Monday, December 19, 2011


On Saturday, after my last day of student teaching, Jeremy and I loaded up my little '94 Beamer and headed home for Colorado. We've made the drive several times and spent most of the day just chatting about our last three years together.

Three years ago, I landed back in the U.S. in July 2008, met Jeremy back at college (for real this time) and we completed that semester falling a little more for each other every day. In December 2008, we made this exact same drive to Colorado.

Things were different then. I was three years shy of my college degree, Jeremy was just finishing his degree and starting his masters in another state. I was still daily battling an eating disorder, doubts about God, and what had just happened in Cambodia. Jeremy knew it all. He was supportive. He was patient. He was everything I didn't know I needed.
We decided to start dating during a walk through the snowy mountains of Colorado. Then we did the long-distance thing for 1.5 years which taught us a lot about communication, delayed gratification, and learning to ask for needs and wants instead of assuming the other person knows. After that Jeremy moved to Lincoln. We worked a few summers at camp. We made trips to Colorado and trips to Delaware. We kept learning and living and figuring out the difference between how we thought love would look and how it actually is. Learning how to be together. How to compromise. How to support. How to love better.

We spent last Saturday recounting these things: how we've grown, how we've changed, what we're learning, where we're headed. After eight hours in the car, the mountains came into view, and as we approached the turn for my house, Jeremy passed it and kept driving toward the foothills. He drove past my house, outside of town, and parked at a reservoir overlooking the mountains just as the sun was going down. He said we should take some pictures. So we did.

Jeremy put the camera on top of the car and ran back and forth using the ten second timer to get pictures.
Then for the last picture, he came running back, bent down on one knee and asked if I would be his wife.

And I said, "Yes."
And cried.

Jeremy spent the last few months making me five different engagement rings out of wood. Ya know, so I'll have options. Freaking cool, right? He's awesome.

I'm happy.
We're happy.

Pomp and Circumstance

I spent 19 weeks completing my student teaching requirements in order to graduate from college.
That's 133 days.
That's 95 days at school.
That's 95 hours with each of those students.
That's early mornings and countless extra hours of nights and weekends spent lesson planning and grading papers.

The respect and admiration I have for full-time teachers is impossible to describe and important to recognize publicly. Probably some of the most unrecognized and under-valued people I've ever worked with.

I have wonderfully supportive friends who helped me count down the end of student teaching. I started getting underwear with numbers written on them counting down the number of days I had left. Quite sweet. I was stylin'.

Starting with day 5, they read: "We think / you are / so very / very, very, very, very / talented, creative, sweet, fun, great, lovely."

I spent the last day of student teaching wrapping up final projects and playing a whole 'lotta Catch Phrase. I said my goodbyes, gave some hugs, got some sweet gifts, and felt damn good walking out the door.

After I did, my friends threw me a you're-done-with-student-teaching-let's-celebrate semi-formal haystack party. Yay!

After eating yummy food, my other student teacher friend, A.J. and I decided it was time to dispose and properly eliminate of the college syllabi that have haunted us these many years. So we decided to burn them. Crumpling each page would lead to better burning so...

...this led to a paper fight that left remnants of worksheets and calendars strewn around the room in book shelves and under couches.
And there was just so much to be burned it made us happy.

We even made some paper angels.

Then we took that party outside and set the syllabi ablaze. Then danced around the fire chanting.

Then certain people felt the need to take their shirts off. I will purposefully not post incriminating pictures for certain people who kept taking their clothes off and might want to run for president some day.
After the dancing and hurrah-ing, these same lovely friends planned a graduation ceremony for A.J. and I. We wore blankets as robes, were announced as official graduates and strolled through the living room to "Pomp and Circumstance" via kazoo.
There were even diplomas written on napkins.
And speeches.
And as the night ended, I felt tired from a long semester but relieved that it was over.
The reality of the end of college was still settling in, but I gathered that it was indeed true.
And I felt accomplished and celebrated and so very loved.

Friday, December 9, 2011


I really like TED talks.

Like this one about how the internet has begun catering to what it thinks we need.

Lean "liberal"? Facebook will happily hide your "conservative" friends so that you don't have to see their posts, hear what they have to say, consider their ideas (see where this is going?).

It makes me nervous. I don't want my own bubble. I need to feel uncomfortable.

Vending Machine

"We're interested in showing the students that teachers are human beings," she told me. And I nearly clobbered her in hugs.

This is what my two female reporters (one of them my student) said upon interviewing me this morning for the school newspaper. They are writing a piece showing four different teachers, at four different stages of their professional/personal lives. I am the rookie: the student-teacher. They also interviewed a relatively new teacher, five-yearer, ten-yearer and such.

They asked me questions about the adjustment between being a college student and being a "teacher." They asked about juggling my college load and my high school load. They asked about why I wanted to become a teacher and how the experience has been on a scale of 1-to-10. They asked about what I do outside of school and my classroom pet peeves.

One of my biggest pet peeves this semester has been the students who treat me like a vending machine. One that--with a begrudging nickel of their effort--dishes out homework assignments, grades, and discipline. They see me as a teacher and nothing else. I am only worth what I can produce, what grades I give them, and how much I let them get away with in class. These are the students that are hardest for me to interact with because it feels like they've put me on another level that they might've assumed I wanted to be on. I am teacher. They are student. It turns into a battle instead of a relationship.

The curiosity of my interviewers about what makes me human, reminded me of the same respect that I've received from several students this semester.

The ones who are conscious of my identity as a person (not only a teacher). I treasure them.

Students who recognize that I am just a college student, a few years older than they are, doing my best to finish school and do so with some sanity.

Those who risk breaking the code of student/teacher conduct in the hallway by actually making eye contact, smiling, or waving.

Those who ask, "How are you doing?"

Those who don't whine and complain about the expectations in class because they recognize that I am not actually trying to pick on them, we're merely fulfilling the expectations of the curriculum. It's not personal, it's class.

Those who smile.

Those who take part in discussion as if they're interested. As if they care. As if what I have to say matters. At all.

I don't expect every student to love every minute of our time together in class. Truthfully, in high school, I wasn't always great at seeing my teachers as whole-people either, at granting them the respect they deserved as human beings. So I don't get horribly frustrated when they do the same to me. However, I greatly appreciate those who do not and I will most definitely remember them when I leave.

In five school-days.



Sunday, December 4, 2011

Every Girl, Every Boy

I am a feminist for the above-mentioned reasons and many more.

My boyfriend, Jeremy, is a feminist.

My two male cooperating teachers are feminists.
Many of my guy friends are feminists.
My sister is a feminist.
My brother-in-law is a feminist.
Many of my professors are feminists.
Probably every one of my friends and family are feminists (whether they know it or not).

(Check out my friend, Mindy Liebelt's, complete book of pictures here. It's a wonderful project of hers that deserves a look. Or two.)

Extreme feminists make me nervous. So do extreme conservatives, extreme liberals, extreme Christians, and extreme Muslims. When we associate a group of people with only the most extreme version of the people in that group, we are doing them--and ourselves--a huge disservice. We are smooshing everyone together as if all New Yorkers are exactly the same, all Mormons are exactly the same, all Mexicans are exactly the same, and all men are exactly the same. It's not fair and it's not right.

