Imperfect Vulnerability

I’m overdue again. This time I’m showing up late out of fear. I noticed that some people actually read these words, so I convinced myself that I had to wait until I had something to say that was worth reading. I don’t want to waste anyone’s time or to waste this space. I wanted to wait until a perfectly formulated, perfectly original thought and argument came to me that would totally blow your mind, rock your world and change the way you thought about life for at least the rest of your week. So finally, after nearly three months of this, I decided to just sit down and start writing. I decided to stop taking myself so seriously and putting so much pressure on myself. No author has ever been 100% successful with their writing; no one has ever written only perfectly relatable and thought-provoking words. And no one can write life-changing words without a few duds in between.

 

At least, I don’t think so—and I don’t want to be proven wrong, so if you’re thinking of an absolutely perfect writer, maybe don’t enlighten me this time.

 

Over the past few months, I’ve considered a few different topics for my next blog: intuitive eating, progressive Christianity, and what it means to be whole. I decided that I wasn’t qualified enough to write about intuitive eating, I wasn’t strong enough for the inevitable backlash I would face after writing about my beliefs, and I wasn’t a good enough writer to write about such a big topic as what it means to be whole. Evidently, I still have much to work on in the self-esteem department, so I’ll tackle those topics when I’m a bit closer there. Until then, I’d like to stick to the stuff that I have experience in: imperfection and grace.

 

I may not hold any degrees in nutrition, dietetics, politics, religion, philosophy or psychology, but I get to use this space to show you the way I see the world. My opinion matters no more or less than yours does, but maybe if we all acknowledge that everyone’s experiences contribute to our greater understanding, we’ll all take ourselves a little less seriously and we’ll all be a little less afraid to be vulnerable. I think the more we share about our viewpoints, the more we get to not only learn about ourselves but also start conversations about how we differ from one another. Sharing our opinions is scary and I can’t say that I’m fearless when sharing my own or that I always respond with grace to the opinions of others, but we can’t expect to grow if we don’t talk about our differences. I need to be able to share my thoughts and feelings with my loved ones and know that they’ll still respect me, even if we stand on opposite ends of the political spectrum. If I’m too afraid to share my viewpoint, how can I ever expect anyone else to share theirs?

 

I think we all need to make a conscious effort to listen to the viewpoints of others and speak kindly to one another, even when the conversation gets tough. If we all took a moment to say, “I respect you as an intelligent human being, no matter what your opinion is,” I think we’d be able to share openly without fear of rejection or disdain. I think the biggest problem our society faces is the lack of willingness and ability to listen to one another. With listening comes compromise, respect, dignity and growth.

 

I hope you strive to listen intentionally this week. I hope you encourage those around you to speak out about the things that matter to them while respecting if they’re not willing to open up. I hope you offer them the utmost respect when you disagree with them, and I hope you admit when you’re wrong. I hope you show up with all of your imperfections. I hope you acknowledge the importance of your perspective and I hope you engage in more vulnerability than ever before. Most of all, I hope you give yourself grace when you’re scared and know that, if what you’re sharing doesn’t scare the living daylight out of you, then maybe that’s not what vulnerability looks like to you.

 

If you’re someone who feels comfortable sharing about topics that seem to be difficult for others, then maybe you’re not living as vulnerably as you thought. Maybe vulnerability is about more than speaking the unspeakable. Maybe it’s time for you to find your own version of what it means to push yourself.

 

If you’re the opposite—you struggle to open up about most of your thoughts and feelings—then know that I’m cheering for you. I’m rooting for you and I’ll be here to hold your hand when you’re facing your fears. All you need to do is ask.

 

Thanks for reading.

AR

Summer Intentions

A dear friend of mine recently asked me what my intentions are for the upcoming summer. Being caught a little off guard and realizing I hadn’t thought much about the impending season at all, I quickly came up with this one: this summer, I will learn to stay. I will stay rooted and routined. I will stop romanticizing the idea of going anywhere other than home. I will stay present and fully enjoy all that my city offers in the summertime and I won’t miss out on quality time with the people here. I find that I’m always planning our next trip, either to visit someone or to cross something off my bucket list. While I can’t say that I’m going to stop doing that entirely—as I already have a weekend trip planned this month and two in July—I’m going to stop acting like this summer is the only time I have to do the 100 different things I want to do someday. Summertime is my favorite time in Rochester for dozens of reasons that I won’t list here, but this year I’m not going to miss it by packing our schedule to the brim. Hopefully.

Since my sweet friend asked me that question a few weeks ago, I’d mostly forgotten about it until today. Today I found myself self-deprecating, a habit that I’m sure most people struggle with but one that is typically triggered for me after I’ve been around a lot of people. After going to a friend’s wedding this weekend, I spent much of today replaying moments from the weekend and thinking of what I “should’ve” said or done or how I “should” feel about the experiences I had. By the time I got home today, I felt like shit. There’s no better way to say it.

After reflecting some more about what made me feel that way, I realized that the word “should” and all of its forms has been an incredibly harmful word for me for as long as I can remember. I associate it with nothing but shame. When someone tells me, or I tell myself, that I “should” or “shouldn’t” do something or feel some way, my heart sinks and I feel completely squashed because we use those words when someone does something wrong. I use those words most often when referring to my emotions, beating myself up for the way I’m feeling. I want to be easygoing and fun to be around and a great friend and selfless, so when I feel anything that could cause me to not be one of those things, I get even more upset with myself for it.

I’ve always struggled with feeling like I overshare or don’t act happy enough and then, after the conversation is over, I ruminate over what the other person could be thinking of me. She’s a bummer to be around. She seems down. I feel bad for her. I don’t know what to say to her. I’m sick of her complaining. Chances are, no one thought any of those things 99 percent of the time that I worry about it, and if they were thinking those things, they’re probably not a good friend for me anyways.

Last summer, I took the opposite approach. I was too afraid to express how anxious I was about the wedding. I didn’t want anyone to think I was making the wrong decision because it had nothing to do with how I felt about marrying Charlie and I didn’t want anyone to tell me not to do it. I wasn’t exactly sure what made me so anxious about the wedding and I didn’t know how to express it, so I chose not to. I wanted to be the “cool bride,” who didn’t care what happened as long as I got to marry the love of my life. Spoiler alert: I’m a control freak and a perfectionist, so naturally I had way too high of expectations for my wedding. I didn’t want anyone to know that so I tried to be the “easygoing” person I’ve always wanted to be, which just resulted in me bottling things up and taking them out on the people closest to me. I’ve spent the past year feeling a lot of regret for the way I acted over the few months leading up to the wedding because I know I hurt many of the people I love most. Since that day, I’ve judged myself harder than my worst critics ever have, and I’m so thankful that Charlie has been there to pull me out of it time after time. It serves as a constant reminder that I married the right person.

Today, I finally had enough. I’m sick of my self-deprecating thoughts. I’m sick of feeling like I “should” or “shouldn’t” feel a certain way. I’m sick of small talk and hiding my emotions in fear of not being pleasant to be around. Life is too short for small talk. This summer, I’m giving up all forms of the word “should” cold-turkey, and I’m going to stop apologizing for my emotions. I know that I’ve already made progress over the years by no longer literally saying “I’m sorry” for how I feel, but I have yet to conquer feeling guilt over my emotions. I’m going to stare my feelings right in the face and figure out why the heck I’m feeling that way.

Look out, world. No more sugar-coating from this girl.

Thanks for reading.

xoxo,

AR

Stop Donating to Notre Dame

This Thursday marks five years since Flint, Michigan changed its water source to the Flint River to save money—a decision which has killed at least 12 people from Legionnaires’ disease.

According to Lifewater International, 10.9% of the world population is living on less than $2 a day; and about a third of the UN’s Least Developed Countries are also the least evangelized countries in the world. “As a matter of correlation, 1 in every 3 countries listed by the UN as those with the least socioeconomic development are also those that have had little Christian influence.”

These are the places that need our money.

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I have a lot of thoughts about how people are pouring out their love and money to rebuild a building while there are millions of people struggling to survive the day around the world and we hesitate to help them. This photo represents how we don’t need a perfect cathedral for Jesus to show up. His children are far more important than any man-made building, no matter its beauty or historical significance. 

He is never leaving.

He. Is. Always. Here. 

Here, there & everywhere. 

I understand that I could come off the wrong way, especially since I’ve never been to Notre Dame. I heard people on the radio this morning celebrating the cathedral as a place that shows beauty and demonstrates God. To that, I would argue that God’s creation is plenty beautiful without our expensive structures. The cathedral seems to be absolutely stunning and I’m not arguing that. I’m merely standing up for the millions of people who desperately need the $700 million for survival that we’ve dedicated to restoring this monument.


I recently wrote a blog post for the marketing company I work for, Noticestry, about evaluating charities before you donate. Though I can’t say that I always spend my money wisely, I’m working on being intentional with the money I’ve been blessed with. If you have funds to spare, I urge you to consider where the need is greatest.

Progress, Not Perfection

The theme of my March this year was “just for me.” I wouldn’t say it was my mantra because it certainly wasn’t something I was reminding myself of throughout the month. I have a hard time admitting that this month was entirely focused on me, because I don’t want my life to be just about me. I just know that I can look back on the past few weeks and say that I’ve made progress in my own mental health in a lot of different ways. One of the biggest flaws I’m working on in therapy is my perfectionism, which presents itself most frequently as a self-inflicted requirement to be productive at all times as well as to be liked by everyone I meet. I think everyone is afraid of not being liked—actually, I know everyone is afraid of that in some capacity, whether or not it’s acknowledged.

