Hopelessness

For pretty much the entirety of my life I’ve been extremely aware of the problems that plague my nation (try growing up as a queer lower-middle-class Asian woman in a society that believes wealthy white cis-hetero males are superior to everyone else). I’ve often felt hopeless in the face of all of these problems, all of these ways in which this society oppresses myself and others who are considered minorities. But I’ve kept picking myself back up, because I know what is right, and I know that’s what I want to keep fighting for.

In recent weeks, my feeling of hopelessness has increased exponentially. The US government’s extremely inept responses to a devastating earthquake, multiple category 4 and 5 hurricanes, and a mass shooting were extremely disheartening. Here are all of these wealthy white men wielding their unearned power to perpetuate ignorance and add to the destruction. Here is a media that perpetuates the status quo by continuing to blame my generation for everything from the increased use of a certain color of pink to our current economic crisis, dismissing us as “millennials,” ignoring our cries for change, and doing very little to advocate for actual solutions to the problems they report on. Here is a society where those with exorbitant privilege and wealth feel okay just sitting idly by, unwilling to fight for what’s right because that would mean giving up one of their many, many comforts. I feel overwhelmed by the injustices of our world.

But I won’t allow myself to be apathetic toward these problems and lose interest. I can’t allow myself to think of this as the new normal. Because these issues affect us all, whether we want to admit it. Although by no means am I in the highest echelons of society (not that I’d ever be allowed there anyway), I certainly have enough power and resources to do something. So I have to do something. I have a duty to my community, a community called humanity. I think we all have this duty, and those who can most afford to act on that duty should.

My heart goes out to all of the victims of the Las Vegas shooting. I will keep advocating for gun control, because no one should have to go through what you went through. When it is easier to buy a gun than it is to buy contraception in some states, there is something gravely wrong with our country.

And my heart goes out to all of the victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and to the victims of the earthquake in Mexico. I’ll keep fighting to curb climate change, because I know that the poorest and most disenfranchised people of color are those who will be impacted first. I’ll keep advocating for a government that cares about all of its citizens, because Puerto Rico is a part of our country and Puerto Ricans deserve the same rights and care as those of us on the mainland.

I’m going to take action by upping my donations to organizations advocating for gun control and to organizations fighting climate change. I’m going to continue reducing my carbon footprint. I’m going to work with progressive activist organizations to elect candidates who actually care. And I’m going to pay  more attention to my representatives and hold them accountable. Even if my representatives are progressive and are already fighting for my values, they can always do more.

If you’re feeling hopeless too, I’d advise coming up with a game plan. Donate your time and/or money to help the victims of these climate change disasters. The Hispanic Federation is a great place to start, as they will distribute your donations to areas in need, like Mexico and Puerto Rico. Another good charity is Earthjustice, which uses the legal system to fight against climate change. If you would like to vet a charity before you donate to it, organizations like Charity Navigator provide comprehensive rundowns of various nonprofits’ efficiency and transparency. Call your senators and urge them to fight for gun control and fight for reducing carbon emissions. If they say they’re already working on that, urge them to work harder. And don’t stop thinking about these issues. Don’t let this wash over you and become just another blip in the timeline.

Listening to this podcast also helped me snap out of my feeling of hopelessness. The hosts have a really nuanced, caring, and important discussion about the current events of the past week, specifically the shooting in Las Vegas. They reminded me that, as overwhelming as all of this is, we can’t just stop in our tracks. We’ve got to keep talking about all of these issues. We’ve got to keep acting. Apathy is part of what got us further into this mess.

This blog will return to its usual programming of discussing sustainability and ethical fashion in the next post, but I thought I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge current events here. I know I do a post like this every couple of months, but with all that is going on, I’m surprised I don’t decide to do this every day. (Admittedly, that’d be exhausting for both you and me.)

Stay safe, keep resisting, and don’t give up. Movements are built through the power of many individuals working together toward justice.

❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

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Human beings are not burdens.

On Wednesday, a hateful, pitiful, corrupt shell of a man proclaimed that transgender people are a burden. He proclaimed, in the most flippant form possible, that to allow transgender people into the military would create financial strain on the US government. Once again, this man failed to see the humanity in other people. He failed to consider the burden of his own callous, disgusting words and actions.

As if effectively banning transgender people from the US military won’t create an undue mental and emotional burden for those citizens who are affected. As if that mental and emotional burden won’t end up hurting the country more than an inclusive policy would. As if this statement won’t add to the waves of depression that have been hitting those who are the most disenfranchised. Being transgender should not mean that one’s rights as a citizen are revoked. Being transgender should not mean one’s rights as a human being are revoked.

