Why Not?

Back in April, I decided I didn’t want a lazy summer. Last summer I worked almost full time at the church, but my hours cut back a little over the fall. That was fine for me, and it was great with classes in session. But after a pretty chill week of spring break, I did not look forward to working only two days per week.

A few weeks later, I got an email from the chair of our English Department about a summer internship in Lancaster City working for Jess King, a progressive congressional candidate running in my conservative district, I thought, “Why not?” I think I was a little more excited than that, but I’ve learned to have low expectations in case things don’t work out. I had no idea what I was getting into, but I liked what I read about Jess, and people who know her personally had very good things to say about her. Plus, she’s Mennonite, so why not support my fellow Mennonite girl? I also figured it’d make a great story to tell any future kids one day. I applied, and a little over a month later, I was started as an intern on the events planning team.

I never really thought I’d work on any type of political campaign. Politics are often seen as dry and boring, and traditional campaigns do not look fun at all. But after the 2016 election, something changed in me. I found it hard to just sit back and do nothing. But I also had no idea what to do. I tried to better educate myself on politics and started to pay more attention to local elections, but I wasn’t actively doing anything. Then that email came along, and I knew it was something to try. Bonus: I need an internship to graduate. Double bonus: This gets me just a little closer to becoming Leslie Knope. Triple bonus: I get to help try to flip a typically conservative district to a.. hopefully less conservative district. #resist

So here I am, in the middle of July, a solid month into this internship and let me tell you, politics are not boring. Campaigning is not boring, especially grassroots campaigning (Think of Barack Obama’s successful campaign in 2008 and Bernie Sanders’ in 2016, even though Clinton beat him for the Democratic nomination). Every day spent in the office is a nonstop party. We work hard and we’re making things happen. Two weeks into starting, I along with Abbey, another intern, was promoted to leader of the events team. I wasn’t expecting it, but I’m enjoying a bit more of the leadership that comes along with the role. The last weekend of June we had TWELVE Town Hall events. In 4 days. It was wild but so fun. This coming August we’re doing eleven events in 3 days. We’re in the thick of booking venues and promoting the events and it’s busy, but rewarding.

This whole internship really once again seems to cement the theme in my life of, “Hey, let’s try that thing and see how it goes.” I really didn’t see this opportunity coming because before I took my writing for civic change class, I never would have considered this internship. But I did because why not?

And even though politics and English typically don’t go together, they should. Don’t we want our President and other leaders to be good and effective communicators? I’m not talking just about public speaking, I mean in every area of communication. Even tweets with glaring grammatical errors make leaders look sloppy. English helps with that. Sadly, I think I might be the only English major in attendance out of close to 70 interns. Nearly everyone else is not surprisingly, either a government or economics major with the exception  of perhaps the finance team or those still in high school. Why are English majors avoiding the political realm? This is something I hope to further investigate.

I have no idea where this internship may lead. I don’t currently see a future in politics, but clearly, I never know where things lead. I do know that I find this whole grassroots campaign style intriguing. Whether or not I find a spot in politics I know I want to write about Jess and this courageous race she’s in. I certainly did not apply just to have good writing material, but at this point, I realize everything in life is writing material. And like everything else, we’ll see where that leads too!

Let’s just say this summer is anything but lazy. It feels so good.

Advertisements

Klondike Bars

My grandparents moved to my family’s town a few years ago. It was an exciting time, as they had always been at least 1,000 miles away in the land of 10,000 lakes, Minnesota. Part of the deal of them moving closer was that they would give up their driving licenses. They both were aging, and while Minnesota is quiet, our area is always bustling with a lot of traffic. It was a wise choice.

Because Grandpa and Grandma had no way to drive, that meant my parents and I took on the responsibility of driving them places. It’s always an interesting adventure. If you know my grandparents, you can only imagine why. They are quirky, but cute, and strangers are only friends they haven’t yet met.

My relationship with this set of grandparents is really special to me. My other grandparents are both gone now. Grandpa died when I was 9, and Grandma when I was 21. I loved them a lot, but our relationship was much more formal than with my dad’s parents. In general, these grandparents were just a bit more aloof, but that was due to their culture. I didn’t really experience a lot of affection from them, yet I still knew I was loved.

But every once in awhile I remember something really special about my grandparents who are no longer here.