Feminism became a dirty word because it was associated with only the most extreme versions of the word. These over-generalizations led to name-calling them "femiNatzis," and painting them only as bra-burning, angry women who were anti-male, refused to shave their armpits, and were a threat to people everywhere. Really? What a sad, uneducated way to view an entire group of people out to do a lot of good, simply because the extremists of the group got all the attention and publicity.

A feminist is a person who believes in the radical notion that women are people too.

Radical, right? I know.

If you believe that your mother/sister/daughter deserves to be safe, educated, valued, given a voice, and paid the same amount of money for the same amount of work, you are a feminist.

Just about every group has negative connotations/stereotypes these days. There will always be some crazies wherever you go:
Feminists are anti-male
Men rape
Women are too emotional (and horrible drivers)
Hippies are druggies
Activists are angry
Christians are hypocrites
Muslims blow up buildings
Catholics molest little boys
Republicans are close-minded
Democrats are anti-Christian
Americans are selfish
Mexicans are immigrants

So, should I just avoid all of these groups of people because there are unfortunately some negative stereotypes associated with them?

I can disassociate myself from every group of people that has any flaws (for fear that it will reflect badly on me), or I can be part of the group while working to change it and make it better from the inside out.

I am a feminist because I want equality and freedom for men and women. It's worth it to me to take on the title "feminist" in spite of some people's uneducated stereotypes. Because I know better.

And, as Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better."

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Men are often encouraged to take up more space.
Women are often encouraged to take up less space.

Men "should" be big and muscular.
Women "should" be petite and willowy.

Men "should" speak up.
Women "should" stay quiet.

Men "should" be bold.
Women "should" be soft-spoken.

Men "should" be aggressive.
Women "should" be kind. And smile.

I find myself regularly torn between wanting to be a culturally acceptable woman and wanting to be who I am.

Sometimes, I want to take up less space. I want to float into a room in a wispy gown. I want to be shorter than my boyfriend. I want to weigh less. I want to be less. I want to blend in. I want to be quiet. I want to let men dominate the conversation, the room, the hallway, the gym, the road, the political forum, the church, and the sports arena. And they do. I'd rather just take up less space because that requires a lot less work.

At the same time, I want to take up more space and I end up feeling bad for it.
I want to enter a room confidently. But somehow that's un-feminine.

I want to be taller and weigh more than men, especially when I feel threatened or afraid when I'm alone with them. But somehow, I'd be too big.

I want to be more. But somehow that's asking too much.

I want to stand out. I want to speak my mind. But then I'd be labeled a "controlling bitch." Because that's just what culture calls women in power.

I want a place in the conversation, the room, the hallway, the gym, the road, the political forum, the church, and the sports arena. But then I'm just being too needy.

I'd rather dare to take up more space because that demands more of who I was made to be. But unfortunately that is challenged every step of the way.

It seems difficult to "win" in this model and I'm not sure what winning would look like. Recently, I've been watching and reading a lot about gender. I'm better educated and more frustrated than ever. The most important resource I've encountered recently, is the film Miss Representation.

You really should watch this movie.
Because we can't be what we can't see.

I think the "moral of the story" is regularly assuring myself that it's okay to take up as much space as I need. It's not okay by everyone's standards (good thing I'm not a super-model, a politician, a movie star, or any female figure in public view). But it's okay by my standards. On a good day. Sometimes.

I can have a voice.
I can challenge authority.
I can dance and move and play.
I can lift weights.
I can stand up and speak out.
I can write a book. And be proud of it.
I can wear what I want.
I can be a size 10.
I can eat what I want.
I can be proud of myself.
I can take a compliment without disagreeing with the person giving it.
I can have confidence in my skills and abilities.

I can hold my ground as a woman--proud of the space I embody--even when it feels like I'm wrong for doing so.

Because as Maya Angelou says, "When you know better, you do better."

I. Know. Better.

History of The "F" Word

A brief history lesson (from my limited point-of-view):

A hundred years ago, women began questioning this assumption that they should take up less space more in the public forum than ever before. They wondered why they didn't have the right to vote or own property. They wondered why their voice wouldn't stand up in court compared with a man's. They wondered, then they got angry, then they took action.

Feminism grew from the radical notion that women are people too. If you believe that (man or woman) then I'm sorry, you're a feminist.

I say, "I'm sorry" not because I think it's a problem. But because of all the negative associations that have come with "the F-word." As there are many kinds of Republican or many kinds of Christian, there are many kinds of feminist. I don't have to hate men and burn my bra to be a feminist. I just believe in people. I believe that women and men are people. Equal. Good. Worthy. Period.

Women fighting to "take up more space," to have a voice, to have a place in society, threatened some people. In the film Tough Guise, Jackson Katz outlines how the twentieth century has been really tough on the white, middle-class, heterosexual male. The power they had pretty much dominated up until that point (um...for thousands of years) was being compromised and many men did not approve. Because first women wanted to voice, and then black people wanted a voice, and then heterosexuals wanted a voice. Now the white, heterosexual man had two choices: hand over some of the power or fight to keep it. There was backlash. There was blaming and name-calling ("feminatzi" anyone?). There were lies spread that feminism was to blame for the downfall of the country and that we should just keep things the way they've always been (notice it was the oppressor doing all of the talking).

So, the men who felt that their space was being invaded (by women, blacks, and homosexuals) wanted to compensate, and they sought to take up even more space. Jackson Katz lays this out particularly well in his critique of the media's portrayal of men. The size of the biceps and guns of actors in action movies and action figures have grown exponentially (much the opposite of Barbie's ever dwindling waist-size. Coincidence? I think not.). Pro-wrestling took off in bigger and badder displays of masculinity. Rap and rock lyrics have taken on a harsher, more misogynistic tone than ever before.

There's much to fight for and never enough fighters ("the work is plentiful, but the workers are few"?). I so appreciate brave men and women who refuse to make sexist comments, perpetuate discrimination, and to believe that sexism is any different than racism. If anyone is being discriminated against, we are all losing.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." -Martin Luther King Jr.

I might as well just go ahead and get this as a tatoo because I have a feeling I'll be referring to it for the rest of my life:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.

I am a feminist because it would be impossible for me to be anything else.

I firmly believe that when most people actually learn what "the F-word" means, they can't deny that their daughters, their sister, and their mothers deserve nothing less.

And they are feminists too.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Four Percent

Ten days until I graduate college.
More importantly, ten days until I am done with my student teaching.

All semester, as I've talked with teachers about the difficulty of dealing with some students (their attitudes, their complaining, their work ethic and such), I've gotten similar answers:

"Meh, they're just kids. They'll grow out of it."

"They're adolescents."

"What did you expect? They're teenagers."

"The behaviors associated with minor mental illness, substance abuse, and adolescence all look the same. It's hard to tell them apart and easy to misdiagnose."

