Millennials, Sincerity, & Titanic

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(“Jack, are you periscoping this?”)

NOT ALL Millennials are incapable of forming relationships that would make their own B list screenplay. Or something like that. When a Baby Boomer calls me entitled and lazy, I’ll fight back for us.

Ae Padilla 

I was hanging out with a guy friend I hadn’t seen in months. There was no reason for us losing touch, but when you don’t go to the same college anymore it just happens. I don’t make these rules up.

When we finally had a moment alone, over some drinks, I looked at him and said what I had been thinking about for the past couple of hours. “I miss you kid.” With a half eye roll he got flustered and laughed it off, like my comment was some dumb quote from a movie I didn’t quite nail and he was sparing me the embarrassment of lingering on it. Oh well, I contemplated, gulping down the last of my margarita. I tried.

To give a bit of context though, I didn’t say this statement because I missed him romantically or because something bad had happened between us and I needed to patch up an argument. My miss you, not laced in one hint of sarcasm (a mind-blowing feat for me!) was genuine. I missed my friend. Our conversations. Our hang outs. Simple.

But the sincerity behind that simple statement made him feel uncomfortable. And I venture to say that is the case for most Millennials, who struggle with the truest forms of sincerity that fostering an authentic relationship, both romantic and platonic, need.

In our desire as Millennials to make everything ironic, as well as our obsession with a stimulating, exciting (but also fleeting) culture, we are left craving more of a connection than we might have ever wanted. We jeopardize our emotional happiness. And I’m not taking the easy way out by saying that we do this because we are glued to our screens and do not know how to have face to face interaction anymore. I say we do this for a multitude of reasons, the first being that we are conditioned to think that emotions are the currency of some type of weakness; caring for someone can only be expressed verbally if our partner or friend does it equally. Intimacy is only applicable to one person in our life. We were sold the idea that everyone cares less than us about feelings, and we should aspire to be that same way – if we are smart enough

Millennials, in both the friendship and dating vacuum, weaken every tie they have because they are subconsciously afraid of being true to any feelings, as they have been told they are not going to help in our world. These feelings are a distraction at worst, or at best a potential manipulative tactic one can use to “get ahead.”

But so what if we can’t achieve that same sincerity that relationships had before us? Long romantic kisses, grand romantic gestures, talks between friends that last hours which are not riddled with talks about how they last hours. Does it really affect us? Does it matter, that the only truly “moments” in our lives are few and far between.

Yes. Yes, I think it does, as the lack of moments is not a lack of closeness, love, or inclination for romance, it is instead an inability to express it, stifling a part of us which desperately wants to reach out in whatever way we would if our anxiety was not preventing us from doing so. Be that a flower, a romantic kiss, or touching our friend’s hand.

This can easily translate to wholesome feelings being misconceived as stupid or a hindrance to our daily lives. I.E. I do not like the physical reactions that I am feeling right now so it must be a result of what I am thinking, which of course in relation to our psyches can be concerning.

But the result of that anxiety might actually have to do with the internet, (sorry, sorry, sorry) the constant flow of information we both seek and do not seek out, a place where our feelings are taught to us so excessively they become our own. It is here where we are instructed that emotions are unfortunately currency we barter with, they are not anything pure. The less chips you have in your bag the better.You can care about people but care fucking less than you do now. I mean, really thinking about it, how many countless articles are there directed to Millennials that say the person who cares less in a relationship always has the upper hand; be like that person.

Whether we realize it or not, despite even telling ourselves that those articles are stupid, they sink into the way we look at our friendships and partners. Idiotic memes, “this could be us but you playing”, reinforce that the ideal couple is not attainable because someone else is always not being authentic enough to their wants or needs. And if they are not being authentic, then being authentic alone is simply humiliating.

Feelings into action, wanting someone or wanting something with someone, is embarrassing. Unless it happens to be with one specific person in a secluded moment, vulnerability is something we get embarrassed for for other people. He or she is too much. He or she is “extra” and there is nothing worse than being “extra.”

Even in the safe space of a romantic relationship that has been established for some time, a desire to never show all of your cards becomes synonymous with never having to worry about experiencing that fuzzy romantic moment (or if you are like me, being more upset that this will not take place). This is because true romantic moments, special times not filled with sarcastic self-deprecation or apologizes, only come when people are candidly vulnerable. It is because during that occasion that there are no more cards to hold onto, taking a leap of faith for something you want becomes a lot easier when you cannot run backwards in anyway.( Or if you are trying to spin a more positive outlook to this idea, giving something your all with your partner becomes extraordinarily easier when you let go of personal judgment.)

And we Millennials are afraid of the judgment of those who surround us. It practically suffocates us. I can again point to the internet (sorry, sorry, sorry), not because the internet is filled with grade A critics of politics, religion, or celebrities but because large groups of people gathering together in one common space (no matter that the space be both expansive and virtual) know how to rip apart the cheesiness, embarrassing, cringe-worthy event or person impeccably. Hating something, especially hating anything corny, has brought people closer together than loving something. That rise of “hater” culture is a bond that is almost so unbreakable in our generation that it’s a wonder people bond over anything they do like.

Which brings us to the film Titanic, and a peice which explores the growth of hater culture due to the movie’s 1999 release. Owen Glieberman wrote an article for Entertainment entitled, appropriately enough, ‘Titanic is a great film. It’s also the movie that gave rise to hater culture.’ in which he speaks about how successful the film was, from performing well at the box office and the Academy Awards to how the film quickly faced a backlash. The claims from those less eager about the film were that Titanic was an audacious soap opera written by a man who had no idea how “real people” spoke. But most of all people who despised it enough to flock to online boards and express that emotion, were upset by its cheesiness and its attractive leads tangled in some bit of spectacular romantic fate. Glieberman concluded the article by writing about how the haters of the film Titanic claiming that only a teenager could love both the plot and dialogue are living in a weird delusional reality they created. In short, they are foolish

And yet it makes so much sense with the rise of Millennials, internet, and haters. If movies are a showcase to how people live their lives, then our reactions to them dictate whether or not we approve. In the case of Titanic, sincerity is questioned at every moment by a modern audience. Yes, I can understand some of the backlash, there are some lines I wish would rather have not made it to the final cut including “something Picasso, he won’t amount to a thing.” But the moments that irk people are arguably the most iconic ones. “Draw me like one of your French girls,” “I’m the king of the world,” and the unforgettable “I’m flying Jack.” It is these moments, the most “cheesy” ones in the film that people have no problem claiming as “cheesy” – the result of this stamp is that Titanic is beneath their movie watching taste and above their embarrassment threshold.

But not me. I love it. As one of the most sarcastic cynical people I know, I find the moment in Titanic where Rose and Jack are stretching their arms out at the bow of the ship to be one of the most iconic and breathtaking scenes in cinematic history. My God it’s beautiful. And it’s not beautiful because of the cinematography or the score, or because two beautiful people are in it. It’s captivating because it is the most authentic moment you can possibly have privilege to spy in on.

Just imagine if someone who had never seen this film tried doing that today with their significant other on a cruise. How quickly would we die of secondhand embarrassment? How quickly would we take out our phones to record this and post it online? How much would we snicker about how someone desperately wants to get laid? How easily would sincerity be wiped away from a moment that’s not even ours?

For those who hate on Titanic, the irony is delicious. The hatred on a film for being appalling inauthentic comes up short when you realize that Titanic was perhaps the first movie to ever use, what would become later, very famous tropes. We hate Titanic because it unashamedly highlights what we have been told, or told ourselves,we do not like. Over the top vulnerability, tender lines we scoff at because we believe no one would ever say that in “real life” (when perhaps people actually would).

