“That’s Not My Reality:” Millennial Narratives In Literature

By Kenneth Miller

Courtesy of  Huffington Post

Courtesy of Huffington Post

Humorist and writer Ryan O’Connell got his big break while lying naked in bed with only his laptop sported on his chest. He didn’t have to leave the comforting confines of his meticulously-packed studio apartment because the Internet was his employer, and was all he really needed. 

As a self-described “professional feeler of emotions,” O’Connell is one member of a slewing list of Internet writers who gets paid to detail the evermore silly traumas plaguing the worlds of Millennials everywhere. Producing articles that cite the horrors that followed after his first anonymous hookup via a popular gay dating app, as well as the bizarre experiences he has shared with his Uber driver at 2 a.m., these stories appear to be mediocre clickbait garbage that any journalism 101 professor would shame their students over immediately. But there’s something a whole lot more significant than meets the Baby Boomer eye with these personal narratives. Something a lot bigger.

Internet writers who contribute immensely personal stories to online publications like Thought Catalog, Broadly, and Medium have been quoted calling their work “contributions to the Millennial narrative.” These stories, once collected and viewed by millions of online vagabonds, begin to go viral and—well, just about create stifling loads of pandemonium in households across the globe, with “Mommy, don’t look!” chronicles spanning from one’s first blowjob to accounts on one’s first time snorting cocaine in the bathroom of a sleazy Brooklyn bar. 

These individual narratives by countless Generation Y folks hadn’t poked at enough conservative elders until their stories began getting optioned by publishing houses and, consequentially, gained a sense of legitimacy within the industry. 

Critics from The LA Times, The Chicago Tribune, and many self-established WordPress blogs have taken to judging these now published essay collections through highbrow companies like Penguin Group and Random House, questioning whether or not they serve any real purpose for the larger scheme of society and even deserve a spot on the bookshelves of retailers like Barnes & Noble. 

For Ryan O’Connell, his life got all the more interesting once he signed off on a book deal with Simon & Schuster, and released his first collection of personal essays entitled I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves in the summer of 2015. Inside, longtime fans of O’Connell discovered that, in addition to his struggle with his body image in relation to society’s gay male archetype, their favorite funny man is living with cerebral palsy, a congenital disorder affecting one’s movement, muscle tone, and posture.

The collection of 16 long-form essays are sprinkled among tongue-in-cheek paragraphs, photos from O’Connell’s youth, and listicles with click-or-die headlines that detail all things youngsters can expect as they emerge out of their mother’s coddling arms and into the “real world.” It includes stories covering his abysmal life as an intern for publications like Interview Magazine, and spirals into accounts of his substance addiction that contradicted the somewhat picturesque life he seemed to be living as a 20-something-year-old in the Big Apple.   

Anna Warner (a literary critic on Tumblr) said she initially enjoyed O’Connell’s approach to Millennial issues, but eventually found his work to be too general and uninteresting. She said, “then it took a turn [for the worst] and I just found him irritating and making grossly inaccurate generalizations about entire generations and types of people.”

A large issue many readers take with these narratives is the idea that the writer’s individual experiences account for all those in the same scenario, sometimes finding the stories to be the farthest thing from relatable. This especially comes to a head when the work's intention is to appeal to a particular group and educate those who fall outside of it. This is not nearly as big of a quandary as critics cite it to be, for these texts are wholly subjective and speak to an individual truth that, if anything, is worth the binding of its pages and placement on a bookshelf. 

Earlier in 2015, author and amateur “Melrose Place historian” Una LaMarche released her fourth book, Unabrow, a memoir detailing her life as a Millennial late bloomer and adolescent with visibly dark facial hair. The young mom, who has been published on the New York Times, The New York Observer, and The Huffington Post, included her own doodles and cartoon etchings in her latest book’s pages, as she demonstrated for readers how she strives to be body positive while the Western world’s beauty standards deem her unattractive and even repulsive. 