The true burden on this country is the lack of diversity within the highest echelons of government and leadership. Diversity needs to be celebrated. It needs to be cherished. It needs to be seen as important. Being around a diverse group of people fosters tolerance. Being around a diverse group of people opens up important opportunities: opportunities for new experiences, for new understandings of oneself and of others, and for new relationships. Opportunities for growth. Transgender lives matter. Transgender people are PEOPLE. A government that denies anyone’s humanity, that denies that equality that should exist for ALL human beings, is a government that needs to be kicked out.

Blue Velvet

Last month, I officially left my early twenties. I have a lot of mixed feelings about how my mid- to late twenties are looking given all of the events of last year. A part of me wants to ignore the outside world and curl up into a ball. But I’m determined not to give into that impulse, especially since I’ve resolved to be community focused in the upcoming year. Once in a while though, everyone needs a day off. And what better reason to take a day off than your own birthday?

I ended up having three different celebrations, one with my family, one with my friends in NYC, and one with M. in Chicago. For my night out with M., I really wanted to make a new birthday outfit. Then, four days before our special date night, I realized my attempts to make a velvet dress were not going well… The bodice that I had sewn together was fitting poorly, I was exhausted from work and wasn’t sure I’d have enough time to fix the fit, and I wasn’t as enthusiastic about the pattern as I thought I’d be. The fabric was so beautiful though, I didn’t want to just give up…

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The fabric in question. Look at it call out to you!

Fortunately, I still had enough velvet material left for a skirt, and while I was back home in NYC I had made a trip to M&J Trimming and bought some beautiful Belgian elastic with a fleur-de-lis pattern on it, thinking it would make a lovely waistband. A quick and easy gathered skirt was my best bet. The velvet is striking enough by itself, so I knew even with the simple shape the skirt would still have high visual impact. I cut out two rectangles from my remaining velvet, added pockets in the side seams, and then, in place of a serger, used the zigzag stitch on my geriatric sewing machine to attach the Belgian elastic to the gathered rectangles of velvet. Add a few choice accessories, and viola! I felt rather “high fashion”:

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My photographer was not very pleased to be standing for ten minutes in a cold stairwell to take these photos for me…My expression here probably reflects how he felt during the photoshoot.
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Is it just me or is this photo blurry? Perhaps this will be my excuse for getting a new camera…And a tripod to replace my reluctant photographer. 😉

This outfit ended up being an extravaganza of ethical and eco fashion, which made me doubly excited to wear it out. My shoes, bag, and sunglasses are all from various consignment shops. The sheer turtleneck top I’m wearing was made in the U.S.A. My rhinestone clip-on earrings are from Vintage Underground. The rhinestone bracelet on my left wrist is from a thrift store that uses its profits to provide services for disenfranchised men. The watch I’m wearing is almost entirely biodegradable because it’s made (mostly) from wood!

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Some of the aforementioned accessories.

Last, but not least, the silver lipstick I am wearing is Perfect Foil, from Portland Black Lipstick Company. The lipstick is made in the United States from natural materials, and the parent company is a small business founded and run by a woman (a very nice woman, who sent me a personal email to confirm my online order!). I’ve tried two of Portland Black Lipstick’s colors so far, and Perfect Foil is a little bit drier than the other one, but that’s to be expected of such an intense metallic pigment. And even with the intense pigmentation, my lips didn’t feel too thirsty over the night.

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Look how shiny! (If you’re wondering why the texture looks rough, I used a lip brush to apply the color so there’s some weird nooks and crannies in the lipstick surface now…)

To match my outfit’s ethically conscientious attitude, M. and I started my birthday night at Lula Café for dinner. Lula Café has existed for almost two decades and makes a point of using as many local ingredients as possible. For my entrée, I had duck breast with truffle au jus and red rice risotto. It was sublime!

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Then we made our way to The Drifter for drinks and a show. The Drifter is a cozy bar set in a historic space and run by a woman named Liz Pearce. Fun tidbit: it’s actually not as common as you’d think for bars and restaurants to be owned or run by women (like many other lucrative industries, the food and beverage industries are very male-dominated…).