A few months ago, I took my grandparents grocery shopping. We went our separate ways in the store, and as I walked down the ice cream aisle (my favorite aisle!), I passed by the Klondike bar section. I stopped and stared at all of the different varieties they have now. My thoughts turned to my maternal grandma.

Grandma was a very practical woman, not one to spend her money on fancy ice cream or anything like that. But Klondike bars were another story. My mom says that a promotional flyer with coupons for Klondike bars arrived at their house. Grandma was curious, so she bought some to try, even though money was tight in those days. Coupons worked on her, being the good Mennonite woman that she was. 😏

She loved them. After that, they were frequently in her freezer, or at least they were there when I was a kid. Money was not nearly as tight as it had been when my mom was at home. I spent many hours at my grandparents’ house while my mom worked as a nurse and my dad was finishing up his Ph.D along with working at my Grandpa’s roofing business or teaching at a small Mennonite school nearby. It was usually pretty boring because Grandma didn’t talk much but sometimes I’d get to hang out with Grandpa and my aunts in the office. However, Klondike bars always were exciting and somehow I found adventures to occupy my time.

After Grandpa died and Grandma moved in with her two single daughters, I rarely had an opportunity to have a Klondike bar. I don’t know if Grandma didn’t ask for them given that she was no longer doing the grocery shopping or if she lost interest, but they just weren’t a part of my visits with her. And after she passed away, I honestly kind of forgot about Klondike bars.

But seeing boxes on boxes of that memory brought it all back. Even though Grandma might not have physically or even verbally showed me much affection, her supply of Klondike bars and her caring for me showed me otherwise.

Taking a cue from Grandma, I reached for two boxes because they were on sale. I thought of how Grandma would be so amazed and probably annoyed at all the different varieties. Her practicality would say you only need the classic Klondike bar, but her curiosity would probably once again get the best of her.

After nearly ten years without Grandma here with us, it can be so easy to forget things like this. But a steady supply of Klondike bars in our freezer hopefully will always keep her memory fresh with me.

Inspired by Spring

Now that spring has finally gotten around to showing up, it has been my Craft of Writing class’s goal to be outside as much as possible. Our professor has indulged us a few times and Monday he sent us out on a walk to “be inspired by spring”. We could write anything we desired, as long as it was inspired by being outside and observing spring.

As I wandered campus on such an idyllic spring day, I recalled my first day here. Cold, snow covered, and a delay greeted me on that day in January 2014. And technically, it was the second day of classes, as our official first day had been cancelled. A snow day is usually a lovely gift, but that one was just another day to panic. I was a nervous wreck, convinced I would be lost every day and never feel comfortable in this setting. To be fair, I did get lost that very first day, but thankfully, that was it.

But it’s funny how things change so fast. It didn’t take long to feel like I had been on campus forever. And as a commuter, I was afraid I’d never make friends beyond the few people I knew attending Millersville, but I did. Some lasted a semester, some are still friends. A few have drifted away and that’s okay.

As I walked past the gazebo and pond, I thought about how things have changed so much since this semester began. I moved in to the city, watched my grandparents both fall deathly ill and somehow miraculously recover; I managed to find some wonderful new friends… and say goodbye to some really special people. It was freezing out, and I was so ready for warmer temperatures.

And now it’s May. Another semester is done. Spring is finally here to stay, I think.

Life comes at you fast. Four years or even four months fly by, and you wake up one morning and think about all you’ve done or haven’t done. It’s a little discouraging but also inspiring. There’s always a new day to wake up to, and new opportunities to take on.

The beautiful thing about life is that it goes on.

And think goodness for that.

Just Be a Flower

The last four-five months have been a complete whirlwind of emotions and I fear that if I don’t write them out, I will never feel better.

At the end of November, our pastor retired. Change is so hard for me and yet I knew it was inevitable. I am so grateful to have had the privilege to work for him and soak up all his wisdom and knowledge. I think our church is adjusting to our new normal, and we’re excited for our future.

I finished up my semester in December. It was such a good one. Two online and one in class made it a fairly easy-ish semester. However around the same time, my Grandma began to have some serious health problems. She couldn’t keep food down and lost a bunch of weight. I though this Christmas was the beginning of the end. And it may be, but as of now, she’s doing better.

