#LoveLetterToThePassingYear

Dear 2020,

You were a year of calm. Okay, it was the year of absolute utter bullshit but it’s the year that I became calm. Well, calmer.

My mental health was something that I took seriously this year. I became really conscious. I paid close attention to my thoughts, to the words that came out of my mouth, to what I put in my body, to the actions and people that were lifting me up and putting me down, to how much movement I was doing every day, to the things and moments that made me feel truly happy and alive…

Back in February, I just discovered this song and have listened to it at least ten times a day since. One of Nao’s lyric went like this: “I wish that perfect was enough for my own heart.” It got me thinking about perfection and how much I self-sabotaged demanding perfection all the time. I think back on something my friend Lisa once said- don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Yes, I didn’t get the “dream” job that I wanted but I was able to work and buy the things that I needed (I got new glasses!). I didn’t find my perfect Mr. Right but I met some really cool and kind people. I found my hobbies again, as well as my tribe here in Austin, after being lost for such a long time. I also got more into biking, finally finished a painting and really celebrated my Puerto Rican background this year- three things that I’m really proud of. I feel good.

I learned a lot. I learned what I really wanted out of my life: the type of career I wanted, the relationship that I desire and deserve, the kind of lifestyle that I wanted to live. I may not have an exact five year plan but I finally defined my goals. I learned how to breaks- I took a social media break over the summer which was a godsend. I learned what triggers my depression- mostly finances but surprisingly, not loneliness as I once thought it did. I learned that I have a voice in my relationships and with the world around me. I learned that our country, though incredibly divided, will stand for what’s right. Black Lives will ALWAYS Matter and I’m hopeful about the state of our country. I do believe that we are slowly healing from the hate, as well as COVID-19.

In short, we keep fighting. We are intrepid. We carry on.

To end on a positive note (because the world needs more positivity), I hope we take the lessons that we learned from you, 2020, and keep in our hearts. I hope we continue to keep each other safe and let everything know that they’re loved.

Thanks for the memories. You were a dumpster fire of a year but I loved you, Andrea

#55Days

The 2020 Presidential Election is 55 days away- are you ready?

First off, are you registered to vote? Find online voter registration for your state (as of today, 40 states allow you to register to vote via internet. If you’re not registered and don’t see your state on this list, you can register through your local DMV).

If you’re not able to vote in person, request a mail-in absentee ballot ASAP. If you are able to vote in person, consider early voting– this is a good way to avoid lines on Election Day.

Before you go out to vote, you can find your polling location. If you need a ride to the polls, rideshare services like Uber and Lyft are offering free or discounted trips for voters in need. When you do get to the polls, make sure that you have your ID and any other required identification in order to vote.

Second, poll workers are desperately needed November 3rd.  If you’re like me  and looking for ways to serve your community, sign up to be a poll worker in your city. You will be paid for your training days and for the days you work.

Third, do your research and make the best, informed decision for you, your family and your community. Get a sample ballot. Before you head to the polls, get a sample ballot so you know in advance all the races you’ll be voting on. There are smaller races for local offices and propositions that could have an immediate impact on your life but don’t get as much news coverage. Fill it out in advance and show up at the polls prepared to make your decisions.

This time back in 2016, I was chasing after people in downtown Reno, registering them to vote. My friend, Monique, and I would be out during the drinking crawls with our clipboards in hand (and me with a shot or three in my stomach), getting the word out. This election, I’ve been avoiding others due to the pandemic but I still feel that civic responsibility to encourage others to vote. To put it blunt, our country is a mess right now and voting may be the only way we can make things better. It’s is our responsibility as Americans. When you vote, you are vocalizing what you need, want and believe in. You’re standing up and demanding to be counted. But this system only works if we participate in it. So, are you ready to vote?

#i2i

It’s okay if you don’t see “i2i…”

The last couple of weeks have been difficult ones. We are angry. I’m furious. I feel helpless. I started posting images of the various Black Lives Matter protests around the world on my social media accounts. Signs that spoke truths. Fists in the air. Looks of exhaustion from the participants. As I expected, I lost some followers and Facebook friends after I posted. What I didn’t expect was some of the direct messages and comments that followed. 

It is a tense time in the Untied States and during times like these, we all need a reminder of how to stay respectful and kind to each other. It’s okay to express your opinion. It’s okay to stay quiet. It’s okay if you don’t have an opinion. These days, I honestly tell people that I don’t have an opinion about current topics because I haven’t been following the news (it’s okay to be a self-called “news junkie” but stop listening to/reading the news for self care). I want to be able to make the most informed opinion possible but I’m not staying up-to-date to do so. It’s okay have conflicting opinions with your loved ones. It’s okay to think someone’s wrong. But it is not okay to send harsh words and threats. I have to admit that in my past, I’ve sent some mean messages about what I strongly believed in, political or not. While it felt good to get those frustrations out, I now know it was wrong to do that. It’s okay to be wrong. It’s okay to learn new information and form a different opinion. And it’s okay to seek out forgiveness for these past judgements that you’re unlearning. 