This doesn't say much good about the state of some of our youth. I don't think this is a recent phenomenon that I was unaffected by 5-8 years ago. Yet, only now, it totally perplexes me. Hearing what teachers have to say about the norms associated with this age group makes me sad. Aren't we giving up on them? Shouldn't we expect more? Shouldn't what one teacher calls "egocentric impulsivity" be harnessed? Tamed? Managed? Can we save them from this self-centered, irrational roller coaster? In short, shouldn't other teachers be as equally bothered by this as I am?

Experienced educators have, not only thick skin, but a better understanding of the development of human beings than I do. Most of them are parents. This might have something to do with it. Because they seem so unaffected and unconcerned with the attitudes of the teenagers they encounter day-to-day.

For example, today in class a student was doing her chemistry homework while I was teaching. I didn't actually notice, but Ken did. He took the piece of paper and put it on his desk to be given back at the end of class. A simple move to get the student on-track and focused on the task at hand. I thought. She rolled her eyes, pursed her lips tightly together, glared straight ahead, crossed her arms in front of her chest, and remained absolutely silent and apparently disgusted for the next 40 minutes.

This blows my mind. Of course, you can't be so obviously disrespectful and ignore what the teacher's trying to teach, but to her, this was an abomination. An infringement on her rights. An outrage. To her, this was nearly the end of the world. Or at least the end of the next 40 minutes (which might as well have been her world).

When the bell rang, there was no reasoning with her. No talking. No conversation about why Ken just might've been trying to keep her focused. No. She was pissed and wanted to be pissed. Congratulations.

Things like this drive me crazy. I want to sit them down and say, "Really? You're sixteen years-old and this is what you're throwing a tantrum over (a lost assignment, homework, a quiz, for the classroom to be quiet)? Do you see how this is helping no one? Not me? Not you?"

I don't understand it, yet, I know my own irrational behaviors.

Such as, one morning a few weeks ago, I decided to write down what was stressing me out about school. It came down to this: of the roughly one hundred students that I interact with every day, there are about four students in particular who frustrate me to no end. Four percent of the students I encounter each day cause about 95% of my stress. I've been letting the minority rule me.

I can't change difficult students. I can't make them see that what they're SO angry about in this moment is really not a big deal. But I can focus on the fact that ninety-six percent of my students are pretty descent. That other four percent may be ornery and make me want to hit myself in the face (with a cast iron skillet), but at the end of the day, they are only four percent.

They are only four percent.
They are only four percent.

Yes, alas, I'll need to repeat this numerous times in the next ten days when that four percent threatens my sanity and my sincerity toward the other ninety-six percent who make me smile, who work hard, who don't complain, and who have brightened my day. Every day.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Adele by Glee

I've watched a total of two Glee episodes, yet, you gotta love some strong, female voices. Aye! This makes me want

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Danger of a Single Story

I've learned an important lesson from Chimamanda Adichie.

She is a novelist who spoke at one of the TED conventions about "The Danger of a Single Story." I was told that I should watch it because I was teaching a pop culture class and I'm glad I did. But the lessons I've learned stretch far beyond the information I needed for that class.

Watch it here. Now.

We are limited when we are only being sold one narrative. When we can only see one point of view (that reminds me of this other TED Talk about how when ten people enter the same word in a Google search, we'll get ten different pages. The internet is catering to what it "thinks" we need thus eliminating views that contradict our own).

Adichie mentions how when most people think of Africa they imagine beautiful landscapes and incomprehensible poverty, wars, and AIDS. This is the "single story" we are being sold about what it means to be from Africa. However, it's not true. It doesn't tell the whole story.

I used the ideas from this video in my pop culture class to talk about how advertising only tells us one story. Usually it's the story of the rich, thin, and famous. About sex and the high-life. About airbrushing and Photo Shop. We are not able to see behind the curtain into how these people got rich, thin, and famous. Are their lives really so glamorous? We rarely see the pre-Photo Shopped images for a reason: advertising thrives on selling us a single story. It's a fiction and we think it's reality.

I've been thinking about this "single story" idea in my own life. My single story would be: white, American, middle-class, female, well-educated, happy, put-together, confident, and talented. But the full story is deeper and more complex. We are not only the boxes we check on census forms. We have full stories that reach beyond our sex, our weight, and our country of origin.

Facebook is King of the single story. We only post pictures of happy times, cruises, graduations, birthday parties, and picnics at the park. I'm not recommending we show pictures of funerals, car crashes, burnt macaroni, and slobbery tears. However, the internet gives us a platform to only spread the information we want to be seen. The story we want to be told.

Jeremy and I often talk about what a "good" relationship looks like and what we want for ours. We sometimes look at other people's relationships to know if we're doing all right. So, often we see two people in love, holding hands, working, playing, celebrating holidays, going on adventures, and living the "good life." So naturally we feel like incapable bums when sometimes...our lives look nothing like that. We don't agree. We argue. We don't see eye-to-eye and frankly, we don't want to.

I've never seen my parents fight. Disagreements are natural, human. And when I look at my own relationship struggles, they seem out of context and somehow wrong because they don't resemble what I've seen in movies or in real life.

I got home last night and my sister Ashley shared with me some of the ins and outs of her marriage. They are so happy and fit so well together, yet, they're human and sometimes they disagree. What a relief!

What I find time and time again whether by sharing my own story or hearing others' is this: most of the time we are in the majority of people struggling, but there are only a minority of people talking about it.

I'd like to see those flip-flopped. I want to tell a bigger story. One that includes
love and disdain,
five-course meals and cereal on a Wednesday night,
picnics at the park and rainy days indoors,
afternoons of laughter and afternoons of boredom,
life-changing conversations and other times when the conversation sits stagnant and awkward because we're both unwilling to compromise.

I want to tell a complete story that's real and complex and messy and true.


A few weeks ago, some good people threw me a birthday party. I've waited until now to post about it because I just couldn't tell the story without the video of the birthday rap. Oh yes.

There were gluten-free goodies galore, compliments of wonderfully thoughtful friends.

And Jeremy was happy to deliver them.

My sister, Ashley.

My delightful friend, Kylie.

Kylie, Becca, and me.

Then came a birthday rap compliments of Kylie and A.J., two improv extraordinaires.

My buddy, Michael.

Birthday presents like a cozy blanket and slippers.

Lovely Keri.

My talented friend, Ben.

My silly roommates.

And my wonderful boyfriend, Jeremy.

A great birthday made possible by great friends.

I'm truly blessed.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pumpkin Pie

Thanksgiving used to be my favorite holiday. Until the food part became difficult (i.e. eating disorder) and there wasn't much left to the holiday at that point.

Thanksgiving (and Christmas) are the absolute hardest times of year for people with eating disorders (and probably people with any addiction). I remember sitting in a group session with 8-10 anxious, grave-looking women listening to them making commitments about what they would and would not do during Thanksgiving:
"I will not throw-up."
"I will not eat food I don't like, just so I don't have to talk to people."
"I will not eat to make other people happy."
"I will not eat just to make my worried mother feel better about herself and her own eating disorder that she'll never admit to."

I sent an e-mail to a friend this week to ask her how she was going to get through Thanksgiving this year. She said simply, "I'm working so I don't have to." I don't blame her.