January brought on most of the emotions. I decided in December to move to Lancaster City with a close friend from church. Packing everything up was exhausting and emotionally draining, but I was really excited to be a city dweller. After I returned from a spectacular trip to Los Angelas, I officially moved in. Around that same time, my grandpa caught the dreaded flu. I literally was boarding a plane to go back home when I found out. It was pretty bleak for a few weeks. I once again thought this was the beginning of the end. It’s been so hard working through these feelings. I was okay saying goodbye. I was preparing for it. But just like Grandma, he’s bounced back like a champ. Mostly. He’s definitely weaker than he was, but he made it to 96! It’s great and all, but I now am adjusting back to having him here for longer. It’s just a rollercoaster of ups and downs.  Meanwhile, church and work had some things going on that I can’t go into, but lets just say January was really rough. February was a bit brighter… and March is finally here.

On top of all this, I have learned just how hard relationships really are. I’ve never really divulged my relationships on here because, well, I usually have no idea what to say. But here goes. I met this great guy a few months ago and we hit it off quite well. He’s kind, he’s funny, and smart. He made me forget about the last guy, who was 100% not worth my time, but I wasted two years of feelings on him. So here enters this other guy who even hit one of those little things I’ve wanted since I was much younger when it came to dating someone. And I think it might be mutual. But of course as my luck goes, he moved away, because that’s just how things go for me. And I was so determined to finally, finally, be brave enough to tell someone how I actually feel about them and could I? Absolutely not. I regret it so much and knew that I would, but I still kept it locked up. I know part of why I stayed quiet was because he left. I didn’t want to add to whatever he might have felt about moving with my feelings toward him on top of all that, but now I feel like I should’ve just gone for it. The other part of why I didn’t say anything is because what if it was all in my head and it was definitely not mutual? My lifelong fear of rejection will forever be the thorn in my side.

If you got through all my ramblings, bless you. My head feels lighter and my heart feels freer, even if there are still things struggling to get out. If I can leave you with anything, it’s: don’t be a Karen and keep feelings bottled up..because you never know what will happen.

Rashad is Absent Again Today

Every once in a while, something comes along that really gets me really excited to be an English major. I really like the English world and all it entails, but honestly, sometimes it’s, um, well.. boring.

I am an English major because I love writing, something I’ve mentioned multiple times on a blog. It’s pretty obvious by now I want to be a writer. But I have to admit, I haven’t been really excited about any big cause yet.  I’ve liked certain topics for sure, but nothing has struck me yet.

Until this semester. I am in a writing for civic change class and we are required to engage in a community project. I had no idea what I was going to do. I thought about doing a book drive for underprivileged schools, or something to do with mental health awareness. But before I started on a plan, our professor emailed us about an opportunity with an organization called OneBook. Basically, a campus like Millersville University chooses a book to focus on for a year, or more. They hold events and try to get the author to visit and do talkbacks and panel discussions.

I love books, so this sounded like something right up my alley. I love the idea of promoting a book that a campus can really read and delve into. 

The book that was chosen was called “All American Boys” (above) and its main focus is on police brutality. It’s a unique book as it’s written by two authors and it’s from the perspective of a black boy and a white boy. The black boy, Rashad, is beaten up by a cop, and the white boy, Quinn, witnesses the event. The book grapples with both boys processing the event. Quinn knows the cop personally and it’s fascinating to see the journey he goes on as he learns about racism and how silence is adding to the problem. Rashad is processing getting beat up by a cop – a symbol of protection to most, but to him, an abuser of power.

This book comes at a poignant time in our country. We see news like Rashad every few days and we still do nothing. We might protest, but two days later, there’s another thing to rally over. We are so afraid to talk about these issues to deal with the problem, but if we want to see change, we must push past the fear and get to work.

That’s why this book is important. It’s not just Quinn who looks at himself to see if he’s perpetuating the problem by staying silent, it’s others in the book as well. And we as readers must do the same.

It’s awkward, I know. I know I’ll never fully understand, but I want to at least try.

So, if you’re interested in beginning a discussion, there will be a keynote address with both authors of All American Boys. On March 27 at 7 pm, Jason Reynolds and Brenden Kiely will be at Millersville University in the Student Memorial Multipurpose Room (SMAC) and will be talking about writing the book, racism, and police brutality. I know it’s going to be a great evening. Check their websites (listed under their photo) and read their other books!

Jason Reynolds

http://www.jasonwritesbooks.com

Brendan Kiely

https://www.brendankiely.com

Oh, and read All American Boys. 