March hit me hard. I began the month pretty low. I skipped work one day because I couldn’t get out of bed, I scrolled through Instagram for hours comparing myself to the other female entrepreneurs in the area and had basically come to the conclusion that my career would never progress and I would be unhappy with my work for the rest of my life; and therefore I would be in a constant state of grump for the rest of my days (can you tell I put way too much of my sense of self-worth in my work? And that I tend to spiral pretty quickly?). The rest of my month still felt low but, looking back, I can see that I handled multiple rejections so much better than I would’ve a few years ago. I’ve experienced more rejection than I’m used to this month and looking back on March, I’m honestly so proud of myself for how I’ve handled it. Rejection of any sort a couple of years ago would’ve sent me into complete panic. Of course, it still hurt a heck of a lot more than I’d care to admit and I did let myself have multiple pity parties, but those pity parties were much shorter than they’d been in the past—in fact, they’d be better described as healthy periods of grief than pity parties. Rather than dwelling on the rejection and letting it affect the way I view myself, I grieved the loss of a friendship and a few career opportunities without taking it personally.

I’d be giving myself too much credit if I didn’t admit that my wellbeing definitely improved towards the end of the month based on my circumstances. Still, I can say that I’m working on not pitying myself and admitting that maybe the reason I’m so angry all the time isn’t because of the things people around me are doing wrong; maybe it’s my mindset and therefore my responsibility to change my outlook. This isn’t to say that my mental illness will be solved by merely changing my outlook, but I’m learning to acknowledge that I can’t blame everything on my mental illness or on everyone else around me, either. I have the responsibility to work on myself and my illness. In the midst of acknowledging that maybe my life can be better without my circumstances changing, I worked on a few skills with my therapist to improve my self-image and my ability to rest. It felt very fitting this morning when the sermon at church was on the fourth commandment: to honor the sabbath, AKA to rest. Let me tell you about a few of the things I did this month that got me out of bed. Maybe one of them will get you out of bed someday.

I made a list of positive “I Am” statements. Every day I subconsciously tell myself negative “I am” statements, but one day I made a list of my positive attributes (and I made it pretty which definitely helped my confidence, too). I even asked my coworker how she would describe me in one word, and without hesitation she said “bubbly.” Not only was the description a surprise, but the immediacy and confidence of her response proved that she really meant it. There’s no need to be ashamed to ask someone that simple question. In the past I’ve really struggled with accepting compliments, but I took that opportunity to be thankful for her rapid, honoring response. It’s okay to ask people for help, even if in that moment all you need is for someone to verbalize the beauty they see in you.

I colored. I whipped out one of those trendy adult coloring books and, purely to satisfy my therapy homework assignment, I dedicated a solid chunk of time to just coloring. No music, no TV on in the background, just coloring. I did it in a moment that I was stuck in a cycle of anxiety in which my mind was spiraling again into dramatic imaginary situations I was convinced I would find myself in. In those moments, I typically try to do something productive that would help me progress towards a goal, to calm me down and remind myself that I am productive and I do have value. But when I colored, it was a reminder that I’m valuable when I’m not working. I don’t have to be constantly working. I can just color. And, believe it or not, the world was still turning after an hour of me thinking about nothing but the color progression of my 2D flowers. Not only that, but my anxiety had essentially vanished after that time. After years of preaching self care and rest, I had finally done it for myself in a way that was actually helpful. This may be a hot take, but watching Netflix isn’t always restful. In fact, I would say it’s usually not.

I showed up here. The reason I waited until the last day of the month to blog after committing just last month to blog every month is because putting “blog” on my to-do list instantly made it a chore. It went from being something that brought me joy to something that was just another task. It went from being something that I did as a result of being inspired by life to something that I had to force out of me. So I practiced the idea of waiting until I was ready and accepting that the world would still turn if I sat down, started to write and didn’t come up with anything. I started writing without the expectation of coming up with a blog. I decided this would be my blog without the expectation of it being the best piece I’ve ever written. I wrote this blog accepting that it’s far from perfect. FAR. And that’s okay. Because this blog is for me and my growth. It’s about progress, not perfection.

I hope your April is restful, joyful and non-apologetic. I hope you’re quick to forgive yourself and to appreciate the beauty in you. I also hope you color.

After the Wedding

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I want to talk about this crazy decision I made to get married at age 22. Anyone that has ever really known me was not surprised by that decision—I tend to be motivated by people telling me the odds aren’t in my favor. I went to journalism school after my high school journalism teacher literally said that he wouldn’t advise anyone to choose that profession, and I went on that first date with Charlie after plenty of people warned me to “be careful with that guy.” Slim chances thrill me. Thankfully, so far marriage has been the most rewarding challenge yet. 


Putting Charlie and our marriage into words is not easy, but then again neither is putting Charlie into a photo. He tests my patience as a writer and photographer when he groans at the idea of picking up a pen to fill out a simple form, or when he tries to smile for a photo and I have to tickle him so he doesn’t look constipated. But that’s what I’m here for—I tickle him to get one shot that I love, and he reminds me to put the camera down after so that I don’t miss out on what’s happening in front of me. I fill out the forms while he takes over one of my chores to lighten my load. Charlie is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I’m quite certain he’s the best thing that ever will happen to me. 


Charlie makes me breakfast in bed every Friday morning before work. He started this a few months ago when he asked me what he could do to make me feel loved, and I said that I love breakfast in bed. He puts up with more than he probably should and loves me through all of my many imperfections as a roommate and a wife. He spends most of his free time either reading Christian books, working through his twelve-step program or cleaning our apartment. He dances and sings while he does the dishes. He watches Cartoon Network and laughs with the innocence of an 8-year-old boy. He admits his mistakes as soon as he makes them and refuses to lie, even when it would probably be more polite to do so. If you could see him six years ago, you wouldn’t recognize him today because of the way he turned his life around. Charlie has made me into the best version of myself, even though I don’t have to hide the worst parts of me from him. He’s seen the ugliest sides of me and he somehow loves me anyway—something that I don’t think I’ll ever understand but that I’m eternally grateful for.


There’s something beautiful about knowing that, whatever we both do all day and whatever happens to us, no matter who builds us up or tears us down, we’ll always meet back in our bed to fall asleep next to someone that loves us unconditionally. As a recovering alcoholic (over 4 years sober now, is he a rockstar or what?!), Charlie is busy most nights at recovery meetings or engaging in other forms of community. As a recovering workaholic (sober for approximately zero minutes), I have something scheduled every night of every week, which includes editing photos, freelance design work, meetings for family and friends of addicts as well as seeing my two closest local friends weekly to maintain my sanity. Though the things we do fuel our soul and refresh us, these activities eat up our time and we both care about our sleep almost as much as we care about each other, so we often end up coming home at the end of the day and crawling right into bed to hold hands while we fall asleep (I can hear my father saying, “oh, gag me with a spoon” at that affectionate statement—if you’re anything like him, you’ve probably already stopped reading, but if not, it’s only going to get worse from here). I think the biggest challenge that we weren’t prepared for in marriage is spending intentional time together. Before we lived together, every time we saw each other was purposefully meant for each other; we were each other’s primary focus when we carved out an hour or two of time to see one another on a weeknight. Now, even if we do agree to spend the night in together, we often end up doing chores or other tasks individually rather than spending quality time together. I looked forward to seeing him every day and doing life together, which we certainly do and I’m incredibly grateful for it, but our time together isn’t always as romantic as it used to be when it was completely intentional. These days, I remind myself of how blessed I am to have someone to go to the grocery store with, even though he drives me crazy with how slowly he moves through Wegman’s. These little moments add up to form a marriage filled with imperfections as we learn how to be a wife and a husband.


After the wedding, marriage becomes much less glamorous, but all the more adventurous. We realize that we’re way too young to know what we want in our lives other than to be together, which feels like a great place to start. We don’t know what we want to do about a lot of things, but we know we get to grow up and do it all together, and I’m okay with making the sacrifices necessary for that. Maybe I won’t ever work for a magazine or move out west or any of the other things I thought I wanted before I met Charlie, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that because Charlie is so much better than all of those things. He reminds me of what really matters in this tiny sliver of time we have in this life: family, love, laughter and finding contentment wherever you’ve landed. No job could ever make me as happy as he does, and we both make sacrifices every day to keep the incredible marriage we’ve been blessed with. Though I firmly believe that you can’t rely on someone for your happiness—which I’ve certainly done my fair share of—I think it’s an incredible thing when you’ve found a partner who you want to make sacrifices for, someone who makes those sacrifices feel so small. Charlie doesn’t hold me back from anything, and I hope he feels the same.


We hold each other up and we make decisions together, even when we have polar opposite opinions, which happens more than I’d like to admit. We never scream at each other but we cry a whole lot together. We say things we don’t mean but we work through it by being painfully honest until we’re laughing again. We’re so far from being perfect and yet there’s so little that I would change. We have so much growing to do for each other and marriage is hard, but the seven months we’ve been married have been the best seven months of my life.


And yes, being married does change things, no matter how long you’ve been with the person—the new sense of commitment says, “I’ve chosen you for the rest of my life, for better or worse. I’m in. I’m not going anywhere, I’m not backing out and it’s not going to be easy but it’s going to be worth it.”


To anyone who’s single and somehow made it this far down my stream of consciousness, I hope you’ll wait for someone who makes it easier to get out of bed in the morning. Wait for someone who walks with you through the moments when your imperfections are loudest—someone that stands by you because they know your heart. Wait for someone who stands up for themselves when something feels wrong in the relationship, but who doesn’t pick a fight just because they can.


Charlie, thank you for being that person for me. Thank you for letting me ugly cry when I don’t even know why, and for making me laugh every single day. Thank you for loving me when anyone else would’ve left. Being married to you rocks.


2019 Pilot

I’m really good at coming up with excuses for not doing the things I love. It’s been awhile. I have nothing to offer. The world doesn’t need another writer or photographer or designer or artist. My city has plenty, and I’m not as good as they are, either. I don’t have time. Everything that I would say has already been said somewhere else. Everything that I would make has been created more beautifully by someone else. 

