Finite

Do you ever have one of those moments where you just feel what it is to be finite? I had one this morning driving around a lake that I’ve passed at least once a week every single week of my life. It hit me that I spent years sitting in the back seat, tracing the outline of the lake on the car window as we maintained the gentle curve around it. And now I’m sitting here, still a kid with that same breeze on my face, following the same path. And it hit me that one day (hopefully) I’ll be 40, 60, 75 and the lake will still be right there and I’ll still have that same breeze on my face as a trace the lake and I’ll remember today and the way that I felt so small and so

finite.

Mental Health Check: Holiday Moods

Holidays are supposed to be a time of cheer and excitement and generally, for me, they are. But this year is different. This year I can’t shake that shadow hanging overhead reminding me of everything I have to do, all the things I didn’t accomplish, all the ways I could and should be better. It’s not good. And I’m struggling. It makes writing a chore when the content is never good enough, the photos are never quite what you want, and the writer can’t get out of her own head (Hi).

But I’m trying now. I took an unplanned week and a half long break that happened to time up with a trip to Las Vegas and then a trip to South Florida for Thanksgiving. I had posts planned and outlined for most of that time that just never made it to fruition because because because. But they’re coming now.

So get ready, because it’s time to fight this feeling and go out and do things and try things and (probably mainly) eat things.

How just is justice?

Has anybody else been listening to the podcast Serial? It’s the recounting of a journalist looking into the closed case of a homicide from 1999. A man named Adnan Syed was found guilty of the murder in 2 hours after a 6 week trial almost 15 years ago. Since then, his best friend’s sister has been working tirelessly to study the case and prove his innocence. She introduced the journalist Sarah Koenig, author of the program, to the case and asked her to help research. Serial is the result.

While listening I keep finding myself coming back to the presumption of innocence that seems to be lacking. Half of the show time is spent with Sarah flipping back and forth or complaining about flipping back and forth on her opinion of Adnan and his guilt. I know that it’s just a show but I think that her attitude is representative of the general population’s. And I find that problematic.

Our legal system is based on a presumption of innocence. Or at least it does in theory. But when you look around you, at tabloids, the news, social media-any place where people are capable of giving an opinion- you’ll see that opinions are formed regardless of evidence or the necessity for every person to have an opinion on every topic.

Presumption of innocence means that when someone is on trial for a crime, it is the jury’s responsibility to view them as innocent and to hear all of the facts of a case and THEN to deliberate and decide if they felt that the prosecution (the State) provided evidence that proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime. That’s a hefty definition but put simply it basically means wait until you hear the whole story from all sides to decide whose version is accurate.

My legal background is minimal. I was in a law magnet programs for four years and on a Mock Trial team in high school for two years. I had teachers who were former Public Defenders and teachers who were cops but my coaches were all defense attorneys and they had a strong influence on my justice beliefs.

One of these beliefs was highlighted in particular during last week’s episode. A former detective turned consultant reviews the case and shares his opinions. When asked if he thought the detectives in the case had handled it well he responded that they had found a suspect and had built their best case around him.

This is a problem. A detective’s job is not to find someone to blame for a crime. It’s to put THE someone who has committed the crime in a place where they can’t hurt people. They can’t do that adequately if they are exclusively building a case around one suspect and ignoring evidence that doesn’t support that decision. That’s not what justice should be.

To me, it is a problem that we are eager to condemn people. In the show a representative from the Innocence Project talks about how people have immediate judgements about someone on trial simply because “if they hadn’t done something wrong they wouldn’t be here in the first place.” This belief undermines the very basis of our legal system, that an individual is considered innocent until proven guilty.

The way that Sarah flips back and forth on the show highlights this. She’s so eager to label Adnan “guilty” or “innocent” when the fact that she’s so focused on him means that there are potential other suspects who are being ignored entirely. And this is someone who is coming to the table 15 years after the investigation. Imagine how the detectives and the jury felt when they were given the responsibility of finding and punishing the murdered of an 18 year old girl.