Touching upon how technology had shaped her interpersonal relationships as she developed in a lonesome town, to how she continues to deal with being classified as either a martyr or a MILF as a parent, Lamarch represents a voice that many apprehensive 90s kids wish they had the courage to widely utilize. Many long form essays are interposed between chapters that are essential lifeline instructional lists like Chapter 11, “Free to Be Poo and Pee: A Guide to Public Restroom Usage for Classy Ladies.” 

Meredith Maran, literary critic for The Chicago Tribune, felt uneasy after reading LaMarche’s latest release, seemingly unaware as to what to make of the essay collection. Although admitting to having laughed many times during the read, Maran finds little worth in the actual plot. “Truth be told," she wrote, "LaMarche is as unreliable a narrator as they come, and her book is unlikely to change your life.”

There’s skepticism because LaMarche’s story isn’t all true…well, only teeny details aren’t. She, like many originating online writers (LaMarche’s claim to fame is a viral tweet that Lena Dunham “liked”) spurs from the overly exaggerated tales of one’s life that she admits in the memoir’s prologue, “Una…this is wrong;” pointedly noting that some of her memories (like all of ours) are partially fabricated by our mind’s catering to our personal liking of a particular situation’s outcome. Her source: she took a science class in college once.

Nonetheless, LaMarche’s storytelling capabilities trump whatever critics may hold against the misfortunate tales of Millennials coping with life in the modern age. This is her truth and no one else’s. 

Additionally, critics seem to be lukewarm to stories that derive from Millennial socialization, like Charlie McDowell’s 2013 release Dear Girls Above Me. McDowell, whose fame originated from his Twitter account that shares the same name as his book, gives readers a step-by-step outline as to what made his tweets so priceless, with the two typical valley girls that lived in the apartment above him as his main material.

Overhearing the two women’s considerably ignorant approach to topics including politics, pop culture, and everyday life, McDowell captured in 140-characters or less what he earwigged, eventually scoring a book deal with Random House to publish the whole story with a fairly larger word count.

With over 200 pages to fill, McDowell took on how running the “Dear Girls Above Me” Twitter account affected his love, social, and work life, in addition to some added details on the budding relationship he consequentially started to create with the girls upstairs.

“Does that make for a compelling book?” literary critic Cecilee Linke asks in a review for SFF Audio. “I’m not entirely sure.”

Linke furthers her argument, finding Millennial social media updating to be synonymous with boredom and of minimal public interest. There’s no real intrigue behind what this guy happens to hear going on above him and how that affected the scheme of his life, she insinuates. And is she right? Yeah, probably. 

But literature is meant to establish a sense of unity within society and strike a shared experience of sorts among a people. It’s hard to combat the logic behind what fuses a community of Millennials and the traumas they are encountering since it’s a generation focalized around technology.

Millennials are constantly seen trying to spit out their stories to platforms willing to hand them a piece of that revelrous pie that would ultimately document their unique story, whether that be in a tweet, essay, or book. This mindset is parallel with the idea that every voice should be heard, which is wise in concept but impossible in practice. Society can attempt to observe the difficulties unique to the individual. But nonetheless, the dialogues must be relative to all in order to be a considerable success.

Generation Y is the first collection of people able to take charge of their image and warp it into whichever way they may desire or find applicable in a particular situation. They are able to make someone believe their life is a certain way, and if the outsider (or reader) takes the bait, then it becomes truth—which, in essence, is great literature.

An Open Letter to Cosmopolitan

By Molly Franklin

Courtesy of  Cosmopolitan

Courtesy of Cosmopolitan

Dear Cosmopolitan,

I will admit that the beautiful women on the cover of your magazines, paired with taglines such as “Better Sex Now,” have always been able to draw me in. Because who wouldn’t want to be that self-assured woman smiling and looking sexy in front of the bright colored drop cloth? But after reading “The Best Advice Ever” issue, which promised to supply me with all the best advice about love, work, and health the modern woman needs based on previous Cosmo advice columns spanning the decades that Cosmo has sat against that magazine rack like the cool kid against the wall outside of the mall, I feel the need to share with you how one of the articles managed not only to alienate me as a woman but cause a similar reaction in your other readers.

