on being weird:

I do firmly believe that each of us has an animal in our bellies, gnawing at our insides and trying desperately to get out. I guess that’s what you’d call passion, but the animal is the image I get when I’m thinking of how it feels.

My animal has always been pretty forceful and well, ridiculous. In elementary school my friends loved it, but as I got older and didn’t mature out of my silliness, I began to feel self-conscious of it. After a while, it wasn’t as much fun to be the subject of confused looks because, as much as I hated to admit it, I did care what people thought, and I knew what they were thinking when I ran off laughing after yelling something strange in their face. Crazy.

They didn’t understand me, and while I felt I was truly expressing the animal inside my belly by doing these things, I couldn’t help but wish it had something a little more normal to say.

I was watching Mary Poppins today, and when Dick Van Dyke was making ridiculous faces and singing his “It’s a Jolly Holiday with Mary” song, something finally clicked. Mary Poppins was the first real-people movie I ever watched, I remember, and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang was a close second, which also stars Dick Van Dyke. I was raised on this brand of humor – the goofy, the funny faces, and the simple laughs – and so this is what I return to, always. Always. I feel like I’ve gotten it from my dad, the compulsion to add a bit of comic relief to every remotely mundane, tense, or awkward situation. I see him do it all the time and I find myself doing it too. I feel like the only explanation is that we simply love to laugh. Our last name is Laughlin, for goodness sake. Since I am of the Dick Van Dyke camp of humor, I think that often a lot of what I do and what I find funny is lost on the people around me. It happened throughout middle and high school – no matter how hard I tried to control that beast in my belly, I would eventually relent and it would claw its way out with its silly faces and corny jokes, making the coolest kids feel uncomfortable and superior, once again.

I’ve found that the people I love the most are the ones who love that beast, who find it endearing. I think that in a way, I’ve had it tough because even if I would find someone who appreciates it, I would have to move away and start over again. Needless to say a lot of my jokes hit the floor with a deafening clang. Whatever guys, I think I’m hilarious.

BUT, I was thinking today that for the first time in…I don’t know, seven years, I feel as if I am in the exact right place. Last night affirmed that – it was my sorority’s semi-formal, and we all met up at a friend’s apartment beforehand. I walked in and everyone looked back at me, and there wasn’t a single face in that room that I didn’t love. So yes, I could hop around the room in my pretty dress with a blanket wrapped around my waist because I really, really wanted to sit cross-legged. Everywhere.

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I feel lucky. I feel happy. I love that you all can appreciate what I’m doing here, whether it’s playing banjo in the hallway without pants on or flapping my coat sleeves yelling, “I’m an Alex-Bird!” Because by god, that’s what’s inside of me. And if I can find someone who loves that, well, high fives all around.

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birthday-

In advance, I apologize to my tumblr followers reading this — it’s kind of a watered- down repeat of my post from last week. 

My birthday is on Thursday — I’m turning 20! I figured I’d write out my birthday post tonight since I don’t have much going on. There’s no telling what it’ll be like on Thursday down in St. Simons. Every year I write a list of the things I’d done in the last year that I never thought I would ever do. Things that I couldn’t have even predicted doing. It’s usually in my journal but I figured I could post it to the internet this year, just for fun. It’s kind of nice to look back on the things I’ve done and try to imagine what the next year will be like, only to know for sure that my expectations will be succeeded.

On the night I turned 19, I was at Snelling with my current roommate, Margaret, freaking out about aging. If I could, I would write myself a letter from the future saying that everything would be okay. That it would be great — there’s nothing to worry about. Just look at all the great things you’ll do.

