In Memoriam to Josephine

I know they say dogs are a human’s best friend but since I was sixteen, my best friend has been my forest green ford explorer, Josephine.

When I got her, she already had decent mileage on her. She also shook a little on the highway and had already suffered a few engine problems since her 2001, production. I never cared. All I cared about was that I had this car who played music, transported my friends, and took me to the beach whenever I wanted.

Over the years, Josephine and I went on even more grand adventures. We trekked all over Florida, from the Everglades to the panhandle. We saw beaches and beach houses. We even got to see New Orleans together.

Josephine knew all my favorite songs. In all of her scattered compartments and consoles, CDs overflowed. Because she only had a standard factory radio, nobody could plug in an aux cord for music. Instead, music was powered by the people in the car. Many of the CDs in Josephine were made by friends and family, often featuring personalized Sharpie cover art.

Sure, there were times her battery died. I’ll never forget sitting on the side of a desolate country road, waiting for the kind people of triple A to arrive (hopefully) before nightfall to replace a popped tire.

I also could never forget in her later years, when her volume dial started working in reverse. I found great amusement in watching visitors trying to turn down the volume, only to be horrified by blaring music.

Towards the end of her years, her side window had a stylish adornment of duct tape holding it in place. The turn signal began malfunctioning in such a way that the driver would have to manually flip the switch up and down in order to activate the blinkers.

It was then that Josephine’s grandparents decided it was her time for used car heaven.

Not only did my friends and I have a send-off party for her. We mourned her loss for our final two months of college. To this day, we think back on the way she felt so safe, how she carried such deep, liberating laughter. We joyfully sigh to each other, “Rest in peace.”

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to politico

At what point did you forget about human beings, and exchange our lives and hearts for chess pieces? What’s the endpoint of a bill’s cycle? What legacy are you leaving for the world? I’m pleading you to ask. Tell me, at the end of the day–will you ever be something greater than your own ego? Have you truly been a force of good in the world?

You may be a ‘public servant.’ You may use rhetoric to justify your innards–but as my dad always tells me, “you can’t lie to yourself.” I want to know how you feel, lying in your bed every night. Given the benefit of the doubt, maybe you count your blessings. You’re blessed with a lot of things. Money, good looks, charisma, power, success, respect….. So that means you’re doing this whole living thing correctly, right? You’ve conquered the world’s struggles and emerge victorious. With the privilege of winning comes notoriety and spotlight, and therein lies influence. You tell yourself you’re one of the good ones. You’ll use your high-stake influence to make the world safer and brighter. The republicans, democrats, tea party, lobbyists, them–they can’t be allowed to gain power. They’re derisive. These people will let the world crumble; it’s your duty to hold office and thwart them. You–a watchdog, a beacon. Ignoring its wormy lineage, you let slip those slimy words: “for the greater good.”

I’m not asking you to be superman. I’m asking you to be honest, just once. You don’t know average Joe. You whizzed past him when you graduated summa cum laude. You don’t know the pungency of anger, fresh after discovering your brother’s death in combat. You don’t know how helpless, me, a nineteen year old girl feels when the the president of the united states will not recognize that the calculated murder of 1.5 million Armenians is genocide. You don’t know reality anymore, nor will you return. You know game theory. Maybe once, these sorrows sharpened you, but that’s all been shrouded. You’re blurry with delusions. Hidden in polar ideals. Bandaged with $20 bills, the ones which still endorse Andrew ‘Trail of Tears’ Jackson.

I’m asking you to think about purpose. Think about Ozymandias, king of kings, known only for being forgotten. Think about why 1.5 million deaths is more than a statistic. Think about the vast sums flowing over your desk and pay attention to the cracks of our roots.

Be something more than a placeholder, please.

 

What I Learned at Ravensbruck

There’s something about the physicality of an experience which always feels so much bigger than reading about it in a book. Not only did we tour the grounds extensively of Ravensbruck concentration camp; we slept on site. Prior to its conversion to a youth hostel, our lodgings belonged to the female Nazi guards. It was primarily a women’s camp, meaning these guards ran the entire operation. Needless to say, sleeping at night was pretty hard. We were forced to physically and emotionally confront the atrocities which happened at Ravensbruck, every day for a week. I don’t think that will ever stop digging at me, nor do I want it to.

Obviously, it was a really sad and hard experience for everyone on the trip. But what really bugged me was a question I could not fully answer: where do we go next? Yes, all of of our hearts were wrenched. What happened at Ravensbruck was evil and haunting and we all know that. But why did we visit? Did we visit to get perspective on our own lives? I hope not. What a waste of time and money. What a commercialization of tragedy. I know the answer should seem like an obvious one, but everything felt so futile to me after witnessing such a vast, calculated failure in humanity.

The very same day we toured the barracks, two girls on the trip got into an argument. It was over something so petty, but one of the girls called the other a cunt. And that really stung me. I know conflict and tension are unavoidable for human beings, but the fact that she called her a cunt seemed so awful. Cunt, one of our culture’s most vile expressions against women, was used by one woman against another. The very same day we witnessed what such terrible words can do. I know this sounds melodramatic, but I don’t know, the whole thing just felt so wrong. It made me feel like nothing is going to change. The holocaust was not an anomaly. Genocide is something that society is always capable of committing; and in the case of the holocaust, it just seems like all of the variables were lined up in some sick kind of unity. And those variables can line up again. In fact, they have lined up again in places like Rwanda.