I stopped at the grocery store after an exceedingly long shift waitressing, picking up some amaretto and popcorn and promising myself a few careless hours of mindlessly watching TV with my feet up and ice cubes ringing like bells in a mason jar. As I stood in line, I was once again lured in by the woman, her lips painted pink, blue eyes peering outside of a satin mask. I thought about how my mom had told me in that very grocery store that I wasn’t allowed to read Cosmo until I was older. It made my hands itch every time I came to the local Hy-vee or Walmart,  and my hands itched again now. And here I was, twenty-two with my own job and apartment, and I decided to splurge. Cosmo was to become part of my routine and so when I got home I poured myself a glass, turned on Dateline, and decided to flip through a magazine that validated that I was, in fact, a grownup. I was a woman. But I found out that I am not a Cosmo woman. I am not even close.

One of the first articles I flipped to was “18 Beautiful Habits to Acquire Now.” As I read over the advice from the seventies I stopped at the piece of advice that stated “Study your body (naked!) at least once a month,” in which the author goes on to state “Be critical… In fact be ruthless!... Intensify your self scrutiny.” At this point, I would like to acknowledge my attempt of backtracking to when another woman told me to make sure to look at the pieces of my body that look great and not to be too hard on myself. But this was an article that was chosen for the Best Advice Ever issue. I found myself thinking back to a scene in Mean Girls where the aforementioned mean girls stood in front of the mirror and picked out features they hated about themselves for sport, ranging from ankles to collarbones, arms, and noses. The main character remarks that there were so many different things to dislike about yourself that she had never realized. If this were the only piece of advice about your body like this, I would have read over it and moved on. However, another piece of advice shocked me, reading “Weigh yourself every day. If gain exceeds four pounds over normal weight, go on a mini crash diet at once.” At once, the advice said, and I still think about that statement now. The finale of this article insists that if you make these things a habit, you will be a permanently put-together woman. But I do not know a single put-together woman who weighs herself every day or looks into a mirror and is purposefully self critical.

I closed the magazine, not daring to go any further, and repressing the urge to the toss the glossy paper to the other side of the room. But instead, I cradled it in my lap. I cradled it like I cradled my self hatred every day. All of the mirrors had been covered in the house with threadbare towels when I had moved home from college. I had avoided the scale like a rattlesnake. I have struggled with depression and anxiety for years, and the new medication I had been on had helped me gain nearly fifty pounds in three months. I felt trapped in skin that didn’t feel beautiful anymore. Those eyes on the cover of the Best Advice Ever issue had turned from beguiling to harsh and judgemental, and suddenly I was seeing brown instead of blue. I saw freckles pucker on the perfect skin and I realized that it was the only mirror I had looked into in weeks.

Of course, it can be argued that this was an article originally written in the seventies and that there was “today’s take,” which updated some of the advice. But even with the commentary, the message to women hasn’t changed. Here is your definition of beauty. Here is your definition of what it is to be a woman. In an age that is arguably the revival of feminism, this advice magazine for the modern woman is anything but modern. Feminism nowadays is not just the white heterosexual woman’s right to have a sexual appetite. But instead, we are fighting for inclusion, the right to an education, the right to equal wages...but these are not the articles that are being written in Cosmo.

I have realized that my mom didn’t want me reading Cosmo not because she didn’t think I was old enough. She didn’t want me reading Cosmo because she was worried that I would do what I did this night. She was worried I would find myself wanting what wasn’t realistic, and pick myself apart instead of finding body positivity.

A magazine that advertises raising people up now (and perhaps have always in a sense) brought them down. In order to find the voice of the 21st century woman, I believe that Cosmo needs to reach out to its audience. I don’t want to compare myself to who I could be if I ate less or if I stood on the scale every day and how that would make me happy. Instead I want recovery stories. I want stories of triumph and beauty and pictures of women outside the norm. The beautiful women on the covers always had a way of pulling me in, but there are women that I think who are beautiful who have never used that word to describe themselves.