  • Get a Kindle. Have a hard time accepting that the age of books might be over. Continue buying used books off of amazon.
  • Date a boy for six months who is kind of…wrong for you. Realize this one night at a party and fall apart. It will be okay, I swear. You learned a lot from that.
  • Get a little sister in the sorority during your freshman year. Surprise!
  • Fall in love with women’s studies during your intro class spring semester.
  • Spend six weeks in Hawaii over the summer — beach days, beach nights, sushi, summer drives, good music, s’mores. Perfection.
  • Spend two of those weeks with your best friend. Reunite after five years and get a speeding ticket with her. Introduce her to your childhood home.
  • Spend six weeks in Athens. Become crazily independent because you have to, with no car. Meet people, work a job with awful hours, and cook great food.
  • Ride your bike up Lumpkin. That’s a tough hill but one day you just decided to do it, and you did.
  • Decide to run a half marathon. Buy new running shoes and run every day for the next 13 weeks. Well, almost every day. Sort of. I ran almost 200 miles.
  • Move into Pi Beta Phi. Meet some amazing, amazing people there.
  • Take the diversity beat for the newspaper. Write 24 stories in your first two months back. Makes tons of money. Make friends on staff. Burn out a little bit.
  • Go see Bright Eyes at the Georgia Theatre instead of going to the Braves Date Night. Don’t regret it for a single moment.
  • Get an amazing new job. Quit the stinky sandwich job.
  • MEET IRA GLASS. Shake his hand. Tell him you want to be the robot on the coffee mug. Maybe he’ll remember me. HAHA, I flatter myself.
  • Go house shopping — Adventures in Adulthood Part One of 193027.
  • Figure out what you need to do with the next two and a half years. I don’t want to be any more specific than that, right now. Just know that I have some pretty awesome plans for myself.
  • Realize, after twenty years, that your mom is actually a spectacular woman.
  • Become okay with turning 20. Look forward to it, even. That’s a pretty significant change from last year when turning 19 was a huge crisis.
  • Come to terms with who you were in high school, what you wanted in high school, and who you are now. Try to reconcile the differences between who you are and who you were. Maybe some things can carry over.
  • Run a half marathon! (Today!)
There you have it. My nineteenth year. Sorry I don’t have pictures. I probably have pictures to document all of these but I don’t have the time nor the willpower to search through my external hard drive for everything. It’s been a great year.

a rant

about this housing community.

Their advertising is genius. A row of perfect, clean, cute looking cottages lines the top of the poster with a presumably African child beneath. The words “Live here…help someone here” convey Aspen Heights’s brilliant business model.

I can’t imagine you could be a living, breathing member of this student population without hearing about Aspen Heights. This new housing development boasts the best living situation available to college students: cottage style homes, private bathrooms, a neighborhood gym, and a pool – all safely within a gated community. And the best part? A portion of your lease goes toward helping African children.

I’m sorry, but does anyone else get a creepy Stepford Wives vibe about this place? It’s a nationwide business that is turning out these identical neighborhoods at college campuses all over the country, marketed perfectly for students and their budding philanthropic ideals.

I watched the video on the Aspen Heights website and I have just a little bit of a problem with the way they convey their message. Lifted straight from their Aspen Heights in Africa video: “a portion of every lease for residence through Aspen Heights goes toward providing housing and educational opportunities on the continent of Africa.”

Really? Well that’s cool, but I was planning on sending my money to help education in Asia. Or South America. Or Europe.

Africa is the only continent that we seem to collectively view as its own country – and one that is always in need of our help from over here in the U.S. There are 47 countries in Africa, and they all have their own economies, histories, and cultures. Aspen Heights’s campaign only reinforces the idea that Africa is filled with starving children covered in flies who have absolutely no hope or ability to help themselves.

To be fair, Kenya, the one African country Aspen Heights did name, is in a state of great poverty — 50% of its population lives below the poverty line. Yes, I’d say that definitely warrants some attention. Disregarding the brilliant but warped ad techniques that Aspen Heights has used, I’m all for giving girls more educational opportunities. I do commend them in at least providing the name of a school they fund. But I wonder how much of the money goes to this school and how much goes right into the fat pockets of the guys at the top of this company.

Rent for these lovely cottages is projected to be at least $500-600 a month, which is a little bit steep but I suppose it’s worth it when you’re paying for your monthly good karma. Here’s a thought. If you want to help out those in poverty — those who are missing out on educational opportunities — just take a peek outside your car window when you’re driving to class.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Census Bureau released data saying that Athens-Clarke County has the highest poverty rate in counties with populations more than 100,000 in the entire country. 44.9% of the population lives beneath the poverty line and 100% of students in three Athens-Clarke County elementary schools are on free and reduced lunch programs.

My suggestion? Live in a house or an apartment that’s already in town, save some money and donate it to local charities or fundraisers that help the children in Athens-Clarke County. Volunteer in the elementary schools or at the Boys and Girls Club. If you live in Aspen Heights, yes, a portion of your lease will probably go to help some girl somewhere in Kenya — maybe — but I can guarantee that you will see more of an impact if you dedicated your time to helping out in your own community.

It’s a shame how apparent the economic disparity is in this town. You have some of the most affluent people from in and out of this state living right across the street from people who can’t even afford a school lunch. The solution isn’t to gate yourself off into yet another bubble of detachment, but to get out there, get your hands dirty, and actually do something real.

about mothers,

Going through a lot lately. I’m not sure exactly how focused or professional this post is going to be, so please just bear with me while I get all of this out.