Because in the history of humanity feelings and love continue to live on. This will never change. Ever. How much we allow ourselves to be able to express what resides in us does though. And when you suppress it long enough, it makes it almost shameful.

Titanic is so in your face with all of what it is because it does not apologize. Jack does not take Rose’s hand and says “this is cheesy but do you trust me?” He does not say “well, you don’t look like any of my other French girls” (insert laugh here) when he draws her portrait in arguably their most erotic moment together. He is the best, most genuine version of himself, which even if it makes for a whole lot of heartache makes for so much more earned happiness.

This openness, this transparency, does happen nowadays but it seems to be that it is the property of others as opposed to the people involved. “Is this too much? What would other people think if they heard this? Am I being pathetic?” are questions dancing too close to the perception from people who do not matter to the relationship that the person cares about. But when sincerity, black and white make out sessions, and lines reserved for Cary Grant were dubbed as “a thing of the past that no self-aware person partakes in” then people had to listen to this narrative and follow it.

Sex is a loophole, or on the opposite end maybe, the most honest time for communication that produces “realness” in our modern environment. This makes sense because what other time can you exclaim the genuine passion you have for someone in your life then when you are inside of them? If you didn’t, and it was more than just casual sex, you wouldn’t probably be able to do that again. Sex, being a physical act, is an easier way to showcase emotions.

But I worry that if authenticity only follows sex then this resistance to express one’s self will trickle down to every other person that they are not having sex with, like friends, who become not as close as they could be because again dependable exposure is a rare commodity. (And our friends don’t have orgasms in the back of steamy cars with us.)

Then again maybe some personalities don’t call for over the top movie moments, although I argue that our lives do call for some moments we should most certainly not deny ourselves of. The most amazing times in my life, the lines that make it to books, are the ones I embrace not shy away from. The times when I am not afraid as most people are. When I realize that we have such little time in life that to not be as genuine as possible at every second is a waste.

What this really comes down to, the lesson of this all however, is if Leonardo DiCaprio (or anyone for that matter) wants to take your hand and help you to fly over a magnificent sunset, don’t fight it. And tell them to take off their shirt while they do it.

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Stop Making Martyrs Out of Mass Shooting Victims

How filling the void of heartache with religion is detrimental

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Above: Masy McLain as Rachel Scott in I’m Not Ashamed

All respect to those who have dealt with that heartache and those who feel as if some part of their faith is being attacked.

Ae Padilla

When I watched the trailer for I’m not Ashamed, I cringed.

And that’s not because it was another God’s Not Dead in the making, some religious propaganda film filled with terrible actors, a cheesy script, and a high dose of jabs at those who are not religious.

I cringed because I realized the weight of religion, conversion therapy, was being placed on a girl who died when she was seventeen and has been dead for almost twenty years.

For those unaware I’m Not Ashamed is a film about the late Rachel Scott, the first victim of the Columbine High School Shooting which took place in Littleton Colorado, in 1999. The film follows Rachel’s life a year and a half before the shooting takes place, where her faith in God is examined, tested, and ultimately strengthened as a result of the high school woes that she encounters. The film also follows Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, caricatures of the real perpetrators who rant more heavily than they ever truly did about the perils of religion and how much they hate Christians.

But Klebold and Harris mean nothing in this film, it is Scott, portrayed by newcomer Masy McLain, who is the main character. She is the one seen interacting with Klebold, speaking to him passionately about the strength of compassion that can come from Christianity. She is the one seen dismissing drugs or alcohol of any sort from her peers because of her religion. And she is portrayed as so unbelievably sweet and nice that the sparking personality of the real Rachel Scott is hidden beneath the veneer of a smiling girl whose only trait is that she follows Christ.

The film concludes with what is arguably the most controversial story to arise out of the massacre. Harris shoots Scott in the back along with her friend Richard Castaldo. As she struggles to catch her breath and move, the filmmakers and many people alike, claim that Harris reportedly asked her if she believed in God. When she answered in the affirmative with the words “you know I do,” Harris reportedly shot her again, killing her, thus making a martyr.

The problem with this story is that while Castaldo (who lived but is now parlayed) has wavered about whether or not this interaction took place, the FBI and Jefferson County have concluded that this exchange never happened. The timeline simply does not add up.

But Rachel Scott became a martyr anyway, along with Cassie Bernall another student who is believed to have been asked whether she believed in God, and when answering yes was killed again by Harris in the library. However this too was proven to be unreliable from witnesses. Instead this exchange actually occurred with Valeen Schnurr who was spared by Klebold because she answered that her reason for believing in God was because her family did.

But facts mean nothing. And to this day Scott and Bernall are seen as modern day martyrs, the definition of what teenagers (teenagers who are of course viewed as rowdy and lacking morals) should aspire to be.

Religious propagation is nothing new but with mass shootings becoming more prevalent since Columbine occurred, religious heroes from mass shootings have arisen, threatening how we speak about victims and ultimately ruining their legacy with a tarnished view of their persona.

Rachel Scott was, by all definitions, brilliant. She was a talented student and artist. She was an actress who had recently chopped of all of her hair and dyed it red to play a character in her school play who harbored a more grunge/alternative style. And she did write extensively about her love of God, and even her thoughts about his existence. She journaled frequently and left behind her amazing ideas about the chain reaction that can occur from love.

By all accounts Scott was a Christian. As was Bernall. As were some of the victims of the Umpqua Community College shooting and the Red Lake massacre who were actually asked about their faith and murdered. But those victims were not murdered because they were Christians, they were murdered because someone had access (easy access most likely) to a firearm. They were simply a number, a person who happened to be eating their lunch on a school lawn or taking an English class at their local college. They were killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, not because they wore a cross or followed any certain religion.

I say this not to be insensitive, I say it because it is the truth. To tell people how to mourn the death of their own children or their friends is not something anyone can do lightly, if at all. But when the families of these people, and by extension the media, paint these young victims as being killed for the greater good, a higher power thereby making more people believe in God, they denounce the entire act of violence.

In their effort to give it a purpose for themselves, to make sense of a senseless situation, they paint their own caricature of their loved ones, even unknowingly. And then they dismiss, whether they mean to or not, every other victim who they do not deem as a martyr.

This is because in placing their loved one on a pedestal, as a religious figure, they state that their life was inherently more valuable because it was given up to God. But in the situation of their death, which is most likely eerily similar to that of someone else who died in the same shooting, those other unpopular victims are not given that same recognition. What this boils down to is: one victim was killed by God for the sole reason of reaching more people, to become a pillar in the community of worshipers, and one victim was killed for absolutely no reason, a less prophetic kill.

Fate, what is attributed to these killings and then these makeshift saints, ruins the possibility of us being able to help stop these mass shootings from continuing. When you have the people who are supposed to be the most upset, the families of those killed, accepting these deaths as nothing more than divine intervention then the real issues that form this problem in our country do not get fixed. Gun control, mental health, even fragile masculinity take a back seat to the fact that the killers who go on these rampages are deemed not as a threat because they are mentally unstable, instead their anger to the world is a direct result of not having prayer in school or not being as accepting of the Lord as some of the selected victims were. If you do not believe me just look at the reactions of Darrell Scott, Rachel Scott’s father who speaks adamantly at schools across America and in the days after Columbine gave a statement before a house committee on crime referring to not only Rachel but his son Craig Scott who pretended to play dead in the library amidst the massacre. “As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes — He did not hesitate to pray in school. I defy any law or politician to deny him that right!”