 

Let’s change America. It is beyond time.

SaveSave

Sticks and Stones

(No, this is not an ode to the essential pop-punk album by New Found Glory…but that is an excellent album, if you’re into that genre.)

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

That phrase is such a lie. I’m sure we all know that by now, but I learned it early on in life.

See, I was a preteen when the “blonde jokes” were at the height of their popularity.

You know.

How do you confuse a blonde? Put her in a circle and tell her to go to the corner.”

I mean, it’s sort of funny.

Unless you have blonde hair and are even just a hint of gullible. Which, incidentally, I was. I also was a new student at a new school in 6th grade. Perfect combination.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of humor. Give me a comedy over a romance film any day. I’ll pick watching The Office or Parks & Recreation over dramatic television series nearly every time.

But the problem I had with those blonde jokes wasn’t that they weren’t funny. They could be entertaining at certain points.

The problem was that as a girl with blonde hair, I believed the jokes to be true.

As a kid in elementary school, I was tested for learning disabilities. I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder with the Hyperactivity (basically, ADD but the technical diagnosis was as I stated) as well as learning disabilities in math and writing (Ha. Take that, testers!). My intelligence is in the gifted range, but the learning disabilities affected my grades and overall performance in school. I was in a fragile state.

So when the unaware and typical preteen boys told blonde jokes in school, it felt very personal, even if it was unintentional. If I didn’t get a joke or missed something in a conversation I heard

Karen, you’re such a blonde.”

I was so ashamed of my hair. I wore it up a lot to distract from the color. When I was teased for being a dumb blonde, I defended my hair color as “LIGHT BROWN”. I pointed out other girls with the same shade hair as mine in an effort to distract them from my blondness. Nothing changed.

The worst part of the whole thing was that I truly believed I was dumb. Logically, I knew my hair color had absolutely nothing to do with my intelligence. It was as ridiculous to believe my hair color made me less intelligent as it is to believe that those with a certain skin color are better than other groups of people. It has nothing to do with who I was as a person, but I let myself believe it anyway.

It was a terrible time.

That shame and utter hatred of my hair color followed me all through middle and high school. The blonde jokes petered out eventually, but those comments stuck with me for a long time. School was still a struggle, but I found a love in English. I began to write and eventually that became my biggest strength in academics

But then sometimes, I would play up the dumb blonde act for attention. It worked and I liked the attention, as much as I am ashamed to admit. In the moments afterward, I’d berate myself for stooping to such a low level. Even though I was well read and educated, I acted like I wasn’t. What if those jokes weren’t really jokes? What if I was really dumb and just thought that I was smart somewhere deep down inside?

Finally, as a junior in high school, some friends and I decided to change something about our hair. I think we did it as a youth group girls bonding time. Everyone decided on highlights.

Not me.

Here was my chance to FINALLY break free from years of being the dumb blonde. I chose a dark reddish brown.

It was a good look on me, to be honest. It brought out my blue eyes and contrasted with my pale skin well.

I didn’t hear blonde jokes anymore. I do think I was taken a bit more seriously. I wasn’t called a blonde ditz.

But, as I am sure you have guessed already, I didn’t feel better. Changing my hair color didn’t change my perception of my intelligence.

I wish I could tell you my perception changed really rapidly. That I had some lightbulb moment of “Oh, you ARE smart!”. It took awhile to get there.

There was one time when I knew I wanted to go back to college. I was working in Canada at a vey conservative Mennonite mission. Typically, (not always, but in some circles) college is looked down upon. As my time there was winding down, I mentioned I was considering college after I moved home. One guy had the audacity to ask why I would ever go to college when women are supposed to stay home with their children.

I was livid. Nothing convinced me to go to college more than that generalization of what a woman is supposed to do. I do know after that moment, I decided to drop the dumb blonde act. I think it was a whiplash moment for the staff I lived with. Gone was the ditzy blonde girl and in her place was a girl who read a lot and liked history and had opinions on politics and religion and society. It was the fire I needed.

I think sometime after that, it clicked that my hair color didn’t dictate my intelligence, I did. I control how much I push myself to engage in deeper conversations, to search out answers to questions I have, and to keep learning.