When she asked what I was going to do, it felt really good to realize that I didn't have a plan, because I don't need one as much anymore. I went back and read a blog I posted Thanksgiving 2009 and recognized growth:

"I hunger for a normal relationship with food...I wonder what normal people think when they sit down to a meal. Because I'm thinking, "Ughh, don't make me do it." The nerves rage, the anxiety flares up and I'm left at the table like a stubborn 6 year-old who doesn't want to eat her dinner...I wonder what it would be like to not count other people's calories, Two egg salad sandwiches, Naked juice, pumpkin pie: at least 900 calories. That's not normal...I hunger for peace and contentment."

I still hunger for peace and contentment. I'm sure I always will, but this Thanksgiving was different than any in the last five years. Now, this day was full of other kinds of less-than stellar thoughts (school-related stress, relationships, the future) that somewhat overtook my mind, but at this point, that's probably "normal." Regardless, I can say that it was not filled with food/body-related dialogue in my head and for that, I'm grateful.

This is growth.
Even when it hurts.
Even when it's slow.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


I am not only a student-teacher.

I am also a student,
a friend,
a daughter,
a sister,
a girlfriend,
a musician,
a writer,
an athlete,
an artist,
a gluten-free connoisseur,
a skeptic,
a dancer,
a Modern Family junkie,
a cook,
a reader,
a world-traveler,
and a Mario Kart ninja.

I am good.
I am fun.
I am kind.
I am hard-working.
I am compassionate.
I am a good listener.
I am worthy.

I can be imperfect.
I can make mistakes.
I can lift others up.
I can not have life figured out.
I can pray.
I can breathe.
I can be.

Just be, child.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cotton Ball

Today was a good day. Fun class activities. Great feedback. Planning ahead.

Then, seventh period happened. Ken was gone. I was subbing. They knew it. And as the last student walked out the door, I put my head on my desk. And cried.

The plan was simple: group presentations. Then, I got overwhelmed with the questions, the eye-rolling, the leaning back, glaring at me, I-don't-care-about-what-you-have-to-say-and-you-can't-make-me attitude.

With five minutes left in class, I sat in my chair, leaned back, put my feet on the desk, crossed my arms, rolled my eyes, and added some necessary huffing and puffing. I asked them what non-verbal messages I was sending. They guessed: "Annoyed." "Frustrated." "Pissed off!"

Ding, ding, ding.

I reminded them that the best way to get what you want is to...ask for it.
Rolling your eyes doesn't qualify as "asking."

Recently I got this advice: "You're a duck. Let it roll right off your back." Well, what if I'm not a duck. What if I'm a giant cotton ball? I seem to absorb rather than repel.

I left feeling defeated. Small. Fraudulent. No one forced me to feel this way. But I did. And it sucked. How do I maintain a strong sense of self without letting those ornery students get to me?

Well, I've had a few ideas. Some better than others. One is to be on the defensive. To be ready for the difficulties and strengthen myself against them. To come armed and ready for the war.

Another, that came to me this week, was that the "me vs. them" analogy might actually be harming my experience because I'm constantly on the look out for the "enemy." So I regularly reminded myself: "This is not battle. You can relax."

Maybe I need a different strategy per class because the non-war analogy works great with some classes who don't come at me and horribly with 7th hour. It seems that I need all the resilience I can get with them. But I'm not a fan of "war" in general, so using that model feels counter intuitive.

After school, I walked to my car, sat inside, and breathed in the sweet silence. The present moment can be so elusive and difficult to identify and weed out amongst the past pains and future worries.

For my sanity these last 18 days of student-teaching, I'm desperately seeking that present moment to get me through. Looking past what I wished this experience had been and looking beyond the fears looming out-of-reach, and dwelling here, on the couch, with a blanket, and a mostly calm mind.

Dwell here.

Friday, November 11, 2011


A teacher at school found out that I teach Zumba and asked me to come teach her P.E. class. I did. It was a grand 'ol time. As usual. Afterwards, a girl whom I've never met before came up to me and said, "I wish you were my student teacher. Do your students, like, absolutely love you?"

I assured her that no, all of my students do not absolutely love me. Maybe if I just taught them Zumba they would, but indeed English and literature classes come with a certain amount of studiousness and alas, homework. This didn't seem to faze her as she pranced away.

This student teaching experience has made a certain quality loud and clear:
I may be too sensitive for this teaching thing.

I struggle with students who lean back in their chairs, fold their arms across their chest, roll their eyes and huff and puff.

I loathe preparing lesson plans, initiating discussions, and having students stare in silence, while I contemplate dancing the macarena and singing the Canadian national anthem simultaneously in a desperate attempt to make them give a damn.

It's hard to stand in front of teenagers only to have them completely ignore you because their calculator, their other homework, the person sitting next to them, or the wall is more interesting.

I don't know exactly know how to handle that student who constantly complains about the homework, the assignment, the class time, or...just about everything.

It's super hard for me to look past that difficult student, to pretend like it doesn't get to me, or doesn't make me feel like a bad teacher. Because I can't pursue teaching at this rate. I can't let these little things get to me and actually survive, nonetheless, thrive. The alternative seems to mean being distant or removed so that individual students cannot penetrate my exterior. And if that's my goal as a teacher, why bother?

There must be balance somewhere, but at this point I have not found it. The thought of waking up early, driving to school, and encountering 100 different students who have 100 different needs, makes me anxious for the day (coming quite soon, by the way) when I will be done with student teaching and can go be a barista. At least for a few months.

There are those students who seem to realize that I am a human being. I cherish them. I need them. I appreciate when after asking 30 different students about their lives, their homework, and their hobbies during one class period, one student dares to ask, "Ms. Bo, how are you today?"

There are those students who seem to understand that I have fears, and doubts, and talents, and a life outside of the 50 minutes we spend together each day. This is refreshing. Ya know, to be treated like a human being instead of a teacher-alien thing who is only out to punish and torture with insurmountable loads of homework and discipline. That is not at the bottom of my list, that's not even on my list! But convincing them of this is futile.

The answer that I get from most teachers about this problem is: "They're teenagers."

Is that really it? Is this just a phase? Was I like this in high school?

I am 100% positive that there are a couple teachers who would say, yes. However, I can say with confidence that I was a student who connected well with teachers and thrived because of it. I knew them. They knew me. I was not pouting at each homework assignment and arguing with every decision made in class.

So if teaching is an environment where some students will be absolutely wonderful and others will fight me every step of the way, do I want it? Is it worth it?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011


This blog started at the suggestion of my sister, Ashley, and her husband, Ben. Maybe they saw some inner-angst that needed to be let out. Maybe they thought I'd enjoy writing. Maybe blogging was all the rage among their friends and it just seemed natural. For whatever reason, in August of 2007 I began writing here.

Mostly, I started writing to keep friends and family in the loop about my travels to Cambodia. But after my year was over, I kept writing because I couldn't imagine not doing so. I had connected with too many people, shared too many stories, and enjoyed the process too much to stop. Now, 499 blogs later, I write to practice/improve my writing. I write to connect with other people. I write to be held accountable to where I've been and where I'm going. I write to tell an honest story.