The Drifter appealed to me with their amazing cocktails and cabaret acts throughout the night, including a couple of burlesque performances. Burlesque fascinates me; I waver back and forth between looking at it as male-targeted titillation and thinking of it as empowering performance. It’s easy for me to forget that both of these views are gross simplifications; as with almost everything, there is nuance to be had. While M. and I were at The Drifter, we caught two burlesque acts, both of which were hilarious (one involved the performer’s buttocks moving to the rhythm of Mozart!). While I was sure that some of the people in the crowd were only at the bar to gawk at bared female bodies, the combination of humor and self-assurance that I saw in the women who were performing was definitely empowering to me. I came away with a lot of admiration and a desire to learn burlesque myself!

All in all, I had a really lovely evening. It was a good time to refresh in preparation for the years ahead. Tomorrow is going to be a long day, and I’ll need all the strength I can muster to keep fighting the good fight.

Wishing all of you equality, love, and peace.

❤ S. (aka AMisplacedPen)

Entering the New Year with Silver Nail Polish and Some Resolutions

It’s been a long couple of months. There was the election. Then there was my struggle to settle into my new job (did I mention I have a new job?), which I love but requires me to work at a faster and more intensive pace than I am used to. Then there was more about the election. But now I am back home in New York, surrounded by family and wonderful homecooked meals, and I thought it would be a good time to treat myself.

I don’t usually wear nail polish, for two reasons:

  1. I often feel too lazy.
  2. I try to cook at least two or three times a week and I don’t want to worry about flecks of toxic nail polish getting into my food.

But I’ve recently felt a craving for all things silver, including beauty products. And then I came across this little vial, and I had to have it:

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This nail polish is the Greenwich color, from the tenoverten brand. One reason I overcame my inhibition against buying nail polish is that tenoverten nail polishes are eight-free, cruelty-free, and vegan. Eight-free meaning that the nail polish is free of formaldehyde, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), toluene, formaldehyde resin, camphor, ethyl tosylamide, xylene, and triphenyl phosphate (TPHP), which are potentially toxic components of many other nail polishes. The polish is also made in the U.S.

I’m not adept at painting my nails, but the polish was a pleasure to work with. It applied smoothly, and I got an opaque coating with only two layers (although one layer creates a great, subtle shimmery effect). I’ve had the polish on for a couple of days now, and I noticed two tiny chips, but I didn’t apply any base coat or topcoat. It’s possible that staying power might be heightened with some extra coating.

Below are a few photos of the polish in action (the first photo was taken with a white light flash, the last two were taken with a warm light flash):

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I love this polish. The silver color feels and looks luxurious (when I sent M. a photo of my nails, he actually said “v luxe”), and I appreciate the little luxuries more than ever right now.

To go with this shiny new nail coating, I have a shiny new resolution. I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, mainly because I tend to forget or break mine, but I’m keeping it simple this year.

My resolution for 2017: Remember my communities.

I belong to communities of strong women: women like my mother, who worked night shifts as a waitress for most of my childhood and adolescence, yet woke up early every morning to prepare breakfast for her children and ensure that they went off to school properly fed and on time. I belong to communities of people of color: people like members of the tribes who stood at Standing Rock through harsh weather and abusive treatment to protect the water that nourishes them and those they love. I belong to communities of human beings: human beings who all feel anger, sadness, fear, happiness, and love, no matter their ethnicity, race, or gender.

If I feel too afraid and downtrodden to take action against strife that I have witnessed or heard about, I will remember my communities. I will regroup and gather my strength and go back into the world to take a stand for that which is good for my fellow human beings. I will be fueled by compassion.

I’ve already started on this resolution, which gives me hope that I will not break it in 2017. I have started eating less meat (specifically, in the past month, I have reduced my meat consumption by 75%), because that is one of the easiest and most powerful ways to reduce climate change. I have changed my consumer habits to focus on buying local, fair trade, recycled, American-made, and organic, because the people who are behind the products matter. I have, for the first time in my life, contacted my alderman about an issue in my neighborhood, and I plan to contact my senators to ask them not to vote for Jeff Sessions or Scott Pruitt in their confirmation hearings, because my voice matters.

I am still afraid for what the coming years will bring. But I am also determined to keep moving forward. I am determined to keep striving for a more just world.

And an armor of silvery nails can’t hurt.

Wishing you all a safe and happy New Year,
❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

Hatred is not the way forward.

Donald Trump has been elected to the U.S. presidential office.

If you have read my previous post, you’ll know how I feel about this result. Needless to say, I am frustrated, sickened, and scared.

There are many people who feel just as scared and just as frustrated. In the past twelve hours, I have seen social media flooded with cries of “you betrayed our country by voting for X” and “if you voted for X candidate, defriend me immediately.” There is a lot of hatred and blame being thrown around.