I threw out your magazine that day because the Best Advice Ever was a mean girl poking at my flaws. And your advice to me was to be that mean girl.

One day I hope to describe myself as beautiful. Today is not that day.

Molly Franklin

To the Coddled American Man

By Meg Zulch

Courtesy of  @GaryDStratton  

Courtesy of @GaryDStratton 

The other day, among a slew of other troubling comments and mindless rants, I came across a “Louder With Crowder” video that someone had posted in my school’s Facebook group. In it, Steven Crowder discusses University of Michigan’s new inclusive language policy (which bans the use of sexist, racist, ableist, and transphobic language on campus grounds), and tries to make the ridiculous argument that policies like these violate our First Amendment right to free speech.

Once again, I struggled to understand why protecting cis white men’s right to use offensive slurs and harassing language seems to matter so much to certain humans. Would your life really be so empty without offending people and making certain populations feel unsafe? Is it actually restricting the freedom of others when the only thing the policy requires is being a decent human being? Why are you protecting your freedom to cause harm and spread hate?

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve nearly clawed my own eyes out with frustration over observing ridiculous commentary like this. Legions of MRA trolls, and IRL trolls lurking in the shadows of my campus, express these types of sentiments on a daily basis. They argue about the ways in which they feel oppressed when getting called out for saying something offensive, and point to what they find to be the bigger issue: our school and the student body’s commitment to being politically correct and inclusive becomes but a figment of our imagination as soon as we step off the confines of this campus. We all just need to grow thicker skins, basically.

With this very commentary as an example, this statement is impossible to agree with. What about our school is a bubble of inclusivity if there are horrible people who are constantly questioning the completely valid feelings of marginalized people? I don’t feel safe on this campus. Everywhere I go, I see my abuser. I see him in the dark woods when I walk home to my apartment at night. I see him with his friends at every party I attend. I see him in every bed on this goddamn campus. He assaulted me here two years ago while visiting friends of his that I never fail to run into. Thankfully, I do not know the certain kind of terror many others like me experience of seeing their attacker in the light of the day, without any tricks of the light or wild imaginations at play.

But I do know that being PC is valued outside of my friend group, outside of the queer population of SUNY Purchase. I’ve seen it at a panel in NYFW, where an unbelievably strong body positive blogger confronted a comedian for making fat shaming jokes that triggered her, leading to tearful apologies and hugs. I’ve seen it in the media, as people lose high profile jobs over using offensive language in emails or text messages. I’ve seen it in the way my editor tirelessly prioritizes PC in my work, and the way certain commenters point out problematic areas in my writing that I can improve upon. Being a decent, educated, and well balanced person in this day and age is completely necessary in conducting business and relationships. People suggesting otherwise are clearly too ignorant to thrive in these areas.

Then there’s the concern trolls, who brush over how this language affects them, and instead make the argument that these choices are actually damaging to us. In his article for The Atlantic, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” Greg Lukianoff tried to prove that trigger warnings and political correctness coddle American students, who should supposedly be exposed to their triggers to help overcome their difficulties with anxiety. Clearly, the cries of critique from marginalized people are falling upon deaf ears of the coddled American man.

It is very, very easy to say things like this as a person quite separated from experiences of oppression. Men like Lukianoff don’t understand the need for trigger warnings because trigger warnings don’t directly benefit them. Many cannot fathom what it’s like to be misgendered, to have racist slurs used against them, to have an anxiety disorder or post-traumatic stress affect their daily lives.

Personally, I get triggered by mentions of sexual assault, anxiety, and chronic pain due to my traumatizing experiences with all three. When I’m warned preemptively of the content of a post, especially when it concerns triggering material, I can breathe easy that the safe space of my bed is not going to be invaded. My tendency to have some kind of anxious reaction to triggering content, such as getting stuck in a shame cycle about my attack or losing momentum in overcoming an anxiety attack by reading someone else’s vividly detailed anxious thoughts, is not because I’m coddled or “too sensitive.” In our present-day media saturated world, everyone’s harmful thoughts (or opinions about you) is forwarded right to your phone with a simple push notification. And with transphobia, racism and rape culture being huge problems in our world today, doing everything we can to protect ourselves makes sense.