Recently, my honest story goes something like this:
-Twenty-four years old
-In a relationship with a wonderful man
-Lovingly supported by family and friends
-A teensy bit afraid of growing up
-Often doubting myself and my worth
-Completing my student-teaching
-Five weeks to graduation
-Can't. Hardly. Wait.

This honest story from blog #500 is different than the story from the girl who wrote blog #1.

My first blog was written from Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I had been there less than 24 hours and was writing about the journey around the world and my first impressions of my new "home." A line from the first paragraph in the first blog is this: "It's true. I am here. I can't go back now."

Sitting in the same body four years later, I know that's just not true. Now, I would argue with her:
Yes, you can go back.
Yes, you have decisions.
No, it wouldn't be failure.
No, most people wouldn't look down on you.
Yes, you can give yourself a break.
Please, give yourself permission to just be.

Girl from blog #1 didn't know that yet. She was stuck on pride and living for the imaginary audience in her head that would judge her if she stepped out of line. She probably wouldn't listen to me now anyway. This why I'm proud of the girl writing blog #500.

Because if it took 500 random, sloppy blog-postings to get me from there to here, than it was well worth it. Because who I was then is not who I am now. And I'm okay with that. I'm not only proud of the progress, I'm proud of the 19 year-old girl who stuck it out.

Her writing wasn't stellar and her rationale was lacking. But showing up deserves credit, because on some days, that's the best we can do. And that's always enough.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Dear Twenty-Four,

Dear Twenty-Four,

It might've taken me twenty-four years to say this, but...I'm ready for ya.

Sixteen "earned" me a driver's license.
Eighteen "earned" me adulthood.
Twenty-one "earned" me drinking privileges (that I've never yet taken advantage of).
But twenty-four? What have I earned at twenty-four?

I have worked, cried, sought, chased, and damnit, I have earned wisdom. Not the kind where you have it or you don't. Not the kind of wisdom that is only granted to sages and people who have lived over a century. But the kind of wisdom that accumulates with time. Wisdom that, yes, you can acquire at twenty-four, if only a minimal amount. Wisdom that grows exponentially in the bank and can't be withdrawn. The kind that I'll look back on in another twenty-four years and think, "Oh geez, that girl had so much to learn."

But I'm okay with that. Because today, I welcomed twenty-four years of life. And that's enough.

Upon hearing that it was my birthday, my cooperating teacher, Scott, said, "Congratulations." For some reason it sounded odd to me, as if he were congratulating me for birthing a child or running a marathon. But no, he was congratulating me for having a birthday, simply for being alive. And I realized--perhaps for the first time--that simply waking up and showing up and surviving twenty-four years on planet earth might be worth more cheering and celebrating than I've been doing lately.

Because you see, I'm proud of the years I've accumulated. I've earned these years more than I ever "earned" a drivers-license or "earned" adulthood. Those were given. This wisdom was earned. And I'm grateful.


Saturday, October 29, 2011


Dear Child,

Welcome to Saturday morning. You'll only live this particular day once. One time. Take a deep breath. Make a cup of tea. Look around.

Purposefully misplace what could have been. Lock it in a closet and lose the key. Let go of what you should be doing or how you should feel. Simply inhale. Now exhale. And take it all in.

The golden-toned leaves shake on the trees drenched in sunshine.
The morning walkers, waltzing hand-in-hand, bundled in scarves and sweaters.
A healthy body and a (mostly) healthy mind.
A warm home and cozy fleece blankets.
Family and friends who love and support you.
Take. It. In.

You're sick.
You're tired.
You're a bit anxious.
So, be sick.
Be tired.
Be anxious.

Don't fight it or resist it. That doesn't work. Just be here in this moment. Look around. Feel those things you don't want to feel. Chances are good they won't kill you. They might make you uncomfortable. They might make you cry. But they won't kill you, oh no.

Don't let the best you've ever done be the standard by which you try to measure up to for the rest of your life. Because you'll always fail. You'll always come up short. Ditch your list. At least for a day. And tomorrow when you pick it up again, be kind. Perfection is a myth. Set realistic standards. The kind you'd give to your best friend or five year-old cousin.

Just let go and be here now. Please. For all of us. Be here now.


Thursday, October 27, 2011


This morning, I walked to my classroom by way of the Freshman hallway: "Hi Ms. Bo," came M on my right. "Good morning, Ms. Bo," sang D on my left. "G has a crush on you!" Giggle, giggle. Oh, kids.

In English 9, I split the students into groups by every thing from middle names, favorite colors, age, and favorite cereal. After doing so, P was not in the group he wanted to be in.

"Ms. Bo," he said, "Can I be in that group instead?"

Not really caring that much which group he was in, I said half-jokingly, "Will you be a distraction and keep them from getting their work done?"

He lowered his head dramatically: "Probably."

Eruption of laughter, and maybe even a snort.

Ken finds Adventist culture fascinating and often asks me questions about it. Being the resident "expert" on the topic, I am the guru which he seeks. I can't explain the shellfish thing well. This is frustrating to him. I explained that someone can eat pork, drink alcohol, and cuss up a storm and still be considered "Adventist." This perplexes him. The jewelry/dancing thing is also kind of ambiguous. Come to think of it, most behaviors associated with Adventism are ambiguous.

When he asks about why I don't drink, I assure him that whether because I was terrified of going to hell, terrified of being found out, or terrified that drinking one time would turn me into an alcoholic, I had never been tempted to try it. Or drugs for that matter. I think I've done okay without them. I'm not adamantly opposed to any of it, I'm just mostly un-intrigued by most of it.

Today, after school, Ken and I were planning our lessons for the next week. We decided it was a two-cups of tea sort of day (as opposed to our usual one in the morning). Two cups of tea means it's been long and the day isn't even over yet.

Ken looked at me and smiled, "Ya know, Ms. B? I think for you, it's either going to be taking up drinking or you find a different career. Because I don't see how you could possibly keep up with this not-drinking thing and still be a teacher."

He agreed that it would probably be better for any sane person to save their health and not become a teacher, but he apparently isn't sane. That' s why he teaches. And that might just be why I don't.

Monday, October 24, 2011

I Can. I Will. I Am.

I can take deep breaths.
I can show this Monday who's boss.
I can be calm.
I can smile at difficult teenagers.
I can be patient with that student who forgot his homework. Again.
I can listen to what my students are saying.
I can maintain a sense of self even when it feels like these kids try so hard to tear it down.
I can nourish my body.
I can be wrong.
I can forget.
I can make mistakes.
I can ask for help.
I am good.
I am kind.
I am beautiful.
I am strong.
I am confident.
I am intelligent.
I am worthy. Damnit.

I need not make every student like me.
I need not be the student's number one favorite teacher.
I need not submit to their requests every time.
I need not feel bad when I can't meet all their needs.
I need not kill myself over this assignment or that deadline.

I am going to survive student-teaching.
I can give myself a break.
I can let go.
I can breathe.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


She came out of the womb completely and utterly perfect.
As we all do.

Yet she emerged kicking and screaming. The world was already a cruel place and she was prepared to fight it to the death. No one gets out of this life alive, but she sure as hell would try.

