop-up camper—equipped with double beds, a mini-fridge, and a heater. We may have been living among the trees, but we were extra fancy about it. In between hiking mountains and eating wild blueberries, we stopped in a few towns.
At one of them, we were making our way down a store-lined street after some wholesome vacation activity, like eating ice cream or window shopping. My sister and I were a few steps ahead of my parents and had stopped to talk to someone. I can’t remember what she said to us, but her voice was deep and raspy—very deep and very raspy. We talked with her about whatever we were doing at the time and then she went on her way. Once she left, and our parents had caught up to us, we turned to them and asked why that girl had a voice that sounded like a boy’s. My mom looked at us and said, “Because she was a boy, but now she’s a girl.”
It was the perfect explanation for two young kids—simple, straightforward, and free of judgment. With that short phrase, my mom explained the truth to us. She didn’t hesitate or hedge her response. She said it as the fact it was and left it out there for us to take. I’m not sure if she expected us to keep asking questions, but we didn’t have any. We heard her, acknowledged it, and went on with our business—the business of eating summer treats and looking at trinkets. We accepted that we’d just had a nice interaction with a stranger and that stranger was a woman. It wasn’t complicated. It wasn’t difficult to understand. It wasn’t hard to keep living our lives without judging her or hating her or wanting her to be harmed.
I’ve been trying to figure out how to write about the tragedy in Orlando. I’ve thought about it again and again. It’s filling my newsfeed and my mind. There are so many pieces to it—the hate, the gun violence, the political response. Stories about the attack have been popping up alongside pictures of my friends celebrating Pride this month—dancing in the streets, celebrating their truth, and recognizing the value of the people around them. The joy of honesty is sitting right next to this deep sadness. I’ve had a lot of emotional responses to the attack, but my gut keeps coming back to that memory.
I can’t speak for my LGBTQ friends and I won’t try, but I can speak for that little girl who heard a gruff, masculine voice rise out of a tall, beautiful woman. That moment wasn’t wrought with conflict for me. I wasn’t confused or offended or bothered. I was affected only enough to cement those minutes into my mind. And that’s because of one reason—one person, really. I was lucky enough to have a mother who explained the truth simply and kindly, and who raised me in a way that made the truth easy. I know not everyone is gifted with that, but what if we were? What would happen if we had an army of openminded, openhearted mothers? What would the world look like if, when a question arose, a thoughtful mother appeared to answer? What if every politician, every community leader, every businessperson was assigned a Jiminy Cricket style mother to explain how he should act?
We might be forced to quiet down just long enough to accept one another. The trade off would be that we could never walk too close to the edge of a balcony and we’d have to eat a lot more vegetables, but it’s probably worth it.
Guys, I put my doodles on items you can wear and carry, like shirts and mugs and tote bags. Everyone knows you can never have enough tote bags and coffee mugs. Also, buying things made by Americans (me) is very American. We’re about to celebrate our country’s independence, so be a patriot and TAKE A LOOK.
THE SHOP is online, so you don’t even need to leave your couch to check it out. That’s the way everyone should shop, because you avoid pushy salespeople and jarring lights. You can also avoid the dressing room attendant taking your actual clothes from your assigned room and throwing them in with everyone else’s unwanted tried-on clothing while you’re looking in the three-piece mirror. Not that that’s normal—but it’s possible. Like maybe if someone was shopping at Target last weekend to try and find a Fourth of July outfit. Then that person might come back to her dressing room to find it completely empty. She might start to wonder if she even exists or if she’s really a ghost that only a weird little kid can see. It could lead to a minor existential crisis that can only be soothed by peanut butter ice cream. Believe me, you want to avoid all that. I’d guess. I don’t know from personal experience.
Anyway, the things with my doodles on them are in MY NEW SHOP. You should check them out. I’ll keep adding doodles, so if you don’t like something yet, just wait, which is a pretty good life lesson. If you wait long enough, maybe I’ll put that on a coffee mug.
