Hey GOP, We’ve Got A Problem.

I’m not usually big on advertising my political affiliation, if only because I’ve met a lot of people who have immediately used it against me. Viewing someone as a lesser person, or an ignorant person, based on their political party… Well, that’s just not okay. Most of the people around me in my life are Democrats, and I love them all the same. More importantly, I respect them.

Respect. A concept I always believed to be the foundation of both political parties. While we may not always go forth during election season with it, it’s at least something we keep in the base of our platform. At least, it was, until very recently.

There’s an underlying issue in the GOP that I feel can no longer go unaddressed. To the men and women in charge of this party, we have a problem. We have to do something drastic if we hope to continue, not just in this election, but in general. If we do nothing, we will implode on ourselves and will lose everything we have stood for since 1854.

Technically, we have a few problems. A few problems that ultimately combine to make one giant problem, large enough to tear our party apart. Ultimately, our party is failing us. You are failing us.

Donald Trump is not fit to be President of the United States. I understand that many members of our party feel the same way toward Hillary Clinton, and I respect their opinion. However, Hillary is not our candidate. Hillary is, simply put, the Democrat’s problem. Let them worry about whether or not she is fit, because right now, we’ve got our own issue at hand.

The way he talks about women, regardless of his history with them, is absolutely disgusting. The things he says in general are pretty terrible. Most importantly, the individuals at the forefront of our party are saying things in support of him that are so beyond tolerable, and it’s going to ruin everything we have so far. To say that his words were “made when he was a Democrat” implies that he has since changed for the better by becoming a Republican. This mindset, that Republicans are better or somehow less ignorant than Democrats, is an issue. It says that we are right and they are wrong, which is exactly the kind of mindset that has created such a chasm of chaos between the parties that we are now unable to accomplish anything, regardless of the party who is “in power” in Congress.

To say that Donald Trump’s “arrogance is exactly what people are looking for” to send to Washington, D.C. is absurd. The idea that an arrogant man, with little to no respect for the people he deals with as President of the United States, is a “fix” or “solution” to the White House insinuates that the power of the Executive Branch is much stronger than it is. What’s truly wrong with our government cannot be fixed by an arrogant man with a lack of manners or a filter. It can only be fixed by a shift in priority, something I’ve been hoping we can accomplish for years now.

Each year, I get a survey from you, asking me what issues I think are important for the Republican party to stay strong on. Each year, I tell you the same things. Fight for gun control legislation that will protect our right to bear arms, but doesn’t allow a man who has been targeted by the FBI more than once to purchase a gun and shoot up a night club. Fight for the lives of unborn children, but don’t forget to talk about the options available to women who do not wish to become parents, both before and after conception. (Thank you, Gov. Pence, for saying that being pro-life requires you to be pro-adoption, because that sort of thing isn’t said nearly enough.) And for the love of all things ‘Murican, stop worrying about how to stop the LGBTQ community from gaining any ground whatsoever. Love is love is love is love, so let them get married. Because that’s a battle you’re going to lose, either way, and it’s not up to you to decide if it’s a sin or not. (Pssst… That’s God’s job! He’s pretty good at it, too.)

We had plenty of other alternatives. We had candidates who were running on the moderate side of the platform, and we ignored them. You fed into the Trump/Cruz drama, constantly setting them at center stage in Republican debates and focusing on their childish drama as opposed to the individuals who deserved more time to prove why they were a better candidate. You did this to us, and all because you can’t stand the idea of giving an inch to gain a mile.

Sometimes, conversations are hard. Sometimes, we have to say “I get where you’re coming from, and I understand that this is important to you. So let’s see if we can make things a little bit better for both of us.” Sometimes, you have to lay down the sword and shield with every intention of finding an outcome that is both sustainable and logical. Sometimes, you just have to concede on points your opponent is sticking to, but you often gain so much more in return.

The desire to win has become the driving force of our party, regardless of what it costs us.

Instead of saying “my way or the highway,” let’s just open the door to conversation. You don’t have to convert a Democrat to win the war. Have conversations, respectful and productive, and see what we can accomplish.

So to the men and women who lead this party, I’m begging you, please take a step back and consider the cost. Consider what we have to lose by working together (nothing) instead of focusing on winning at all costs (everything.) Do it for yourselves, but more importantly, for us. The next generation of Republicans who would like to have a chance to hold our heads high as we step into your shoes someday and continue the traditions of our party.