 

So, I’ve decided that I’m going to start blogging for me. Not because my words are needed by anyone else, but because I need them. I need to reopen my heart to starting dialogues about hard topics. I need to find inspiration in times filled with gray. I also need the accountability of knowing that I’ve publicly committed to writing at least once a month, so that I can give myself the space to process things more than I’ve wanted to lately. So here we are, February. If just one person finds a sliver of hope or insight in my words, that will be more than enough. 

 

As a depressed teenager, I loved to write because my journal represented a place free of judgment. It was where I could be exactly as dramatic as I needed to be. In college, as I published some of those words, my body rushed with adrenaline as I let the world into the lesser known parts of me. It felt scandalous to tell my secrets to anyone who would read them. But my depression is different now—I don’t get home every day and cry for three hours while I journal about my first love anymore. My depression today is less interesting. It’s harder to recognize because it’s not an overwhelming emotional experience where my body tries to rid itself of the darkness in the form of tears for days or weeks at a time. These days, it can often be the opposite—my depression presents itself as a lack of feeling, the lack of desire to dive into my emotions; not because I’m afraid of them, but because it doesn’t feel worth my time. So I’m here to find my feelings again. I’m making myself dig deeper because I miss the love of life that I used to feel in my breakthroughs when I allowed myself to feel deeply. 

 

My life is physically the best it’s ever been: I’m married to the love of my life, my cat brings me more joy than I’d like to admit and we all get to grow up together in our cute (a nice way to say “tiny”) apartment. Still, something inside of me isn’t sitting right. Something needs to come out of me. If you’re reading this, we’ll figure it out what that is together. It’s time to express myself again, even if no one wants to join me on this journey, because this isn’t for any of you. It’s for me. 

Rochester: Farmer's Markets

It turns out that the term “farmer’s market” has many different meanings, stretching from a giant warehouse of goods to a tiny stand on the side of the road. In the past few years, I’ve explored many of them in the Rochester area. Though the ones I chose to feature are on the larger side, don’t pass up an opportunity to stop at a cute little fresh fruit and veggie stand— their crops are cheaper and tastier than anything you’ll find at a grocery store.

 

Powers Farm Market

161 Marsh Rd., Pittsford

Though Powers is open multiple times throughout the year, it is best known for its Fall activities. A trip to Powers is an annual tradition for many families, which includes hayrides, a petting zoo and walking through the World’s Largest Teepees containing intricately carved pumpkins. Powers has any shape or size pumpkin you could possibly want, with hundreds to choose from. Before you go, make sure you go inside and grab some delicious homemade treats including candy apples, fried cakes and fresh apple cider.

 

City of Rochester Public Market

280 North Union St.

The Public Market is an obvious classic. Making a weekly trip to the Public Market is a great way to spend less and get fresher food. Public Market vendors sell ready-to-eat meals to energize you for your morning of shopping, and a wide variety of groceries and merchandise to take home. It consists of three sheds, two covered open-air and one enclosed, so it stays open rain or shine. On the busiest days, the Market sees over 300 vendors and independent local businesses. There’s something for everyone!

 

 

Gro-Moore Farms

2811 E. Henrietta Rd.

After a long day of driving all over Rochester to various “farmer’s markets”—most of which ended up being just stands on the side of the road—I was feeling less than motivated. Finally, I pulled into Gro-Moore’s parking lot and my eyes lit up. I spent the most time in Gro-Moore than I had spent in any of the other markets. Not only do they have any type of plant and gardening tool you could ever need, but they also carry kitchen supplies, decorations (indoor and outdoor), and a wide array of fresh fruits and veggies. I bought raspberries and a super cute cat mug, and was dangerously close to buying a large gnome. It was definitely worth the 20-minute drive from Penfield.

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Whittier Fruit Farm

219 Whittier Rd.

Whittier is my go-to place for apple picking, especially when you’ve got kids to entertain. After riding around on the tractor to the various types of apple trees as well as the pumpkin patch, the farm has a mini playground and plenty of fall-themed goods to purchase. Though they don’t consider themselves to be a farmer’s market, they provide goods for many local ones.

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reputation ★★★★

In fifth grade I went to a Rascal Flatts concert—my first concert, besides the American Idols LIVE! tour. Gary Allen opened for the main act, but even before he came on, a cute teenage girl with blonde wavy hair and glittery cowgirl boots played a few acoustic songs about middle school heartbreak. By school the next day, I had forgotten her name, but luckily my friend Margot remembered and bought her CD for my birthday.

I was ten years old, which means I’ve been a Taylor Swift fan for 12 years. I’ve seen her ups, downs, and way, way downs, from an obsessed fan and borderline stalker perspective. I will always and forever love The Old Taylor. Still, that doesn’t mean I’m not ready to embrace New Taylor and love her equally but for completely different reasons than her predecessor. 

I feel that I grew up at the perfect time to experience Taylor as I needed her in those stages of life. When she released each album, I was just a couple of years younger than she was when she wrote the songs, so I always had heart wrenching music to turn to when I needed to hear the words of someone who just went through the same thing. She changed as I did. She’s growing up while I am, which is why I defend her when she does something stupid. Because we’re all stupid, and she’s just figuring it all out like the rest of us. 

Anyways, this album pleasantly surprised me, and I hope everyone gives it the chance it deserves. Though the average of the ratings I gave each of her songs is just 3.27 out of 5, I give the album as a whole 4 stars because of the cohesiveness of the album as a whole, and the statements it makes. It can’t be compared with The Old Taylor because they’re two different people. Though I am not typically a pop fan and this album is 100% pop, it will stand out in the mix of 2017 pop albums. It makes me want to dance and run and scream and cry—all the things that make her Taylor.

1. …Ready For It? ★★★

I have mixed feelings about this song. Old Taylor peeks in for the “in the middle of the night, in my dreams…” chorus but quickly runs away as New Taylor asks us if we’re ready for her. The song is catchy, but I think New Taylor becomes much more interesting and successful later in the album.

2. End Game (feat. Ed Sheehan and Future) ★★★

I don’t love the intro which is also the chorus, but I love what comes immediately after the intro, which is Taylor pretending she’s not the whitest pop princess in America. I have no problem with her experimenting with this style of lyricism; she puts her Taylor spin on it, which I’ll always be a fan of. The hilarious trio make this a very enjoyable song. 

3. I Did Something Bad ★★★★

This song has the perfect amount of Taynger and belongs on every runner’s playlist, which justifies her use of a cuss word (If a man talks shit then I owe him nothing…) for the first time ever in one of her songs. 

4. Don’t Blame Me ★★★★½

Maybe it’s because I’m engaged and her heartbreak songs don’t resonate the way they used to, but I get the chills every time I listen to this song. This certainly isn’t a classic Old Taylor ballad that has every girl everywhere in tears, but this song fires me up in a good way. It makes me want to scream the lyrics and dance with my friends instead of journaling about the boy that broke my heart this week. I. Love. This. Song. I love this song! I will shout it from the rooftops for the rest of my days. 

5. Delicate ★★★

Some lyrics from this song bother me because it feels like she’s trying too hard to be hip, but at least she’s acknowledged that her reputation’s “never been worse.” Still, the softer beat is a refreshing break from the intense beats of the rest of the album. 

6. Look What You Made Me Do ★★★

Though I cringe at the fact that she borrowed the chorus from “I’m Too Sexy For My Shirt,” this song really establishes the album perfectly. It was crucial for her to release this as the first single, establishing the New Taylor of reputation. The music video also really adds to this song—I instantly liked the song more once I saw the music video, and I like the song more every time I listen to it. 

7. So It Goes… ★½

This song truly does nothing for me. Sorry, Tay. I still love you. 

8. Gorgeous ★★★★

After the first two singles she released, this one gave me hope for the album. Some lyrics in this song seem pretty mediocre (it makes me hate you so much, I hate you so much) but I love the vibe and beat of this song. Also, the hilarious bridge (Guess I’ll just stumble on home to my cats… Alone…) reminds us of Tay’s great sense of humor that only comes out when we’re lucky every once in awhile.

9. Getaway Car ★★½

This song is growing on me as I listen to it more, but something about it doesn’t sit right with me—maybe it’s because I can’t imagine Taylor Swift committing any real crimes, or because she basically admits to being a total backstabber (I put the money in the bag and I stole the keys, that was the last time you ever saw me…). 

10. King of My Heart ★★★

The lyrics of this song are very Old Taylor but it’s set to totally New Taylor beats. She’s adapting a sort of EDM style throughout the album, and especially in this song. 

11. Dancing With Our Hands Tied ★★½

This one also belongs at an EDM concert. Now that I’ve listened to the album nearly a dozen times, this is one of the first songs I’m getting sick of.

12. Dress ★★★

Tay releases her sexuality! She does a great job portraying the sexual tension. New Taylor definitely doesn’t belong in the hands of middle- and high-schoolers like Old Taylor’s music did.

13. This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things ★★★½

This hilariously petty song reassures us that, even though Taylor’s doing her best to avoid social media and fellow celebrity haters lately, she’s not above holding grudges. 

14. Call It What You Want ★★★★

The fourth and last single Taylor released before the rest of the album came out reassured fans of Old Taylor that all hope is not lost. It’s a healthy dose of Old Taylor vibes while incorporating New Taylor beats. It’s also refreshing to hear she’s deeply in love with a stable relationship.

15. New Year’s Day ★★★★

This is the closest we get to an Old Taylor ballad, but now that she’s madly in love and in a long-term relationship, we get this New Taylor ballad which tugs at the heartstrings but without the heartbreak. 

Kylie Mitchell: ImmaEatThat

This month, Registered Dietician and Master of Public Health Kylie Mitchell came to Syracuse University to talk to Nutrition students about being a non-diet dietician and maintaining a popular blog, ImmaEatThat. Though there must have been at least fifty people in the room, I would guess that I was one out of about three people in the audience who aren’t Nutrition majors. Though I can’t say I’m surprised, and it wasn’t heavily advertised to non-Falk students, I’m still incredibly disappointed in the lack of turnout.