I’ve been away from my blog for bit, but it hasn’t been far from my mind. I know my adoring fans (hi, mom!) are just pacing in their kitchens every morning, wishing for another note from me. Never fear, I’m alive and mostly well. I’ve been spending a lot of energy fighting off tick bacteria, celebrating the love of friends, and trying to make my way to and from work without succumbing to the dangers of the metro.
To be honest, I’m having a hard time writing lately. My brain is feeling a bit cloudy and I’m trying to clear away the haze. I know part of it is my own brain-fog, but I’ve also been feeling overwhelmed by what has taken over my newsfeed. It feels like that’s all I should be writing about, but at the same time, I can’t quite land on the words. I can’t even decide which item on this long long list of horrendous topics to discuss first. Fortunately and unfortunately, these things aren’t going anywhere, so I’ll get back to them when I’m feeling more articulate.
For now, I’m working on something that takes fewer words. It might be kinda fun for a couple people—mostly my parents. I’ll probably share it this week, so look out for that very minor, but pretty awesome announcement. I’m also listening to a lot of StarTalk because it helps to remember how amazing the universe is and to appreciate the strange, unlikely circumstances that led to me (and you) growing on this planet. We’re pretty lucky for that. Big props to the rapidly expanding universe, the photons that created more matter than anti-matter, and the roving electrons that smashed into atoms to create our essential elements. Also major thanks to gravity and luck for pulling Earth into a rotation that allowed water to continue to exist on the planet. Clutch.
Last weekend Dave and I went camping to celebrate the wedding of some lovely friends. We stayed in cabins, danced in the woods, and ate blueberry pancakes. It was wonderful, but I almost died. A lot. It turns out that while I love the wilderness, it does not love me. Here are just a few ways it tried to kill me:
- A spider the size of my palm attempted to bunk with me. Dave spotted the huge, hairy intruder right before we went to sleep. He’d probably been living there for awhile and thought we were the intruders. I tried to explain to him kindly that we needed to stay there for the night. I told him I respected him and his value in nature, but I really just didn’t want to share a bedroom with him. I asked if he could kindly please leave. He didn’t listen. It was super rude. He just laid there and stared up at me with his million tiny eyes. Seeing that the dialogue wasn’t getting us anywhere, I decided I had to take more assertive action. I captured him and released him nicely into the woods. Ok, it was not so nice. I captured him, walked outside to release him nicely, but I forgot the flashlight, so I got scared and just flung him away from me and ran away. I was afraid he would return for his revenge, but I woke up unscathed the next morning, so I guess he found another home.
- I almost died of a burst bladder both nights we were at the cabins, since I was too afraid to leave the cabin the middle of the night. This was at least partly fueled by the giant spider incident.
- When packing up our things on Sunday morning, we noticed a group of wasps outside the cabin. And then inside the cabin. And then we found their home hanging off the roof of the cabin. We decided it would be best to leave and never return.
On a non-wilderness-related note, I also went into a mild sugar coma from the pounds of carrot cake, late night s’mores, and cherry chocolate ice cream I consumed over the weekend. I think I still might be in a sort of sleepwalking state as I type this. It’s not pleasant, but given the opportunity, I’m sure I’d do it again.
Overall, I’d say the outdoor adventure was a success, given that I’m still alive and I wasn’t eaten by a bear. That’s pretty much my measure of success for all activities.
While I’m generally pretty fit, I’ve never been great at any kind of competitive athletic endeavor. I was on the swim team, but I never won a race. I was on the track team, but I was always at the back of the pack. I play rec soccer, but I’ve never scored a goal. I don’t fret about it, since I mostly just move my body to feel healthy, not to win a trophy. Because who cares about trophies. Not me. I don’t need that kind of outside validation. (But if someone has a trophy they don’t really need I could maybe take it off your hands and just hold it for a few minutes and take a photo or something. Whatever.)
I’ve accepted my complete lack of athletic achievement. I thought I’d just continue to live my life running very slowly behind Dave through the neighborhood without any recognition for my not-nearly-superior strength and endurance. Until I found the sport for me. I’ve never seen it done, but now I know it exists: South Korea’s Space Out Competition.
