Thursday, November 19, 2009

Sloane Crosley

I just turned 25 in September and like most 20 somethings, I have no idea what I'm doing with my life. The myth of life just working out has definitely disintegrated and now I'm in need of some decision making. I'm an anti-decision maker though. I like to wait until the last possible moment before I make up my mind about anything. Like going away to college; I did nothing throughout high school to plan for this and then up and moved my entire life to Chicago four days before classes started. Or when I left Chicago for Denver and just decided that I would go, without having a plan for it. I lasted for 8 months and then  I up and left Denver for Chicago in a week without really thinking about where I would live or what job I would have when I got back. My decisions are always rushed and unplanned. Which has just gotten me all tangled up in a life that is wonderful, but unfocused.

It's hard not to feel like the only person in the world who feels this way. Or to think that everyone else has something cool going on when you seem to have nothing. That's why the discovery of someone else sharing in your agony of life building is so valuable. You are no longer an island but part of a network of people, struggling to beat their own paths.

As a birthday gift, my sister Catherine gave me Sloane Crosley's book, I Was Told There'd Be Cake. I think I had first seen a picture of her book cover inside a copy of NYLON mag, which I don't really care for anymore, so in my mind I decided I wouldn't go out of my way to read it. But then I read the back cover of the actual book where Crosley boasts an article in "the worst selling Maxim edition of all time", I thought "OK, she might be awesome."

After reading it, I instantly felt like my life was a little less abnormally vague. Crosley's essays are full of insecurity and uncertainty without feeling helpless. You know she is in charge of her life and she goes through her 20's in a haze like the rest of us. Since her book is super fabulous, you know she comes out on top. And HBO has just purchased the rights and are in the midst of creating a show, so I'm pretty sure she will be more than on top in the near future.

She has been compared to David Sedaris and serves on the board of which is a wonderful story telling network. She also doesn't shy away from the F word. She declares herself a feminist in one of my favorite pieces from her collection, "Smell This". Well, actually her friend's douchey boyfriend tells us that she is, which is perfect really because isn't that usually how it all works out? She doesn't shy away from the other F word either, when she asks the boyfriend "Why do you have to be such a fuckface?" Which is pretty bad ass. I think I've fantasized about saying this to so many "douchey boyfriends".

I most connected with Sloane because her tone is so candid and honest, you know she could care less about whether people think she is weird or not. She admits to sleeping with her blanket as an adult, she writes about summer camp and how it was monumental in her adolescent life, and the struggle of volunteering because you should versus because you want to.

She is obviously, unafraid of imperfection, which is in my opinion what makes her a real feminist. She's removed the cloak of perceived perfection, that shadows many women, to allow whomever picks up her book a glimpse inside the life of a real person, bumping along, trying to make it work.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Calista Jones

As a fourth grader at Fletcher Elementary School in Jamestown, NY, we began our first history project. This was an incredibly exciting time in my life because I was (am) a huge history buff. Luckily, I'm from a town that has done a really great job recording and preserving its historical record, especially if you consider Lucille Ball. ;)

This particular program at my school was devoted to the study of the settlement of Jamestown. Each student was assigned a founding member of the city to embody and study and at the end of the program we put on a show for our parents and reenacted that person's accomplishments.

Who was I going to be assigned? And, more importantly, who was I going to be married to? This was a big deal because this project was about a month long and all the girls were the wives of the founders. I was definitely worried about which little boy would have to be my husband; I didn't want a weirdo after all. And it would be more fun if one of my crushes HAD to be nice to me in class. Well, to my surprise I was cast as Calista Selina Jones, the unmarried school teacher. What!? Lame! I watched all the other kids in the class paired off and I was left alone as the only single person in town ever apparently. I took it in stride however and set off to find out more about Ms. Jones.

We went to the Fenton History Museum, which I will always remember as one of my favorite places from home. The old smells and stories from that building are just so thrilling to me. I attended history camp there for 2 summers and whenever I think about it I smile.  I loved it very much.

Calista Jones was born in Ellicott, NY in 1823. She became a teacher in 1841 and was asked to take over a school district after a male colleague was asked to step down. Ms. Jones said she would take the position if she was paid the same salary as the man, $1 a day. The male administrators said no, so she said no. After their initial stubbornness, they couldn't deny her abilities as an educator and ended up giving her the position on her terms. She worked for the school system for 50 years and helped it become strong and viable. 

Studying Calista was a true awakening for me as it was when I first realized I was a feminist. Her character resonated with me on a really personal level. Why shouldn't a woman be paid the same as a man? I felt incredibly proud to be portraying her. My jealousy towards the other girls melted away as I realized that I actually got to be someone who did it her way and wasn't just an extension of the husband character. As a nine year old this was really powerful. I actually had a little too much pride in the part. About a month after the program ended, I was still signing my homework and tests as "Calista Jones". My teacher had to ask me to go back to Julia Olson.

It was hard to find a lot of information on Calista seeing as we are from a small town and she was a woman, so there isn't much more than this out there. I couldn't find any drawings or portraits of her so you will have to use your imagination.* Going back through her life as an adult has made me realize that she is just as inspirational to me today as she was when I was a child. I don't think I could have done what she did, but I am working towards becoming a better person and she definitely contributes to my motivation.

*My former Social Studies teacher, Jeff Kresge, went and did some extra research for me and found more information and a portrait! I'm reading through the material now but I was way too excited to wait to post the pic! 

This summer, after Senator Kennedy passed away, I noticed all the flags were being flown at half-mast to honor his legacy. Since childhood, this tradition has captivated me because I think it is a really cool way to remember those who have served America. As an incredibly patriotic person, I like how it creates this sense of unity no matter where you live. I mean, every flag in the country has to be flown at the lowered level, even McDonald's! (which definitely caught my attention as a kid)

This time however, I began to think more about who gets this honor. What do you have to achieve to be remembered nationally? Not that Kennedy didn't deserve the half-mast status, it just got me thinking about who we remember. It's fair to say that most of the honor reserved for those in our country has gone to male accomplishments throughout history. Some would say that this is because they are the ones doing what it takes to leave their mark. While I feel they are deserving of the honor, I cannot for a second believe that there aren't as many women throughout history who have served us in great and inspiring ways. Maybe female gains have been off the battlefield or outside of government (seeing as for a very, very long time we were legally restricted from these "honor heavy" fields) but does that mean they don't matter as much?

I know some women, Rosa Parks, Jackie Kennedy, Eleanor Roosevelt, are remembered; it just doesn't seem to be at the same level as their male counterparts. If you ask men to list who inspires them to reach greatness, they can and will choose from a list of any number of politicians, generals, businessmen, doctors, astronauts, explorers, etc.  But women? Most of us will respond with our mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and aunts. Usually they are personal relationships, which should not be discounted, but have to be considered when we question the disparity between the genders in roles of leadership.

How can this be remedied? By recording the women out there who are inspiring us and making their accomplishments so appealing that they start to reach beyond gender. When women have as many streets, schools, airports, holidays, and half-mast honors bestowed on their memory as men, equality can be claimed.

This is where my inspiration has come for this blog. I want to create a record of women who have or are achieving greatness . I want to find women that history has left behind and start the process of uncovering their accomplishments with the hopes of inspiring future generations to not allow barriers to get in their way of living the fullest lives available to them.

Sure this will be a very personal list since it's coming from my experience and perception, however, I think it is time to start somewhere and develop this idea as I go along.

With that, my inaugural posting will feature my blog namesake, Calista Jones.