Her body was perfect: young, innocent, fleshy, alive.
Her hair was perfect: new, blond ringlets.
Her eyes were perfect: shiny, bright, greenish-brown.
Her value in the Universe was monumental (just like every other human being to ever step down on planet earth). Yet still, so very important.
Her character, personality, and charm were evident from day one: fresh, unique, worthy.

From the first time she looked at her reflection in the mirror,
From the first time she listened to beautiful women argue with compliments given them,
From the first time she measured her most average qualities to the absolute best in others,
From the first time she made a mistake and felt inadequate in every way,
From the first time she expected more from herself than any human being should,
she wanted more.
More assurance.
More confidence.
More peace.
Being simply "human" wasn't perfect enough.
Unattainable at best, but completely worth working for.

So she searched.
She fought with her body's natural cycles.
She saved up her allowance to buy anti-aging creams when she was ten.
She disagreed with her body's definition of "hungry" and "full."
She starved. She exercised. She vomited.
She argued with her body's size, shape, appearance.
She resented the vehicle designated to carry her through life.
If it had been up to her, she could have done better.

Family and friends adored this girl, for she was actually quite wise and intelligent and gifted and courageous. But there was always this one thing that held her back: herself.

Acquaintances and even strangers envied her confidence, her charm, her talents, her legs, her smile. When they told her, she said, "Thank you" with a smile, but thought to herself:
They must
be crazy.

Sometimes she even wondered if she was crazy.
If maybe everyone else wasn't telling her lies.
If maybe she wasn't seeing clearly.
No. She knew who she was and if they knew, they wouldn't be proud of her either.

She spent her precious seventy years on planet earth tearing herself apart, seeking perfection, not believing people's compliments. Not believing in herself.

She graduated college.
Got married.
Pursued a career.
Bought a home.
Spent holidays with good people.
Took a few vacations.
And died.
What a waste.

At her funeral, people did not mourn her absence as much as they mourned the life that could have been. The life that laid buried beneath her own self-hatred and doubt. The possibilities of all that she could have been, but refused to be until she was perfect and life fit within her expectations.

She never got it.
She spent her whole life missing the point.
She never understood that she was perfect from the very beginning.
The brutal fight she waged against herself for decades on end was completely unnecessary because she had won the battle for perfection seventy years earlier on the day she was born.

But now it didn't matter.
Because she was dead.

And life went on.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Miss Representation

"As a culture, women are brought up to be fundamentally insecure," says Lisa Ling, one of many pivotal and vocal contributors to the film Miss Representation.

Teenagers average 10 hours and 45 minutes of media consumption (television, music, movies, magazines, on-line) every day.

"People learn more from media than from any other single source of information. If we want to understand what's going on in our society in the 21st century, we have to understand media."

We need to see this movie.
We need to spread this message.
I truly believe that our future depends on conversations about this.

Check out the website and the trailer here.

There are not currently any screenings scheduled to take place in Nebraska or anytime soon in Colorado. I'm considering looking into hosting a screening.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Need Not

I need not be perfect.
I need not be flawless.
I need not criticize myself to inevitable death.
I need not be 5'10 and 130 pounds.
I need not be blond.
I need not be blemish-free.
I need not get everything done on time.
I need not please everyone.
I need not remember everyone's birthday, make the best dinners, be the funniest person in the room, or be--as much as anyone else--incredibly sane.
I need not always have a clean house.
I need not have a clean and vacuumed car (note: must check oil).
I need not always remember to check my oil.
I need not eat a perfectly balanced diet.
I need not be the best, most efficient teacher to walk the face of the earth.
I need not be the epitome of time-management and productivity.
I need not have the "perfect" body.
I need not have the most cooperative, smooth hair.
I need not have the future figured out.
I need not know what I want to be when I grow up.
I need not fully understand student loans, mortgages, bill payments, health insurance, and how to do my taxes, right now.
I need not be the best student teacher my colleagues have ever seen.
I need not be the hottest, most supportive, mind-reading, fun girlfriend.
I need not win the award for being the most compassionate, giving friend.
I need not feel bad for not responding to that text, that e-mail, that Facebook message.
I need not lay on guilt that isn't actually there.
I need not always be brave.
I need not beat myself up when I don't call my parents every few days.
I need not flip out when life doesn't into my boxes or go my way.
I need not look in the mirror and hate what I see.

I need not.
And I want not.
Yet, I do.
And I'm not sure what to do about that.

I don't know what to do with myself when the list of things I shouldn't want (but I do want) pushes down on me like this invisible veil of expectations and things I'm failing at. It's heavy. And oppressive. And when it pushes down on me I want to throw up. Or eat. Or scream. Or ugly cry. Or throw things. Or clean. Or run. Or ugly cry. Again.

But instead, I'm sitting here writing. Because it was the only other thing I could think of (besides cleaning) that might actually make me feel better.

Two years ago I would've had a different, more destructive response.
This is good.
But I wish this felt more gratifying.
Because instead it feels like drowning.


Here are a few quotes from a piece I just read called, "Design, Ecology, Ethics, and the Making of Things" by William McDonough.

He talks about how design and creation have an obvious ethical component because what and how we create things adds to our global narrative and the health of the earth.

"LeCorbusier' said in the early part of this century that a house is a machine for living in. He glorified the steamship, the airplane, the grain elevator. Think about it: a house is a machine for living in. An office is a machine for working in. A church is a machine for praying in. This has become a terrifying prospect, because what has happened is that designers are now designing for the machine and not for people."

"If I presented you with a television set and covered it up and said, 'I have this amazing item. What it will do as a service will astonish you. But before I tell you what it does, let me tell you what it is made of and you can tell me if you want it in your house. It contains 4,060 chemicals, many of which are toxic, two hundred of which give off gas into the room when it is turned on. It also contains eighteen grams of toxic methyl mercury, has an explosive glass tube, and I urge you to put it at eye-level with your children and encourage them to play with it.' Would you want this in your home?

Products of service, or durables, are things like cars and television sets: "To eliminate the concept of waste, products of service would not be sold, but licensed to the end-user. Customers may use them as long as they wish, even sell the license to someone else, but when the end-user is finished with, say, a television, it should go right back to Sony, Zenith, or Philips. It is 'food' for their system, but not for natural systems. Right now, you can walk down the street, dump a TV into the garbage can, and walk away. In the process, we deposit persistent toxins throughout the planet.

"For a New York men's clothing store, we arranged for the planting of one thousand oak trees to replace the two English oaks used to panel the store. We were inspired by the story of Gregory Bateson about New College in Oxford, England...They had a main hall built in the early 1600s with beams forty feet long and two feet thick." The beams were suffering rot. At seven dollars a square foot, the replacement costs were huge. Someone recommended they talk to the College Forester. "And when they brought in the forester, he said, 'We've been wondering for years when you would ask this question. When the present building was constructed 350 years ago, the architects specified that a grove of trees be planted and maintained to replace the beams in the ceiling when they would suffer from dry rot.' Bateson's remark was, 'That's the way to run a culture.' "

When McDonough designs buildings he requires that the buyer agree to plant the appropriate square miles of trees that would be used in the process so that the resources will be replenished.