The world is a mess right now. It’s a lot between the protests, COVID-19, the uptick in unemployment and other issues that I can’t fathom right now. Fear and anger are running rampant and it’s okay to feel whatever you’re feeling at this moment. It’s okay if we all don’t see eye to eye right now. But we all need to do our best to respect each other- our bodies, our rights, our thoughts and our feelings. 

And yes, dear reader, Black Lives Matter

#MentalHealthMonth

This week was hard. George Floyd. Christian Cooper. 1 out of 4 Americans are unemployed. My low-key but nevertheless painful break up. News from my family. Stress about my job and other future work opportunities. Expectations. All of this on top of COVID-19. A lot of people feel like they can’t win- myself included.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. May coincides with one of the most complex and challenging periods in United States’ recent history and we know that mental health is more important than ever- its recognition shouldn’t be limited to a one sole month. For those going through mental health struggles, life is especially difficult at this moment and it’s okay to mentally feel like garbage.

It’s okay to feel hopeless and not know what you can do to help. It’s okay to cry (I have done so multiple times this week). It’s okay to be angry, mad with yourself and upset with others. It’s okay that you don’t know what to say- I certainly don’t. It’s okay to be numb. It’s okay to feel hurt and bothered. It’s okay to be envious. It’s okay to feel lazy and unmotivated. It’s okay to sleep. It’s okay to be confused and not pick a side. It’s okay to feel lonely and alone (even though I promise that you’re not). It’s okay to feel low and depressed and anxious. These are not bad feelings. They are human feelings and they are allowed to be felt and examined. They are meant to be shared and talked about. If you are struggling, there are resources out there to help you. If you are struggling, I am with you AND am here for you.

So, tell me truthfully, dear reader… how are you taking care of yourself mentally during 2020? Continue to fight the stigma and fight for your happiness and well-being. Just remember to take a deep breath- I’m along side of you.

#PostalService

Public Service Announcement: Save the USPS.

I have always loved the United States Postal Service. Receiving letters (excluding bills and unnecessary weekly mailers) in the mail has been on of the biggest joys of my life. I’ve relied on the Postal Service’s office to get my passport and send money to loved ones. USPS has been hit hardest by COVID-19: while package deliveries are up, mail volume is reportedly down by almost a third compared to this time last year. Businesses around the country have made cuts to mail advertisements and solicitations. As a result, the USPS’s revenue  has tanked.

Last week, Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney, the chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform and Gerry Connolly, chair of the Subcommittee on Government Operations, said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that COVID-19 is threatening the future of mail service.

“The United States Postal Service is in need of urgent help as a direct result of the coronavirus crisis,” the Representatives said. “Based on a number of briefings and warnings this week about a critical fall-off in mail across the country, it has become clear that the Postal Service will not survive the summer without immediate help from Congress and the White House. Every community in America relies on the Postal Service to deliver vital goods and services, including life-saving medications.”

USPS is not a government agency. Instead, it relies on fees rather than taxes (think of the extra dollar fee that is added on when you ship a package). Maloney and Connelly proposed a bill that would provide emergency funding (roughly $25 million). They said the funding would save the jobs of more than 600,000 Americans. 

There is speculation why President Trump doesn’t want to fund the USPS. 2020 is an election year. With the rise and unpredictability of COVID-19, we could be quarantined for months which could lead to a lack of voting poll workers, accessible locations, etc. People will not line up to vote (see what happened last week with the Wisconsin Primary). The next best option is to vote by mail but… You can’t mail-in vote if there is no mail. Sure, there other mailing options. However, FedEx, DHL and UPS won’t deliver to some rural neighborhoods. The USPS is also a more affordable option- many low income Americans still depend on it for checks, services and other documentation.

So, dear reader, continue to use the USPS’s services- buy stamps online, send love letters in the form snail mail and thank your mail person for their commitment of service during the COVID-19 outbreak. Also, contact your US Representatives and Senators and let your voice be heard. Let’s not imagine a world, our country without the United States Postal Service. 

(Oh- and I do love Postal Service, the band.)

#AnotherCWord

Can we talk about another C word? Comradery.