But there are good ways of attributing blame, and there are bad ways. My nation, our nation, has systemic issues. Actions and political feelings don’t happen overnightthey are fostered by years of cultural pressures. The votes that were cast for Trump were not cast on a whim. If there is anyone or anything to blame, it is the greed, racism, and sexism that still pervade American society today. And nothing will change if we don’t tackle the roots of all of the issues that led to Trump’s election. Hatred only fractures us. And pointing fingers without acknowledging that there are also larger forces at work does nothing for progress.

So, I am determined not to fall into the pitfalls of despair or hatred. I am determined to keep moving forward.

There is a lot of work to be done. Let us remember our collective humanity. Let us continue standing up for the rights of our fellow human beings, regardless of citizenship, gender, sexuality, class, or race, and work towards positive change together.

I love you all. Stay safe.

S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

Rape culture needs to end.

(Trigger warning: I discuss my own experiences with sexual assault and harassment, as well as rape culture in general.)

I’ve been wavering back and forth about whether I should post this piece. I’ve had it saved in my drafts section for a week, wondering whether I would be exposing myself to harassment, anger, or, worse, apathy if I posted it. Wondering whether I should just focus on the fashion and style aspects of blogging because, frankly, I might lose traffic or followers for discussing something both so political and so personal. Wondering whether I’d feel safe, even with the anonymity I’ve preserved for myself.

But, one week ago, the Washington Post brought to light a 2005 video featuring a conversation with U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump. In the video, Trump alludes to performing acts of sexual harassment and assault. And I, in good conscience, cannot let this go unaddressed in my blog.

In the video, Trump talks about kissing women without regard for their consent or desire (“I just start kissing them. […] Just kiss. Don’t even wait.”) and even states that he can grab women by the genitalia, that he “can do anything” because he is “a star.” The thing is, Trump is describing sexual assault. Stardom does not grant anyone the right to anyone else’s body. Trump has admitted to acts of sexual violence on tape. And, yet, he is still a presidential nominee.

This is not even the first time Trump has spoken in misogynistic terms about women. Watch any video in which he discusses Hillary Clinton. Watch any video in which he discusses any woman. Read all of the articles about women he’s interacted with throughout his life. Look up and read about the child rape case being brought against him (which, as far as I can tell, has not been proven to be a media hoax).

Trump is an anomaly, in many ways, but he is also a symptom of and a mouthpiece for the lessons that American society, explicitly and implicitly, teaches to its citizens.

Sexism still runs rampant in the media, in classrooms, in the workplace, in every waking moment of our existences. The reinforcement of sexism begins at birth with the marketing of pink clothes adorned with phrases like “Pretty like Mommy” for girls and blue clothes adorned with phrases like “Tough Stuff” for boys, which suggest that the most important thing for girls is to be aesthetically pleasing and the most important thing for boys is to be “strong” and inflexible. It is perpetuated in schools with the implementation of sexist dress codes, which suggest that female bodies are inherently sexual, that males are easily distracted and disturbed by the female body, and that females must be afraid and ashamed of “provoking” male attention. It continues into adulthood, with women with full-time jobs, on average, making twenty percent less than their male counterparts, suggesting women are still worth less even though they can and do perform the exact same jobs. It continues into news and entertainment, with mainstream media relentlessly judging famous women’s clothing choices while displaying general nonchalance toward the wardrobes of famous men. Hillary Clinton’s clothing is remarked on every time she makes an appearance; even she is made to reinforce the sexist idea that women must be aesthetically evaluated. When was the last time that Trump’s clothing choices were critiqued by mainstream media?

All of these messages ultimately suggest that women are inferior, and that women are inherently and simply sex objects, made for visual and sexual consumption.

All of these messages perpetuate rape culture.

If you’ve never heard of the term “rape culture,” the Oxford Dictionary definition is “A society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.” When a society repeatedly suggests (through the words and actions of powerful figures and mainstream media) that a woman is not worth as much as a man, that society also suggests that a woman’s word is worth less than a man’s. That a woman’s body is worth less than a man’s. That society doubts the accounts of women who fight in court against their rapists and attackers. That society believes that a man’s athletic pursuits and college career are more important than justice for his rape victim. That society allows a man who is so clearly a misogynist, who so clearly believes he has a right to women’s bodies, to run for president.

I reside within that society. And I have been the victim and survivor of attempted rape, twice.

When I confronted the perpetrator of the second attempt, I was told by him that “You wanted it.”

This is rape culture.

Even when I was too young to know the term for it, it was always there.