But the worst thing about the martyrdom of these victims is, as stated before, the effect that it has on the legacy of said victim and not politicians or news viewers. I can’t speak for the people who have died, but I am pretty certain that those who did would not want their entire lives condensed into a single byline about their affirmation to God. And if they did want their devotion publicized, I argue that they would want both the good and the bad that comes along with being a religious figure. Doubt is as important as faith. Making mistakes is as important as correcting them and asking for forgiveness.

Rachel Joy Scott’s life is a tale that she will never unfortunately be able to tell herself, but the story I want to see depicted on the screen is not the lie given to the world that she was murdered for faith in Jesus but rather that her faith made her a more giving and loving individual, perhaps the type of person who might forgive her killer. Some see it this way too, including friends of Scott who boycotted I’m Not Ashamed because they felt it was an inaccurate portrayal to the way that she lived her life. She struggled like everyone else did. She was not a saint but she was a believer and it is that which would make a movie I want to view.

Religion, like always, is not the problem. But the way it is used, especially in this instance, does not bring people together but rather divides. When a lack of actual truth is at the basis for a film or story then anything that is added to that narrative cannot be trusted, and therefor the religious message lacks validity.

Speaking about mass shooting victims as people who lost their life for no good reason is the saddest but most truthful thing we can do, because it allows us to work for that not to happen again. It’s not inspiring, romantic, or sensational in any way. But maybe the lives of the victims by themselves, the daily struggles of going to class or the fact that they liked to watch certain movies or hang out with their dog should be inspirational enough.

Let’s stop making up stories for these people. Martyrdom aside, maybe those who died didn’t hold open the door for others to run before them. Maybe they didn’t save the person next to them. Maybe they said they didn’t believe in something they did to get spared. Maybe they fled instead of fighting. Are we to blame them, someone who was put in the most frightening situation of their life for doing that? Are we to tell others they are better for doing that? We must stop saying these things as our own non-religious martyr stamps. It’s not comforting, it’s cruel.

And we would do well, like Scott said, to be a little nicer in this world.

Don’t let your character change color with your environment. Find out who you are and let it stay it’s true color.

-Rachel Scott

Guera, Morenita, Pretty For a Dark Girl

How Colorism Hurts Us and Enables a Racist Society

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The following piece has personal elements that dive into my own history. With this blog I am not trying to dismiss people from the Rio Grande Valley or minorities who talk and act in a certain way, I am trying to give this problem some attention.

Ae Padilla

Whenever I hear a new baby’s looks being discussed in the Rio Grande Valley I wait for it. I look at the child in question, the person examining the infant, and I hold my breath in anticipation of the compliment to come that shouldn’t be a compliment. I sit there on stand by for the moment until the adult takes the child’s face into his or her hands (usually without permission) and smiles.

“She’s so guera.”

In between my embarrassment and shame I feel for the person saying this, I manage to be proud of myself for calling it.

There it is. What I have been waiting for. She’s so white. She’s so guera.

Except guera, a Mexican-Spanish slang word whose origins cannot fully be found, is not just a description of an infant. And it’s not similar to the way a parent would say their newborn has a full set of hair and a cheeky grin, or even the way people would point out facts about a person to distinguish them in a large group: the black man with the grey shirt, the red head at the table in the back of the restaurant.

No, guera means more than white. Guera means acceptable, good, “thank god” status.

But most importantly guera means not dark.

***

I grew up in Brownsville, the southernmost city of the Rio Grande Valley, which is located in the state of Texas. Hispanics make up almost ninety percent of the population in this area, so as a result of this I never considered myself, a Mexican female, entirely out of place in my environment. The cause for separation, if any at all, came more from my slightly argumentative, charming (?), sarcastic personality.  As a newborn, I entered the world bald, white, and looking nothing like I do today. Sometime around the age of five, unbeknownst to me, I developed more of the features I now have. Long brown hair, darker brown eyes, and dark brown skin, capable of turning almost borderline black during the summer, when long days in the sun made me tan.

And there were a lot of those active days in my childhood, with the kiddie pool and swing set as my company. During July, away from school, playing outside in upwards of 100 degree weather, sunblock became a necessity for all of us. I was encouraged to put it on to protect my skin, something I will not argue with. With days that reached triple digits, no one can. But I was also urged to apply it because it would prevent me from getting “too dark.”

This, and I will carry it with me always, was the beginning of “too dark” being bad. Something you didn’t want to be. Sunlight, direct sunlight, was regulated because being too dark was not equated with being too burnt, drastically in no way the same thing. It was regulated because it would make me not as attractive.

***

But I am not saying anything new am I? The idea of “too dark” being seen as bad by one person, one group, or the world. Racism exists and is widely believed to be unacceptable. Colorism though is so tricky, it sneaks by unnoticed by most.

Whiteness, being white, has always held, unfortunately, the top spot on the totem pole in society. To be white is to have privilege. To be white is to be the default perfect person. To be white is to have power. But in a society, like Mexicans in the valley located in the United States, being white is unattainable. It is however, an identity one can try to claim, try to attain to no avail, which ironically polarizes us as minorities even more.

In the context of Mexicans, to be whiter is to achieve that power and that beauty spoken about. The darker you are the more you have to strive to be the most beautiful, in spite of your skin color.

And I witnessed this time and time again growing up in this environment, so much that it became an intricate part of what I myself defined as beauty. Never did I believe one person was prettier because they had lighter skin, but I understood at least the treatment of a person could entirely be based on their skin color, even if two people both identified as Mexican. If a light skin chicana was standing next to a dark skinned chicana (both seen as desirable) the lighter skinned one was more desirable. It did not matter if I did not think that was the case. I recognized that the light skinned person was more beautiful in relation to society so society would treat them better. And that was all that mattered.

In the valley it happened more times than I could count. Colorism. I saw it every day. From my family to my friends, across conversations at schools and in restaurants with complete strangers. It was not out of the ordinary for a person to stop by our table or the table next to us, see a whiter kid than most of us were used to seeing by the border and comment on how white that child was. It was not uncommon for people to call other people “brown” if they were trying to insult someone. It was not uncommon even for people to compliment the grandkids of a friend for being so pretty and pale as if the skin color of that child was an amazing personality trait or a set of manners instilled by a parent or person close to the child.

In the valley, and I know it happens in other communities across other races, it is frighteningly normal.

What is so interesting about Brownsville and colorism, what sets it apart, is that there are varying different degree of Hispanics in the lower valley that had different color and skin tones who were not American. Funnily enough, it was the children who came across from Mexico every day to attend private school in the United States that had lighter skin and lighter blonder hair. See being American was not being whiter. Being whiter, another revelation to me, really was just based purely on pigment. In the valley, how white you are was how close you were to a white standard of attractiveness, a scale set up somewhere that people latched onto without thinking about it. If I was white, it was because I have and always will identify with white culture very much more than anyone did in my friend group or family.

Being white in this area (Brownsville) meant you were more desirable, more coveted, and that you had it easier. Getting singled out for being dark, too dark, was a funny cheap joke that people often used. Morenita. Negrita. Families that had one darker member usually made fun of that member. Such was the case with people I knew, where separation came swiftly from a group I much mention again was already separated against. The irony kills me, but it’s not at all surprising.

***

This social construct, colorism in communities, has been explored before. As stated before, I am not re-inventing the wheel.

An astoundingly in depth documentary called “Dark Girls,” directed by Bill Duke, D. and Channsin Berry was produced highlighting how Black women are often given their worth of beauty by how light their skin is. In this documentary the paper bag test is discussed. The paper bag test is the notion that if you hold a paper bag up to your face and you are darker than that bag you have failed the test. This “test” was used before as a way for people to rightly discriminate others from entering certain establishments but also from being let into parties and social gatherings.