Trigger warnings and inclusive language are not “coddling” us. They’re teaching us to be more compassionate and mindful toward people with mental illness. And with the knowledge of what’s triggering or offensive to others, we can actively work to dismantle the institutions that create racism, transphobia, and other oppressions.

With certain traumas still fresh in my memory, I am healing in my own time and utilizing the resources available to me to help me continue to make improvements in my life. But on the way, I can do without the insensitive jokes and language. And if that is so difficult to do, if that is violating your “free speech,” then I suggest you reevaluate your idea of free speech as well as the limits of your humanity.

There aren’t any slurs out there for cis white men that hold weight like the “n” word or the “t” word. Accepting your responsibility by altering your language out of respect for those who have suffered more, even if you can’t necessarily relate, would be a huge jump forward in your journey toward adulthood and basic human decency. Treat others the way you want to be treated, and stop silencing the voices of the mentally ill and oppressed on the way. What have you got to lose?


Where I Stand In The Movement

By Ashley Johnson

Courtesy of Morgan Martinez

Courtesy of Morgan Martinez

As I was riding the bus this morning, with Ms. Badu’s But You Caint Use My Phone bumping in my ears, I was flooded with thoughts. How am I going to go to work and pretend that we don’t live in a racist society? How can I continue to prosper when the world is against me being Black and a woman? Is the money worth it? What can I do today that will advance my people and women into a state of equity? These are questions I ask myself every day as I head to school, work, or just out generally. I am always trying to find ways to move forward. As Shaun King, Black Lives Matter and Civil Rights activist constantly states, “stop wondering who you would have been in the Civil Rights Movement. Be that now!” Of course, when I was first waking up to the oppressive acts happening in the world, I easily would have told you that I was a radical. Idolizing Assata Shakur, I would have told you how I wouldn’t take shit sitting down, that I was the revolution and the government had so much more to fear when I came onto the scene. I would soon realize it isn’t that easy.

I am the revolution. I am radical. I am Black. I am a feminist… I am also 19.

I am also a college student and heavily dependent upon my parents.

There was even a time where I wondered if I would drop out of college to defend my people. If I were to really be as radical as I want to, I would end up in jail or dead. I don’t mean to be so heavy, but I have to be real; I would be viewed as a threat. I aspire to be a lawyer. If I end up in jail, that future is gone. Done. Finito. Does that necessarily mean I am stagnant in the movement? Of course not, but I feel very small when it comes to the movement.

Just the other day, my best friend, Marlon had to talk me out of my existential crisis. I was freaking out about how I might as well do nothing because anything I do would hold no meaning. How I was useless because I fear being pepper-sprayed, arrested or killed for peaceful protesting. How I was having no real place in the movement because of my lack of action. He informed me on how I actually was helping the movement by waking people up. He spoke on how before talking to me that he and so many others had no idea about these things. He went on to tell me that by me waking up one person, I could wake up so many more. And, that even though it was a minuscule thing to me, the impact would show to be so much greater in the long run. He also made sure to inform me that I was only 19 and that my hands were tied.

This is not to say that people of any age cannot participate in the movement in any way they see fit, it's just important to prioritize based on what works for you. It’s okay to help in whatever way you can. Be that educating yourself and educating others, participating in protests and boycotts, or writing to your government officials demanding answers. I had to realize that I shouldn’t feel trapped by the sense of urgency to do something more than what I’m able to. For now, I am comfortable in my lane of educating others.

Chance the Rapper Speaks Out Against 'Chiraq,' and Lee Fires Back

By Annie Zidek

Courtesy of Twitter/  @pitchfork

Courtesy of Twitter/ @pitchfork

On the night of November 24th, Chicago finally released the police dashcam from the shooting of Laquan McDonald, which clearly showed McDonald shot down mercilessly sixteen times by a police officer. As a result, people walked in protest against the city’s (as well as the nation's) institutionalized racism. Meanwhile, miles away in New York City, Spike Lee casually discussed his upcoming movie Chiraq on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, adorned in all of his accessories.