When I was still in elementary school and riding the subway home, sitting between my mother and my younger brother, a man pulled his penis out right in front of me. My mother told me to avert my eyes; the subway car was crowded and we couldn’t move to another seat. I had to sit there with this man’s weapon of harassment so close to my face for several agonizing stops, until he finally left the car. He seemed so calm, so nonchalant about this act, but even at my young age I knew to be scared.

When I was in middle school, a man followed me home from my school in Park Slope. He masturbated while walking behind me, until I ran inside my house, told my mother someone had been following me, and she stormed outside and chased him away. I was old enough to have a vague understanding of what that man had been doing, but I clearly remember making a choice that day not to think about the implications, because I knew that if I thought about it I would be frightened, and ashamed, and disgusted.

When I was in high school, a teenage boy approached me on the subway and asked me to read his poetry. He then sat down next to me and started stroking my hair, leaning into me. I was both flattered and terrified. I felt as if I was supposed to like his attention but I had not asked for this. He was too close, I was alone, and I didn’t know him.

In my early twenties, a man I had been dating asked me if he could just “stick it in, just a little” when we were lying in his bed. When I tried to tell him I wasn’t ready, before I could even get half of my sentence out he said “I don’t care about your history, let’s just do this.” As if I wouldn’t say no, as if my words and level of desire weren’t relevant, as if entering his bed was consent enough.*

Our society tends to doubt the victim of sexual assault or sexual harassment, to blame her or him. “Did you say no?” “What were you wearing?” “Maybe don’t get so drunk next time.” “Don’t put yourself in that situation.” “Be more careful.” I have heard some men suggest that us women should “start dressing more like men” or “stop walking home alone,” because of course it’s our fault that we are attacked and that we so often receive unwanted attention. It’s so much easier to blame the victim. If it’s the victim’s fault, if she was dressing too “slutty” or partying too hard, then maybe it happened for a reason, and it’s preventable, and as long as the rest of us behave in the “right” way we’ll never have to be victims ourselves.

But what about all of those times I was wearing a puffy oversized jacket and no makeup and I still got catcalled? Should I just walk around wearing a refrigerator box?

When I go out for drinks, I don’t expect or want to be sexually assaulted. When I wear something skin-baring, I don’t do it so I can be ogled or harassed. I have the right to my own body and the freedom to wear what I like, to wear what feels good or makes me feel good. I wear something because it’s comfortable, or it’s hot out, or it’s cold out. I wear what I wear because I, and I alone, determine what is best for my own body.

A couple of months ago, a friend from back in Brooklyn told me that a man had been following her around in her own neighborhood, making kissing noises at her from his car. She tried to file a police report against this stalker, but when the police station receptionist heard her story, he laughed and said “So, he was just being a pervert?”

“Just” being a pervert. Why is it so easy to dismiss an account of someone being sexually harassed? We can be shocked and scared by accounts of abuse, rape, murder, etc., but why are we not shocked and scared when we hear accounts of behaviors that are precursors to sexual violence? If this man already believes that he has the right to continually follow a woman around and verbally solicit her, even when she clearly doesn’t want the attention, how far of a leap is it, really, for this man to also start thinking he has a right to that woman’s body?

Three times in one week. Three times in one week that my friend has been followed and/or harassed in her neighborhood. By three different men. When will this stop?

I am angry, because we should be better than this. I am scared, because my friend and I are women in a world that still deems us less than a man. I am furious and terrified, because a man who believes he has the right to comment on and touch women without their consent may end up running the country that I and my loved ones and so many other women reside in.

Trump is representative of all of the misogynistic, sexist, racist, and xenophobic tendencies that exist within the systems of American society. He is giving voice to all of these impulses that have been here all along. The fact that our society, my society, is racist and sexist can no longer be denied.

The next step must be reform; it must be change. We must teach our children that consent matters, that women are individual human beings worthy of the same rights as everyone else, that feminism means equality for all. We must begin to build a more equal system.

Our sexist society does not just negatively impact women; it negatively impacts men too. Men are often made to feel ashamed when a woman rejects their advances; why? Wouldn’t it be better for men if their self-worth was not tied to their number of sexual partners or their desirability to women? If I do not want to sleep with you, I am not saying no in order to hurt your ego; I am saying no because I simply am not interested. Why tie the ego in?