But it was not white people doing this, it was black people doing this to their own people. White people, of course, were the one to perpetuate this with their influence of slavery, the division of lighter slaves being allowed to work indoors as opposed to picking the fields, but this seclusion of skin color still happens to this day. The invisible paper bag test is in effect. When you are lighter than the average of your race, whatever that race may be, you are more worthy. What that worth is comes down to a number of things: status within your own family, more attention and more praise, both indications of the self-esteem that a child will develop which will eventually mold them into how they view and act in the world.

So many stories I have heard from those close to me represent the dangers of colorism’s effects in this relation. Stories about boys or girls (who are part Hispanic, Black, etc.) that grow up in environments where they are teased for being too “white” in their own community (they rightly have deserved to be a part of), but then are equally criticized for some feature or distinguishing mark that shows that they are still “dark” to white people.

Or, contrastingly, even stories about white people complimenting the dark skin of their peers to a person who has never been complimented by his or her own race because the older minority community, those giving praise and attention to other children, believe that only those who are white are special.

See saying that a whiter child is special is saying is that being white is superior, because in addition to beauty opportunity is given to those who are white.

When you are whiter as a child, who is not by definition actually white, you will have it easier. You are able to go anywhere in this world and fit in, free to avoid most discrimination that come with racism. Therefor when you say a child born into a dark community is pretty or special because he or she is white what you are actually stating is your ability to relinquish your power of being a minority to the cultural script that white people are prettier, more well equipped, and the dominant race not in terms of population but of all cultural influence. And that being dark is only good when white people think that being dark is good. Therefor when you do this you reinforce racism.

It is this allowance that allows white people to appropriate other cultures, in everything from hairstyles to even, you guessed it…skin color.

Let’s put it this way, I never laughed more in amusement, displeasure, and gratification than when I went to college and saw not only white girls desperate for tans but also people from my own community in the valley update their Facebook pictures with their fake tans, spread across the beach as if they had acquired that color from the sun or, dare I say it, their genes. Here they were eager to look like what they now deemed beautiful because white women everywhere wanted to look this appealing. It was now socially acceptable to them, despite the fact that they went their entire childhood teasing their classmates about their skin colors. It was good, but it was bad, it was everything to feel validated.

But elsewhere in the rest of the world, colorism continues to happen in a much more accepting and dramatic ways, such as in the horrifying process of skin whitening, which is technically practiced in the Americas but more prevalent, commonplace, in southeast Asian countries.  South Korea, Philippines, India, and Taiwan have predominantly more people using dangerous beauty products, meant to bleach their skin in an attempt to hopefully make the person look more “beautiful”. Marketers of these creams have no problems with advertising their product as something close to life changing. “Lighter skin, better skin.” “Brighter skin, healthier skin, younger skin.” These logos, these creams, become not only a way to look more attractive but also a way to make yourself healthier. But these products are not helping skin discoloration or any medical situation. It’s a lie. All these products are doing is telling people, entire countries, that to be black is not only to be ugly but also to have your health in jeopardy.

***

Going forward, fighting colorism, is fighting within your own community. Calling out comments as I have done, but failed to do often enough. Challenging how we classify people by their color. Remembering that our colorism, racism, is something we do to ourselves. It originally was brought to us by others but we chose to keep it in our home. So it is as much as our problem as it is white people’s problem. And in no way do I mean that as an attack on white people, nor do I view them as the onset of all problems.

But it is always important to find the sources beyond the source.

Away from my childhood, growing into adulthood I keep an ear open in communities I have been a part of and ones I have recently joined. I recognize that when people tell me I am “pretty for a dark girl” those people are reducing me to plain exoticism, even when it comes to mundane issues such as dating. Sure colorism exists as a way to suppress people on a grand scale but it effects my everyday life, down to the moment when I am a bar hanging out with a guy I might be really starting to take to.

I’ve had it said before in a few ways but I remember one instance in particular which really highlighted both colorism and probably fetishism. Over a few drinks the attractive man I was talking to for more than an hour looked at me, grabbed my hand and said “You’re gorgeous. I am so over dating blond haired blue eyed girls. They do nothing for me anymore.” And then he kissed me, after which I got up and left the bar, heart pounding in my chest.

Being looked at as less desirable because I am dark is never good. But neither is being more desirable because I am dark. I can’t know every single way I have been discriminated, that is the ugly truth of discrimination, but having it thrown so casually in my face to this day still shocks me.

And the casualness of it is everywhere.

It is is there in instances when people say “I hope my kid comes out lighter than me.” (And let’s not pretend this is because people all the time are focusing on the discrimination their offspring will face.)

It is there in instances when celebrities are photo-shopped on magazines with lighter skin to appeal to a larger demographic.

Hell it is there even when the “flesh colored” band aid I pick up looks nothing like my skin tone.

In the future I will face more of these instances, big and small. It’s a given. I can be certain of that. But I hope the messiness of colorism, the culture of the valley, does not affect the future, my niece or nephew in this way.

Both of them little hyper kids, both pale, have a lot of great qualities I can already see in their young years. And yes one of these qualities is that they are both attractive kids and will probably continue to evolve into pretty attractive adults. And that attractiveness, in itself a privilege, is placed on their small pale faces.

And so I hope that the comments on their looks (although I wish the comments were more about character, but you can’t ask too much can you?) come not from a place of being more powerful because of their pigment.

To the rest of us, the little dark girls who thought we were ugly both inside and out. RISE.

He Has the Hate NOT the Strength

…Allow yourself to hate Trump winning the election, then do something about it.

trump-cartoon

(To be fair I am sure there are some nice KKK members)

If anyone, in all seriousness, needs to talk about the election please reach out to me.

Ae Padilla

After he won Ohio, I knew it was over. Hope is great and everything, but when CNN anchors look more and more nervous as the election night comes to a close, it’s time to let the crying commence. And it did, along with the drinking and cursing. Donald Trump is the president – elect of the United States and yes of course I am upset about this.

I have in multiple conversations, never held back my distain for Trump. From the way he has belittled handicap people, minorities and LGBT people, to the way he has bragged about his own sexual assaults of women, as well as that small little promise to ban Muslims from our country…he disgusts me in every which way. He’s a narcissist. A liar. A sexual predator. A bully. A borderline sociopath. And soon to be leader of one of the most influential countries on Earth.

So I cried in anger on Tuesday night well into Wednesday morning. I cried because I couldn’t yell. I cried because at the time I could not protest. There was not one person in particular I could send a nasty text to, I had to hate half of the American public – or half of the half that voted.

The next morning I had to hate everyone who made jokes about him being elected. I had to be okay with racists and sexists claiming their part in my country as a majority and not a minority. I had to deal with the fact that even a few hundred people voted for a dead gorilla, Harambe, as the leader of America. I’m sorry but that’s not funny. Memes are funny. Knowing that “educated” adults went out to polls and made a mockery of their vote is fucking infuriating. These people aren’t writing in “Bernie Sanders,” these people are a shooting a middle finger at democracy for the chance of a good Twitter post.

So am I angry? Of course I am angry. I am angry at anyone who isn’t angry. I am rationally angry at people (including even friends who I am very close to) who choose not to be political because it may seem “annoying to followers and threatening to their likes.” I am angry at some white entitled men, republicans and democrats alike who look the other way because they know that those comments that Trump said weren’t directed at them, but they were directed at people they love. I am angry that women are nervous about wearing their Hijabs in public. I am angry that some Americans will lose their healthcare and as a result their lives. I am angry that my niece and possibly maybe even one day my daughter will live in a country where a reality star misfit can say ‘I grab women by the pussy’ and be the 45th President of the US. I am angry that experience counts for nothing. That you don’t have to play by the rules. Hell, you don’t even have to know what the rules are.

