Monday, November 28, 2011

Just 2 Single Gals Celebrating 2 Great Years!

Who could have predicted two years ago that I would eventually cut out the head of a dead woman and paste it onto the body of a real live friend!? (Sorry Mackenzie) Hopefully the creepiness of the photo will be lessened by the general sentiment of the following post. Hopefully.

Jamie Keiles is a feminist activist who has a cool tumblr I like to check in on every now and then. Recently, I noticed she had posted this:
"Struggling with the fact that there is not an external barometer that can ever make one feel validated as an artist/producer of content. The notion of making your own happiness and finding your own satisfaction is really hard to cope with."  
The last year has been full of uncertainty for me personally. My living situation was completely unstable, my life partner moved across the country, I had a "single lady" breakdown, and I spent a bit too long boo-hooing my perceived lack of validation. Instead of having only a moment of fear and self doubt, my year was the embodiment of Jamie's post. 

Sometimes it's hard to self motivate. Sometimes it's hard to be your own director. Sometimes second guessing myself is the only thing I feel like I do well. August was particularly difficult and just like last year, I didn't publish a single post. I started to question the point to all of this: My blog, my beliefs, my purpose in general. 

When I turned 27, I braced for a heavier "WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN!?" feeling. But that never came. Instead, I danced, I laughed, there were surprise appearances by Prince and Michael Jackson, and! a friend streaked at a club. My birthday was fabulous. 

It left me with a refreshed perspective that sparked renewed optimism. The night reminded me of all the great people in my life and that I have been encouraged by so many over the past year. 

This blog has affected me in ways I could never have expected. When a concept pops into my head that I need to develop into a complete idea, I have CalistaJones to turn too. It is an incredibly personal outlet but at the same time completely candid. An ever evolving mirror, where I can revisit former thoughts to see how I've grown. Or a source of pride whenever I need to be reminded of my value. She is a friend of my own creation.

CalistaJones isn't just a representation of me as an individual. It is a collaboration of the community existing around me, continually challenging me and reminding me of the need to question myself and my world. I have been praised and pitied; understood and questioned. Positive or negative, nothing has been wasted through this project.  

I didn't even have a specific vision for the site when I first started posting and now I can hardly keep up with all the ways it has influenced my life. I was even contacted by a casting director to be a part of documentary series (euphemism for a reality show) about feminist writers! That was a weird moment. Videos were made, phone conversations with producers occurred, tons of anxiety about what becoming the "feminist Snooki" would do to my family was had. Ultimately, they decided to cast directly out of LA which was probably for the best since I was asked if I could reasonably expect to have a boyfriend at some point during the 6 month filming period. Obviously, that was not a reasonable expectation, and a clear signal the project wasn't as feminist as they said seeing as I apparently needed a guy to complete my story arc. But still! A cool, weird, interesting experience I would not have had had it not been for CalistaJones.

The most valuable part of this experience has been the conversations I've had with people about feminism, influential women, and the way they are affected by this site. My middle school teacher, Jeff Kresge, contacted the Jamestown Public Schools Archivist, Pam Brown, and found a picture of Calista and more information about her life. Now, you'd have thought that maybe I would have done that research on my own, but, like I said, this is a collaboration. The fact he not only reads my posts, but went out of his way to find out more information about her, means so much to me. His support is the perfect example of the  connections that have been made. I don't always feel like I deserve the quality people I have in my life however, I'm careful to never take them for granted.

Jamestown Bricks on Lee Ave
As a girl who dreamt of the day she would leave her hometown since she was old enough to really think about her future, writing down my memories of childhood and realizing how influential my town's history has been on my adult life has left me with new appreciation for where I'm from. This really is invaluable because I spent 16 years of my life in Jamestown which of course impacted who I am greatly. Sometimes I think of it only in a negative way because I wanted to be surrounded by bigger, more obvious opportunities. However, writing about Calista has changed that completely. I've found a discerning new lens making Jamestown's impact on my life look a lot shinier, and I have to say I really like that. 
The oft mentioned Fenton History Center
My first introduction to Calista!
Every time someone reaches out to me to comment on a post, recommend an article, book, or new subject, critique something, or just let me know they were reminded of me while learning about another feminist or female, I feel really successful in whatever it is I am trying to accomplish. The whole point is to have an outlet for discussion, new ideas, and inspiration. CJ has helped me make new friends, reconnect with people from my past, strengthen relationships, and even encouraged a date here or there. I'm learning to become a better sister, daughter, friend, coworker, roommate, woman, and human being in general through each post. To me, that is all above and beyond what you should logically expect from a blog. I'm really grateful. Also, I will never get tired of being told you have read some of my posts. So, keep telling me! ;)
What a wise woman.