Clearly, Lee is a provocateur and is known for pushing boundaries with his work. But with his new movie Chiraq, Lee has gone too far. While the movie seems fitting and socially aware in light of the recent gun violence--both at and within the Black community--the movie almost seems to make a mockery of the gun murders in Chicago.

The title Chiraq in and of itself stirs the image of a violent and bloodstained Chicago, which Lee touches on in his interview with Colbert.

"Local Chicago rappers came up with that name and felt that, not all Chicago, but the South side Chicago, is a warzone, and so they feel, probably even today, that it's safer in Iraq than it is on the Southside of Chicago," Jones told Colbert. He's right. The gun violence in Chicago is a grim reality, leaving some parts of the city truly feeling like a war zone.

Chiraq is based on Lysistrata, a Greek myth wherein the female protagonist bands all the women in Greece together to withhold sex from their men until peace was achieved. The result: the end of the Peloponnesian War. In Chiraq's modern translation, the women in the movie decide to abstain from sex in order to force the men to stop the violence, shootings, and murders that are happening in their city.

Okay, let’s sit back and think about this: Lee really thought he could urbanize an ancient Greek myth successfully by relating it to a very real modern issue (the war-like gun violence in Chicago) with rhyming dialogue? He thought the people of Chicago would totally appreciate him relating their losses of sons and fathers and uncles and friends to a myth revolving around sex?

Many people have spoken up about the absurdity of Lee’s film, including the born and raised Chicagoan Chancelor Johnathan Bennett, better known as his stage name Chance the Rapper. He called out Chiraq on Twitter, vocalizing his frustration and disdain towards the insensitive movie.

Chance the Rapper is unlike any other rapper. He is revolutionary. He’s impacted inner city kids through his personal musical narratives, he’s reached the suburban teens during his performance at Lollapalooza in 2014, and is now touring all over North America. His music is an orchestral celebration of life, a visceral take on Chicago living. He cares about his fans, and shows this by making all of his songs free on Soundcloud.

With a prominent place in the rap community, Chance the Rapper can give a voice to the voiceless affected by troubling circumstances. One issue in which he cares deeply about is the gun violence affecting the city of Chicago. So it's no surprise that the representation of gun violence in Lee’s Chiraq deeply upsets Chance. The 22-year-old has advocated anti-gun violence ever since his music has given him a platform to do so.

He uses his music as a tool to raise awareness to this issue. In the third track on his album Acid Rap (called “Paranoia”), he illustrates the effects gun violence has on kids. The song is the pinnacle of his concern, and a musical narrative for the issue. He discusses how prominent the issue is at his age, and one way he does so is showing how school serves as a safe space: You’re indoors for most of the day, hidden from the perils of gun violence. But then there’s summer, the season of vulnerability:

“...everybody dies in the summer.
Wanna say ya goodbyes, tell them while it's spring.

I heard everybody's dying in the summer, so pray to God for a little more spring.”

And it frustrates him that the media doesn’t seem to care about the kids being murdered in the city. There is a distinct lack of media coverage and awareness towards these issues, as he addresses this in “Paranoia:”

“They murking kids, they murder kids here
Why you think they don't talk about it? They deserted us here
Where the fuck is Matt Lauer at? Somebody get Katie Couric in here.”

Not only is Chance the Rapper vocal about gun violence in his music, but he also expresses his concern for the issue outside of the musical realm. On May 23rd, 2014, Chicago made it 24 hours without any shootings. The rapper posted a celebratory Instagram pic featuring supportive texts from his dad.

Photo Courtesy of Chance the Rapper's Instagram

Photo Courtesy of Chance the Rapper's Instagram

Following the photo was Chance’s heartfelt note about the 24 hours.