"We must face the fact that what we are seeing across the world today is war, a war against life itself. Our present systems of design have created a world that grows far beyond the capacity of the environment to sustain life into the future. The industrial idiom of design, failing to honor the principles of nature, can only violate them, producing waste and harm, regardless of purported intention. If we destroy more forests, burn more garbage, drift-net more fish, burn more coal, bleach more paper, produce more toxic and radioactive wastes, we are creating a vast industrial machine, not for living in, but for dying in. It is a war, to be sure, a war that only a few more generations can surely survive."

Saturday, October 15, 2011


My battle, like so many others, is accepting that--right here, right now--I am everything I need to be. I am enough.

This isn't complacency.
This isn't saying, "Meh, I'll never amount to anything more than I am right now."
This isn't giving up.
This isn't forfeit.
This is hope.

At this 24/7 rate of our media-saturated, technologically-driven, go-go society, it takes great--if not courageous--intentionality and grace to say, "Ya know what, maybe I'm okay."

A few years ago, I found myself at a department store at the mall with a girlfriend getting our make-up done. We had just found out they'd do it for free. So, why not? I extended the hand-held mirror in front of me as she began smearing flesh-colored foundation under each of my eyes. "There ya go," she said, looking at her work so far, "war paint."

I've never forgotten that. Since then I've recognized more clearly the charade (a.k.a. battle) I take part in every day. I'm really just a big liar.

We lie in innumerable ways:
-Bras: to make my breasts look, well, quite "unnatural" if you think about it compared to how we look without one
-Underwear: the right pair to avoid the "ghastly" panty-line (which by the way, five year-olds have picked up on for they can now purchase thongs at Gap). You wouldn't want people to know you're wearing underwear.
-Body Shaper (essentially ,way too much Spandex): form-fitting clothing? we may need some "smoothing" in certain areas to look, you guessed it "perfect"
-Heels: to imitate height, calf definition, and even butt perkiness
-Panty-hose: to cover ashy, varicose vein-infested legs
-Sunless tanner: to at least "look" tan
-Concealer/foundation make-up: to pinpoint the exact flaws and cover them up as to look..."perfect"
-Eyeliner: to make our eyes look more defined than they really are
-Mascara: to darken our eyelashes, because...they just need to be darker
-Lipstick: to make our lips more rosy and defined than they really are
-Hair products: to make our hair more of this or less of that
-Curling/straightening irons: to whip our hair into submission, whether our hair really wants to be curly/straight or not
-Razors: to look as though hairless comes standard on us women
-Waxing/Nairing: because there are just certain places that are not supposed to have hair, according to...
-Tweezers: to look as though our eyebrows are always so neat and defined

Don't even get me started on weight-loss gimmicks, tanning beds, corsets, hair extensions, eyelash growing medications, anti-aging creams, breast-enhancing pills, the $50 a month a woman could spend simply on maintaining her finger nails, nonetheless her weight, hair, skin, and teeth.

Companies and corporations don't want us to feel beautiful. They want our money. And they'll get it any way possible, usually by playing to the consumer's insecurities:"You're ugly. Buy our product and you'll be less ugly."

I wish I could say that even as I'm the one writing this, that I am somehow immune to this, but I'm not. I'm a sucker. I so badly want to feel good enough, whole enough, able to hold my own in this "race" for perfection, that I've bought many a product in search of the ambiguous: pretty.

I've had several friends have success with the ProActive skin care line. My own was not cooperating, so I tried it. It didn't work. I called to cancel. They convinced me they "just" released a new "extra strength" formula. I decided I needed this. It didn't work. I called to cancel. They offered to send me another variety. I said "no."

Two months after I said "no," they were still billing my credit card. I called to tell them about the mistake. They responded by saying they had no record of my ever cancelling to begin with. I asked to speak to the person in charge. She told me the same thing. I told her I felt that their company was being dishonest and I refused to pay for something I never received. She offered to send me a bonus/complimentary shipment of ProActive to amend the situation. It was at that point that I realized she was not listening to me. She was following a script.

Every month for the last six months I've received a letter in the mail from ProActive, resembling one that would come from a friend: bright colors, hand-written name and address. And inside it always says the same thing: "Won't you please give us another try?" They are desperate for my money.

I lie when I smear products on my skin to cover my "flaws."
I lie when I manipulate my body to look like this or fit into that.
I lie when I dump gels and goos on my hair then sizzle it into the shape I want.
I lie every day when I morph my body from what it looked like when I woke up, to what it looked like when I walked out the door.

Looking good and feeling confident is not a sin. I'm not advocating that we all stop wearing make-up and looking nice. What I'm asking is this: is there a way that looking good and feeling confident could be accomplished without all the cover ups, adjustments, and products?

This is why I so appreciate men and women who are starting conversations about this. People are beginning to shed light on the insidiousness of the "beauty" industry that is forever selling products that promise perfection.

Such as this one. An article written this month in O magazine about the plastic surgeries that would be required for a model today to resemble the all-American, all-perfect Barbie doll. The author writes: "Just because our distorted image of how a body should be is medically attainable, that doesn’t mean it should be attained."

Or how about this site: Healthy is the New Skinny?

Or how about Operation Beautiful? This site that has encouraged women to leave random/anonymous Post-It notes in places like women's restroom mirrors and dressing rooms that say things like, "Good God, you are absolutely stunning!"

I so appreciate these people who are opening the dialogue. I want to be part of that voice.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Half the Sky

The following quotes are from the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the first married couple to ever win the Pulitzer Prize. This is one of the best books I've ever read because of their bravery and brevity in illuminating the struggle of women worldwide begging us to reconsider the notion that "If I'm okay, everyone else is probably okay too."

A Chinese proverb reads, “Women hold up half the sky.”


“More girls have been killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men were killed in all the battles on the twentieth century. More girls are killed in this routine ‘gendercide’ in any one decade than people were slaughtered in all the genocides of the twentieth century.”

“In India, bride burning for inadequate dowry, or so the husband can remarry, takes place every two hours.”

“During the last nine years in Pakistan, 5,000 women and girls have been doused in kerosene and lit on fire or burned with acid for perceived disobedience.”

“In China, 100,000 girls are routinely kidnapped and trafficked in brothels and we don’t consider it worthy of making the news.”

“Women are the third world’s largest underutilized resource.” (238)

“Every year at least 2 million women disappear because of gender discrimination.”


“ ‘Prostitution is inevitable.’ He chuckled. ‘There has always been prostitution in every country. And what’s a young man going to do from the time he turns eighteen until when he gets married at thirty?’

‘Well, is the best solution really to kidnap Nepali girls and imprison them in Indian brothels?’

The officer shrugged, unperturbed. ‘It’s unfortunate,’ he agreed. ‘These girls are sacrificed so that we can have harmony in society. So that good girls can be safe.’” (24)

“People get away with enslaving village girls for the same reason that people got away with enslaving blacks two hundred years ago: The victims are perceived as discounted humans…When India feels that the West cares as much about slavery as it does about pirated DVDs, it will dispatch people to the borders to stop traffickers.” (24)

The price for customers to a Cambodian brothel: $1.50 per session.