This July, I was supposed to go to the Pitchfork Music Festival with a sailor. That did not happen. Instead, my sister Cat came out for the weekend and during the fest we sat in the grass and had a great talk about life and my blog. She told me about my mom having a moment of concern over some of my content and the possibility of overexposure. She asked my sister why I had to be so visceral and direct. There was also mention of fears about future political endeavors being negatively affected. Oh moms. Using daughters' hypothetical political campaigns as covers for not liking their public lamentations about how difficult it is to get bald vaginas! (We're pretty sure that is the post that made her worry most, but who knows!) 

All I do know is #1, I have no political aspirations, #2, I could be much more direct, and #3, Cat's response was the greatest gift she has ever given me. She told my mom saying the things I say in the way I say them helps other people to look at certain situations in new ways. Women like me are the ones encouraging change. My mom came back to her a bit after the conversation and thanked her for making her feel better. Had my mom come to me with her concerns I wouldn't have said those things and I know I probably wouldn't have been successful in describing why I write the way I do. I'm sure she still cringes every time she reads the word "fuck" but at least I know she gets it and I always know when I piss people off and need to cry for at least 20 minutes, she'll always answer and listen to me. And I know my sister believes in me more than I might believe in myself. Good thing that sailor was a no show, huh? ;)

Recently, there was sort of a Facebook catastrophe based on a status update I made about the gender derived wage gap. I used the NFL and cheerleaders to make a point that as long as more male-only jobs exist in mega profitable industries, there won't be equal pay between the sexes. I forgot when you say ANYTHING about pro-football, you will surely face a lot of challenges seeing as it's the favorite entertainment outlet for many this time of year. I survived, but it sort of taught me a valuable lesson: people don't see how complacent they are in their own support of society's inequities. Myself included. 

Continually denying privilege is completely regressive and destructive.  Feminism has a history riddled with ignoring certain advantages reserved for white women. I can't say I don't benefit from the oppressing class and while yes, patriarchy is a real thing, it's not the only repressive social organization. This past year was about examining the point of feminism, so this next year will be about how to make feminism better. I want to look into how gender rules, as they are now, negatively affect us as a whole, not just as women. I also would like to examine how feminism in the past has fallen short of it's actual goals and how it can be better aimed to attack the kyriarchy in a way that stops neglecting certain facets benefiting oppressors.

When you allow yourself to formulate your own thoughts and opinions, you achieve true self empowerment, which is the greatest gift. You become open, a better listener, more willing to interpret ideas and understand the world. It's unimaginative to assume the way things are is the only way they can be. So, I'm excited! There is so much to learn. Here's to a long and beautiful friendship with CalistaJones!
Proof that I have actual living friends! :)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Miriam Christine Olson

To know me is to understand that I am the stereotypical first born child: an aggressive yet conscientious know-it-all. To love me is to fully and completely accept me despite this because otherwise I won't give you the time of day. (See.) In the spirit of progress and personal growth, I'm learning to (trying to) become less dominant and more open to the fact that not every thought, opinion, belief, idea, or action I have or take is the only right one. No one else in the world has had to deal with my growing pains as pointedly as my sister Mim.

Sally Renata (My CPK), That Baby, & Me
As a new two year old, I wasn't so sure about "that baby" when my parents brought her home. I can imagine life was pretty great for me pre-Mim; full of attention (my personal drug of choice) not only from my mom and dad but also my grandparents. Every day was a Julia-day, a luxury reserved for the first born. Poor Mim never got to experience life without her older sibling looking down on her every move with either disdain or jealousy-tinged pride. Luckily, I quickly took to loving "that baby". After all, without her, I couldn't be a big sister. She became my favorite companion.

As kids, we did everything together. Since we are only two years apart we had a built in friend in one another. We danced, played violin, sang in choir, and took gymnastics classes. At home we loved to play dress up and regularly turned our bunk beds and back yard apple tree into ships or rockets. We had a lot of fun and if you know me, imagine my laugh, double it, and you can hear the soundtrack of my childhood. Lovely, right? ;)
Mim looking a little PO'd.
War inducing soap.
It wasn't always so idyllic as I'm sure my mom would be the first to point out. From the moment Mim was able to talk, we were able to fight. Notorious fighting. We had mega brawls that usually ended in tears, sometimes blood, and often, time out in our room with (gasp!) the lights off. We'd fight about everything. One time we fought for days about who got a particularly cute seashell shaped soap our grandma sent us from Florida. My parents quickly learned everything had to be identical and fair in order to avoid a blow up fight. My primary weapon was my words and Mim's was her teeth. She was constantly biting me which always seemed to garner stricter parental consequences even though I will now admit to saying horribly mean things to her to push her over the edge and get her to chomp down on my arm. Mim, alone in time out, meant I had "won".

I really did a great job in my role as the bratty, obnoxious, bossy older sister. Mim had her 4 year old birthday party at our house with all of her friends, and my superior 6 year old self of course had to make my presence known as the way cooler Olson sister. As a first grader, I could not read. Instead, I had memorized the book Suzy Swoof. To impress Mim's party guests and focus all of the attention onto myself for her special day, I made the girls sit around and listen to me "read" to them. They were all awed and thought I was amazing: mission accomplished. Mim was infuriated because she knew I couldn't actually read one word. Her retaliation was to teach herself to read before the age of 5. I didn't learn to read until the age of 7 after a team of adults gave me special attention in remedial reading.