Mitchell talked about issues that are already on the forefront of Nutrition students’ minds, and that need to be talked about with the general Syracuse student population. She explained the spectrum of how people eat, ranging from instinctive eating to disordered eating to eating disorder – and that intuitive eaters start eating at the first sign of hunger, and stop eating when they feel satisfied. She said that the only purge she endorses is a social media purge, which involves unfollowing any account that makes you feel bad about your body in any way, suggesting that you “create a bubble of coziness for yourself” with body-positive accounts.  

Ophelia’s Place, a nonprofit in Central New York committed to redefining “beauty and health by empowering individuals, families, and communities impacted by eating disorders, disordered eating, and body dissatisfaction,” partnered with NEPA to bring Mitchell to SU. "There is no such thing as 'good' food or 'bad' food. Food does not carry with it a moral judgment,” said OP Director Gillian McGann. “Essential fuel for our bodies? Yes. Pleasure? Yes. Opportunities to be with the people we love? Absolutely yes. A statement about our worth, value, or righteousness? Nope. Not even close." 

According to Intuitive Eating, a book Mitchell mentioned in her lecture, “eating doesn’t occur in a void. Regardless of your weight, food usually has emotional associations.” According to Registered Dieticians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resche, intuitive eating involves being compassionate with yourself about how you use food to cope with your emotions, and understanding how to handle pain in healthier ways. There are four key thought processes which help minimize emotional eating habits:

•           Ask yourself if your body is physically hungry.

•           Assess your emotional state. What are you feeling?

•           Figure out what you need based on your emotional state.

•           Ask for help.

Tribole and Resche say that “the first task in learning how to cope without food is to acknowledge that you are entitled to having your needs met.” But we often fail to meet our most basic needs, such as: getting rest, getting sensual pleasure, expressing feelings, being understood and accepted, being intellectually and creatively stimulated, and receiving physical comfort.

Mitchell touched on this in her lecture by using a bucket metaphor. We have two hunger buckets: one for physical hunger, and one for emotional hunger. She encourages us to inventory our buckets, and to acknowledge whether we’re using food to fill our emotional hunger bucket, which can and should be filled with life’s delights other than food.

McGann says that she knows what her body needs, she just has to trust it and listen. “Our bodies tell us when they're hungry. They tell us when they're full. They tell us when they want a chocolate milkshake and when they would prefer some grilled salmon. Our bodies are amazing, and when we feed them well, let them sleep, and give time for ourselves to listen, they will tell us exactly what they need.”

Once we process what we need, we seek nurture, deal with our feelings, and find a distractor other than food. Emotions – such as boredom, procrastination, excitement, frustration, anger, sadness, connection, anxiety and stress – too often trigger our eating habits, rather than biological hunger itself.

“I’ve definitely used it to cope with stress. Like, I’ve over-consumed with stress but I’ve also under-consumed with stress,” says Katy Davis, one of the Nutrition students at Mitchell’s lecture. “I feel like food is the only thing I can control when I’m stressed.”

Davis seeks a graduate degree and certification as a Registered Dietician, and believes that food has a different power for everybody. “I think it has a lot of potentially good power, like I think food can be the most empowering thing when I think of health disparities or inequality – food is what people can own and what can empower people. But at the same time, food can be the biggest demon to people. I’ve definitely lived that and experienced that and still do sometimes but I think I’ve found the freedom in it and I think it’s the most profound thing. It doesn’t have to be such bondage that it is.”

McGann challenges us to imagine how much we could accomplish if we stopped eating away our emotions and worrying about food. “Imagine all the time we spend thinking about what we can eat and won't and when and how much, and imagine all of the other things we could do if we had that time back. We could literally change the world.”

Live Oaks & Dead Folks

            I arrive for the “Live Oaks & Dead Folks” Oakwood Cemetery Tour twenty minutes early after giving myself enough time to casually stroll to the entrance, avoiding speed walking into a pool of sweat. I see a little silver car parked along the grass and I can see a moving head in the driver’s seat. I peel my sticky bag off my back and put my things down by a tree behind the car, pulling out my notebook. A tall, decrepit woman steps out of the car with a confused face. “Are you in Melissa’s group? You’re a little early,” she grumbles. She walks toward me as I fumble with the tour pamphlet and the Historic Oakwood Cemetery Preservation Association newsletter, “Grave Matters”, which I received from Melissa the week before. She makes a few more remarks about how early I am and asks how many people would be coming as we see Melissa drive up in her red Subaru. Moments later, Maddie and Khloe arrive. Melissa walks up wearing a t-shirt, baseball cap and sneakers, greeting Sue. After a brief period of small talk, Melissa decides to shuttle the early birds to the tour starting area. I eagerly put my things in the trunk of her car and climb into the front seat without offering it to anyone else – I was sticky enough without being squished in the back seat.

            It’s 2:05. Four other girls and I are meandering, waiting for the rest of the class to arrive. We follow Melissa’s instructions to check out the lion statue on the hill. The bronze lion’s frail figure is evident by its prominent ribcage. The only other clues around the statue are a bench and a plaque on the ground which reads “HAGGERTY”.*

            The cemetery evokes Ruby’s cliché, spooky excitement. She tells us about when she and her friend strolled through the cemetery and found a wire noose hanging from the tree we’re all standing next to. She goes on to talk about her friend’s haunted house which frequently produces sounds of laughter and voices from the unknown. “These are pretty tall tales,” Khloe says with an eye-roll, just before going into a lengthy monologue about how she believes in “energies” and how cemeteries fascinate her with their residual energies from deceased corpses. “And this is why I’m single,” she says when no one responds.

            The second group of students arrives at the meeting spot and we all stand in a circle chatting about the cemetery. Khloe starts telling everyone about the town she grew up in, and how the Sword family and Harriet Tubman are buried in the cemetery there. She then goes on to share a story about how she was interviewed about her hometown the day after Mayfest one year, hung over and likely still stoned from the brownie she had eaten the night before.

            Perhaps my first smile of the event breaks through when Chaz steps out of Sue’s car and greets us, saying he got a private chauffeur. The whole class is finally here at 2:22, and we wait for Sue to get ready for her tour. “Gotta get wired. Bear with me,” she says as she hooks up her headset which wires to a portable speaker on her hip. She’s wearing a wicker hat with a green ribbon which matches her Oakwood Cemetery t-shirt that’s tucked into her khaki Dickies, secured with a black belt. She tops off the haggard zookeeper look with circular, thin-rimmed glasses and a pair of dirty white New Balance sneakers from the nineties. Her gray hair is almost shoulder-length and probably hasn’t been washed in days – an assumption which was reinforced when I get a whiff of her odor. As she walks she trails a funky, acidic scent of sweaty old people. She turns on her microphone and holds her notecards in her hand and turns to Melissa. “Well, where’s the introduction? Please!” she says to Melissa, who gives us the brief information she knows about Sue, in the most exciting way one can possibly describe a volunteer cemetery tour guide.

            Sue begins the tour by boasting about the cemetery. She provides the history of the buildings in the cemetery, and tells us that the “windows” in the old church building are actually just plywood painted to look like stained glass. “Cemeteries have two nemesiseseseses…,” she proclaims. “Mother Nature and vandals.” Sue repines over this fact throughout the tour as we encounter broken statues and spray-painted tombs.

            About halfway through the tour, Chaz sees a boy sitting in a tree and runs over to him while Sue walks onward, unfazed. “There’s something about that tree,” Melissa tells me. “Almost every time there’s some sort of shenanigans.” For the next half hour of the tour, about half the class becomes just a bit too engaged in the presence of this boy and his friend, who arrives to the scene shortly. I’m feeling excessively judgmental today, bitter towards all of my classmates who are getting over-involved in the lives of Brian and Nathan as Sue tries to continue the tour. I start to worry that maybe I should be as obnoxious as them. Is this what it takes to be a journalist, interviewing the stupid college kids on the outskirts of our tour? I breathe a sigh of relief when Melissa says the boys aren’t worth more than a minute of attention, shaking her head.

            We reach the next grave of the tour and half the class is still talking to Nate and Brian. Sue takes this opportunity to sit on a tombstone and catch her breath. The microphone carries the sound of her heavy breathing. After a few moments, she starts without the rest of the class, gossiping about Alonzo C. Yates, Jr.’s death. “They say he died of Lyme disease. I think he died of cirrhosis from alcohol,” she says. Once she finishes the tale of Mr. Yates, Sue tells us to “cross the ravine,” a river of mud from the previous night’s storm. We reach the monument dedicated to Syracuse’s founder and first mayor. At this point, most of the class is burnt out and finally stops writing down everything Sue says. I tune her voice out and enjoy the beauty of the ancient cemetery. The leaves on the branches above us are mostly green with yellow peeking out, easing their way toward autumn. On the whole tree which shades us from the sun, I count thirteen fully yellow leaves.

            On our way to the final gravesite, Sue warns us not to fall in any holes. “We’ve got woodchucks the size of small ponies,” she says, confirming Melissa’s theory that Sue mentions this metaphor on every tour.

            We arrive at Amos Westcott’s grave, where I lose concentration on Sue’s story. All I can focus on is the way her bicep wrinkles jiggle as she motions a train chugging along.

            The tour finally ends at 3:29 and we all thank Sue quickly and disperse. I snag shotgun again and impatiently endure Khloe boasting about the detail she captured in her notes about Sue’s appearance. I realize that I’m a total Teacher’s Pet because Melissa’s the only person I feel like talking to. Melissa drops us off near campus and I speed walk to class, blowing past the rest of my classmates.

 

 

* I later find out from Melissa that a sculptor’s brother died so he made the lion for his brother’s grave.

 

Profile: Tibor Palfai

May 26, 2016

In his spare time, Dr. Tibor Palfai sits at his desk on the fifth floor of Huntington Hall browsing through his favorite iPhone application, Drugs.com Medication Guide.

 

“It tells you everything you ever want to know about drugs,” says Palfai. “I punch in the app and put down the name and I get all the information I ever wanted – dosage, side effects, everything I want to know.”