I’m house shopping with my friends for next year already. Since I don’t have a car, our range of houses is pretty limited, but my mom has been trying to work out how to find me an affordable car in the next few months so I can live in the beautiful, brand new house with a rent of $350 a month. I sat in my bed just now, trying to learn how to say refrigerator in Korean and I was overwhelmed all of a sudden. I couldn’t keep it in. My mom is giving up so much just so I can live comfortably. My sister is giving up so much without even realizing it. How is it even fair?

When I say she’s given everything to me, I mean everything. At a time when most women are adventuring, building their lives and careers, she spent her twenties being my mother. She always made sure there was another book waiting for me. There was always another museum to go to, another park, another movie to spark my curiosity in the world. She invested all of herself in me. It’s been a solid five months since I’ve been home and I want nothing more than to crawl into her cool bed and smell her sweet, clean smell. It’s a safe place I’ve fled to on countless nights when the monsters in the dark were too ominous and real for me to face alone in my bed.

I wonder at what point we don’t need those safe places anymore?

on a saturday night,

I wandered into a thrift store today on a whim and picked up Mona Lisa Smile. I’m not going to lie, I only grabbed it because I saw the words “art history” on the back and Julia Roberts, Kirsten Dunst, and Maggie Gyllenhaal on the front. It was a beautiful movie with overtly feminist themes that I completely did not expect. But of course, I’m not complaining. It dealt with the idea that marriage and motherhood with both lead to death, an idea I’ve often struggled with. I’ve seen marriage as the death of my career, my creativity, my freedom, and my happiness. What the movie didn’t pay enough attention to, in my opinion, is the third possibility in the debate between family and professional life, which is the marriage of the two. I’d like to think that if I were to ever get married and have children, I would be able to maintain my career and my sanity. I think I’m just selfish enough for that. But ultimately, I think it makes you a better mother in the end if all of your efforts and happiness do not rest upon the success or failure of these little people with your eyes and your husband’s mannerisms. Anyway, I won’t talk your head off tonight about feminist approaches to having children.

I’ve had this one bottle of perfume for the last ten months — a boy bought it for me as a gift and so now whenever I spray it on I get flashbacks. That whole smell–>memory thing is so, so real. So I’d rather not relive those memories every morning. I went to a store downtown this afternoon and picked up a new bottle of perfume and had it gift-wrapped for myself. Happy birthday, to me? I still have two weeks, but I was in a self-indulgent mood today. Now that I’ve finished my movie and had my dinner, I’m just in the mood to sit in my bed for the rest of the night, read my books (Baby Love and Two Wrongs Make a Vice) and listen to music that was recorded before my parents were born.

It’s a nice night to spend with myself.

why i will date a feminist:

This is probably the first of many things I will write on the broad topic of feminism, which in the last year has become the major focus of my politics. First off, let me just say that my reasons for feminism are long and multifaceted — and probably for another post. Or a few more posts. But simply put, I am a feminist because I believe in equality. That is such a simple explanation, I know, but when it comes down to it, that’s what it is. I am a feminist because I believe that I should have the same opportunity as a man with the exact same competency as me, whether that is in a professional setting or in a group discussion. Also, feminism extends to other groups of people who have been subjugated or otherwise sent off to otherdom by the white middle class majority. It just doesn’t make sense that one group should dominate society in so many ways just because that’s the way it’s always been.

That was all broad. But okay. So in the last week, this blog has popped up on Tumblr. It’s called Feminist Ryan Gosling, and it is just pictures of of Ryan Gosling in various states of beautiful with the text of someone’s Women’s Studies flashcards pasted over it. In short, it is glorious. It is perfect. It is all I want in a man, with a little crooked smile added in. I think the idea of a feminist man is so wonderful to me because it shows that he is capable of empathy for a problem that will never actually affect him. He could  choose to ignore it and he could probably live a fairly normal life. But feminism in a man shows a degree of selflessness, of awareness, that yes, you were born into a state of privilege, and you recognize that not everyone was as lucky as you were, and you are doing your best to make up for that. A feminist man doesn’t wear dresses or lipstick, but he is not afraid to knit a hat for me. A feminist man can have a beard and fix the plumbing and also cook dinner and be willing to let me drive sometimes. A feminist man will pay sometimes and he will hold the door for me if he’s in front, and he will also listen to what I have to say and respect my opinion unequivocally. A feminist man would watch Amelie with me without feeling self-conscious. He would never use the word gay to describe something that isn’t actually gay. Like Amelie. A feminist man is attentive. A feminist man does not have unrealistic ideals of how a woman should look. A feminist man recognizes that I have dreams and passions too, and is okay with that — in fact, he encourages it. He would expect an equal amount of economic support from his partner. A feminist husband would clean the house just as much as the wife. A feminist father would learn to braid his daughter’s hair and allow his son to play with dolls.