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What’s in a Name? Actually, a lot…

I get it, we like to associate things to celebrities because that’s how our world works: we know them and treat them like family and think of them as our friends. So when we hear that Dwyane Wade’s cousin is killed, we instantly care more. The news stations drop his name every chance they get with the story, making sure we know that “NBA Star Dwyane Wade’s Cousin” was shot. They can get through an entire story without saying her name, and it’s almost like a personal victory for them.

Here’s the deal: Nykea Aldridge was more than a cousin. She was a mother of more than one child. She was a daughter. She was a victim of gun violence, specifically that instigated by two men who were both not supposed to be in the possession of a gun. She was one person, and there are more.

In fact, seven people were killed in Chicago alone August 19 through August 22. Seven. Including an eight year old girl. An eight year old girl who most people reading this will have just heard of. If you’re interested in hearing more about them, or the 47 people who were injured during that weekend, here’s the CBS Chicago article on that weekend.

If I seem overly passionate about this, then it might be worth noting that I have been feeling this same fierce frustration since the Olympics started. Michael Phelps is a great athlete and I respect him for that, but I also cannot stand hearing his name. I heard so many people refer to other US Swim Team members as “Michael Phelps’ teammate” or “that guy who isn’t Michael, I don’t know his name but it’s not important.”

If you do something in this world, if you accomplish one single thing before you die, do you want to be remembered for it? I think we all can say yes. Madeline Dirado, Allison Schmitt, Anthony Ervin, Chase Kalisz… They’re olympic swimmers for Team USA who walked away with a medal (or more.) Most of which were probably labeled as “Michael Phelps’ Teammate” at some point in time by some news outlet.

When you hear a name on the news, acknowledge that it’s a person. When you hear about someone’s cousin, someone’s teammate, and you don’t hear their name, then demand it. Tweet, text, call or post. Nykea deserves it. Anthony deserves it, Allison deserves it. Stop accepting that Dwyane Wade is the person worth mentioning. Stop accepting that Michael Phelps is the only name worth noting. Let’s give them the same respect we can only hope for in life.

The Athens Adventure (Part 2)

IMG_0836You can read Part 1 here.

A good night’s sleep can really change a lot. Specifically, the view of a city you’ve never been to before. Athens looked much nicer to me after a night’s sleep. Knowing we were only a block away from the American Embassy gave me a sense of peace that helped me prepare for the few days ahead.

We climbed a massive hill, took a train to the top of a mountain. Standing on top of Mount Lycabettus, I saw the entire city. In Athens, the city sprawls outward from the center. They’re unable to build tall buildings there, the ground beneath them often opened to expose ruins from ancient times. Mount Lycabettus rests in the heart of the city, with the Parthenon just a short distance away.

My best friend’s cousin, a native of Athens, offered up an old tale, telling me that the Parthenon and Mount Lycabettus used to touch each other, but that an earthquake split them, and Athens was built between the two. Since then, it has expanded and grown exponentially, of course.

Sitting on top of a mountain, you can see a lot of things. The feeling is similar to that of the view from the top of the Empire State Building or the John Hancock Tower. There are millions of people in this world, and you’re just a tiny little speck. Your problems, no matter how overwhelming they may seem to you in that moment, are problems that so many others have experienced. You’re not meaningless, you’re meaningful. You’re a living, breathing creature in this world. Taking one look at just how many people there are, how many people go through the motions every day, just like they are right before you… It can really change your perspective.

In my head, I was imagining all the people who had come before me. I thought of the people who watched their city be attacked, and all the people who worked to rebuild it. I thought of the way this used to be one of the biggest powerhouses in the world, and now Greece is suffering a severe economic depression. I thought of the people who built temples to gods and goddesses, people who walked the cobblestone streets until they became so worn down that they were mostly just dirt. I thought of what those people would think if they were there to see their city today.