It’s hard to see the world as bigger than yourself. I’m failing now as I become frustrated that people don’t see the legal system the way I do. But I do think that as cops, detectives, journalists, and even individuals we have a responsibility to incorporate objectivity into the legal system. It’s not easy but it is important.

We run into the danger of a corrupt system that’s more of a trap than a form of just punishment and legality when the only evidence it takes to condemn someone to a lifetime of incarceration is an exploitation of racist stereotypes, selected pieces of a deal-receiving, known-to-lie witness’s testimony, and some cell tower records that only correspond with ¼ of the story.

This issue is bigger than this case and I don’t see it being solved by my writing about it. I don’t know that there even is a solution. But my hope is that these thoughts inspire reflection and enough cynicism for you to question your own perceptions of guilt and what it takes to prove it. Your opinion matters.

Body Imagining

I started taking ballet classes a few weeks ago. The classes are graceful. Pink tights and black leotards, synchronized movement. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. It’s a beautiful thing to be a part of. Despite this beauty I watch woman after woman grab and pinch various points on their body between exercises every day as they study themselves in the mirror. I’ve tried to explain how beautiful these women are to them but they don’t seem to see it. How have we gotten to a point where even those working to make themselves stronger and healthier are focused on how well they meet an impossible beauty standard?

I don’t think I’ve ever met someone entirely confident in their own body. Friends in college, high school, and middle school all spent hours poking and prodding. Doesn’t matter the gender, the body mass, the health consequences- everyone finds that bit of doubt somewhere. I do it too although not nearly as intensely and not nearly as much as I used to.

It’s hard to stop until you find a reason. I found mine when I realized that every moment I spent critiquing myself and comparing my body to every one I met was causing me to judge other people and to focus on how they looked rather than what they said. Instead of meeting and learning about people, I was in my own head. Now when I see or meet someone, I try to make my first thought, “You are beautiful.” It’s not a physical thing, it doesn’t mean I’m attracted to them; it’s my way of reminding myself that everyone is beautiful and should be recognized as such.

When you go into every interaction thinking that the person you’re talking to is beautiful they can tell. We talk differently, act differently, award our time differently to people based on what we think of them. The easiest way to see the value of another person is to listen to them, a task made much easier once you aren’t worried about what they look like.

This started out selfishly. I wanted to be a “better” person but it wound up helping me become more confident and happier as a side effect of helping others see their own beauty. The connections I make and interactions I have are no longer shaped as a comparison but as a celebration of those things we can learn from each other.

There is beauty in being unique and funny and happy. I think it’s time that we celebrate that in ourselves and in each of those we meet.

Red, White, and ?

Over summer I was playing Heads Up with my parents, brothers, uncle, and young cousins. It’s an iPhone game that works by choosing a theme within the app and then placing your phone on your forehead so the people playing with you can see it. They give you hints and you try to guess as many of the answers as you can in the time limit. My cousin Anthony, a 7 year old with the biggest brown eyes you’ve ever seen in your life, was doing the “Animals” theme.

He was struggling with it, not sure who to listen to as we all jumped around waving our elephant trunks and swinging our arms as though from trees around the room. The answer “blue whale” pops up on the screen. We’re all trying to give hints, yelling, pretending to swim, talking over each other and then over us all my mom tells him, “It’s not red, not white, but….” to which Anthony yelled out “DINOSAUR!”

We gave it to him anyway.

I tell you that story to make you smile as I bring up this point. It seems a lot of people aren’t really sure of the old red, white, and blue. I say this because of the cynicism I see in my Facebook feed and in conversations I eavesdrop on in coffee shops. Everybody claims to have a problem with something happening in the government but statistically we are not all using our right to vote to facilitate the changes we claim we want to see.

It’s hard to get out of your own head. It’s not easy to justify taking time out of your schedule when it’s already incredibly busy and you can’t really see any tangible difference resulting from your voice. But voting patterns and election results are a vicious cycle. We don’t see the change we want because we don’t vote, people who don’t really represent our beliefs wind up make decisions for us, we find ourselves disenfranchised with the whole process, and then when it’s time for another election we DON’T VOTE because it didn’t seem to make a difference last time. It’s hard. I know. I wrestle with these feelings too.