 

Though Palfai is arguably one of the most knowledgeable scholars in the field of drugs in the nation, he says there’s always a new one coming out that he needs to know about.

 

Dr. Tibor Palfai has worked at Syracuse University for 46 years as a professor in the psychology department. His favorite thing about his job is the young people.

 

“You never get old if you’re with young people every day,” says Palfai. “And you also become quite modern, you move with the age. I know some of my age compatriots are completely lost, but I still know how to use a computer and apps and all that stuff. I keep up with the youth.”

 

Dr. Lewandowski, chairman of the psychology department, has known Palfai for 36 years. He says that, when people ask Palfai why he’s done this for so long, Palfai responds, “what else would I do? This is what I was born to do, why would I stop doing it?”

 

But Palfai has decided that he’s ready to retire in the next couple of years.

 

Lewandowski says that he thinks Palfai is finally seeing that it’s time to pass the baton. “I think we all, as we get older, we hear a voice inside – that is probably no one variable but a number of different things – age, energy, interest in doing some other things before it’s all over. Giving way to younger people, realizing that maybe you don’t want to work this hard anymore,” said Lewandowski.

 

Since he’s planning to retire soon, Palfai is only working on one study right now, which has been ongoing since 1978. It’s a questionnaire about students’ knowledge of drugs. “Just to see how life changes over time, that’s why it’s longitudinal,” says Palfai. “1970 students versus the 1990s versus the 2010s and the trends of drug use: what they liked before, what they like now.”

 

Palfai was born in Hungary and left home at the age of 15 during the Hungarian Revolution to finish high school in Germany.

 

“He made his way to North America and started his undergraduate studies with little knowledge of the English language, finished his Ph.D. in three years, and became a full professor,” said Tibor Palfai, Jr., one of Dr. Palfai’s two sons. Tibor is also a psychology professor, at Boston University. His other son, Jamie, is an attorney in Arizona.

 

Lewandowski says that Palfai’s sons are bright, accomplished and athletic, much like their father. “Not showy, not about themselves, not overly talkative,” he said. “I don’t think Tibor reveals that much of himself to people – he’d rather ask about you and how you’re doing.”

 

Lewandowski describes Palfai as interesting, charismatic, fun, smart, generous and competitive. “He’s a former champion squash player, tennis player and golf player,” says Lewandowski.

 

When one asks Palfai about what he used to do in his spare time, he humbly says that he participated in sports. “In those days in Hungary, soccer was the big thing. I also played water polo and table tennis. That’s about it,” says Palfai.

 

Palfai obtained his degree in Canada, where his interest in psychology began. He was working at a pharmaceutical company with a woman, Dr. Jane Stewart. “And she was gorgeous, I fell in love with her,” says Palfai. She was a psychologist doing animal research, married to a famous professor, Dr. Dalbir Bindra. “Soon enough I became his student at McGill.”

 

The drug that has always fascinated Palfai the most is LSD because a very small amount can send you into a fourteen-hour trip, and an even smaller amount actually reaches your brain. “It’s a miracle drug,” according to Palfai.

 

Since he arrived at S.U., Palfai has taught many different courses and initiated two new classes: Biopsychology, and Drugs and Human Behavior, for which he’s written his own textbook. On and off he’s taught the Introduction to Psychology course, and graduate courses including Behavioral Pharmacology, Drugs andLiterature, and a number of independent studies. On top of all of that, he’s the associate to the vice president of research and graduate affairs.

 

Lewandowski praises Palfai for the love and passion he has for his job, which Lewandowski says you must have to teach thousands of students for 46 years. “He’s taught more students at Syracuse University than perhaps anyone in the history of this school,” said Lewandowski.

 

Tim Reid is one of Palfai’s teaching assistants who explains that, in academia, there are certain people who you can just tell are experts in the field: “he’s that person in the field of drugs.”

 

At the end of each semester, all of Palfai’s teaching assistants get to go to lunch with him. “When he walks into the country club, they know who he is. He’s a big deal,” says Reid.

 

Reid describes Palfai as very professional, but still humor-filled. “He gives the T.A.s a lot of freedom, which I really appreciate. He does not micro-manage in any sense of the word.” According to Reid, Palfai is very hands-off, wanting his T.A.s to learn on their own. But for people who want guidance, he’s always available.

 

Palfai’s favorite thing about being around young people is “infecting them” with his biases. Palfai is a behaviorist at heart, which means that he believes the proper study of psychology is behavior, “not the dynamic components of the soul as some people do.”

 

Palfai’s proudest accomplishment is discovering the schedule-induced polydipsia in the mouse. In laymen terms, he created a situation in which pregnant mice get drunk so they can study the effects on offspring, which had a significant impact on fetal alcohol syndrome research.

 

“One 36-hour period is enough to create the symptom, which translated to human beings is the first trimester,” said Palfai. If a pregnant woman gets drunk for 36 hours, the baby will likely develop fetal alcohol syndrome.

 

After he retires, Palfai plans to write, paint and read, staying in Syracuse. “I’m not for the sun, I don’t like the sun,” he explains.

 

Palfai’s son Tibor said that his father “has a wide range of interests and a persistent curiosity about him that keeps him engaged and engaging. He has a relaxed and positive attitude and is someone who really enjoys all aspects of his day-to-day life.”

 

Brian K. Martens has been one of Palfai’s colleagues in the psychology department since 1986. “I remember being nervous to teach in front of a large auditorium and Dr. Palfai gave me a piece of sage advice that I still follow to this day,” said Martens. “He simply said, ‘Take the time to tell a good story.’”

Finals Week

April 19, 2016

           Today’s one of those days where I feel like I’m on the brink of a panic attack without ever actually having one. I almost wish I could just have one and get it over with, but instead my anxiety is deciding to be just on the edge of eruption all day. Of course this is typical for any college student at finals time, but I haven’t even reached finals week yet and I already feel the walls closing in as my assignments and textbooks suffocate me. I imagine myself failing my exams because my anxiety and depression are so debilitating that I can’t study, and then my GPA drops to a 2.0 and I fall off the Dean’s List and have to delete that proud line off my resumé that reads, “Dean’s List: All Semesters.” I don’t know what’ll come after that but my mind tells me it’s complete shame and utter failure.

           I know it’s ridiculous to go to these extremes, and even if I’m not on the Dean’s List it’s really okay. It’s not that I think this is normal or acceptable – I know it’s ridiculous and I should just calm down and remember that no one’s going to ask me what my GPA was my sophomore year when I’m interviewing for a job. It’s not my brain telling me that I’m a failure if I’m not a straight-A student, it’s my anxiety telling me that.

            I always encourage people that they’re so much more important than their grades and that they should always make sure they’re taking care of themselves before anything else, but this makes me one of the biggest hypocrites I know. I’ve been shaking most of today, having extremely negative thoughts and feeling nauseous, but I refuse to let my attendance grade drop in class because if I don’t show up one day then my whole grade will drop and my GPA will drop and I won’t be on the Dean’s List, so why would I ever skip class? I’ll just fall behind and I don’t even know what I would do to make myself feel better anyways.

           I wish I could be an example for others who struggle mentally by showing them that taking care of your body and mind will ultimately help your grades and any other goals that you have. I wish I could say I took today off to take care of myself so that by tomorrow I could get back to being productive without wanting to throw up.

           Sometimes I’m almost proud of my anxiety and depression because of how much they’ve taught me – but those are the times that I look at them as something I’ve conquered and is in the past. On days like these, I’m brought back down to the reality that reminds me that I don’t actually have control over everything. I’m sure this experience is somehow fruitful; either I’ll learn something from it or maybe someone will read this and feel less alone in their struggle. I’m just not sure why God is putting me through this right now, which just makes me feel bitter.

           Maybe the reason I feel so anxious and bitter and negative is because I didn’t get that internship and that guy did and I’m resentful that I’m not as good as he is. Maybe it’s because I got in a fight with my boyfriend last night and I’m overthinking whether he really wants to be with me. Maybe it’s because I got a B+ on that article that I thought I did really well on. Maybe it’s because I told that girl I would go to that event she’s hosting but I’m not going because I feel like I have too much to do so I feel like a bad friend. It’s probably all of these things combining into the common theme in my life where I feel like I’m not good enough.

           Typing that pains me because of how cliché it sounds, but that’s really what it all comes down to. My imperfections tell me that I’m always doing something wrong, which is another big piece of evidence for my hypocrisy. I truly believe that everyone is enough, everyone is valuable in their own way, and everyone is so deeply loved by someone. It’s not that I don’t think anyone loves me – I know Jesus does. But I have a hard time believing that people on this earth do, other than the family members who love me because they have to.

           And here we are, back to my illness taking over my mind – it’s not my brain telling me that I’m unlovable, it’s my depression telling me that. This is NOT a cry for help or sympathy; I don’t want you to text me and say “I love you stop thinking you’re not enough.” I want you to tell yourself that you’re loved and you’re enough, and I want you to know that you’re really not alone if you relate to anything I’ve said here.

           You are more than the numbers on your transcript, and I hope everyone reminds themselves of that as they head into these last few weeks of the semester. Maybe if I keep telling myself that, I’ll believe it, too.

Opinion: Gun Control

December 23, 2015

            It’s the eve of Christmas Eve: I’m watching Love Actually and decide to pause the movie to get some milk and cookies. On my way to the refrigerator, I notice something on the kitchen table, next to the gingerbread house my best friend and I made. It’s a thick packet of paper with a paperclip on it, and the top of it reads “MONROE COUNTY PISTOL PERMIT APPLICATION.”

            My first instinct is to shred it. Instead, I shout at my mother, asking what it’s doing there. “Must be Dad’s,” she says. She goes on to say how we have no idea how many “normal, sane” people walk through the grocery store with guns hidden in their jackets for safety. “I guess this is the world we live in,” she said.