Feminism is everyone’s fight. When a large segment of the population is oppressed, no one’s life is truly better for it. How can the entirety of a population thrive if half of that population’s bodies and minds are being policed by politicians and the media? How can we make technological, environmental, medical, and scientific advancements if only half of the population is receiving a decent education and equal pay? How can the next generation of humans be happy and healthy if their mothers are not happy and healthy? How can a hetero- or bisexual male be completely fulfilled in his relationship if his female partner is struggling to feel safe and valued in a world that does not provide her with equal rights? How can anyone with a daughter be okay with the status quo for the rest of the girls and women out there? We are all someone’s daughter.

If you are a cisgendered male, you are likely in a position of privilege and power right now. Be an advocate. Use that privilege and be an ally to this cause.

When you hear a woman talking about how she was sexually harassed, do not question her judgment or her experience. Listen and be aware. Be sympathetic. Be angry for her, not at her. When someone makes a joke or comment that is sexist and disregards the experiences and humanity of women, stand up to that person. Make it clear that joking about rape or roofies is not okay. Make it clear that jokes like that, jokes that make light of the reality of many women’s lived experiences, only perpetuate rape culture.

And if you are the one making those jokes, then think about what the men and women around you hear. If you realize that you yourself have been guilty of being sexist, or guilty of discrimination, humbly admit to your mistake. Learn from it. I have been guilty of sexist thoughts before. We are all still learning.

Let us cultivate respect for one another. Let us find self-worth in our skill sets, our kind acts, our ability to be considerate. Let us come together as equals and allies.

If you can, please vote. Please vote for candidates who will fight for our collective humanity, who will regard women as people and not objects, who will treat all of their constituents with respect.

Please cast your vote for equality, not hatred.

❤ S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

*Note: If I come across as clinical in discussing my experiences, that is a coping mechanism. I adopt this tone because it is easier than letting myself relive the fear and the anger and the absolute terror.

Except I relive those feelings almost every evening. I fill with fear and anxiety every time I walk through a quiet area at night, because I know what can happen. I know that I can be subjected to much worse than what I’ve experienced. After years of therapy, the fear and anxiety have lessened, but they never quite go away. I don’t want this kind of fear to exist anymore, for myself or anyone else. There is enough for humanity to be concerned about.

A Call for Love, Peace, and Change

Hello, dear reader! I’ve been away from the blog again for a number of reasons, the biggest of which is that I recently moved to a different neighborhood in Chicago! Moving is always a huge ordeal, but unpacking can be even worse. While I’m extremely happy with my new neighborhood, my new bedroom is half the size of my former one, so I need to do a lot of downsizing; I can’t even unpack all of my boxes because I don’t have anywhere to put the contents!

I’m hoping to have another environmentally and ethically conscious outfit post up soon (“soon” meaning once I have enough space to take out my laptop instead of writing blog posts on my phone or extremely tiny tablet…). In the meantime, in light of recent events, I want to make it clear that I believe black lives matter. This is a simple and valid statement, yet it seems to incite so much anger and hatred. There are so many people who think that stating “black lives matter” is also stating that “black lives matter above all others.” That is simply incorrect and obscures the bigger picture. The black lives matter movement is about bringing awareness to the systemic racism that is plaguing and destroying the lives of a segment of the American population. Breast cancer awareness movements aren’t accused of suggesting that all other cancers don’t matter. So why is the reaction to black lives matter so misdirected? It should be clear that focusing on one issue doesn’t negate all other issues.

I understand that, after the Dallas and Baton Rouge shootings, some people may feel as if saying “black lives matter” is detracting from the tragedy of the police officers’ deaths in those two cities. Blue lives certainly matter too. The Dallas and Baton Rouge shootings were awful, tragic, and unjustified. Police should not be targets of violence. That doesn’t mean there isn’t still a huge trend of black people being wrongfully wounded or killed by those who are supposed to protect them. Innocent men and women should not be targets of violence either.

I will admit that when your entire existence has been within a problematic system, it can initially be hard to see that there is a problem at all. I have grown up in this system, and I will admit that, even after having done my research and becoming more socially and politically aware, racist and sexist thoughts still (alarmingly) pop into my mind. But this is not something to become defensive about and deny. It is something to humbly acknowledge and then try to change.

The first step toward change is identifying the problem. And there is a huge problem. It’s too huge to reasonably deny anymore. For example, the most recent unjustified shooting (that I know of) was of a black male therapist who was lying on the ground with his hands up and no weapons on his person. He was simply trying to help his autistic patient. How can so many politicians and government officials deny that we are dealing with systemic racism when a black man who is so clearly not posing a threat, who is already prone and surrounded by armed police, is shot at three times by a cop? I am infuriated and saddened and scared right now about the state of my country.

