This past weekend I gained a lot of inspiration from feminist blogger, author, and TED speaker Courtney Martin after listening to her talk “This isn’t her mother’s feminism.” In her talk, she reveals the three biggest paradoxes in life that have led her towards achieving her professional and personal successes. Martin’s candidness on-stage was impactful to me, especially since I’m still young and fresh in my rekindled passion for writing. I wanted to share how I identify wth her three paradoxes and how as a result, I’ve transformed from a troubled girl into a #breastcancerfeminist. In the next few posts I hope to better explain this idea of #breastcancerfeminism, but for now I hope to be nothing but candid, transparent, and honest with you all about who I am and how I got here, in hopes that you better understand my overarching mission of this blog and my writing. And well, I suppose getting to know me as a human is nice too, right!?
Paradox #1: Rejecting the past, and then promptly reclaiming it.
As many of you know, my mom passed away when I was pretty young. At the ripe age of 9, I deeply buried any and all emotions about my mom. At the time, teachers at my elementary school would try to “help” me, but really they just tip-toed around the subject of my mom’s death and only made me feel even more isolated.
It didn’t take long for me to become very well acquainted with anger. During the last few weeks of third grade, I had numerous screaming matches with my third grade teacher. In fourth grade I had several heated discussions with my teacher because when I was annoyed with my friend, I pulled on her ponytail — her tauntalizing pony tail that hung all the way down to her hips — so tightly that she cried. In fifth grade, my teacher yelled at me for being overly chatty and disruptive in class. Throughout those years, I also ate my feelings, gaining weight rapidly while I yearned to be skinny and popular in school. I was young but I already felt like I was wayward, without purpose, so consumed with loneliness that I ignored it. I rarely spoke about my mom.
In middle school, I thrived off of 80’s goth music, online chat rooms, and long walks alone. I felt empowered in my angst, but I also felt like I was chained to the grief of my past that I couldn’t ever let go. I was angry that I was lonely. I rarely spoke about my mom.
High school was, high school I suppose. I worked my ass off in school and traded nights hanging out with friends to nights hanging out with my AP textbooks. When I wasn’t at school, I was at track practice, my dad’s office working, or at home studying. I edged out of my goth phase, but even still, I rarely spoke about my mom. I rarely cried about my mom. I was used to feeling angry. I had accepted loneliness.
In college I felt even more disattached from my grief. Most people that met me in college had no idea that my mother had died. I distracted myself with endless essay writing, marathon running, traveling, working, internships, and volunteering. Quite honestly, I worked myself to the bone. I tried as hard as I could to move past my hometown self. I wanted nothing more than to reject my past, to remake myself into someone that wasn’t angry and lonely. But that just wasn’t possible. My anxiety got the best of me, and I was paralyzed. I was plagued with panic attacks that stopped me in my tracks time and time again.
It’s not like I ever lived in outright denial of my mom’s death. But I rejected the grief, the pain, and the suffering that I deeply internalized for so long, so long that its taken a whole decade just for me to learn how to begin coming to terms with what happened to my mom. I’m still learning through each and every blog post how to speak openly about my mom, how to not run away from my past, how to move forward and embrace life’s shortcomings. I don’t want to have to hide behind endless frustrations and loneliness. I’m better than that. I’m still angry and I’m still lonely sometimes, but I breathe through the discomfort because I don’t want to hide how I feel anymore. If anything, I want to channel my anger into a productive cause. My mom’s legacy has encouraged me into becoming the feminist I am today. So now I’m not only reclaiming my past; I’m embracing it.
Paradox # 2: Sobering up about our smallness and maintaining faith in our greatness.
In spite of my slightly melodramatic narrative for paradox #1, I’ve always had big dreams. Maybe too big actually. I’ll admit that in many ways I fit the stereotype of an uber socially liberal millennial. I graduated high school wanting to change the world, or whatever kids call it these days. But my dreams were so big that I didn’t know how to achieve them and I became very overwhelmed.