Am I worried about foreign affairs, the fact that Trump has Putin on speed dial? All the meetings to take place in the Oval? Of course yes, also. But this is a family matter. This stays close right now. I carry it in my heart; I don’t have the luxury to carry it anywhere else. Because guess what? I am also scared.

What does this mean for the rights of me as a Hispanic woman in this country? But also what does it mean to everyone else…that family I spoke of, who do not look like the first 43 presidents, who walk with purpose for a better tomorrow promised to them these past eight years but who now are terrified of where they go from here. Who feel like a path of comfort suddenly disappeared from under their feet. Excuse me if foreign policy is not on the forefront of my mind. I am trying to hug my family.

So the past few days I’ve mourned. Death of someone close to me type of mourn. And I have been lucky enough to be able to do that in a place that is safe. In my room and at my work, an environment with women and men who understand, who hugged me when I walked in on Wednesday and started crying with me too.

And we’re not all Hillary supporters to the core. Not even democrats. It’s just that we don’t support hate.

In the past three days and in the next weeks, months, years we will hear people telling us how to react to the news of Trump as our president. Stop being dramatic. Get over it. And my personal favorite: let’s all just love each other.

Be careful of people saying this. I know that most of it comes from a good place. But I know some of it unfortunately comes from people who don’t understand what it’s like to live in a country that hasn’t always loved them. Who don’t have to be as angry. Who don’t have to understand our pain. Who don’t know what it’s like to see the country you love fall apart on top of the people who were oppressed in building it. It’s not part of their ancestry.

What I would give to not care as they do. To be so oblivious. To follow a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

And so I’ve reached the point where it has become socially unacceptable to stay in bed and cry over an orange faced cheeto in the White House come January. I have to get up and do things. I have to, as I have done before, stay angry. We have to stay angry at those who voted for him, at him, and even at us.

We have to channel that anger into some damn work, knowing that voting, in particular for me, was not enough. The change comes from small work first and foremost. Phone calls. Canvassing. Volunteering. Donating. It sucks that there is no other way around it right now and that big influential change looks a lot like 2018 but in a way it is also unbelievably a good thing. Complacency feeds itself. And we have done enough of that the past year as democrats, young people, and progressives.

Trump won because Trump lured in the uneducated, the weak, the bigots, but the voters. The type of men who don’t let their sons play with dolls. The type of women who think catcalling is a compliment. The type of people who say they believe in the work of Jesus but hold onto their money a little too tightly. Who condemn transgender people. Who say minorities are lazy. Who roll their eyes when they see a Black Lives Matter sign. Who joke about Mexicans hopping the wall. Who don’t use the term “Mexicans.” Who call me a wetback. Who casually rape women. Who casually rape me.

Despise them but change them. Despise them but don’t hurt them. Despise them and get motivated. Do not become the enemy. And allow yourself, as I have, to hate a man who has never respected you. See I got taught to respect your elders and authority as a kid, but I am not buying it. I say respect anyone who respects you in return. Trump, the president – elect but not MY president – elect has never respected me. I am merely a piece of ass to him. His words not mine. So no, I do not support or respect him.

What happens when you blindly respect a leader looks a lot like 1940’s Germany.

I know the Hitler comparisons have been there before, and now I am sure they are here to stay. But listen when I say this. Because I’ve gone back and forth on something and I think I now understand.

Trump has the hate, but he does not have the strength.

He will love the power. Get off on it. He will appoint people to his cabinet which will make us all want to run for the hills (or in this case Canada.) He will continue to be disrespectful. He will continue to elicit people to feel like their xenophobia is acceptable. But he will get bored. He will crack. He will stumble across the floors of better people who came before him because he was never taught to properly walk with grace. And when he does fall, and he will, it will be up to us to rise up and help blind followers and take back a nation that is accepting of all people who do not go out with the intention to physically, emotionally, or mentally hurt other human beings.

I’ve been seeing a lot of amazing hopeful posts following the election about the genuine love and kindness being displayed in the midst of the country’s shell-shocked demeanor. I’ve heard a lot of opinions particularly regarding the fact that we are the only ones who can make sure that this power imbalance never happens again.

The people saying this are right. Let’s stop looking around waiting for someone else to stand up. Let’s stop twiddling our thumbs. Let’s stop squinting our eyes for the white knight on a horse to make his appearance. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

But we have to take care of ourselves first. We have to do us. And then we have to do a lot more. And we will get him out of the White House. And we will get love back. And we will fight with words not guns. And we will wear safety pins. And we will march. And we will be okay.

It Took Me Years to Realize My Ex-boyfriend Sexually Assaulted Me

college

(This photo was taken during my senior year of college at The University of Texas at Austin)

This blog, oh boy where do I start? I should first state TRIGGER WARNING for discussions of rape, sexual assault, and shitty humans. The following peice was written in 2014 and edited (only slightly) for a national magazine and online website earlier in 2016. After finally finding the strength to not only write but approve publication of this article, I received word from my editors that while they wanted to go through with officially putting the peice into print they could not. Unless I was to write under a pseudonym or find a way to make my ex boyfriend not as recognizable in my description of him, they would not be allowed to run the article because the person I spoke about has never been charged or found guilty in a court of law in the United States. It could be slander. And he could press charges on me for my claim of rape. I was upset, sad, and perplexed. It’s taken me years to feel like this secret is not my fault. And I don’t care. If I never pressed charges on him, then he can’t on me. More importantly, I hope this can help someone.

Ae Padilla

I had heard it more than enough times. 1 in 3 women will get sexually assaulted.

I knew the statistics – what to look out for, how alcohol contributes to men taking advantage of women, that assaults often happen at the hands of someone the woman might know, and that being in college I was prone to more violence.

So I took protecting myself into my own hands. I put my keys through my fingers when I found myself walking alone late at night. I tried to lessen the times I would go over to a random guy’s apartment. I never picked up a drink I didn’t make myself. I did this all to prevent myself from being the victim of my own personal crime show.

But I was never concerned about my boyfriend.

Not him. Oh no. He was wonderful. He was the one who I went to when I was having a bad day. He was the one who kissed me, listened to me, and took me on spontaneous trips for the weekend. Sure, he had his problems, probably more than I would care to admit, but he was never going to do anything to me. And if he was it was going to be breaking my heart, not sexually assaulting me.

My boyfriend (we will call him Shawn), during my junior year of college, knew I was still a virgin at twenty-one. Despite a previous relationship and random night hook-ups there was always a part of me that held onto the idea of waiting until marriage to have sex. Sure it was old-school, but I liked the idea of it. It wasn’t about religion. To me it was about having the comfort and acceptance of one person that I could grow sexually with indefinitely. But like many people, I let that decision go. I was in love and one thing led to another and somehow I found myself lying underneath him one night after he made me dinner having sex.

It’s not that I didn’t want to do it, it’s just that I didn’t want to do it right then and there. Still, I really didn’t go out of my way to stop it before it happened. Don’t ask me why I didn’t because I ask myself that all the time. And really there aren’t many concrete answers. None the less, around ten seconds into the act, when I felt him push further, I did tell him to stop. He could sense my uncomfortableness, and mistaking it for me being hurt immediately got off me and asked if I was ok. After a beat I said “I’m fine, I just don’t trust you.”