“#may23rd came and went, and we all made it. Thank you so much Chicago. Thanks to the community organizers and Radio stations that helped. And thanks Dad for teaching us to be hands on, there is no change with us. #takingbackmycity #socialexperiment”

With such a strong advocacy for less gun violence, Chance should be upset about the misrepresentation of Chicago’s bloodshed. Lee’s urbanized attempt at Greek mythology is disgraceful. It belittles the struggles of the families who are personally affected by the gun violence in Chicago. Chance the Rapper is merely vocalizing his distress towards the movie’s false representation of the loss endured by families affected by this pressing issue. 

A week later, however, Chance received backlash from Lee. In an interview with MSNBC, Lee responds to the criticisms on Twitter, pointing out Chance's faults on stance with gun violence.

"Chance the Rapper should say with full disclosure [that] his father works for the mayor. He's the chief of staff," Lee said.

And in light of the suspicions of Mayor Rahm hiding details from the shooting of Laquan McDonald, this puts Chance at a crossroads. He called out Lee for being an "outsider" to gun violence, but he's the son of a man affiliated with an alleged leading player of hiding police brutality in Chicago.

Along with pointing out Chance's flaws, Lee also illustrates a misconception Chance had about the film wherein he called it "exploitive." Lee notes Jennifer Hudson's involvement with Chiraq in an attempt to prove the movie's integrity. "She plays a pivotal role," Lee said. In 2008, Hudson lost her mother, her brother, and her nephew to gun violence when the husband of Hudson's sister shot them in their Chicago home. Bringing to light Hudson's personal history and her involvement with the movie begs the film's credibility on the issue. 

Regardless, people like Chance the Rapper still feel like Chiraq is a misrepresentation of the violence happening in the streets of Chicago. They feel the movie is insensitive and almost mocks the lives of those affected by gun violence. The uproar is fierce, and the boycotts and shouts of opposition speak louder than words ever could.

Blue Jean Baby, Green Card Lady

By Emily Rae Simon

Courtesy of Emily Rae Simon

Courtesy of Emily Rae Simon

When my mother was young, it was everybody's favorite game to try and guess her ethnicity.

Sicilian, French, Native American.

When the reality was, she wasn't even positive. As an adoptee in the vastly diverse city of Los Angeles, there was no sure way of understanding what exactly the formula had been of my mother's beautifully ambiguous genetic makeup.

And it was, coincidentally, nobody's goddamn business but her own. This constant pressure to be able to accurately identify her ethnic background is a prime example of how we, as humans, always feel the inherent need to categorize one another simply by our explanation for a physical attribute.

Throughout my entire adulthood, I had always paid close attention to how and why marginalization has affected my own life. This attentiveness was sparked during my first week in college at a private Midwestern university. After the first few days of classes as a freshman, I was immediately approached by a representative of a program dedicated to students of color, first-generation students, and any other category of student that seemed to need an “extra push”.

Being the daughter of an immigrant and also a first-generation college student, I was the apparent target audience for this program, and already had a meeting set up with a mentor without even having knowledge of what the program was. Upon the meeting, a very nice woman of color (also a college student) introduced herself as a mentor for this program, and explained how I have been chosen because of my status as a minority and that her only goal was to make sure I would succeed in college – just like everybody else.

Personally, I had a major issue with this.

Understanding that this program would be highly beneficial for many other students, I found it really unsettling that I was assumed at-risk or underequipped for higher education, simply because of my familial background and citizenship status. It was quite discouraging as a hopeful, energetic student to be ultimately told that you are expected to struggle for reasons that are completely out of your control.

Living in a city as diverse as Chicago, marginalization is apparent everywhere, even if seemingly invisible. One person can represent so many different parts of our world, inhabiting different cultures, values, gender performance and physical traits – creating a unique human experience for anyone willing to embrace what many Americans deem “minority.” I am proud of who I am, and of how I have developed into this citizen of the world. I have a long way to go in order to fully understand where I came from, but I am here now and do not plan to let stereotype reinforcement get in the way of my successes. The mainstream no longer runs our modern Western society – it is up to us to prove ethnocentrism to be outdated and inappropriate at this time of revolution.

We are millennials, hear us roar.

Merci de votre ècoute, et Joyeux Fêtes ! 