I’ve been running a lot in my boyfriend’s neighborhood since the start of COVID-19. He lives in a part of Austin where a lot of senior citizens live. Usually I blast my music through my headphones but lately, I’ve been running without tunes and try to say hello to those I run by. People are friendly and thank me as I stay the mandated six feet apart as I sprint by. I always see this older gentleman walking his toy poodle every morning. The first day I met him, I screamed from across the street, “Good morning! OH MY GOD-  you have the cutest dog! Aren’t you the fluffiest fluff in the world!” Now the man lets his dog run across the street so I can pet it and give it some quick loving.

We’re living in the strangest timeline with the Coronavirus but I’m trying to make the best of it. People are scared and anxious. I know when I feel that way, I need to be around people. But because that isn’t safe to do, I’m exploring other ways to reach out and be kind. I’ve been on Zoom and Houseparty chats almost daily with friends. I text my besties almost every day, checking in on their mental health and levels of boredom. The USPS is still up and running so I’ve been mailing postcards and love letters. I signed up for Table Wisdom, which pairs mentors and mentees together online to chat, as well as the People’s Dialer. When I’m at the grocery store, I thank the staff for working (I also tip when I can). I seek out that level of friendship and gratitude, that level of comradery that makes people feel good (even an introvert like me).

Thank God for the internet. If you look, there are a lot of ways others are reaching out and giving back online. Celebs are lending their voices, reading children’s books aloud online. Prestigious colleges and universities are offering free online courses (check out courses from Coursera and Harvard University). Museums, galleries and zoos around the globe are offering free virtual tours. One of my favorite things that has come out of the Coronavirus is the live sets my favorite artists are doing- DJs, producers and bands all over the world are live streaming from their own living rooms (I highly recommend D Nice’s Club Quarantine, sets by my “husband,” Diplo and Kayper and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard’s cover sessions). Sure, it doesn’t make up for being in a club but their sets remind us that we will be at concerts, venues and cook outs together again soon.

Living in the time of COVID-19 has been a lonely period for some. I texted one of my friends in Philly who lives alone. He hasn’t been out of his apartment for weeks and misses touching people- shaking hands, giving and receiving hugs and and fist bumps.  Even those in relationships are being tested. I truthfully thought that being quarantined with my boyfriend would lead us to being more physical (especially since our relationship is so new) but I was wrong. We spend a good chunk of our day alone, doing our own thing which can be pretty lonely.

If you are feeling alone, I do encourage you to reach out. There are a lot of resources out there (including things like free therapy apps like Youper and Moodpath. If you’re looking for professional help, check out this NPR article for a list of affordable resources). This is a difficult time right now but the entire world is in this together. You may be by yourself but you are not truly alone.

What are you doing to reach out to your friends, loved ones, even strangers, dear reader?

 

#TheOtherCWord

Listen to Homer, Marge!

With all the Coronavirus news, we seemed to miss another C word: Census.

April 1st was National Census Day, the day that highlighted the importance of the US Census. Every ten years, the Census counts the population in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories (including Puerto Rico) and uses that information to help disperse money (roughly $650 billion) at the federal level to the community for vital assets like public schools, food stamps and roads. It also determines how many representatives each state gets in Congress. The census is required by the Constitution, meaning it’s required by law to be filled out and submitted in a timely fashion. Census representatives also count local homeless populations (they matter, too!). If you refuse to fill it out, there could be a hefty fine coming your way.

The questions on the Census are pretty basic (i.e. how many are in your household, the genders living in the household, dates of birth, race and ethnicity questions- whether or not you’re of Hispanic origin, how is everyone in the household related, etc.). The Census will never ask you for your Social Security number, money or donations and your bank or credit card account numbers. Last year, the Trump Administration recommended adding a citizenship question on the Census which would ask takers if they were a US citizen or not. Immigration rights advocates were concerned about that question as it could possibly out illegal immigrants and make them more vulernable to being caught and deported. The question never made it on to the 2020 Census- a federal judge signed an order last year permanently blocking it (phew!)

Last month, homes across the United States began receiving invitations to complete the 2020 Census online. If you were not to complete the Census questionnaire online by the end of April, representatives from the US Census will stop at your front door to count your the residents in your home. With the rise of COVID-19, the Census extended the deadline but lawmakers are still trying to determine how to safety send Census representative to the homes that don’t fill out either the physical or online form.

Everyone living in the United States is supposed to be counted by the census, whether they’re citizens or not. My boyfriend, Amit, and I had a pretty lengthy discussion about the Census and his fear about it. He is from India. He’s been in the United States for eight years and filled out the Census for the first time this year. He was concerned about giving the US government a bunch of his personal information (including his Visa status). I heard from other friends, people of color, who are afraid to fill it out. Immigration aside, one friend is Arab-American and is afraid that if he disclosed his address, he might be watched by the government.