We also stopped at McDonald’s in Greece, which was an altogether different kind of experience, but one that really emphasized a similar point. (To be fair, I hadn’t eaten in twelve hours and was on the verge of passing out, so maybe I was just exhausted.) McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc once said, “If I had a brick for every time I’ve repeated the phrase Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value, I think I’d probably be able to bridge the Atlantic Ocean with them.” He was a man with a dream at the age of 52, a dream that started nearly 30 years before. A chance encounter with the McDonald brothers in San Bernardino, California inspired Ray to create the McDonald’s franchise. The first store was opened in 1955 in Des Plaines, Illinois. Ray’s dream was to create burgers and fries that tasted the same from Alaska to Florida and every state in between.  A simple dream, 30 years in the making, that really changed the world. McDonald’s is now one of the leading fast food restaurants in over 100 countries. Ray Kroc’s dream created dreams for so many others, and most people don’t even know his name.

I’m no history buff. I can’t tell you which gods or goddesses are Roman and which are Greek. I can’t even name all the letters of the Greek alphabet, and I was in a sorority, so I had to learn it at one point. The thing is, that’s not what matters. The words we can spout off, the facts we know, those don’t change the world. What changes the world is our dreams, our passion.

So Greece might not have been my favorite place in the world to visit. It was in my top 3 places, I scored a reasonable trip price, and I took an adventure. There were parts I regretted. There were parts I hated. But at the end of it all, I was changed. I left Greece exhausted, but I also left it inspired. I’ll leave you with some wise words from a man who is pretty well-known for things he said.

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
– Oscar Wilde

 

The Athens Adventure (Part One)

IMG_0842First of all, let me just say that this post is clearly a little delayed in comparison to when the trip occurred. I wanted to sit down and pour out every detail of the trip as soon as I got back, but I needed some time away from Greece. In my mind, it needed a serious break before I could pick it up and examine it with a clear head.

Greece was, in an overall and general sense, an adventure. From the moment our plane landed, I was suddenly very aware that I was out of my element. I was no longer a part of the majority. I was in a country where I couldn’t read signs, much less understand strangers conversing around me. I have never felt a feeling quite like that before, and honestly, it was terrifying.

The flight over was long in the sense that, for fourteen hours or so, I was on a plane with no ability whatsoever to do anything remotely close to sleeping. I tried. I tossed, turned, sighed, read, and watched movies. I listened to soft music, loud music, everything. Nothing. I simply didn’t sleep more than an hour total from the time I woke up on December 26 in Virginia to the time I got to our second hotel room in Athens on December 27, well after dinnertime.

Yes, I said “second hotel room.” That’s not a typo, friends. Yours truly booked a 5 night stay at what is possibly one of the smallest hotels in all of Athens. I didn’t quite know that rooms could genuinely be that tiny over there, but they were. I’m about 5’8 and I laid on the bed for a max of two hours, crying and trying not to go into a full on panic attack as my feet pressed against the wall opposite of my headboard. The bathroom was about the size of my shower at home, and the shower itself was a square of raised tile only about a foot by a foot big with a curtain. I am not sure what I was expecting, but that was not it.

The neighborhood of our first hotel was, for lack of a better term, shady. I didn’t feel comfortable when our taxi driver pulled up out front, and I felt less comfortable once the sun went down. Two hours was plenty of time for me to know that I couldn’t spend 5 days in that place. So, after my best friend got a little bit of sleep and I cried some of my tension out, we were able to relocate ourselves to a much nicer Best Western hotel only about half a block away from the American Embassy. The room was bigger, much more similar to my personal preferences for accommodations, and there were police close enough to hear my screams should someone break in and try to kill me. I felt safe there.

Our first night, we walked down the road a short way to an intersection that had a handful of food options. We settled on pizza, naturally, and I learned that pizza is an excellent gauge for the rest of a foreign city’s food. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t the best pizza I’d ever had. Granted, I was already on edge, so we took our pizza to go and I was back in my bed by 10 p.m. with every intention of sleeping through the night.

Overall, my first twelve hours in Greece were not what I was anticipating. In my head, I never planned to be that terrified, scared, lost and anxious on a trip with my best friend. But I also learned a lot in those twelve hours. I learned that Greeks smoke everywhere they want. I learned that annoying children are not something you only find in America, that parents in Greece can be negligent at parenting, too. I learned that being a foreigner is something you can’t really quite put into words, but I plan on trying in the future… That’s another blog post, though.

Stay tuned, friends. I’m going to unveil the rest of my trip to Greece and (hopefully) not leave you with a bitter feeling toward myself or the country by the end of it.