In college I became heavily involved social justice issues, particularly immigrant rights and immigration reform. I really became introduced to the concept of social justice when I participated in an Alternative Spring Break on the US/Mexico border in McAllen, Texas. Living in Miami, I continued to intern and volunteer with several immigrant advocacy groups. I simultaneously dedicated my academic career around studying Latino immigration from a sociological perespective, bilingualism/biculturalism and the process of acculturation. And don’t even get me started about the mini lifetime I committed to learning Spanish. And yet after all that, I didn’t think anything I was doing was really helping. And especially after the 2016 election, well let’s just say I felt incredibly disillusioned. Because truthfully, I am small, and despite my best intentions, I lost faith in my greatness (although in complete fairness I think many of us in the social justice space felt similarly after November 8th, 2016)
So now here I am. I’m going back to my roots, doing the only thing I know how to do with a steadfast and fierce passion — writing. And I know damn well I’m one small fish in a giant giant pond that we call life or whatever. I’m only just beginning to touch the surface in the blogging world, but here I am, showing up each week to write and to learn and to grow. The more I write, the more I realize how I can channel my love for social justice activism into my beat around restructuring the pink-washed breast cancer movement.
Now to be totally honest with you all, prior to starting this blog I didn’t identify with being a feminist. I knew I was a feminist in a broad sense of the word, but feminism was a sociocultural movement that seemed so large and vast and convoluted that I didn’t know how to identify within it. But as I’ve become increasingly entrenched in my frustration with the current breast cancer awareness movement, the more I’ve realized how it needs a revived dose of modern feminism. The breast cancer awareness movement is rooted in feminism, as prior to the early 1980’s, women were too afraid to talk about breast cancer in the public eye. But now, as I’m learning more about issues related to the health care system, women’s health and intersectional feminism, the more I’m seeing how much social justice needs to be brought into the the breast cancer awareness space in order to revive the movement’s feminist roots. I have faith in how much I can achieve, and how much good I can distill into this big and vast universe with my writing. And so I will continue to write with a steady heart and an even steadier hand. After all, while I might be small, I am definitely mighty.
Paradox #3: Aiming to succeed wildly and being fulfilled by failing really well.
Quite frankly, the only reason I’m sitting here right now, slightly disheveled with a glass of make believe fancy red wine accompanying me, drafting a blog post, is because of how I’ve learned to gloriously fall from grace after complete and utter failure. You see, since the first semester of my freshman year of college, I had my heart set forth on continuing my education towards pursuing a PhD. I worked my respective ass off in college to earn a nearly perfect GPA and gain all the necessary credentials I would need to gain entry into a PhD program. And yet after scrutinizing five years of my life towards earning an acceptance at a PhD program of my dreams, I received rejection letter after rejection letter after rejection letter. “It’s not really your fault,” my MA thesis advisor told me, “a lot of these schools just lack funding nowadays, it’s the world we live in unfortunately.”
But funny enough, that’s not the end of the story. After receiving these heartbreaking rejection letters, I began to painstakingly reconsider all of my possibilities. I began to realize how much I was dreading even gaining a PhD in the first place. The job market across the board for PhD candidates is dreadful these days. And there’s a decent chance that even with all of my best intentions, I could be shuffled into the servile world of adjunct professorship. Needless to say, when one, and only one, PhD program accepted me into their program, I turned them down. And I’ve never looked back.
For me, my intense relationship with school virtually killed my spark for writing. I was deeply internalizing my concerns that I would never write again (for personal pursuits, to clarify) if I entered a PhD program.
So all things considered, I’ve definitely failed really well! I have garnered the energy to begin writing again in hopes that I can turn this blog into not only a book, but a social phenomenon. I aspire to be the force that revitalizes the stale breast cancer awareness movement. So here I am, still very much a young woman with a fierce idea that I have to raise awareness about becoming a #breastcancerfeminist. I have every intention of succeeding wildly. I’m pursuing my dreams even after dealing with failure. And I’m sure I’ll fail a lot as I continue to move forward with this blog. But there’s definitely something fulfilling about failing, or well, so I always see, to learn at least after the fact!