I think the law enforcement officials in this nation need to admit that they need help, whether the help involves a huge overhaul of how police stations are run and a redefinition of what being a cop means, or more body cams and more community engagement. It is obvious that something is broken. Reforms are not an option anymore, they are a necessity.

But these much-needed reforms are less likely to happen without a receptive government. So, as in my post on gun control in America, I implore anyone who is able to vote in the U.S. to please vote on Election Day. Please vote for the candidates who will do what is right and just, who will fight systemic racism and sexism, who will support minorities and immigrants and women and the LGBTQ community, and who will advocate for gun control and police reform. As a bisexual Asian-American woman who is the daughter of immigrants, I have many reasons to be thankful for having been born and raised in the U.S., but I also have a lot of reasons to be scared right now. I want to know that my government is looking out for me and my loved ones as much as it is looking out for the rich, straight, white male. (And, yet, I am still one of the more “lucky” members of a minority group right now because I know that I am not as much of a target for police violence as a black male is.)

In the meantime, while Election Day creeps closer, if you are able to, speak with your money. I’ve already set up a monthly donation to Everytown for Gun Safety. And, after I balance my checkbook this week, I’m going to look into setting up a monthly donation to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU is rated highly by Charity Navigator and they fight for the freedom and civil rights of all groups. I have considered donating to Black Lives Matter, but I am still debating whether I support the blocking of highways (the sole question I have is whether ambulances can still transport their patients in time). While the ACLU is the best organization I can think of thus far that will do the work I believe is necessary, if you know of any other commendable civil rights or police reform organizations out there, please let me know! And please comment as well if you have any other website/nonprofit/action suggestions for someone who is just starting to become politically aware and active.

That’s all I have for now. I hope you and your loved ones all stay safe, happy, and healthy and that you receive and pass along some love today.

All my love to you.

—S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

We need to do better.

There’s a lot that can be said, and has been said, about the awful act of terrorism that happened in Orlando, Florida, almost two weeks ago. I’ve thought a lot about what I want to say about this, or whether I even want to say anything, because I’ve never thought of my blog as having a political focus.

But the thing is, everything is political. Politics inform our everyday lives; they inform my daily life, no matter how politically inactive or ignorant I may be.

To be honest, I’m not the most politically savvy person. I have my beliefs about what should be considered human rights and about what is just, but I don’t always pay close attention to the policies being developed around me. It’s easy for me to live in a bubble, nowadays, because there are so many distractions. I have my job(s), my social life, my aspirations. I have devices that let me pick and choose what I see and hear. When something awful happens, I feel sympathy and distress and sadness, but, if I’m not directly affected, it’s too easy to let that event slip from my mind over time.

That kind of inattention isn’t doing anyone any good though. I want to do better. I want to start changing this country with my voice and my actions. I want to be active in my beliefs. Because there is too much hatred and gun violence in America right now. There has been for a while, and it needs to stop. We need better gun control laws.

I have many thoughts on what’s been going on in the media, in the world, and in the government in the wake of the shootings in Orlando (and in the larger wake of the hundreds to thousands of shootings in America that have happened in recent years). Many of these thoughts are half-formed and need to be researched. What I do know and believe is that:

  • We should remember that terrorism can come from within this country. The word “terrorist” often evokes the image of a Muslim extremist, an “Other,” but the shooter was born and raised in the United States. And many of the innocent people who are killed in this country are not killed by members or associates of a foreign fundamentalist regime. I think we all need to be reminded that there are plenty of white terrorists here too. There was the man who shot Christina Grimmie the day before the shooting in Pulse. There was Sandy Hook. There was Columbine. Most of the time, Americans die at the hands of other Americans. If we want to make our country safer, we should be limiting access to guns, not building walls or banning certain religious or ethnic groups.
  • The shooting in Orlando was both an act of terrorism and a hate crime. There is no need to choose between one term or the other. This shooting was both. The LGBTQ community was clearly being targeted, but some media outlets have failed in recognizing that the victims were part of the LGBTQ community. People who identify as LGBTQ have been made invisible throughout history; we need to stop condoning their erasure, OUR erasure. Because, although it is easy for me to “pass” as straight, I am a part of the LGBTQ community. If my sexual preferences were magically made visible to everyone, there are some people who would consider me “other” and would condemn me, or even hurt me, for them.
  • NO CIVILIAN NEEDS AN ASSAULT RIFLE. Assault rifles are weapons of war; as Merriam-Webster puts it, they are “designed for military use.” They are weapons of mass destruction, because that is truly what they allow. Something that provides the ability to injure or kill a hundred individuals in the span of a few hours cannot be painted as anything other. At the very minimum, the United States of America needs to ban the sale of assault rifles to civilians, with no exceptions. This is just common sense.
  • The National Rifle Association (NRA) has grown too powerful. We need to vote out the members of government who are being backed by the NRA. We need to ensure that no one organization can hold this much power over members of the United States government, an entity that is supposed to protect the people, not corporations. The NRA is not fighting for the second amendment by fighting against an assault rifle ban. And it is not fighting for the second amendment by fighting against more stringent background checks for people buying guns. The NRA is fighting for money and power for itself; the more guns that are sold, the more the NRA profits. And the reason why the NRA is winning is because it has found ways to mobilize a minority to speak as if it is the majority.