Call it women’s intuition, call it whatever you like, but it was the truth. I didn’t trust him and as a result something was telling me to stop having sex with him. If you think that he tried to force himself back on me you are wrong. He was actually as a nice as anyone can be in a moment like that. He said I did not have to do anything I did not want to. He went and grabbed me a glass of water and then we watched sports in bed together. And over some awkwardness, a lot of it, I told him that I did not want to have sex again until it was the right time for him and I, and that I would tell him when that would be. I told him that despite me being on the pill he would need to wear a condom next time. I told him that while he was very experienced and used to this, I was not. I also told him I wanted to feel like we had more of a connection despite how in love we were with each other. He said he completely understood. He would wait for me.

Two days later he assaulted me.

I had gone out downtown with my friends that weekend and was at least six to seven drinks in. He had gone out on a “guy’s night” and said that he would pick me up from the bar and take us back to my apartment. By the time I got into his car sometime around 2:30 in the morning I was pretty wasted.

I remember bits and pieces of the rest of that night. I remember him parking, me stumbling as he caught me, slapping my butt playfully as we snacked on whatever leftovers I had in my fridge. I remember me making out with him. And then suddenly I remember me staring down at him, me muttering “what are you doing? Stop real quick.” and him just repeating “God this feels so good. This feels good.” I remember moving up and down and feeling a little dizzy. And yes it felt good but also wrong at the same time. Scary. He was controlling everything – and not in a hot exciting way. When I got off of him, after he got off, I went to my living room and cried openly on the couch.

He then proceeded to walk up to me, boxers back on, and say “I am not going to keep having sex with you if you keep crying when I have sex with you Alyssa. It’s not fair to me.”

Looking back on this I cringe thinking about his words. But at the state I was in that night I wasn’t ready to put up a verbal fight. I was a vulnerable mess. I caught myself saying sorry to him and we went to bed. Just like that, I let it all go.

I’ve been able to think a good amount about that night in the roughly three and a half years since it has happened because I come back often to that week. Three days after he took advantage of me while I was drunk I found out that he had been cheating on me for months with a secret girlfriend from his hometown and various other girls for one-night-stands in between the two of us.

There aren’t good words for what happens when you find out something like that. I was pissed. I was heartbroken. I was even unnaturally apathetic. And the rest of the story goes like this: I broke up with him and told him to never speak to me again. I called him a sociopath, a cheater, and a “virginity stealer.”

His response? “Don’t act like I raped you,” he said with that ridiculous half smirk, half fleeting anger on his annoyingly attractive face.

I wasn’t worried about another insensitive comment from him. I was too busy taking care of my other problems. I was too busy scheduling STD tests, going to summer school, and distracting myself from keying his Jeep.

It was not until a year later that I realized I should have said to him in that moment “but you did rape me.”

He did technically rape me.

I know that people will think that I am trying to pawn something on someone who did me wrong. That is not how it is at all. I am in no way seeking revenge on him because of him cheating on me. That is in the past and something else entirely to get over.

This declaration of his sexual assault is to remind people, maybe even to remind myself, that the line between consent is often unnecessarily blurry. Sometimes that just happens with two equally drunk people. But most of the times, someone, even someone in a relationship, finds themselves getting assaulted.

Shawn knew I didn’t want to have sex that night. Shawn knew I didn’t want to have sex again without a condom. He did it with me anyway unprotected. He knew I was drunk. And even though, looking back, I am sure he was driving buzzed, he was nowhere near as drunk as I was. Nowhere. He used me as a convenience. And he didn’t care.

But the thing is that even though he has been the worst person ever to me he might not have known that he was assaulting me. To him it was not a big deal. I was, at least, one of his girlfriends. He didn’t look at it maliciously. He just looked at is as something normal to him. He could have sex with me half-conscious because in the morning he would cuddle with me and have sober sex.

This is a huge problem because whichever way you look at it, it is still rape. It is just disguised rape. And it has happened to countless of people I know.

I am lucky enough that while I endured a pretty traumatizing mental experience I was not taken forcefully and left with internal bruises, scars, or an ER room. As horrible as it sounds I find some solace in that and I find solace in what I have learned.

I do not ever owe someone sex no matter how many months or years I have been with that person. It is not my responsibly to worry about how much he wants it or how drunk he is or how flirtatious I am. And I will not defend or excuse people who act in this way even if they are my boyfriend. Rapists, assaulters, even those who just take advantage do not wear signs saying they do this. But sometimes they still do it and it is assault

I never talked much about my assault because I did not want to admit that I was one of those girls that had found herself in that situation. I always thought I was smart and confident with the ability to firmly say “no” when I did not want to do something. There was shame, guilt, and a heavy dose of discomfort knowing I was a statistic. Knowing that as much as I spoke about rape prevention, helping survivors of assault as well as leading The Vagina Monologues…I could not recognize what happened to me.

But all of it is not my fault, it was always his. And I am not overplaying or downplaying the situation recounting it, I am calling it exactly as is. Because the truth is he left me with the pain of feeling like he took me without my consent. He left me thinking that people do this to other people all the time. He left me scared and nervous about sex, unable to have it, and wondering about what that might mean for my romantic future.

I ran into him, Shawn, about a year or so ago. He was holding the hand of his new fiancé – now his wife. I was a lot of different feelings again. Angry. Fearful. Sad. Jealous even that he looked like he was having a great time while I still occasionally got emotional about us. I didn’t know what to do. I finally decided to keep on standing at the bar trying to make eye contact with him. Ten feet away, I kept my intense stare, thinking he would look back. I told people later I just wanted to see if he had the balls to glance in my direction but really I wanted to ask him something through that look. Do you feel bad for taking advantage of me? For any of it? But we never did make eye contact.

The Romanticization of Writer’s Depression (ADD, OCD, Anxiety, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Autism, etc.)

…Why It Should Terrify Us and Why It Will Kill Usscream

(My face when I forget to take my Depression, ADD, Anxiety, medication Etc.)

This blog is meant to speak to writers and non writers alike. It is in no way meant to dismiss those who have taken their life or anyone having those feelings. If you do have those types of feelings, please call 1-800-273-8255 to speak about your crisis. Enjoy.

Ae Padilla

On any given day, via the internet, I might find myself reading a “Top 10 Amazing Writers Who Killed Themselves” list – recommended to me from a writing forum I frequently visit or a “suggested” post on Facebook.

Don’t worry. Don’t call me freaking out. Don’t send me to see a therapist (I already have a very lovely one!) I’m good. It’s not like that.

Just realize all writers do this. They revel in, swim in the idea of great artists who have come before them and paid the ultimate price for their work – their lives. If you don’t get it, if you don’t understand what I already mean by these first couple of sentences, then you never truly will. You aren’t a part of the club. You don’t have that shiny marquee above you with sparkling words which reads: “I’m depressed but at least I’ve got a good piece out of it.” And guess what? This is a club you don’t want to be a part of. This is the worst club of all clubs.

But if you do understand, if you are a writer (or an artist) who gets just as smug as you might get sad about that oh so inclusionary group of people, then you my dear are part of the problem. I know because I was part of that problem for a long time, still am, and I fight that urge every day to retreat into its devastating membership.

To be fair, if that’s what I want to call it, the umbrella of innovative depression (?) falls not only onto groups of people who self-identify as writers (novelists, screenwriters, poets) but also to anyone who views themselves as a performer. Actors, sculptors, painters, comedians, dancers, hell every bartender that ever lived probably fits somewhere in this creative realm.

Artists, those who flock to creative fields, are proven to have higher levels of mental disorders. They are more likely to suffer from anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, anorexia, and autism. And writers while being 121% more likely to be diagnosed with bipolar disorder are also nearly 50% more likely to commit suicide than the general population.