Maybe you’re reading these descriptions and thinking “man, that actually kind of sounds like me,” or “wow, I think I would like that in a man too.” Ding ding ding. Maybe you’re a feminist. It doesn’t take that much to tip you over the edge.

I’m really trying to reach those friends of mine who are so afraid to use the F-word to describe themselves. More of you are feminists than you realize, and I’m really trying my hardest to break it down in a way that you understand. Feminism is not the death of chivalry. Feminism is not angry lesbians burning bras and hating men. Feminism is the simple desire for equality. It is the respect others’ differences without judgement.

Have I still not gotten through to you? Do you still hate feminists? Talk to me about it. Help me understand where you’re coming from. Because it’s only through communication and informed discourse that we’ll ever bridge these gaps.

considering musical effects.

I’m sitting in a coffee shop studying for midterms. Normally I’d plug my ear buds in but it’s quiet today and I feel like listening to the overhead music and eavesdropping on baristas’ conversations. Two guys talking about knitting rugs for their houses. It’s really cute, and it’s a little reassuring that there are at least two men right in front of me who aren’t so obsessed with fitting gender roles that they can comfortably knit a green cap behind the coffee bar. A tree across the street is red at its tips; all the other trees around it are still green but this one tree announces that my favorite season of the year is almost here.  Every year I feel older in the fall, although by the time spring rolls around I look back at my naïve fall-time self and chuckle at how hopeful I was.

The music is really nice right now though. I’m not sure what’s playing – it sounds like Band of Horses. It’s a methodic, sad guitar, fingers floating over the frets propelled by mostly love, though it’s sad. The song is about an alluring girl, one that couldn’t be touched, couldn’t be reached. When they were needed most, the words stumbled out of his lips but fell straight to the floor and they never reached her. She never knew.  But these words are attached to notes that lift them up. They float through the air even now, even years after the fire that fueled the composition has dampened. The notes still float around, and they’ve traveled. They’ve traveled all the way to Athens where they fall on my ears – ears that weren’t the intended audience but on which the music has the intended effect anyway. Feelings are fleeting, especially the specifics, but the results of creative endeavors that emerge from meditation on those feelings – they last forever. They last as long as there is an audience to receive them.

well, on the bright side-

A few weeks ago, my news editor for the paper sent out a story idea to the staff — it was about something the LA Times called “generation vexed,” which described my generation’s pessimistic attitude toward the future. Here’s the link to the story. I picked up the story, figuring my version would roughly follow the same outline as that one, just on a smaller scale. I mean, it can’t be hard to find someone who hates their major, right?

I searched in vain all over this campus. I asked everyone I could, but the closest I got was a boy who had hated his biology major but changed it a year ago to pursue a career in filmmaking. The art and music majors were all over the place though — and they were so confident and optimistic about their futures. One art major admitted that he didn’t have an exact plan for his future but he figured it would work out. But who really has an exact plan? It’s silly to plan out the little details specifically so far in advance anyway.

Here’s the best part. I interviewed a man who works at the University Career Center and he could not stress enough how important he thought it was for students to pick majors they are passionate about. His main point was that people will be more productive in society if they all follow their passions, because everyone is passionate about something. It reminded me of a Howard Thurman quote: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

At the end of my interview with him, this man blamed the media for spreading this general attitude of fear into college students that causes them to choose lives they aren’t in love with just for money. I was transcribing the interviews in bed on the morning my story was due, and I stopped for just a moment to really think about what he said.

By writing my story, I was becoming that powerful voice of the media that plants the seeds of thought into readers, that voice that can slowly but surely facilitate public opinion — or maybe I’m just flattering myself. As much as I had wanted to find a depressed artist trapped in the vacuous shell of a business major, they were nowhere to be found. And I realized that even trying to write that story was a depressing prospect — it would have been unhelpful and depressing to everyone who read it. So I decided to change the story to focus on the power young people have to define their own lives because I felt like I had the responsibility to show a more hopeful side to the story. Suffice it to say I’m obsessed with the final result.