Things They Don’t Tell You When They Say “It Gets Better”

When you’re depressed, one of the most common things you hear is that “It gets better.” Which it does. But there’s a lot of things they don’t tell you when someone says that, and they’re things that really need to be heard. So I’m putting them out there, just in case.

One day, you’re going to wake up and not feel like you’d wish you hadn’t. You won’t always feel invincible, but there will be good days and bad days. Eventually, the good ones outnumber the bad. No matter how bad they get, you’re going to have the good ones to get you through. You’re going to be okay, because you are stronger than your depression. When you give up, that’s when depression wins. But it doesn’t have to. You can do this.

Someday, you’re going to have a brother or a sister or a really close friend who has a baby. You’re going to think things like “Babies look like aliens” or “Babies poop and cry and snot on everything.” But you’re going to see this tiny human, so completely vulnerable and fragile. You’re going to see them and realize just how crazy it is that you used to be that tiny and fragile. So hang on, okay? Not for me, but for that tiny, fragile baby. They need you to stick around.

You’re going to see that baby grow slowly over the course of a few months. You’re going to walk in one day and suddenly, the baby’s face will break into a big smile. You will see a tiny person, not so fragile but still not completely independent, and you’re going to see them recognize you. Suddenly, your whole world will change. Because you can’t imagine not seeing that little boy or girl grow into a kid, then a teenager, then a young adult. You’re going to want to be around for it.

There are so many things you’ll want to stick around for. You’ll want to see sunsets and sunrises and taste pizza so good you swear you’re never eating anything else. You’ll want to watch a movie, you’ll want to travel the world. You will still have rough days, you’ll still find yourself wondering if you’re even worth the energy. But then you’ll tell yourself that you are. Because that’s the thing, you are. You’re going to be okay and you’re going to look back on this one day and know you are better, stronger because of it.

Don’t give up. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Because as soon as you do, you’re letting the depression win. You’re missing out on the orange and yellow and pink sunset sky, the smile of a child who recognizes your face and is happy to see you. You’re missing out on seeing what makes people fall in love with life. Trust me, friend, you don’t want to miss out on that.

Stay strong. No matter how alone you feel, no matter how worthless you feel… You matter. You make this world a better place. Don’t take that away, okay? Because I promise, it gets better.

The Obligatory Review of “Go Set A Watchman”

When I say that To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my favorite books, I’m not exaggerating. It makes every Top 5 list, no matter how long it’s been since I’ve read it. I think I’ve officially read it six times now, or something close to that. I try to read it at least once a year, and this summer I made sure to read it because I knew Go Set a Watchman was coming out.

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding the release of Harper Lee’s prequel. Some people say it’s against her will. Some people are upset because it introduces this idea of a new side to an old character. I did my best to avoid reading too many reviews, not wanting to enter into this book with any preconceived notions of what I’d think or feel.

In all honesty, I’m still a bit uncomfortable. I finished it only five minutes ago, but this lingering sense of discomfort lasted through nearly all of the book. Harper Lee’s style in Mockingbird is one that I know by heart. While Mockingbird stays pretty true to the same style, relies heavily on both conversation and action, Watchman feels strained. We bounce back and forth between Scout’s thoughts and a third-person point of view. One sentence refers to Scout as “she” or “her” and the next, we’re reading her thoughts, her reaction in a personal sense. This felt wrong, not only because there was no real distinguishing format to the points of view, but because Harper Lee was much better of a writer in Mockingbird.

Entering the mind of Jean Louise “Scout” Finch was almost like going back to my childhood. But I can also distance myself, look at the characters from the eyes of a child and see how that might be biased. I, like Scout, adore my father. Looking at the way she views Atticus, though, I can easily say that she has an unhealthy reliance on him for most things. Scout’s a little girl in Mockingbird, easily drawn one way or the other based on emotions and feelings she might not yet fully understand, quick to react just like children are.

I expected that to change somewhat in Go Set a Watchman, expected us to meet a more mature version of Jean Louise. Almost immediately, she’s shown not to have changed much at all. While she remains true to the person she was in the first book, it’s hard to say that’s a good thing. After all, she has a bachelors degree now. I can honestly sit here and say that I am a much different person than I was at the age of eight, ten, twelve, or even eighteen. Scout seems to have not really grown or changed at all, and it was disappointing. The most mature change of her life occurs in the last 50 or so pages of this novel, and we don’t even get to see how it impacts her.