“One of the reasons that so many women and girls are kidnapped, trafficked, raped, and otherwise abused is that they grin and bear it. Stoic docility—in particular, acceptance of any decree by a man—is drilled into girls in much of the world from the time they are babies, and so they often do as they are instructed, even when the instruction is to smile while being raped twenty times a day.” (47)


“Surveys suggest that about one third of all women worldwide face beatings in the home. Women aged fifteen through forty-four are more likely to be maimed or die from male violence than from cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, and war combined.” (61)

“They know that a woman humiliated in that way [rape] has no other recourse except suicide,” Mukhtar wrote later. “They don’t even need to use their weapons. Rape kills her.” (70)

“Rape has become an epidemic in South Africa, so a medical technician named Sonette Ehlers developed a product that immediately grabbed national attention there. Ehlers had never forgotten a rape victim telling her forlornly: “If only I had teeth down there.” Some time afterward, a man came into the hospital where Ehlers works in excruciating pain because his penis was stuck in his pants zipper. Ehlers merged those images and came up with a product she called Rapex. It resembles a tube, with barbs instide. The woman inserts it like a tampon, with an applicator, and any man who tries to rape the woman impales himself on the barbs and must go to an emergency room to have the Rapex removed. When critics complained that it was a medieval punishment, Ehlers responded tersely: “A medieval device for a medieval deed.” (61)

“In China, a neo-Confucian saying from the Song Dynasty declares: ‘For a woman to starve to death is a small matter, but for her to lose her chastity is a calamity.’” (81)

For rape to be legitimized in Sudan, “she must provide the mandatory four adult male Muslim eyewitnesses to prove that it was rape…Half of the women in Sierra Leone endured sexual violence or the threat of it during the upheavals in that country, and a United Nations report claims that 90 percent of girls and women over the age of three were sexually abused in parts of Liberia during the civil war there.” (83)

“The world capital of rape is the eastern Congo…All militias here rape women, to show their strength and to show your weakness…a viciousness, a mentality of hatred, and it’s women who pay the price…It has probably become more dangerous to be a woman than a soldier in an armed conflict.” (84)

“Extremist Hutus had targeted Claudine’s family, which was Tutsi, and she was the only survivor. Claudine had been kidnapped with her sister, and had been taken to a Hutu rape house…Large numbers of militia members came to the house, patiently lining up to rape the women. This went on for days, and of course there was no medical attention. ‘We had started rotting in our reproductive organs, and maggots were coming out of our bodies,’ Claudine said. “Walking was almost impossible. So we crawled on our knees.’ …Hutu militia members killed her sister but finally let Claudine go…Claudine was puzzled by her swelling belly, as she still had no idea about the facts of life. ‘I had thought I could not get pregnant, because I had been told that a girl becomes pregnant only if she is kissed. And I had never been kissed.” (213)


“Fistulas are common in the developing world but, outside of Congo, are overwhelmingly caused not by rape but by obstructed labor and lack of medical care during child birth. Most of the time, women don’t get any surgical help to repair their fistulas, because maternal health and childbirth injuries are rarely a priority.” (93)

“The fistula patient is the modern-day leper…The reason these women are pariahs is because they are women. If this happened to men, we would have foundations and supplies coming in from all over the world.” (97)

“The equivalent of five jumbo jets’ worth of women die in labor each day, but the issue is almost never covered…Right now the amount of we Americans spend on maternal health is equivalent to less than one twentieth of 1 percent of the amount we spend on our military.” (98)

“Would the world just stand by if it were men who were dying just for completing their reproductive functions?” –Asha-Rose Migiro, U.N. Deputy Secretary General, 2007

“Women are not dying because of untreatable diseases. They are dying because societies have yet to make the decision that their lives are worth saving.” (116)

In Somalia, “the innumerable local camels often have more freedom than the women.” (123)

“Thirty-nine thousand baby girls die annually in China because parents don’t give them the same medical attention as boys. As many infant girls die each week as the amount of protestors at Tiananmen (between 400-800).”


“One study after another has shown that educating girls is one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. Schooling is often a precondition for girls and women to stand up against injustice, and for women to be integrated into the economy. Until women are numerate and literate, it is difficult for them to start businesses or contribute in meaningfully to their national economies.” (170)

“Countries that repress women also tend to be backward economically, adding to the frustrations that nurture terrorism.” (159)

“Some security experts noted that the countries that nurture terrorists are disproportionally those where women are marginalized. The reason there are so many Muslim terrorists, they argued, has little to do with the Koran but a great deal to do with the lack of robust female participation in Islamic countries. Empowering girls, disempowers terrorists.”

It is impossible to realize our goals while discriminating against half the human race. As study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.” –Kofi Annan, then U.N. Secretary-General, 2006

“A society that has more men than women—particularly young men, is often associated with crime or violence…Young men in such countries grow up in an all-male environment, in a testosterone-saturated world that has the ethos of a high school boys’ locker room.” (158)

“It is not uncommon to stumble across a mother mourning a child who has just died of malaria for want of a $5 mosquito net and then find the child’s father at a bar, where he spends $5 a week. Several studies suggest that when women gain control over spending, less family money is devoted to instant gratification and more for education and starting small businesses. Because men now typically control the purse strings, it appears that the poorest families in the world typically spend approximately ten times as much (20 percent of their income on average) on a combination of alcohol, prostitutes, candy, sugary drinks, and lavish feasts as they do on educating their children.” (192-3)

“Women now own just 1 percent of the world’s titled land, according to the UN. That has to change.” (195)

“Maternal mortality in the United States declined significantly only once women gained the right to vote. When women had a political voice, their lives also became a higher priority.” (198)


“Americans knew for decades about the unfairness of segregation. But racial discrimination seemed a complex problem deeply rooted in the South’s history and culture, and most good-hearted people didn’t see what they could do about such injustices. Then along came Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders, along with eye-opening books like John Howard Griffin’s Black Like Me. Suddenly the injustices were impossible to look away from, at the same time that economic change was also undermining Jim Crow. One result was a broad civil rights movement that built coalitions, spotlighted the suffering, and tore away the blinders that allowed good people to acquiesce in racism.

“Likewise, skies were hazy, rivers oily, and animals endangered for much of the twentieth century, but environmental destruction unfolded without much comment or opposition. It seemed the sad but inevitable price of progress. And then Rachel Carson published Silent Spring in 1962, and the environmental movement was born.

“In the same way, the challenge today is to prod the world to face up to women locked in brothels and teenage girls with fistulas curled up on the floor of isolated huts. We hope to see a broad movement emerge to battle gender inequality around the world and to push for education and opportunities for girls around the world. The American civil rights movement in one model, and so is the environmental movement, but both of those were different, because they involved domestic challenges close to home. And we’re wary of taking the American women’s movement as a model, because if the international effort is dubbed a “women’s issue,” then it will already have failed. The unfortunate reality is that women’s issues are marginalized, and in any case sex trafficking and mass rape should no more be see as women’s issues than slavery was a black issue or the Holocaust was a Jewish issue. These are all humanitarian concerns, transcending any one race, gender, or creed.” (233-4)