It was made for me. The contestants are supposed to sit in a park and stare into space. They aren’t allowed to do anything. They have to keep their heart rates stable and stay calm. They can’t check their phones or look at a watch. They have to just sit quietly and relax. I would be so good at this. I’m so good at sitting and not talking to anyone. I really excel at ignoring the people around me. In fact, I’m so great at ignoring people that just last week someone on the metro thought I was deaf. That’s how committed I am to this competition. You might as well call me Serena Williams, because I’m about to be a champion.
Yesterday my colleague went on our Facebook account to host a discussion with some young people doing amazing things. She spoke with a biologist and a mountain climber about their adventures around the globe and the causes that push them to work hard. They talked about the effects of discovering microbes at the bottom of the ocean, the power of teaching young girls to reach higher, and the music that inspires them during their journeys.
Unfortunately, when we scrolled down the page at the end of the talk, we saw note after note about the women in the video. Men were talking about how they looked, making vague threats about what they’d like to do to them, and commenting on their bodies. It was offensive, of course, but really it was pathetic. And we weren’t surprised.
Every day I walk down the street under the scrutiny of the men around me. I speak knowing there are people who are not interested in what I have to say, only in how I look saying it. I move through my life recognizing and ignoring people who want me to be quieter, softer, sweeter. The women I know are used to pushing these realities out of their minds, so they can continue to do awesome things every day. But sometimes you can’t ignore them. The comments on our talk were a reminder of the sad men trying to bring down the strong, bold, interesting women who threaten their unearned elevated status.
But you know what we did? We deleted the comments and watched the number of views rise and rise and rise. Because those men are so much smaller than the accomplishments of these young people and my colleague and the women who helped support them. We just clicked a little button next to their vile words and erased them.
If only there were tiny X’s next to the men on the street who harass me. I could just walk by and press the button hanging a few inches from a particularly obnoxious person’s head—sending him to some world where he has to watch on a loop all the terrible things he’s said and done until he learns how to be a decent, respectful person. Technology—it giveth and it taketh.
Last weekend, Dave and I drove back to Michigan for some family fun. We took the turnpike, so we saw a whole bunch of big rigs on the route. Two things happen when I drive past a huge truck. First, I usually get creeped out by some guy staring down into the car at me. Second, and much more pleasantly, I am reminded of the time when I was four and a truck like that changed the way I thought about the prospects of the world.
Years ago, one of my dad’s oldest friends was working as a truck driver. One beautiful morning he drove past our town and stopped to hang out for a bit. I have two distinct memories of what was probably only a 20-minute visit, both of which are filled with the kind of wonder and amazement only children can muster.
He parked in front of our house, the truck taking over most of the tiny neighborhood street. When he arrived, he called me up into the cabin and sat me on the big, worn-out seat. He pointed up at a rope hanging from the ceiling and told me to pull down on it. I looked to the roof, lifted my tiny hand, and tugged. The most glorious, loud, obtrusive noise came out of the truck. I’d heard those horns on the road, but it was a lot of power for a four year old and I loved it. I obviously pulled it a few more times, no doubt annoying the lovely old couple across the street.
After that, we went inside to take a break from the gleeful mischief. He pulled open the fridge, grabbed the milk, and took a few gulps right from the carton. I couldn’t believe he didn’t use a glass. It seemed so bold and broke what I’d assumed were the rules of not only our home, but everyone else’s. I’m pretty sure I just stared at him chugging the milk in the middle of our kitchen—my mouth open and eyes wide. He may or may not have winked at me. I know I repeated this story to my mom about forty-eight times immediately after it happened.
The world felt wide open after his visit. What did it mean that someone my parents loved got to be so wild? How many of these rules could be broken? And, most importantly, what couldn’t I do now that’d I’d honked the loudest horn in the universe? This friend, with his easy confidence and unbroken spirit, showed me there were so many ways to be. I was four and the shake-up made everything seem ripe with possibility—the possibility of a world where I could sound the call of an elephant, a world with cars the size of dragons, and, most significantly, a world free of cutlery and dishware.