Sisters and 90's Fashion.
Even with the arguing and competition, we were often on the same side. We both sucked our thumbs (I taught her how) and my parents kept coming up with ways to trick us into quitting. They tried cutting our blankies into pieces and at one point bought bad tasting liquid to paint on our thumbs. We came together to concoct a plan to steal the bottle. They ended up bribing us with American Girl dolls which worked like a charm on Mim who quit a good year before me. While Mim had Molly to play with, I still had my thumb and my stubborn determination to never give it up. It wasn't until I became so sick that I was unable to breathe with my thumb in my mouth before I would get my coveted Felicity. I was NINE.

Our main difference lies in my contentment in perceived intelligence and Mim's pursuit of actual knowledge. I could always just get by in school, sports, whatever and be fine with myself even if I didn't do that well. Mim needs to be a master. And she is. Always at the top of her class she is now in her 4th year of med school. When I'm faced with difficulties, I usually quit. I like to tell myself this has made me really well rounded because growing up I did a little bit of everything (delusional, I know). Mim committed to activities and became a competitive gymnast. We would go to her meets and I'd always sit there imagining the announcer calling me up to do the floor exercise and dominating it, while Mim was actually out there winning ribbons. If I wasn't instantly good at something, I didn't see it through. To be honest, this is definitely how I still am. Just sitting around, waiting for things to happen. Mim understands that achievement requires effort; a trait I highly admire.
After Junior Miss!
(Cat and me experiencing life's awkward phases:
Post Freshman 15 and Tween )

Mim has accomplished a lot in her life. In high school, she was selected to be a contestant in our area's Junior Miss, a scholarship competition for Senior girls. In order to compete in the pageant, you had to be interviewed as well as have a high GPA and participate in various extra-curricular activities. Mim was an obvious choice for this type of event and I believe was 4th runner up. Unfortunately, I also auditioned for Junior Miss. I was not selected. Shocking, I know. Especially when you consider my enlightened response to the simple question "What is your favorite color and why?" Julia answer: "Hot pink because, you know, girls and boys can like it. Like, it's gender neutral!" Clearly, I was not a feminist prodigy as I'm sure I had no real idea what "gender neutral" meant at the time and am unable to explain to this day what the hell I was talking about.
Me (15) & Mim (13)

We had two years together as high school students. Two years as very different kids in the same place, dealing with the same things, in totally different ways. Sometimes, I'm ashamed to admit, I could be mean to her. Nevertheless, Mim is so loyal to me even when I'm clearly off my rocker and dealing with my emotions in a completely misguided way. A good example of this was poor little Mimmy's first high school dance as a freshman. I was going through a phase, a moment of pure immaturity, (that I have of course surpassed), where I would get into verbal fights with "bitches". It was my way of getting my attention fix I suppose but at this dance, Mim watched in horror as I fought on the stairwell with a girl whose only grievance against me was that she had once made out with my ex-boyfriend after we had broken up. There were lots of "Fuck you, slut!"s lodged at one another resulting in a momentary halting of the dance. Mim was rightfully concerned with my behavior but stood by me and we laughed about it later on. She always knew if anyone was terrible to her, I would stand up for her too. Even when I knew I could be mean to her, the idea of anyone else mistreating her made my blood boil.  

We don't always see eye to eye, or fully understand each other's choices, but we support one another. She doesn't judge me when she doesn't agree with me. And that's what sisters are for. In so many ways she is the only person who totally understands me. We've grown up together. We've experienced life's highest highs and lowest lows as only sisters can. And as different as we are, we are very similar. We both have a fierce independent streak. She is also the only person in the world who knows what it is like to have Cat as a sister. Yes, guy friends, we know you think she is hot. ;)
Pretty Mimmy

Mim makes me so proud. She is one person who really knows what she wants in life. She knew she wanted to be a doctor way back when we were really little. She has worked so hard to make her dreams come true and I think that is amazing. She has the purest intentions to help people and use her talents to fix the broken health care system. And even though she is a super intelligent person, she is very humble and silly. Everyone loves her med school stories about dissections and labs. There seem to be a lot of smells in medicine.

I love Mim, not only because she made me a big sister, thus giving my bossiness a context, but because she makes me want to be better. She questions me when I most need it but also supports me through everything. She makes me want to be nicer, work harder, and gives me a drive to really figure myself out and what it is that I'm passionate about. As my younger sister, she has taught me a lot about having standards, setting personal goals, and that arrogance is not always a progressive trait. I can't imagine my life without her and even though we still have epic fights here and there, she is one of my best friends and favorite people. (Can't wait to get our sister tattoos! Hint hint :)
Sistah friends! (I wish we still had that heart bedding)