How appropriate is it then, that during this same weekend, I made the decision to quit my  job at Larry’s Giant Subs? It began with a seed my mom planted in my head on Friday — she told me that if I am so stressed and busy, then I could quit my job to focus on more productive things, like writing more stories for the paper and studying for all of my classes. Over the weekend that idea grew so quickly, like a vine spreading to and infecting every productive corner of my mind. On Monday, I gave my manager my two weeks’ notice and I am now counting down the shifts I have left as a sandwich slave.

I struggled with my decision a little bit at first. I have a really hard time not being constantly busy, which can be at once a blessing and a curse. I just love feeling productive — there were weeks in high school when I would go and go and go and then on Friday night I would pass out at seven o’clock and sleep for 14 hours straight. I lived for that recuperation. But I talked with most of my friends and with my parents, and my dad said something that really stuck; he said, “Jobs don’t have to suck, Alex.” That’s it. And I guess that’s an idea that I’ve got to learn to accept. I could have a job that I’m obsessed with, and the best way to do that is to consciously take every step forward in the direction that brings me closer to my ultimate goal. And that goal, do I even need to go into that? No, I think not.

Anyway. I’ll post the link to my story once it’s published on Thursday. Counting down three more shifts at Larry’s and until total liberation. Yahtzee!

you remind me of home

I’ve been pretty homesick all week for a home that isn’t really my home. I suppose Hawaii is more of a home than anywhere else I’ve lived, at least thus far. It’s the longest I’ve ever lived in one place, but Georgia will pass that mark in a couple of years. It’s weird to think of myself as “from Georgia,” which is what I think I’ll inevitably become after I’ve lived here longer than six years. I’ve spent most of this week missing old and new friends from Hawaii though, which is so silly because I’m back in the town full of people I’ve been craving for three months.

I’ve noticed myself taking on my mother’s characteristics lately too. I’ve become so much tidier and I’ve been craving dark chocolate. The sore throat from sorority recruitment practice craves ginger tea with honey in it, just like mommy made it. I’ve noticed myself printing out more pictures of my family and wanting to brag to my friends about them.

I’ve never been a particularly homey person — I don’t normally get very homesick at all. I think it’s because of all the summers I’ve spent away from home and all the times I’ve had to leave a town full of people I love for a brand new adventure. I’ll say it now though: I’m homesick. Whether it’s coming out now from exhaustion, lack of privacy, or just built-up repressed feelings, I’m homesick nonetheless.

For now, Pi Phi has become my home away from home. How cheesy is that? I remember all the girls who told me that during rush last year. I disregarded it then, but I guess something in the last month and a half has clicked since then. Athens is my town and I really don’t have family anywhere close to me at all. My friends are my family here. They’re the ones who drive me to my appointments and who support me and hold me accountable for my actions. They’re the ones I brag my accomplishments to and they’re the ones who ask me if I’m okay when I’m feeling moody.

And this house. Can I talk about this house? I love how the wood on the staircase feels when I patter down the steps on my way to breakfast. Feels like home.

Rush starts tomorrow. This time I’m on the other side of things, picking the next crop of girls who will call this place home. Hopefully they will be lucky enough to feel the same way I do.

I’m in for quite the week.

a bit about azure ray

Oh you know. I’m just sitting on my bed, wasting my life away. Writing some things here, painting my nails, and adding music to my iTunes library. It’s too hot to go outside and my Red&Black meeting isn’t for another hour or so.

I really love Azure Ray, and “Sleep” was the first song of theirs I ever heard. But here’s my deal with “Sleep.” It’s scares me, a lot. The song does. Because it has this ability to shoot me back in time instantly to my junior year of high school. It sounds like Custer Road on a spring evening, just a few weeks before the pollen starts flying to make my allergies go crazy. The sun’s going down and I’m almost blinded by the orange light streaming through my windshield. The air is cool because I’m driving so quickly. I have a bracelet made of UV sensitive beads that light up different colors in the sunlight. It’s scary how instantly this song takes me back. I go back to falling in love with nooks of Columbus I never would have noticed if it weren’t for this friendship. My sweaters have stains on the left forearms and elbows from my art class. I feel so much older but I’m still terribly naive. I do my best to grab the fleeting bits of maturity and interest that are flying my way, discarded by others as surplus. I haven’t even thought of the future. I have to apply to college in the next year but I’m only worried about who I’m going to prom with. The future seems so far away and the present stretches infinitely forward.

Somewhat seamlessly though, the plot shifted and I morphed and morphed again. I still feel like it’s 2009. I still feel 17. I don’t understand how two years have passed already. When I look at myself, comparing past and present side-by-side, I am very much a different person. But I don’t feel any older.