I understand the fear and lack of trust of the Census. Census information is supposed to be confidential information. If you look back in history, that always hasn’t been the truth (check out of the 1966 Freedom of Information Act and it’s affect on the Census). But it is important. In 2010, the lowest response rates were in communities of color, neighborhoods that often need the most federal assistance. We need an accurate Census count and this is a way to let your voice be heard.

Have you filled out your part for the US Census, dear reader?

#BadBunny

Music has been my salvation during my Coronavirus quarantine. I turned my kitchen into a makeshift ballet barre where I can get some daily stretching in. I’ve been blasting reggaeton, specifically Bad Bunny’s newest album, “YHLQMDLG” (“Yo hago lo que me da la gana” or “I do whatever I want”). I love the entire album and grew excited for the videos that would steam from each single. The latest release is “Yo Perreo Sola” (note that this is the second video for this song). I’m loving this video for it’s strong stance on harassment against women.

Bad Bunny appears throughout the video in body hugging outfits, makeup and painted nails, and breasts that revile my own. He sings and dances alone, just as the song’s title says, for all the women who simply want to dance alone and safely in the club. “I wrote it from the perspective of a woman,” Bad Bunny explained to Rolling Stone in a recent interview. I have been in the club when I’ve been danced upon by men who didn’t ask permission touch me, and am feeling this message- there is finally a man who gets it.

I was first introduced to Bad Bunny when he teamed up with Drake for the song, “Mia.” In that music video, Bunny rocked painted nails, a beauty enhancement that became one of his staple features. I love and respect that Bad Bunny has never been a fan of gender norms and uses his voice to protest corruption in his native Puerto Rico and support LGBT rights. I also appreciate his emotional vulnerability- some of his lyrics reveal his fight against depression and mental illness. Bad Bunny is championing a new version of masculinity and has this eager willingness to address many of the issues other rappers (both Latin and otherwise) seem to steer away from.

I’ve read a lot of angry Tweets about the many who vowed to stop listening to his music, disgusted with what they saw in the video, as well as those who say Bad Bunny using gay and transgender culture to only boost albums sales. I truly believe that Bad Bunny is taking advantage of his popularity to resignify the model of Latino machismo culture (aka toxic traditional masculinity) by changing the narrative and aesthetic in his music and his videos (come on- the man is a supporter of pubic hair!). He is doing want he wants and he is choosing to make the world a better and more understanding place.

Gracias por tu energía positiva, Bad Bunny. And thanks for reading, dear reader. If you need a pick-me-up (I think we all do these days), I highly recommend having your own solo dance party and rock out to “YHLQMDLG.”

#ThisAndThat

The last couple of weeks have been a busy blur. I’ve taken on a couple of freelance projects as well as jetting across the country for various events (happy 60th birthday to my dad!). And did you know that Christmas is is only three weeks away? Whew. The holiday season is always a hectic time for me and it’s usually the time of year when I step away from my computer and don’t blog as much. I hop on to WordPress every so often whenever I hear or read about something interesting, adding notes to a topic that I will eventually write about. These notes collect up- while they’re often not topics I want to dedicate an entire post to, they are issues that I feel are important and that I want to discuss. Take the story of Grace Millane…

Millane was murdered last year in New Zealand after she met her killer on a dating app. Millane was allegedly killed during a sex act, bondage specifically. A New Zealand court recently convicted her murderer. However, he insisted it was an accident which sparked outrage from the public. Many people tried to shame her for using dating apps like Tinder. And for traveling on her own (um, you can get hit by a car crossing the street and yet, you still leave your house everyday). Others shamed her for love of kinky sex.

I don’t consider myself to be an expert in all things kink. I did some marketing work for a website that sells sex toys and educates the public about sex and sexuality. But I did learn a few things from that business about BDSM. The number one rule of pleasure play is consent. Consent obviously wasn’t there for Millane and that’s disheartening. So much people claim to be experience, life-long kinksters and and don’t have the permission to perform acts on others. That needs to stop. No matter who you and your partner are, how experienced you are, how dangerous (or not) the act is, consent is required.

THIS!

Another thing that’s been on my mind is the upcoming election, specifically the racial politics of it. During my few moments of free time, I like to fall down these internet rabbit holes. My definition of a weekday evening well spent is digging through Wikipedia entries, Reddit archives and other corners of the web. I fell down one of these holes after watching the “This is America” video yet again (the best music video of last year). Like many, I couldn’t couldn’t get the imagery out of my head. I thought it was brilliant yet brutal,  something that I believe every American  needs to see.