           I storm down to the basement, papers in hand. “What the F is this?!” I scream as he stands in his woodshop looking at some tool I don’t know the name of. He giggles a bit, saying that he and our neighbors are going to start an army against “the democrats.” I stand there in bewilderment as he says it’s just for fun.

           You know what else is fun? Board games. Roller coasters. Concerts. Making gingerbread houses. Watching movies with cookies and milk. All of these things involve living people. You know what really ruins that? Guns.

           Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but let me discuss the claims that were made in those five minutes of fury. (Dad, this is only a little bit personal.)

            “It’s OK when only normal, sane people have them”: How are we measuring that? My dad is certainly sane (at least I thought he was), but that doesn’t mean that I’m OK with him having a gun. Yes, background checks would hopefully diminish the amount of mentally ill citizens with guns, but they’re not going to stop anyone from getting a gun who really wants one. Marijuana is illegal in most states but that doesn’t stop the high school potheads. When more people buy guns, the chances of them getting into the wrong hands increases dramatically. No matter who it is, buying a gun is only contributing to the problem.

            “It’s for safety”: We have really big knives, and we have this fancy combination of three digits we can call when we’re in danger. I’ve also heard that Tae Kwon Do can be one of the best methods of self-defense. Decreasing the amount of guns in our country is what’s going to make it safer – not buying more.

            I could go on for days, but I think I’m already digging myself a deep enough hole. Christmas is already going to consist of my family telling me I’m too open about my opinions. I didn’t shred the application because I know that wouldn’t stop my dad from buying a pistol, it would just make him pissed at me, which is the last thing I would want to do to a man with a gun.

Response to "How Sexual Assault Affects Me"

November 19, 2015

    My parents lecture me after almost every time I post on my blog, because they don’t think I should be exposing myself so much on the internet. I completely understand where they’re coming from and I do take it into consideration. This is something I thought deeply about before I posted my latest post on sexual assault, but it turned out to be more worth it than I would’ve ever imagined.

    After I shared my experience with sexual assault, I got text messages from people I haven’t talked to in years, saying that they needed to hear what I said. There are so many women out there who feel alone after experiencing something similar to my encounter because they’ve never had the opportunity to talk about it. I think the reason it took me so long to talk about it was because I thought people would say I was making a big deal out of nothing.

    If exposing myself comforted even one person, it would’ve been enough. But far more people than that expressed that my story helped them to feel less alone. Even if it wasn’t necessarily with sexual assault, people find comfort knowing that things can get better as soon as they know that they’re not the only ones struggling.

One girl sent me this: “I’ve been going through some tough times since I got to college and have struggled with mental illness and felt really alone. Your writing made me feel a lot better just knowing that there are people like you in the world. If you want to know if you’ve helped someone just know you’ve helped me.”

    I deeply hope that this isn’t coming off as bragging, because that would be a twisted way of looking at how hard it was for me to share that story. What I’m trying to get at is this: writing can make a difference. Even if I don’t have the answer to ending sexual assault permanently, it’s a success when I can show one person that their feelings are valid.

    I often get discouraged by the idea that there’s so much writing on the internet that mine will get lost in the blah-blah gush of people’s unwelcome opinions. This is another reason I refuse to write the typical, boring blog posts about how I feel about last night’s episode of Grey’s Anatomy. I’m not going to take the time to write anything if it doesn’t really matter to anyone.

    Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s great that people are scared to post too much about themselves on the internet. Putting yourself in danger for the sake of social media is not worth it, and cyber bullying is a very real problem. I wouldn’t suggest telling the whole world your deepest, darkest secrets. Unless they have a purpose, and unless you’re ready for the world to fire back at you. There will always be someone who discourages you.

    Don’t be ashamed of what you’ve been through. They’ve made you into the person you are today, as cliche as that sounds. Mental illness and sexual assault are not caused by the victim. You didn’t make this happen, it happened to you, and now you can choose if you want to share your story to help others along their journeys through this messed-up world.

   My parents try to get me to censor my blogs so that future employers won’t know that I have mental illnesses or that people won’t know so much about my personal life. I’ve decided that I don’t want to work for someone who discriminates against people for biochemical disturbances in their brains. I’d rather be hired by someone who knows me for who I really am than someone who thinks I’m perfect. My past shaped the person I am today, and if any employers don’t like who that is, then we certainly wouldn’t work well together anyways.

How Sexual Assault Affects Me

November 13, 2015

I was sixteen years old. He taught me how to "make out" for the first time in my life and then he proceeded to put his hand down my pants. I grabbed his hand and told him to stop, and he did. I told him I didn't want to move so fast because of how inexperienced I was. A few minutes later, he did it again. This time I didn't say anything. I really liked him and I didn't want to ruin my opportunity and push him away. I had never felt this way with a guy; I'd never felt any sort of passion by touch. He was the first guy that had ever made me feel "hot."

He apologized afterwards and I acted like it was fine, which I thought it was at the time, because I thought this meant things were getting more serious between us. Naturally, he told his friends that he fingered me, which quickly spread. Two days later, my friends said that they “heard what happened” and asked me how it was. I didn’t want to give away all of the details, but I didn’t hesitate to brag about an older guy being into me. I was waiting for him to ask me to be his girlfriend. He finally did, and though I never told him this, I really thought I loved him. Before him, I had never felt physically intimate with a guy, and that made me care about him a lot. Sexual interaction deeply affects your relationship with someone.

 

A few weeks later, he started acting distant. We never hung out alone again, and I eventually asked him if he still liked me, and he said that he was losing feelings for me but that he wanted me “to decide whether we should break up.” I broke up with him, of course, holding onto my last crumb of dignity.

 

I later found out that he had been “talking” to another girl while we were still dating. (Side note: “talking” is a ridiculous trend that’s a precursor to actually dating; it basically just means you like each other and everyone knows it, and you text a lot.) They made their relationship official a month or two after we broke up.

 

Considering that I genuinely thought I loved this boy, it was a really tough breakup for me. I spent the next few months in one of my deepest bouts of depression, coming home every day to cry and write in my diary about how I wished he would come crawling back to me.

 

The United States Department of Justice defines sexual assault as “any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the explicit consent of the recipient.” It took me 2-3 years before I realized that this is what happened to me. It’s still hard for me to acknowledge, because of the lack of acknowledgement I received from anyone I told afterwards. Everyone says “I’m sorry that happened to you” and moves on. That’s plenty for me, because it’s in the past and I’ve moved on, but that doesn’t mean that it was okay. I think a lot of people my age are ignorant to what sexual assault really is, and how often it happens. Just because you weren’t fully raped while screaming for help doesn’t mean that it was legal.

 

I’m not looking for this guy to be arrested by any means. It was four years ago and I’ve forgiven him. I think he was just immature and didn’t realize what he was doing. What I hope is that people would be educated on what consent really means, and what is considered assault or harassment. Just because the victim doesn’t cry for help or push you off of her doesn’t mean that she’s consenting.

 

What happened to me may seem like a very small event, which in some ways it was. However, it did affect me psychologically in ways I didn’t realize until recently. Since then, I’ve really struggled to trust guys when they say that they actually have feelings for me. When a boy tells me I’m pretty or cute or sexy, I don’t believe them because my instinct is that the only reason they’re telling me this is to get in my pants. I’m lucky to have a boyfriend now who understands my anxiety, but I’m sure it drives him crazy that I doubt whether he really loves me after all he’s done for me over the past year.

 

To anyone who has experienced anything like this: you’re not overreacting. It wasn’t your fault just because you didn’t do anything to stop it. You didn’t say no but you certainly did not say yes, and therefore it shouldn’t have happened and you cannot blame yourself. We as a society need to acknowledge that girls who wear clothes that show off a lot of their skin aren’t “asking” for this to happen to them.

 

I have a very close friend who was raped once and I cannot even begin to imagine what that felt like. I think that our society generally agrees that rape is wrong and evil and completely unacceptable. Then why is it okay that he fingered me after I told him I didn’t want to move so quickly?

A Letter to the Victims of Mental Illness

September 25, 2015

          You are not alone.

          You’ve probably heard that saying about 678 times, but I needed to tell you again because I know it helped me when I felt like the crazy emotional girl. And it’s true, whether that makes you feel better or just bitter disbelief.

          It’s only been three years since I was officially diagnosed with biochemical anxiety, clinical depression, attention deficit disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. I know I’ve got a long way to go before I can think “normally,” but I also know that I am immensely happier than I was three years ago. The reason I want to tell you these things is because I want you to know that it can stop, you do have the power to stop it, and it will not be like this for the rest of your life. As long as you do your part.

          I am far from being fully knowledgeable in this area of life, and I’m not trying to say that I know how to fix your problems. I just want to share things that have worked for me in the past.

 

Step One: Accept it.

          A little over a year ago, I wrote a post about how much I dreaded leaving high school. In the original version of the post, I included all of the mental disorders I’ve been fighting, but the version online now is a “clean” version. It’s a “safe” version, as recommended by my parents and their friends, who didn’t think it was a good idea to let employers know that I struggle with mental illness.

          The fact that they told me to do that is understandable; I know that they’re just looking out for me because, in reality, mental illness does not have a great social stigma. The fact that I actually edited it and took out the ugly truth is what bothers me most. I contributed to that stigma. I reinforced it.

Mental illness does not define me, but it is part of me. It’s made me who I am, which is not something that I am ashamed of (anymore, at least). As cliché as it sounds, every anxiety attack and bout of depression made me just a little bit stronger and more ready to conquer the next round. It made me reach out and grab amazing things that I never would have cared about otherwise.

          Before I went to therapy, I always thought of it as something that only “weak” people needed. I imagined the stereotypical room with a chair, a couch and a woman wearing all brown, talking in a monotone voice about “how that makes me feel.” During the first few months of real therapy, which involves none of those wretched things, I was still ashamed of it. I dreaded going into a room where the whole focus was on me and my feelings, where I had to acknowledge that I had problems. It took me a long time to admit these things to friends, and I hated my family knowing most of all. Because a lot of the time they were part of the issue, and they never realized that.