But the madness follows the gifted, from Kurt Cobain to Hunter S. Thompson to Robin Williams to Jack London to Virginia Woolf to David Foster Wallace to Anne Sexton to Norwegian artist Edvard Munch’s, who painted one of the most recognizable and haunting masterpieces “The Scream.” All of these talented creators worked their depression into their songs, their sets, and their sonnets but it is Munch who captured the internal mental threat in its simplicity.

Authors, like Sylvia Plath wrote extensively on the perils of depression and what it does to the human psyche but it can sometimes be a struggle to search for the meaning behind the words; like a needle in a haystack the reward is monumental but difficult to come by. Munch offers a brief paragraph on what inspired “The Scream” and how it played into his mental health.

The inspiration came to him when both he and his friend took a walk along the countryside to stare out onto a sunset.

“The sun began to set – suddenly the sky turned blood red. I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an endless scream passing through nature.”

It’s a beautiful sentence, and a beautiful painting. Honed as being the honest portrayal of a modern man overcome with angst, it is supposed to be identifiable to all. That’s what makes it so great.

Except that it isn’t. Because angst, sadness, I choose these words as carefully as can be, are not depression.

Munch, was not the representation of a normal worker. He was an artist who considered his paintings “his children.” Overcome by depression and hallucinations regularly, he participated in electroshock therapy. He wrote in his journals about his existence and work: “My fear of life is necessary to me, as is my illness. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.”

This is not the everyday man, but this could be the everyday life of an artist or writer who sees suffering as the only valuable way to achieve some form of success. For it is the writer that often feels a kinship to their mental disorder, loathing it one day but proclaiming it as the ace in their back pocket the next, indebted to it at all times.

But how does it get this way? Is it the chicken or the egg? Did a writer want to write because they were depressed? Or are they depressed because they are writing?

Writing certainly accommodates for an unhealthy lifestyle. Fluctuating work hours and inconsistent pay checks, mixed with utter seclusion, unless you count the characters you create for days at a time can pretty much solidify that E.L Doctorow got it perfectly when he said “writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”

But writing can stem from the mental disorder too, all before kids can form thoughts on why it is they want to pick up a pen. For many adults writing serves as a form of therapy. For children though, there are hardly as many reasons to point to. Most writers I know, myself included, never used writing as a way to document a terrible moment in our lives, we used it as a way to document our thoughts on it. Everything else came after, once puberty set in. It’s my experience that most writers have been writers for as long as they can remember.

Perhaps writing and mental health dance around each other unforgivingly as writing becomes the desire to make sense of a senseless world.

For it is through writing that purpose can be found, as often the page for authors is the voice they feel they do not have in their own life. It is my own feeling, confirmed by other writers, that writing has the power to make a writer feel wanted, accepted, and special…all of which are as life sustaining as air itself to those fighting a disease which often tells them they are exactly the opposite: a worthless dirty burden to everyone and everything. It is through writing, a love of beautifully strung together sentences, that writers get their high.

But what are they willing to do to get it? As Munch said, and I reiterated, are depression and writing interlinked, one able to live without the other? Or are writers willing to foster their depression in order to produce beautiful works for others at the expense of themselves?

It was Sylvia Plath who stated “I desire the things that will destroy me in the end.” In her work The Bell Jar depression is the seam which held her existence together. It is as if she is not quite sure what she would be without it, or rather what her work would be without it.

Other writers share this same question. What would their work be without the complication of feigned mental health? Would it help or hinder them? The question of whether or not they use their disease as a writing crutch becomes apparent.

Not all perhaps, but most (at one point including myself) have thought of it (“it” being anxiety, add, depression, compulsion, etc.) as a necessary evil. Our work would not be as authentic if we did not deal with the turmoil we feel and let it metamorphosize into words on a page.

If romance novels, children or commercial literature are not our forte then the only way to get the work we envision is to live through it. Similar to method acting this creates a very concerning course an author will take to channel a character or mood of a book.

I know, I’ve gone through it before, most recently with Ekland The Journal of Grayson Tyler Mitchell. The book was not light, the book forced me to take a mass murderers suicidal hand and follow him into the dark. If you think that you can write a book like that without being a little fucked up you are wrong. And to write that book well, you have to accept that you will get even more fucked up researching, writing, and ultimately editing the thing. Secluding yourself, as I did, is a giveaway.

If you had come to my apartment those two weeks of creating you would have found a stack of fast food piled high on my kitchen counter, not close to being taken out. There would have clothes thrown in every room, and me sitting at my dining room table, calling it a lucky day if I got to the shower. On any of those fourteen days I was spending up to twelve hours on the internet a day researching autopsy reports and suicide posts.

That might sound simply like the work of a dedicated novelist, and believe me it was. But I worry about other authors who hear this, who will shake their head and give me an impressed look like I reached gold club status. The rest of the population won’t get it or think it’s stupid, but neither of these reactions are correct.

To engulf yourself as a writer is one thing, to romanticize a living situation that breeds depression is another. It can be tempting to surrender yourself to the downward spiral for art but this does nothing but push yourself into an unhappier place while re-establishing that those other authors who “write happy” are inauthentic, they are part of those who developed talent and did not inherit it (which in the writer’s world is kind of saying that you might be OK but you can never be as good as us. So yeah don’t sit with us.)

See in the writing community, suffering is a currency of talent. It’s as if our characters sadness are only as authentic as our own. And this presents itself to be even more terrible when we look to our idols as our inspiration.

Not every creative person kills themselves. Not every creative person has mental health problems. But often us writers focus on the big picture, the people who make every tick of a keyboard (or typewriter) worth it, the end game so to speak if by some miracle we become as lucky as we are talented. And the majority of these people we praise had mental health problems and committed suicide.

Writers like anyone in a profession look up to the people who achieved the ultimate success. Pulitzer, a Newbery Medal, an Oscar. Great engineers look up to great engineers. Great physicians look up to great physicians. I’m not going to name any of those esteemed professionals because I don’t want to embarrass myself, but ask yourself: what does this do for our psyches if the people we hold in such high esteem, our mentors, take their own life?

There is no shame in suicide, but when you as a writer consider that your favorite novelist accepted his Nobel Prize in Literature and then decided to kill himself only a few years later with his “favorite shotgun” you have to wonder what attributes you really want to take away from that person.

Is any work worth the emotional turmoil that a writer possesses as they write it? The only way to answer that question is if you revel in the disease for the sake of the work itself, which unfortunately many do.

Otherwise I will say what every writer might hate me for.

There is no work good enough to ruin your mental health for. One more time. This has taken me years to accept. There is no masterpiece that is worth the lowest quality of your life. I say this as someone who would give up almost everything for my work except my mental health.

Too often we writers believe that anti-depressants, mood stabilizers are the death of our stories. In my case it started off with ADD medication. When I was first prescribed my pills at the age of eleven, I had two aversions to them. Their size. And their effects on my creativity. I caught myself thinking, in middle school, “what if I can’t write as well on them? What if I am not myself anymore and it effects my novels?” (never mind I would not finish a novel until eight years later.)

BUT ALL WRITERS DO THIS. We speak about how pills will ruin our characters, how it will lead us to a lack of depth and understanding needed to get our work published. We refuse assistance. We deny reports of people who claim that SSRIs have helped them. We focus on Reddit users who claim their writing has faltered with prescriptions. It doesn’t have that same “spark” they say, and we run up to everyone and say “see?” because we know exactly what they are talking about. With one post we feel vindicated in our paranoia.