How can we deal with this? How can anything else even matter when humans carry within them the potential to do such disgusting things? It’s not just the villains. It’s everyone. I couldn’t help but look around and wonder who in my group of 20 would go along with the Nazis. I couldn’t help but question if maybe I would allow it to happen. Everyone tells themselves they would never be that person, but think of all the people who were those people.

This question festered inside of me for a long time. I thought about the two educational instructors who led the program: Matthias and Meg. These people dedicated their careers to making sure people knew the stories of both the victims and the perpetrators. For a while, I felt bad for them. Their job is so painful and often times it seems like their work doesn’t even make a difference. But then I realized how much they had inspired me. While I always thought of myself of somebody who tried to be ethical, I don’t think I actually understood how to be ethical. If I choose to be honest with myself, there have been plenty of times that I have laughed at insensitive jokes and plenty of times that I’ve let people get away with cruelty. Sure, I never said those things–but I didn’t stop them. And while those things seem petty– hateful language can be incredibly powerful.

Meg and Matthias taught me to hold myself to a higher standard, even if indirectly. That laughing at stereotypes can truly perpetuate cruelty, even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal at all. When I condone the people around me to take the low road, I take the low road too.  There are a million tiny pieces, tiny variables, that I can control in order to avoid another act of hatred from occurring. And when I control what I can control, then maybe I can even inspire other people to do the same, even if I can’t affect everyone. Maybe the people I do affect will end up affecting the people I don’t. While writing is my strength, there are other people who can tell great stories or create amazing works of art or network with others really well. Maybe their strengths can affect people in a way that mine can’t. Maybe together we can all stitch together into some tangled, more compassionate web.

I know that sounds a bit idealistic, but honestly I can’t think of any better alternative. And if I don’t believe in this idea, everything would be in vain. .

I guess my point with all of this is that I’ve become even more passionate and interested in learning about the art of preserving narrative. I think that art is a brilliant way to tell stories of tragedy and simultaneously avoid the plight of turning a large number of people into a statistic. Stating that one million people died doesn’t affect people in the same way that a song, poem, story, painting, or conversation would. I truly believe that. I think that the more mediums exist to express the terrors of genocide and other atrocities, the more we can prevent it.

At the Library of Congress I’ve been working with archives and reading a vast amount of old news stories every single day. I create pages online that chronicle these often forgotten moments in American history. I originally was interested in this internship simply because of the writing and research opportunities, but that seems so small to me now. This is so much more than a self-serving opportunity that will help me get into graduate school. I can use this job to resurrect the stories of the forgotten. They may not be the same people that I remembered at Ravensbruck, but some of these people’s stories are bound to give some perspective. And by learning how to exhibit stories, I’ve been given a medium to both express myself and affect other people. I’m aware of risking naivety. I know a million people will never read my work. But if just a few people do, maybe that web can grow just a little, and then I will have contributed my piece to the world.

There are many facts and figures I could tell you about Ravensbruck concentration camp, but what I’ve learned is that I can and will be a force of good in the world.

“If you have to be sure don’t write”

I’ve been writing nearly my entire life, but today is the day I’ve decided to be a writer. I’m not going to be the best, or the quickest, or the most dedicated, but as Haruki Marukami says “I didn’t start running because somebody asked me to become a runner. Just like I didn’t become a novelist because someone asked me to. One day, out of the blue, I wanted to write a novel. And one day, out of the blue, I started to run-simply because I wanted to. I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may try to stop me, and convince me I’m wrong, but I won’t change.”

The world is not a just place and people are cruel–and that is something which will never change. But on the other hand, the world is also a beautifully inviting place which can always change. All it takes to alter your life and inspire someone else’s is passion. And there’s nothing else I feel more passionate about than writing. Like a connoisseur, I take irrefutable delight in the rich cream of language. There’s an undeniably selfish aspect of my passion. Writing makes me feel good and alive. I lust after conversations where I can talk about literature and the way that it can be profound to everyone and everything around us. I find joy in every masterpiece and I admire the arrangement of words like intricate stitch work.

Yet, recently I’ve realized that my passion for writing can be more than something self serving. I can be more than a selfish performer. I can find my voice in the world with writing. Not only can I connect to myself, but I can connect to the world around me in a way I cannot do verbally or through more tangible action. In all of the world’s wreckage I can be a dandelion sprouting through the gravel. In the dead silence of the air, I can be a Hardy-esque thrushling, flinging its soul upon the world as a promise of hope.

I’m going to connect with atrocity. I’m going to connect with human beings in a way where I can matter. Because I need to matter. Not in a way where everyone knows who I am or celebrates my existence, but in a way where I know that I’ve at least influenced one person to do better. Passion is contagious and I want to spread mine to people and places who desperately need that sort of joy.

To be at least slightly concrete, I’m going to write poems and short stories about my experiences. I’m going to write confessionals about my ideas. And I’m going to write literary reviews in order to encourage both myself and others to dig deeper into our shattered but poignant world.

 

Stay tuned.