 

Step Two: No More “Should.”

          I completely acknowledge that we need to be grateful for the things we have, and how someone else’s circumstances will always be less fortunate. However, one of the most important parts of my recovery was realizing that I needed to stop thinking there were certain ways I “should” feel or be. There were multiple times in therapy where I would say that “I know I shouldn’t be upset…,” or that “I feel like I should do this…,” but logic doesn’t apply to feelings, and that’s okay. Emotions are a confusing thing, but they are always valid. Therapy is what taught me why I feel those things that don’t seem “normal.”

 

Step Three: Talk About It.

          You may be one of those people, like me, who doesn’t want to tell the whole world that they’re struggling. The reason I hate it so much is because I have this deeply rooted fear of seeming like a negative person. No matter how many times people tell me that I can always talk to them about anything, I will never believe that they would be okay with listening to me complain about my life. There’s a disturbing aspect of society that makes us think we have to appear to be happy all the time. That’s impossible! And everyone know that. I do, especially.

          Don’t be like me. Don’t hold in your feelings because you don’t want to be the Debbie Downer of the friend group. There’s a difference between complaining and venting, and I think everyone knows what that is. Even if you have to vent frequently about whatever’s going on in your head, there are people out there who genuinely care. They won’t think you’re just negative about everything. If you can’t find any of those people in your personal life, give me a shout. I refuse to let anyone feel uncomfortable talking about whatever they’re going through, because you’re not all-knowing. That means you can’t handle everything by yourself. Other people have the tools that can help you. Seek them out.

 

Step Four: Find Something to Fall Back On.

          This one is the reason I haven’t been deeply depressed for almost a year. Personally, I found God. He doesn’t have to be what you fall back on, but that’s what’s worked best for me. For a while in high school, I fell back on music, literature and photography. Most of all, I fell back on Camp Stella Maris. I knew I would always have the friends I made there. But now that I’ve accepted Jesus, it is significantly stronger than any worldly things I’ve fallen back on before. It gives me a reason to keep pushing forward.

          Maybe there’s something else that gives you that motivation to keep going, and that’s okay. But you need to find one. You need to have something that’s always going to be there for you when you are at your lowest points. You can’t live without a reason to always want to be alive. I don’t want to miss out on the rest of my life because of what Jesus gives me.

 

 

You are so strong. I really mean that. You’ve made it up to this point in life without giving up. Life is hard, REALLY hard, but you’re sticking it out to discover why it’s all worth it. I’m so proud of you.

 

xoxo ars

My Spiritual Autobiography: 1st Year of College

April 30, 2015

 

Agnosticism

            I grew up in a home where religion was rarely discussed. I was baptized at the local Catholic Church, St. Joseph’s, where our family attended Mass on Christmas Eve. We never went to church the rest of the year, other than the one summer that my mother pushed me through Vacation Bible School so that I could eventually receive my first communion. I willingly prepared for my first communion because my mother bribed me with mock bread which I loved the taste of, and because I knew I would get presents if I went through with it all. After that event, my mom asked me if I would want to be confirmed, and I had no interest. She didn’t push me.

            As the years went on, my two older brothers were less willing to go to church even on Christmas Eve. By the time we were old enough to have our own religious opinions, my parents stopped trying and accepted that even they didn’t belong in St. Joes. In eighth grade, after I had talked with my friend about her faith, I wanted to try going to church. My mom and I went one week, and then I tried to get my family to keep going on Christmas Eve, but it was useless. I was too stubborn and rebellious to believe in something so conservative. I haven’t been back to St. Joes since before high school.

            However, I didn’t go through all four years of high school without going to church. The summer camp I work at is Catholic, and we have Mass three times a week. For all nine weeks each summer, I sang all the songs and went through the motions, keeping my opinions to myself. One particular summer at camp, when I was fifteen, I was exposed to David Foster Wallace’s “This Is Water” speech. For the next few years, I lived the way Wallace encouraged me to, reading the speech as religiously as Christians read the Bible.

            During the school year, I was open about my liberal political views. I did everything I could to be viewed as a democratic hipster. I had my own morals and standards, and the question of God’s existence was never my problem. I accepted that I would never know, and that was okay with me; I didn’t want to waste my time on it. In my literature class, I didn’t pick up on any of the biblical references, and my teacher had me watch the Veggie Tales episode about Noah and the Arc to catch me up. I had declared myself agnostic and was completely happy with it, until the end of my junior year, when I met Weston.

 

Mormonism

            Weston sat in front of me in math class and then asked me to go with him to his Senior Ball when I was a junior. It wasn’t until months after we started talking regularly that I found out about his beliefs. Once we started having feelings for each other, he invited me to go to his LDS church with him, and I agreed out of excitement for where our relationship was heading. We eventually became more serious about each other, which meant that I spent more and more time with Mormons, eager to learn about their beliefs and understand their customs.

            By the time I was a senior in high school, Weston was off at the Brigham Young University of Idaho, and still we were completely in love. His dreams of serving a mission were becoming more real, which scared me. I knew that we could never end up together if I wasn’t a Mormon, and I wanted nothing more than to believe the same things he did. I went to church with his family, read the Book of Mormon, and even tried to pray every day for the year that he was in college. I was open to their ideas and tried to believe it all, only to keep hitting obstacles, finding aspects of their religion I couldn’t agree with. I continued trying to fake it, and did everything I could to show Weston that I would do anything for him. As reluctant as my family was, I never hid the fact that I was thinking about converting to Mormonism.

            By the time the summer after I graduated high school rolled around, Weston was focused on submitting his mission papers so that he could be assigned a place to serve for two years. The more he focused on his mission, the more he realized that he needed to leave everything at home behind for two years so that he could be completely focused on his faith. He began to drift away from me, trying to separate himself from his life at home, so he would be more ready to leave. There was nothing more I could’ve done to save the relationship; it was doomed. I did everything I could to fight the odds and to disprove everyone’s predictions of our breakup, but it was inevitable. One day that July, he admitted that he didn’t love me the way he used to. I walked away broken-hearted, knowing that I could never be enough. That was when my best friend Tyler stepped in.

 

Christianity

            A few days after the breakup, I spent five hours sulking on my best friend’s couch. After force feeding me anything he could get me to eat, we started talking about faith. Tyler asked me about my feelings towards the LDS church, and I asked him about his beliefs. For years he had been trying to get me to go with him to YoungLife, a Christian youth group, and I resisted. Now that I was totally, utterly confused about my beliefs, I was open to hearing about how YoungLife had changed his life. He asked me to go to a nondenominational church with him that Sunday, and I was more than willing to do anything that would get my mind off of Weston.

            The church he brought me to, Grace Road, was incredibly welcoming, lively and reassuring. After the service was over, Tyler gave me a crash course on the Bible and I immediately went out and bought one myself. I started reading a little and going to church regularly because it was a good distraction, but I still didn’t know what I believed. Reading the Bible and talking about Jesus with Tyler and his friends was what got me through this dark period of my life, when all I wanted was to end the misery. Luckily, Tyler was going to college at LeMoyne, which is located about ten minutes from Syracuse University, where I was going.

            The first weekend after we moved into college, Tyler asked me if I wanted to go to YoungLife with him on Sunday. Having no other friends in Syracuse and nothing else to do, I tagged along. The people I met at YoungLife ended up being the only people I felt like I could connect with at school for the first semester. I asked them questions about Jesus and couldn’t believe that I was getting so involved in Christianity. I began to uncover the reasons I struggled with believing in God for so long; I finally understood why life isn’t perfect even though God loves us unconditionally, which was one of the biggest reasons I doubted the existence of God. One of these transforming moments for me was on a weekend retreat with YoungLife:

 

I’m starting to understand why God has given me trials; He knows I can be strong enough and He’s pushing me to discover how strong I can be, because I learn the most important things from my struggles.

--Excerpt from my personal diary, 9/27/14.

 

            My parents and friends from high school struggled to believe that I was serious about it, feeling that it was just another one of my phases. Once I started dating Charlie in November, my parents thought for sure that the only reason I was exploring Christianity was because of him, just like how Weston was the reason I went to Mormon Church. However, this time I know I’m doing it for myself, not for my boyfriend. I still have moments when I am very doubtful of my religion, but that doesn’t stop me from answering questions and working it out.

            Nowadays, I happily declare myself a nondenominational Christian. I wear a cross around my neck and pray every day. I study the Bible during my own quiet times and at group Bible studies with YoungLife women, and I attend church every Sunday with my boyfriend. In times of struggle, I turn to Psalm 31:

 

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;

let me never be put to shame;

in your righteousness deliver me!

Incline your ear to me;

rescue me speedily!

Be a rock of refuge for me,

a strong fortress to save me!

 

 

I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,

because you have seen my affliction;

you have known the distress of my soul,

and you have not delivered me into the land of the enemy;

you have set my feet in a broad place.

 

Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress;

my eye is wasted from grief;

my soul and my body also.

For my life is spent with sorrow,

and my years with sighing;

my strength fails because of my iniquity,

and my bones waste away.

 

….

 

Love the Lord, all you his saints!

The Lord preserves the faithful

but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,

all you who wait for the Lord!

Lady

November 7, 2014

     I’ve learned the most from those who are young and naive. In particular, one of the most influential people in my life was a little girl whose name I will protect by referring to her as Lady.

     I met Lady when she was seven years old. In some ways, she was a pain in the neck. She was one of the few people who could bring out my impatience. She didn’t listen to a word I said, deciding she was going to do whatever she wanted without a care in the world. About two whole days passed of the five that we spent together before I discovered the unbelievable beauty in her.

    The environment Lady grew up in is one that I never have been, nor ever will be, accustomed to. Growing up with negligent parents leads most children to have the same unfortunate adult lives as the rest of their family. I worry about Lady’s siblings, E, X and J. I worry that they will grow up and become their generation’s versions of their parents. I don’t worry about that with Lady; I know her personality is too strong to be broken.