While looking up the messaging of the video, I came across a song by Joyner Lucas- “I’m Not Racist.” In the video, a White man wearing a Make America Great Again hat and a Black man with braids spit lines to each other, calling out different stereotypes about each other’s race: Black people are lazy. White people are racist. Black people are in gangs, living off of the system. White people are stupid, believing everything that they see on Fox News. The song is exhausting in so many ways- but I can’t stop listening to it.

CNN has called Lucas’s video, “the brutal race conversation no one wants to have.” I think how you interpret the song says more about you than the actual song does but man, we need to start talking about the deeper issues. Talking about race is always awkward. So I’ve been thinking about how can we start talking about it in a more positive light. How can we get past the stereotypes that we’re fed every day? How do we start getting comfortable with the uncomfortable topics? An how does this start with me? What am I doing to educate myself of both sides of the political- and racial- isle?

What’s been on your mind, dear reader? What do you want to talk about?

#Prologue

I haven’t been writing.

I want to blame a busy schedule. Or lack of a busy schedule. No matter what, there is always my to-do list and I chose to let it rule me or release me. I can blame it on laziness; how autumn finally crept in, body slamming the Texas heat to the side and letting the frozen air wake up me every morning through the unsealed cracks of my bedroom window. I’ll blame the cold if I can also blame my bed and its warmth and the inviting Christmas lights that I wrapped around the bed frame. My bedroom finally feels cozy after I lived in this space for over a year. Blame it on my intense depression and anxiety. They are the real culprits. Today, I see them as the bad guys, villains in microscopic bodies that wear cartoonish black masks of if they were thieves stealing away my happiness and dreams.

I’m going to blame them.

The last couple weeks have been hard, dear reader. I’ll spare you most of the details because frankly, I don’t want to remember them. There are a lot of things that I don’t want to remember from this year {and yes, I cannot believe that this year is almost over with). There are a few things that I have to remember, though. I need to remember my triggers- isolation. Shame. Not drinking enough water. Being overwhelmed. When someone doesn’t truly listen. Loneliness. Rejection. Those villains have been my “dearest friends,” whispering things to me. Horrible things. Things that will forever tease and taunt me, even on days like today when I feel good.

Tuesday night, I went on a date. He wasn’t the best kisser but I could deal with that. He asked me about my cancer with concern and I was honest with him. It was caused by HPV. I don’t know when I caught it. I want to, again, blame someone else for it. How about my ex who swore he never cheated but I knew that he did. I knew that I should have made him wear condoms for the duration of our relationship even if we both hated them. Another stupid mistake I made in the name of love. Could this week’s date face the same fate? No. I should have been relieved when he said that he was “freaked out” by my diagnosis. I should have just put on my clothes and blocked him on my phone as I walked home. I should have told myself that there is someone out there who doesn’t  care that you caught a disease and will still think you’re an incredible woman.

Of course, I should have. But I didn’t.

I went home and cried and cried and cried. I holed myself up in my bathroom, texting my best friend about my evening. I needed support and sympathy; When I didn’t get it quick enough, thoughts of a forever sleep entered my head. I took a handful of pills, mostly melatonin as it was the only non-vitamins I have in my medicine cabinet and swallowed each pill down, one by one. I then forced myself to sleep only to wake up an hour later with the worst dry mouth of my life and the inability to use my legs. I felt like human Jell-O as I propped myself against the walls, steadying myself as I made my way to the bathroom to pee. I fell into a deep sleep after that and didn’t wake up until the next day.

I woke up to an Instagram message, one from my friend, Annie, about a radio reporting job she thought I would be good at. It’s funny, in the weirdest of ways, how something like that can pull you out of the depth of your negative neurosis. I thanked her for sending it to me, took a shower and grabbed a ride to enjoy breakfast. I talked with my waiter, which made me feel more alive as we talked about his friend that was recently in a car accident. I ate my eggs sunny side up and cinnamon pancakes trying not to the think about the accident that I had the night before.

I hate that phrase, rock bottom. I’ve never hit it- I was born on its stone surface and have been trying to crawl myself out of its hole since infancy. Yet my fingers remain bloody with every attempt I try to climb out, hoping that one day, I will walk away from this pit of nightmares. I have the things that I want to achieve, the list beyond my current to-do list. I know that I dream big but it’s those dreams that are keeping me here. I woke up from a mild attempt for a reason- for those big, ridiculous dreams. For breakfast food. For love. For more Instagram messages. For the Christmas lights wrapped around my bed frame. For hope. I wake up for everything. Yes, everything hurts but everything will be okay.

I wake up to write.