On Invisible Illness

By Rivka Yeker

Theories that diseases are caused by mental states and can be cured by will power are always an index of how much is not understood about a disease.
— Susan Sontag
Photo by Morgan Martinez

Photo by Morgan Martinez

People with invisible illnesses often avoid planning. We mark our calendars in pencil, for the purpose of it being easily erasable if we wake up that day feeling as if our bodies are rejecting us from the inside out.  There is no cure for chronic illness, for autoimmune diseases, for the things our body controls that we can’t.

I have been dealing with a headache disorder that has been restricting me from ever living a normal, healthy, consistent lifestyle ever since I hit puberty at 11. I have always felt the need to apologize for my inability to stay out a whole day, my anxiety towards sleeping at another’s house due to not knowing whether or not my head will cooperate, even frantically writing emails to teachers and professors for missing their class because of something I couldn’t mend in time (or at all).  For a long time, I sat through events and parties with a pounding headache, just to say I could be there. I went out even though I felt physically and mentally ill, and I continued working even through incredible pain. Only in the past few years, has the illness worsened, that it forced me to skip out on many social and professional endeavors, but I have learned to listen to my body when it is telling me it’s turning off.

Chronic headaches means that I get at least 15 headaches in a month, which equates to half of my month is spent feeling like garbage. These headaches could range from mild (bearable, usually treatable with Excedrin), intense (usually not treatable, can barely get through a whole day with but still doable), and unbearable (usually migraines and typically ends in vomiting and needing all the lights off with my head shoved in a pillow). Headache disorders are lifelong and they are debilitating, causing them to decrease one’s quality of life. Not only are they physical, but they also increase depression, anxiety, and sleep disturbances, which makes everything all the more difficult.

Since headaches and migraines are typically given to us by our parents, I shouldn’t have been surprised when it started becoming so consistent and disabling. I’ve been watching both my parents struggle my entire life, mostly seeing how my mother would spend days in bed trying to fight a monster clawing at her body and attacking her own mental health. Even with her chronic pain, she was still very much a mother in that she screamed at my brother and I while a brick threw itself back and forth against the walls of her head. Now that I don’t live at home, I don’t see my parents’ suffer as much, but I know that they are some of the only people I can confide in about my headaches and migraines and be sure that they completely understand. This is something we cannot escape, regardless of how much we try to persevere through the pain.

Trying to explain to people how it feels when I have a migraine is almost impossible, it is crippling and it is draining. My face flushes, I am nauseous, my head is a thousand different metaphors for pain, and my entire body needs rest. It needs a place to break down. When I make plans, I always tell people that I am flaky and to be aware of this, but I don’t want them to think it’s because I don’t want to spend time with them. I am genuinely unsure of how I am going to wake up that day. Is my head going to hurt? How sad am I going to be? How anxious will I feel? Will I have no energy? There is never a concrete answer and I am never sure how I will react. If I have the option of staying in and taking care of myself, I would much rather do that than do what I used to do: force myself to endure pain, only to know I’m going to regret it.

There are too many times when I feel bad for something I can’t control. I feel bad that I feel ill, that I can’t do something, that I have to leave early, that I have to be alone, that I can’t make it to a lecture, I feel bad that I have to warn people that I am flaky, and that I am quite possibly notorious for that. Only lately have I learned that one should never apologize for their illness, for their mental state, for their inabilities to follow through. I have learned that especially in a society that is unbelievably demanding, quick-paced, and vicious, we must learn to step back and value someone’s capabilities. Those who are genuinely ill, whether it’s someone who struggles with lupus, MS, diabetes, chronic headaches/migraines, mental disorders, even women dealing with their menstrual cycle, or any other illness that seems invisible, deserve their right to be ill and shameless about it.

They are already suffering enough.

It feels awful to feel like a burden around people, to avoid relationships because you don’t want to become an annoyance for someone else, you don’t want pity; you want to feel normal. If someone you know struggles with an invisible illness, acknowledge it and understand their needs and restrictions. We are trying our best to get through life, just like everyone else.