     Not a day goes by that I don’t think about Lady and worry about how she’s doing. I pray that there are people in her life at home and school who care about her as much as the summer camp staff did, particularly Nina and me.  I pray that she gets the attention she needs to prosper. There is nothing wrong with her, but so much wrong with society.

     People from afar, who didn’t know Lady the way we did, thought she was a bad kid. They congratulated us when we told them that Lady was going home, while Nina and I were heartbroken. What others didn’t understand was that Lady’s inappropriate behavior was not intentionally deviant; she didn’t understand why her behavior was “wrong”. Summer camp was an incredible open space for her where she felt free, so she took full advantage of it and got frustrated when people tried to hold her back from exploring. But I know she didn’t mean to cause problems by the way she looked at me when I told her she was misbehaving; she didn’t want to disappoint me, she just didn’t know the rules that most people assume are obvious. She didn’t understand why we had to do structured activities with the other kids when all she wanted to do was play freely.

     I eventually figured out that explaining these things to her was unnecessary, because her carefree personality was beautiful. As soon as she saw me smile about something she had done, she was the happiest kid I’ve ever seen. She found joy in so many of the things that I took for granted, like tetherball and crafts. She appreciated me and looked up to me more than any other camper has, and she gave me the best hugs of my life. She was the happiest person I’ve ever met, even though she came from an underprivileged background.

     I will never forget holding her hand and listening to her gush about “Mommy” as I walked her to her parents’ car, and when she let go and ran to her mother. It was a beautiful moment, seeing how happy she was to see Mommy, without the slightest idea of why she was here early.

     But her mother’s reaction is the part I remember most vividly, the part that haunts me daily. She looked at Lady and said, “what the Hell did you do?” Lady’s face changed from a huge smile to a look of shame in less than a second. Mommy pointed at Lady’s shoes and said “whose are those? You can’t steal things. Those aren’t yours! Give them back!” Nina had found her some sandals to wear, since Lady only had one pair of sneakers, and no other shoes. I insisted that Lady keep the shoes, saying that “she needs a pair of sandals”. Mommy asked where her sneakers were, and I realized that we had forgotten to pack them. I ran to the cabin as quickly as possible, found her sneakers on the porch, and ran back to the car, my heart pounding. By then Mommy had already put Lady and E in the back seat of the car; E was being sent home too. “I’m sorry they gave you so much trouble this week,” Mommy said to me. “My kids are too much to handle, they’re all so damn naughty! The boys are doing ok?” she asked. My director Katie lied and told her that the boys were behaving. They certainly were not behaving, but they weren’t a hazard to the other kids at camp either, so we wanted them to stay.

     I looked at Lady in the back seat of the car as Mommy told her to apologize for ruining my week. Lady looked at me, with the saddest eyes I had seen on her yet, muttering “I’m sorry” quietly. I tried to explain to her that it was ok, and that I was so happy that she was able to be with us for a little while, and that I was sorry that she had to go home. Mommy’s boyfriend thanked me, finally speaking after silently observing this whole event. I told Lady I loved her as her mother rolled up the car window and pulled out.

     As soon as the car was out of sight, I broke down. Sending Lady home with those people was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. I spent the next hour or two telling Nina about them, since she was with the rest of the kids during all of it. I told her all about the car’s Betty Boop seat cushions and cigarette smell, and about the mother’s cheetah print bra under her see-through tank top which her belly hung out of. I sobbed as I tried to figure out something we could do for Lady. Without evidence of any sort of child abuse, calling Child Protective Services wasn’t an option. Now, three months later, I’ve finally accepted that I did everything I could. I remember her asking me why I was being nice to her, and I was so shocked that I didn’t have a response. I gave her five days of freedom and love.

Penfield Class of 2014: High School Commencement Address

          Friends, family, teachers, staff, and most importantly, my fellow graduates: Welcome to the Penfield High School Class of 2014 Commencement Ceremony, and congratulations! My name is Abby Rose Sugnet and it is a pleasure to be representing the senior class on this stage today.

          Those of you who know me have probably seen that I like to capture every moment with my camera, and this is one of the biggest moments of our lives, so if the RIT Staff could please turn on the lights… everyone smile!! (*takes a photo of the audience*)

          When I sat down to write this speech, I reflected upon the things that make Penfield unique. Naturally, I thought of the grilled bagels, the 8th grade Washington trip, Goatstock, the windy path from the recreation center to the high school that the Juniors are forced to walk down every day, the absurd climate changes throughout the school, the irreplaceable Arvid ... and how some of you poor souls will be venturing to college towns and job locations without a Wegmans. And then the memories got more specific, and because I played Varsity field hockey, I thought of the Boys v. Girls field hockey game which finally ended as it should have this year, with the girls crushing the boys after two years of embarrassing defeat. I giggled reminiscing Tumbling for Freedom in the 8th grade Variety Show, which made an incredible comeback this year at the Mr. Penfield Pageant. All of these memories make Penfield stand out from other places as a community who demonstrates enthusiasm, compassion, and teamwork.

          Considering that this is my one opportunity to speak with each and every one of my classmates simultaneously, I want to take this moment to sincerely thank everyone here for the most incredible high school experience I could ask for. As someone who has always appreciated what PHS has offered me, I was nervous that I would be sobbing too hard to make it through this speech. It breaks my heart when I hear someone say that they don’t like Penfield. This school has provided us with the support to create goals and the resources to obtain them. Penfield is filled with teachers and staff who care about each of their students and who genuinely enjoy their jobs. Each student in this audience was given the ability to discover their individual strengths, which have worked together to create a positive atmosphere.

          I will never forget the way I could talk to anyone and everyone in our school without feeling unwelcome, and the way people are able to bounce around to different friend groups without being considered an outcast. At Senior Ball and Bash, everyone talked to each other whether they were normally friends or not. Everyone is willing to work with new people in classes if necessary, and no one feels too ashamed to raise their hand and ask a question. Penfield’s Class of 2014 has grown into a group of welcoming, considerate and polite individuals.

          When I look out at all of you graduates, I don’t see 100 athletes, 70 NHS members, 150 musicians or 40 artists. I see 362 authentic human beings whose individuality I admire. One of my favorite things about Penfield is that we don’t have the stereotypical cliques that other high schools actually do have. I hope that you continue that legacy wherever you go. I hope that you never allow anyone else’s label to define you, and that you allow your true identity to speak for itself.

          As I look out at my fellow graduates, I see hundreds of people wearing identical caps and gowns, all together as a unit composed of unique differences, interests and skills. Today marks the ending of this unit, and the beginning of you discovering who you are as an individual. The word commencement denotes a beginning. This ceremony marks the end of your high school career, and the start of the rest of your life.

          So, what is your true identity? Who will you become after high school? If you’re anything like me, you may feel a little overwhelmed or unprepared, wondering how four years of high school flew by so quickly. However, this is an opportunity to become who you want to be. This is a fresh start. So decide who you want to be, and go be it. As you move forward into the next exciting stage of your life, I hope you all continue to act with empathy, maturity and appreciation, and always remember that you have so much to offer.

          Graduates, I sincerely hope that you enjoyed your high school experience as much as I did. I hope you feel pride, honor and success as a Penfield High School student. I hope you discovered yourself and your goals. Now is the time that you get to put these goals into action. Thank you for helping me discover mine.

Star of the Sea

            One night, when Nina, Savannah and I were suffering from ultimate Camp Stella Maris nostalgia, we decided on a whim to drive to 45 minutes away and watch the sunset from our favorite place in the world. Although the experience was peaceful, it was nowhere near satisfying. Camp was empty. The cabins, the playground, the Wegman House, Peggy’s Café, Bings Barn… It was all there, but it was meaningless. It did nothing to suppress the feeling of a hole in my chest because the life-changing people creating life-long memories were missing. The bubble of magic which usually separates camp from the outside world was gone; there was no significant difference between camp and the rest of East Lake Road.

            Author Robin Hobb once wrote one of the few things I know to be true: “home is people. Not a place. If you go back there after the people are gone, then all you can see is what is not there anymore.” Though Camp Stella Maris sits upon the beautiful Conesus Lake, where the sunsets will take your breath away, the location is not the reason Stella Maris has had an overwhelming impact on my life: it’s the people.

            Every summer at Camp Stella Maris has offered me a new sense of perspective, teaching me more than I could ever learn at school. Five years as a camper taught me to break out of my shell, and to never be afraid of being who I am. Two weeks as a leader-in-training showed me the beauty of individualism and, believe it or not, school. One week as a counselor-in-training followed by two weeks as an intern opened my eyes to the reality that working at camp meant that I had to make the magic, it would no longer be made for me. This new role grew this past summer as a camp counselor, as I went through a nine-week personal transformation, with help from my new family. The CSM staff helped me to discover who I am and who I want to be. The person I am sometimes feels paradoxical, but my experiences with the camp staff have helped me to figure myself out.

            I play like a four year-old, but converse like an 85 year-old. I watch cartoons, but I listen to NPR. I’m afraid of growing up, but I get mad at people who act immaturely. I love to learn, but I want to help others to do so. I want to provide information for people who want to broaden their knowledge. I want to keep people updated on the problems in our society so they can form opinions about and help solve these problems. I can and will do this, because the CSM staff showed me that I can be whoever I want to be, as long as I do it with confidence.

            The Camp Stella Maris staff is a group of people who have evolved from being my role models to being my family. While these inspirational, beautiful human beings still astonish me every day with their creativity and genuine personalities, this past summer showed me that I somehow fit in with these wonderful people. They see great potential in me and motivate me to live up to that potential, which is something I never would have accomplished without the confidence they gave me through their support. These people, myself included, are what make Camp Stella Maris a magical place, where the “camp bubble” allows all children to take a break from the outside world. Without us, camp is just a plot of land.