I’ve been having a bit of a tough week. Usually that happens when I’m tired or hungry or someone annoying won’t stop talking to me. Those things have happened, but this week has been hard because of one tiny, sneaky, very rude arachnid. Just one. I will name him Brody, because that sounds like the name of a really entitled jerk I would hate. Sorry if any one reading this is named Brody. I mean, sorry that your name is Brody.
So, this terrible arachnid named Brody happened to land on my shoulder sometime last week and, being a selfish tick, he bit me. I’d thought ticks like Brody mostly hung out in fields of tall grass and dense forests with other jerks named Preston and Brayden. Apparently, they also frequent popular city parks where some people like to walk on lovely afternoons. I was lucky enough to run into one such park dweller. Or, rather, have one run into me. I didn’t even notice because he was so obnoxiously stealthy about the whole thing.
I did finally see where his terrible miniature pincers had pierced my skin, but I assumed it was a mosquito bite. It wasn’t. I realized that after the tiny red ring around it became a larger red ring. Ok, I was still in denial at that point, but some friends who are smarter than me convinced me to see a medical professional.
When I got to the doctor, he told me I’d had the bad luck of running into Brody. Well, the doctor didn’t say Brody because he didn’t realize that was his name, but he did pull the arachnid’s head out of my shoulder. So, joke’s on you, Brody. I may have to take a bunch of drugs with really uncomfortable side effects and I may be suffering from the painful consequences of the bacteria you spread, but you’ve been decapitated by your selfish greed and now you’re dead. I took your head as my trophy to show Preston and Brayden what’s up.
I feel like every day there’s a news story about someone who was harmed in the middle of a busy street, on a metro car, or at a crowded mall. When I was younger, I was certain I’d act in those situations. I thought I would definitely be the person to help. Today, when I read those stories, I still wonder why no one stepped up, spoke out, or helped. In a flash of judgment, I think about how weak those people must have been—to see harm and not act. Then I remember that time I didn’t.
I was a freshmen in college, with barely enough time away from home to call it more than a vacation. I was walking through the library stairwell for an evening of studying, probably on my way to get a book I couldn’t afford to buy. After climbing a couple flights, I saw a boy standing in the corner of the landing. He had his back to me. I could hear him speaking, but I couldn’t quite understand what he was saying. It took me a minute to realize there was someone else there.
A tiny girl was backed into the same corner, looking up with wide eyes at the boy. I can’t remember the words that were coming out of his mouth. I can’t remember what he looked like. But I remember how small she seemed and that look of half-fear, half-defeat in her eyes. I remember the heated anger in his voice. I remember feeling in my gut that she wasn’t ok.
I froze. I looked at her for a few seconds, but she didn’t look back. Then I stared down at the ground and kept walking.
That moment, the moment when I did nothing, sits with me. Even now, I remember feeling stunned by the situation—programmed to mind my own business. I wasn’t scared, I just robotically moved along. Something inside compelled me forward before I could act. So I understand why people don’t. I let the harsh memory of those ten seconds slip into my mind when I feel judgmental. Most of us are conditioned to not intervene, to keep to ourselves. It’s hard to ignore that, but it’s possible.
The time I did nothing—not even look into the girl’s eyes and ask her if she was ok—serves as a shameful reminder of the need to just do something, anything to support one another. It’s helped me have mildly uncomfortable confrontations with strangers, reach out to assist friends even when they can’t ask, and intervene in some sticky bar-related situations involving girls who needed a sober friend. I know I’m not the only one. I have friends who are always opening their wallets for strangers. I read stories about heroes rescuing children from the sea. I’ve seen women force a harasser off a city bus. All of these people inspire me to be better, to overlook the social conditioning that tells me to slide away quietly, and to simply help.
Plus, the best way to be bold is in a way that makes the world a better place. It gives you strength to be courageous in all ways. If you can boldly step up to save a person some pain, you can boldly step up to be yourself. If you’re brave enough to intervene in a stranger’s life to improve it, you just might be brave enough to make your own life better. First step, help a friend. Second step, help a stranger. Third step, neon jumpsuit.