I’m not going to tell you to vote. That’s a personal decision and belongs to you and you alone. I am going to tell you that I will be voting and I’m going to ask you to please spend at least a few minutes researching the candidates and the causes before you make a decision. Relying on party lines to navigate your vote is a cop out. It perpetuates a dichotomy. It pits us against them instead of allowing for unity. It is the enemy of progress and collaboration.

There are a lot of resources available, especially in local newspapers and magazines that cover local elections. In Orlando, I’ve found Orlando Weekly‘s spread to be most useful.* I encourage you to spend a few minutes tonight thinking about the issues you identify with most and want to see change. Find the candidates who support those causes and have plans to work on them. Those are the people who can make a difference and the only way they get that chance is if you give it to them.

Most people see the world as it relates to them, why not do all you can to elect a candidate you actually support? They’re the only ones who will help shape the government into one you want to be apart of.


 

*I disagree with their stand on Amendment 1. I am all for Water and Land Conservation but the way that the amendment is able to provide funds without raising taxes is by stealing it from the fund dedicated to support low income housing, a fund that has been abused and used as a piggy bank for various politicians for almost 20 years. I think the original fund needs to be protected and once 100% of it is actually being used for it’s original intent, then the option to share the money with other deserving projects, like conservation should be introduced.

Dog Walking

It’s not easy to talk about feminism calmly. I can feel my heart beating a little faster as various flashbacks flicker through my head of both the progresses that have been made and those all too frequent reminders that make it so difficult to believe that change is possible.

The internet has had a lot to say on the subject: Emma Watson’s UN He for She speech, the woman who was cat-called 100 times in a 10 hour day, and Taylor Swift’s very public growth into identifying as a feminist for starters. And then there are all of the comments on these things, all of the opinions that cover every range of response from support to ridicule and even threats. It’s a lot to take in as a big picture but it becomes even more difficult when you begin finding it in your own life.

This post was sparked by an encounter I had today walking my dog. Six, SIX, separate individuals driving SIX separate cars at SIX different times within a 15 minute walk found it not only necessary, but acceptable, to honk at me while they drove past. Being a woman who likes to walk outside, I’m used to this sort of behavior and I don’t jump when it happens anymore. Can you imagine having been harassed so many times that you no longer have an instinctual response to be startled when someone blares their horn at you? This isn’t okay.

I know that this is tame, an inconvenience at most when you look at the more overt harassment millions of individuals face daily but that does not make it alright.

The New York Times posted an article last week about a man responsible for following up on all of the mean things people say on Facebook. He has found that in 98% of cases, these comments were not meant to be insulting. They were an escalation stemming from a misunderstanding. With that guide in mind, that often things are simply a misunderstanding, please let me explain to you how I see harassment in the case of someone honking their horn at me.

It’s not a compliment. Let me say it again, it’s NOT a compliment to me that your way of trying to get my attention is honking at me. I’m not an animal. You don’t get to call me over with some arbitrary sound because you feel like it. You don’t deserve my attention just because you think you do. Plus it scares my dog. Stop it.

It is that big of a deal. to me. And in my world, that is the main opinion that matters. If something you are doing makes me uncomfortable I am going to speak up about it. You don’t get to decide what makes me tick. It may not upset you, you may see it as a positive,  but don’t you dare tell me what I am supposed to think or how I am supposed to feel.

Lastly, just because you don’t mean to be offensive doesn’t mean you aren’t being offensive. Think it through, be kind to other human beings. Why do you think that it’s okay to honk? What are you trying to tell me?Just because I am out living my life in the same world you happen to live in does not mean that you get to make up the rules. We all get to make our own rules, don’t be offended that I’m not willing to play by yours.

I want to hear what you have to say. I want to know why you think this is or isn’t okay. Human rights are important. For everyone. And I would like mine to be respected.