Without giving any spoilers, I will warn you that there are some familiar faces missing from the book. We see most of them in flashbacks, but it’s very sad. People who have drastically shaped the world we learned about in Mockingbird get only a few mentions, if that, in Watchman. Somehow, one of the most monumental pieces of the first book is briefly touched upon in the second, and I was really sad. We don’t see what became of Tom Robinson’s family, we don’t learn how Scout reacted to having met Boo Radley. In a sense, the books were almost too different for my liking.

Even with flashbacks to her childhood, I felt like the Jean Louise in the book was not the same one we’d met in Mockingbird. At the same time, she wasn’t all that different. I guess, really, it was like taking a child and teaching them things they need to know to become a young adult without them actually maturing through it. Jean Louise wore dresses and kissed boys and smoked… But she was still very much a child, mentally. She reacted to things exactly as her former self would have, despite having the outer appearance of being an adult.

Overall, I think everyone should give this book a chance. I’m all about shaping your own opinion, and I know some people who loved this book. The first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird, I didn’t like it. Maybe, in a few years, I’ll pick up Go Set A Watchman and connect to it in a new way. For now, though, I’m going to do my best to keep it separate in my head. I refuse to let this be a part of the Harper Lee legacy my mind has created. Some books are just so incredible, they don’t need a sequel, or a prequel. It’s selfish of me to want that when clearly, the novel was pretty powerful all on its own.

Homecoming Reflections: Forever Central

Where I’m from, the question “Are you an OU or OSU fan?” tends to be fairly common. In fact, I can count the times someone has asked me that in the past six months and fill at least one hand. Bedlam is practically a state-wide holiday, and in all honesty, I’ve never quite been able to pretend to care all that much.

I’ve been on the campus of Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma numerous times. Both of them are beautiful, complete with massive buildings boasting some of the state’s most authentic architecture. They both have the look and feel you’d expect from a Division I school. I’ve never seen UGA, Yale, or Ole Miss. But I’m sure the campuses are very similar to that of OU and OSU. I never really bought into that feel, and to this day, I haven’t been able to really regret it.

During the summer between eighth and ninth grade, I attended a summer camp at the University of Central Oklahoma. I stayed in a dorm on the campus, ate lunch in the cafeteria. Classes were held in actual classrooms and our evenings were spent in the library, waiting for a computer to open up so we could get on AIM and brag to our friends.

It’s hard to remember the moment I fell in love with UCO. That week I spent on campus was fantastic, and between making friends (with whom I never really talked to after that) and enjoying the beautiful campus, I always sort of thought it was a good fit. I wasn’t even thinking about college, but maybe that’s because I already knew I’d found mine.

A few months later, I’d picked up baton twirling and was seated in the stands at a marching band competition. All of my friends were on the field and I was crossing every set of fingers and toes I could that they would bring home a good finish. The bands marched in to cadences played by the UCO Drumline, and for the crowd’s entertainment, the UCO Feature twirler was on the 50 yard line. I looked at the girl there and turned to my friend’s mom, proudly saying “I’m going to be her someday.”

I spent five seasons as the UCO Feature Twirler. For nine semesters, I worked toward my degree. Plenty of times, I had to explain to my family (mostly from up north, like Illinois and Michigan) that, even though they might not have heard of it before, UCO was important. My degree was going to be worth something, something more than just the name of my university.

Even now, working back at my alma mater, I’m constantly faced with the challenge of living up to the two bigger schools in our state. UCO isn’t the same atmosphere as either of the other schools. We have old buildings and pretty architecture, but we also have a culture that is completely unique to our school. We have value that is unrivaled. Nationally, we’re ranked and honored. UCO is quality that can’t be beat.

Central is currently celebrating it’s 125th anniversary year. Next week is homecoming, and despite the amount of work that means for my office, I’m so blessed to be a part of ensuring that it’s an unforgettable experience for our alumni. This year’s theme is “First and Forever Central.” The latter part of that theme rings truest to me. Central is more than four years. It’s more than a bachelors or a masters, it’s more than the degree you are working toward.

Central is community. It’s quality, value and substance. Central is home. Central is the people I met and the inspiration I found. Central is part of who I am as a person, it’s part of my story. It’s forever, and I am forever Central.