After many years of growing up and nurturing, I came to embrace my blonde hair color. Sometimes it takes years to overcome the things we have despised about ourselves for so long. By now, I can hear the rare blonde joke and roll my eyes, confident in myself and who I am, blonde hair and all.

 

Oh, Virginia

As I have written many, many times before, the beach is my favorite place to be. It doesn’t matter where this beach is, as long as it’s an ocean beach. I love lakes, don’t get me wrong. But there’s nothing like the beach along the glorious Atlantic or the vast Pacific. When you know the water before you leads to another continent, the ocean feels so magnificent. That’s the beauty of it.

The last weekend of October, I got to spend time at a very special beach.

My Dad’s family roots are in southeastern Virginia. Chesapeake, Norfolk, and Newport News are all cities I’ve grown up hearing about almost as frequently as Lancaster and Harrisburg. In that part of Virginia, water is always visible. The canals, rivers, the Chesapeake Bay, and the beach were all important parts of their lives.

I’ve always been fascinated with that part of the state. The beach pulls me there. I love the history of Williamsburg and Jamestown. Maybe it’s because Grandpa and Grandma always talk so wistfully about their life there. Whatever it is, I always want to go there.

As a girl raised in Mennonite Land, otherwise known as Lancaster County, I’m surrounded by people whose ancestors have been here even before America became a country. This applies to my mother’s family, but not my father. My mom can trace her lineage all the way from Switzerland to America, well before 1776.

My dad’s family hails from all over states like Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Ohio, but Virginia finally became home in the 1800’s and 1900’s. In some ways, southeastern Virginia is like Lancaster County to my dad’s family. Roots are deep there. Not as deep as most families’ roots in Lancaster, but relatively deep.

When I told my grandma I was visiting her hometown as well as Virginia Beach, I saw that wistful glimmer in her eyes. She excitedly told me where all the family sites were located and where to find the best milkshakes. She said how much she loved visiting the ocean and wished she could go with me.

On Saturday after a glorious few hours on the beach, my friends and I parted ways. They went off to watch the highly anticipated Penn State University versus Ohio State University football game and I drove toward Chesapeake.

I’m not sure how to explain the phenomenon of driving those roads leading to Chesapeake. I never grew up there, so why did it feel like returning home? I recognized road names, all because I had heard Grandma talk about the other Mennonite Church nearby that they’d occasionally visit.

I finally found myself on Mount Pleasant Road, where Grandma grew up. I visited her church, where her grandparents and parents are buried. It was slightly awkward because there was a fall festival happening at the church and there were a lot of people around. I felt like I couldn’t really spend as much time looking at the gravestones as I would have otherwise.I then headed to Bergey’s Breadbasket, an adorable cafe that was originally a large dairy. My grandpa worked there for years as a herdsman and milkman, delivering milk in the early morning hours, surely with a song as he went about. There was a corn maze happening so yet again, there were so many people around. I had wanted to introduce myself to the owner, but my social anxiety in crowds prevented it. Later when I told my grandpa about trying a milkshake, his eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “wasn’t it delicious?” He was right, it was delicious.

I also had done some extensive research into finding the spot where my great great grandfather was murdered. I found the spot, originally a lumber mill. But when I drove closer, there were large “NO TRESPASSING” signs posted. Because I am mostly a rule-follower, I stayed away. But according to a friend I saw the next day, that was basically an invitation to go explore. Maybe next time. Definitely next time.

I think as I continue to watch my grandparents age, connecting to their life down in Virginia fels more pressing than ever. At this point, they’re still well enough to make at least one more trip to see the few family members who still live in the area. I don’t want the memories and love of Virginia to die with them.

After I came home, I stopped in to see Grandma and Grandpa. I showed Grandma pictures of the beach, the church, and the gravestones. That same wistful glimmer crept into her eyes and a few tears, too.

I am well aware that Virginia Beach is nothing special. It’s pretty average, as beaches go. I’ve seen the beauty of California beaches and the Italian beaches along the Mediterranean Sea are breathtaking. But something about the Virginia coast feels like home.

This beach feels like home because it is home. Not my home, but my grandparents’ home. And that makes it feel like home to me. My grandparents are aging and my time with them is running out. Maybe not tomorrow or next month, but for sure in the next few years.

I think that’s why I’m so drawn to their past life in Virginia. It’s a way of connecting to them. If I have my own personal connections to Virginia, I will have a link to a tangible place. I will always have Virginia to remind me of them.