Perhaps they may be right, maybe some medications will stifle whatever we all have that makes us artists. The X factor. But the willingness to not talk about medication at all with the right person or doctor – even to start that conversation on the bare level of asking “could it help me” is irresponsible.

This isn’t to say that all depressed writers should get on a prescription, but this is to say that we all need to stop announcing how wonderful it is when we see another writer cripple themselves in poverty for ten years before they get published, and applaud it as “part of the steps to success,” because yes the average age a novelist sells their first book to a publisher is a few years above thirty.

Speaking and writing about writers who took their own lives gives us a way to understand the trouble similar writers might be having toady, viewing photos of modern day women sticking their head in an oven and photo-shopping it with a black and white filter does not.

Our depression is not a quirky personality traits we can nod in agreement to when people victimize us for acting out the script of an over-emotional troubled person.

And worse, we cannot as writers do it to ourselves. By fawning over the dead in unhealthy ways it perpetuates, not the last by any means, but a huge other problem…needing to rid the world of ourselves if our work does not sell or if we do not believe we can ever achieve the level of success we are comfortable with.

Writing is the only profession where it is perfectly acceptable to say a comment like “well at least I might be good at my job when I am dead.”

Can you imagine saying that in regards towards any other profession? “I’m working my ass off over here, the reward might not come when I am alive but maybe one hundred years from now when I am dead in the ground people will proclaim how great my work was back then, and somehow someway I might be able to know that.”

No wonder writers are prone to depression! The very essence of who they are, how and what they write, is a constant shot in the dark which might not even get slightly recognized.

But other writers understand that, and it is the strength to accept the mental disorders and depression for “the craft” that we need for ourselves. And that’s not easy. Just as pin pointing the disease is not easy.

Writing about anxiety, depression, is what we do. It’s natural for us. Everything from its “living hell” to the following are my own thoughts about the whirlwind of emotions that constantly plague us…

‘I felt as if the world lost color the more I lived in it. As if the flowers, the trees, the sky itself had become as equally as drained of life as my mind had. I often found myself wondering if people were better at lying than I was. Or if they were living in a happier more colorful place. Momentary joy for me was just that – momentary. A beautiful person. A beautiful conversation. It was ships passing in the night, a dark void I could not hold onto. And it was my responsibility, in secret of course, to try to hold onto these instances – to store them in a glass bottle for the day I would need them, when that world was once again a monochromatic existence of my own doing.’

But I suppose the words in this case don’t mean everything, they don’t even mean anything. The steps to stop romanticizing depression start at the center from fellow writers who talk about the problem as effecting the person and not the work, and who pay tribute to writers who have been lost with solidarity not camaraderie. It stops with those who question “lists of writers who have committed suicide” when those lists fail to provide a safe place for artists in need of people to reach out to.

Progress starts with open discussions, being there for another storyteller when they are not just in that terrible halfway point of their manuscript but also when they feel like they lost something once they are done with it, after all it was Truman Capote who said: “finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.” Because finishing a project can be a wonderful moment for a creator but it can also be a devastating one.

And so there is nothingness in depression and despair in suicide. But there are no pretty corpses. Nooses are not necklaces.

What They Don’t Talk About on the Bell Tower Tour

 

bell tower shooting

(“Yes, kids I did go here when you could only carry around Nerf Guns.”)

Margaret Whitman, Kathy Whitman, Edna Townsley, Marguerite Lamport, Mark Gabour, Claire Wilson, Thomas Eckman, Dr. Robert Boyer, Thomas Ashton, Thomas Karr, Billy Speed, Harry Walchuk, Paul Sonntag, Claudia Rutt, Roy Schmidt, Karen Griffith, David Gunby, RIP.

Ae Padilla

 

I’ll get right to it. I love The Bell Tower. What UT student/alumnus doesn’t? For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by its architecture, its carillons, and the way it stands as an iconic symbol for both this campus and city.

The Tower provides us with so much. It lets us know when our horns win. It gives us chimes to listen to when we walk to class. It has the most beautiful life science library inside of it – something straight out of Hogwarts. Many events have happened in and around out it since construction first began on it in 1934 including, of course, the infamous 1966 shooting.

So it came as a surprise to me when, on my tour of The Tower in my last semester at Texas, I asked one of the tour guides if the rails and extra security on the observation deck were because of the shooting. Their response was that they were not allowed to talk about it.

To say I was perplexed and angered would be an understatement.

I understand how it could be morbid and uncomfortable discussing the 15 deaths committed by Charles Whitman from the observation deck and 2 elsewhere. I understand how the conversation could be considered offensive and might put a damper on the otherwise beautiful view you are greeted to as you stand on the 28th floor looking out onto the Austin skyline. I get that even after 50 years it’s still a very sensitive issue thinking that one of our students committed a horrendous act against his fellow longhorns.

But guess what? It happened.

And not speaking about it makes it seem like those that died are never remembered because we as a University do not like acknowledging that it indeed happened.

As a student I knew about the incident before I decided to take the tour. I had read about it, discussed it with others, and even wrote about it for a paper on school shootings – a subject I have researched thoroughly. But others on the tour, many who were from different countries and spoke various languages, were blissfully unaware of what happened on that observation deck many years ago. Unlike me, they had no idea who Houston McCoy or Billy Speed were. They had no idea that The Tower was closed for years following the tragedy.

Some might say it’s a good thing to not draw negative attention to the University; after all, the murders did occur more than half a century ago and bringing it up certainly reminds us of the ever growing number of shootings that have become almost normal in our country. People might be scared that recalling this particular event is in some twisted way a glorification of the act itself and that we should all just move on with our lives.

But to be quite honest not talking about the massacre is actually the worst thing we as a University can do.

We must acknowledge our former classmates, professors, and Austinites. We must acknowledge the victims of the senseless crime, and we must do it even if it makes us extremely uncomfortable.

While it’s important to mention The Main Building does have a memorial garden which hosts a plaque honoring those killed, it does not have one from where the massacre occurred. This one plaque The Tower does have, displayed where few people visit and placed as recently as 1999, is not enough.

I do not suggest the whole tour of The Tower focus solely on the mass shooting.  A simple line stating what happened might be enough or even a moment of silence might commemorate the lives that were ended too shortly. Perhaps another plaque in the lobby with the victims’ names will provide more awareness. All these things would be more fitting than giving these sixteen individuals no recognition at all. (At the time of publishing this article I have been made aware of a new plaque near “Turtle Pond” only recently erected.)

At the end of the tour walking back to my apartment I had a few questions formulating in my head.

Why does UT think they can eradicate an important part of history? Why do they want to? Have we learned nothing about the horrors of ignoring the truth about sensitive but important information? Why does it take filmmakers and authors who are not a part of the Longhorn family to bring attention to this?

Throughout my four years of education at the University of Texas at Austin I learned that the most important lesson is what coincidentally is printed on The Main Building itself: Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.

By us acknowledging the truth of what happened from atop The Tower we let go of some of the mystery and the shame that still lingers within us. We accept that it happened and pay recognition to those who helped that day without glorifying the act itself. And we also become open about the mental problems the perpetrator did face as we vow to help others who might be in that position.

We become a University that is proud of so many successes The Tower represents but we also realize that every piece of history has a dark side to it. We continue to be the amazing progressive school that we have always been.

Especially now with campus carry taking effect, ironically on the anniversary of the shooting, do we want our legacy as that great school to be one of rather denial, hatred, and more guns? Are those the answer to the problems we have realized are evident but still have not fully discussed?

I don’t know about you but I think it’s time we pay our respects to the victims and reclaim our Tower.

 

This article was rejected from appearing in The Daily Texan in 2014 and was partially edited in spring and summer of 2016