But it’s too easy for me to talk about what this country needs to do to change for the better without actually participating in making that progress happen. While I firmly believe that conversation does spark change and that the simple act of putting my voice out there is a political action, sometimes a spark isn’t enough and sometimes words aren’t enough.

So I’m going to start with my money. Money is, unfortunately, the reason why the NRA is so powerful; they have a tremendous amount of wealth to throw behind politicians who care more about their personal bank accounts than about the well-being of their citizens. While I am certainly not a millionaire, I have enough disposable income that I can afford to donate to gun control nonprofits. So I will. And I encourage anyone else with disposable income to do the same. I’ve decided to donate to Everytown for Gun Safety because they seem to be the gun control group with the best chance of standing up to the NRA. They have numbers, and they have a loud presence. And I think that’s what this country needs most of all right now.

Of course, money is not the only way to start fighting the NRA. Arguably, the best way is to vote. I say that as someone who has failed to vote in the past. And my city, state, and country have likely paid for this failure, as have I. But that doesn’t mean I can’t start making my voice heard now. I acknowledge that voting in the U.S. can be very difficult for some people because of racist or unfair policies, lack of accessibility, or, simply, inconvenience. But, please, if there is nothing else you can do, but you can vote, go out and do that. Vote for people who have their citizens’ well-being as their primary motivation. Vote for people who will stand for what is right.

(One excellent resource for seeing whether your representative is backed by the NRA is WhoIsMyVoice.com. It’s a very quick and very clear means of checking up on your elected officials. And BallotReady.org informs you about each of the representatives up for election on your ballot [although I’m not sure if Ballot Ready has information for ballots in all states yet].) 

We need to keep the issue of gun control in the public eye, so that it doesn’t keep slipping from the minds of people like me, people who have grown up with gun violence being the status quo and who have subconsciously accepted this current environment as a fact of life. When I first heard of the shooting in Orlando, I was devastated and sad and angry, but I was not shocked. The fact that a mass shooting is no longer a surprising event should be enough to alert everyone in this country that something has gone horribly wrong. We as a country have become desensitized to gun violence. Each one of us tacitly accepts the existence of civilian-owned assault rifles and the lax regulations on gun ownership, and, subsequently, we accept the fact that hundreds of fellow citizens will likely die each year because of the former. But, to see an already oppressed community be further oppressed in a horrifically violent fashion; to hear a woman’s voice break when she listens to her fifteen-year-old sister talk about regularly plotting escape routes, just in case someone starts shooting within her school; to feel terror at the budding realization that shootings are commonplace now and our government is still unwilling to do anything about it; all of that pierces the fog of desensitization. While gun violence may impact each of us to different degrees, we are ALL negatively impacted.

All of that being said, my heart goes out to all of the victims of the Orlando shooting and to all of their loved ones. I hope that all of you are getting what you need, whatever it may be. I am so sorry for your losses and your pain and your heartbreak. I want to help this country do better, so this will never happen again. My love to you all.

(If you would like to donate to the victims of the Pulse shooting, you can do so here.) 

And much love to you, dear readers. I hope you are all safe and remain so.

—S. (a.k.a. AMisplacedPen)

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way to write about any organizations or businesses that I have mentioned. This post expresses my honest opinions.

P.S. The conclusions and beliefs that I’ve drawn in my post come from a variety of sources. Here is a list of some of the articles that I’ve consulted, in case you’d like to read them yourself:

P.P.S: If you’d like to experience the podcasts that have influenced me, here is a list of the episodes I have listened to that directly address the shootings in Orlando and the aftermath. You may find that they are all part of the Maximum Fun podcast group, because that’s my primary source for podcasts. (Additionally, some of these may be NSFW; my sense of humor tends toward the respectfully raunchy and I gravitate toward podcasts that share that tendency.)