Thoughts on Hidden Figures

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I went to see Hidden Figures last night. It was one of those inspiring, “I want to live my life better” movies. And I had a few thoughts I wanted to put down on the symbolic paper of my blog.

To me, the movie was a testament of what can happen when women support each other. I am in no way discounting the role that their husbands played, because they could not have done what they did without the support of their families, but ultimately it was a movie about women lifting and encouraging each other. Of not just looking out for themselves, but getting the colored women’s restroom sign removed for all the women, seeking to cross train the the west computing group so that they wouldn’t be out of a job when the IMB got up and running, and convincing Mary to not give up on engineering school even though she had to the petition the courts. Being a woman in a man’s world is intimidating and no one else quite understands it like other women, which is why we need each other.

It reminded me that sometimes you have to ask for, and even demand, more opportunities for growth. I like to think that I can keep my head down and work hard and that’s enough, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes people have never even thought about why you’re not invited to the briefing and they never will unless you convince them otherwise.

The film inspired me to be more confident. I was blown away by how confident the women were in their own abilities to literally get a man to space. I have no doubt that women are capable of being just as smart and talented as men in whatever field they choose, but sometimes, I don’t think that principle applies to me. I wish that every time I doubted my abilities I could channel Catherine when she meets her future husband and tells him off for underestimating what a woman can do.

It reminded me that societal rules sometimes exist to be broken. So much of the racism and sexism they faced was subtle. Their culture had built a system of societal norms designed to keep women, people of color, and others separate from the people with power. The choices people made that were often so hurtful were justified by a desire to keep the status quo. They only cared that she drank from the same coffee pot because their society had taught them that it mattered. Kirsten Dunst’s character didn’t feel like she was racist for never pushing for Dorothy’s promotion, but didn’t realize that it was built on the idea that we can pay women of color less for equal work.

But we can’t just keep the status quo. We have to look at all of our rules and norms, and sincerely ask ourselves why some of them exist. We have to read about them and see if people feel like they are being hurt by the norms (because those who are not negatively effected are usually oblivious to the damage they’re doing on others), and then we need to advocate and deliberately go counter to what our society would dictate.

Hidden Figures reminded me that I have so much privilege. I can relate to the challenges of a woman trying to succeed, but I have never had to deal with racism. I have never had to petition the courts to take classes. I have never worried when I was pulled over by the police. I have never been kicked out of the library because I wanted a book in another section. And so my response should be to listen and support those who do have to deal with the challenges of race. To be humble enough to not think that I am perfect of that I have all the answers. To be willing to make changes to my behavior and my beliefs when I realize that they’re wrong.

I loved that the film showed good people feeding into these flawed and destructive systems of oppression, and their ability to change. That it doesn’t always have to be us versus them, and racist America is evil… that although good people sometimes fall prey to following and defending the status quo, they don’t have to be destroyed to destroy the system. Even Catherine’s biggest critic on the task force, eventually became her ally. I can’t help but think that there are thousands if not millions of good people who fit into this category in America. It’s not fair that it takes time. I understand the desire to shake them and make them realize what they’re doing, but in my experience that doesn’t really work. I’m not sure what does yet, but I have hope in America. I have hope in good people who can change their minds, behavior, beliefs, and thoughts.

One of the highlights of the movie to me wasn’t even the movie. It was the little girl sitting right behind me. You see, at one point the protagonist, Catherine, grabs a cup of coffee from the communal coffee pot, putting the cup underneath the nozzle and pulling the lever to start filling, and then going back to her calculations while it fills. Everyone in the room stops to stare at her for the audacity of using their coffee pot.And the girl behind me, trying to understand why everyone’s so anxious in the scene, determined it’s because she’s not looking at the nozzle and her coffee is going to spill. That was her only logical explanation about why these men might be upset. And it struck me, we have sooooo far to go in regards to racism and equality in America, but the men and women of the Civil Rights Movement have moved the needle, because a little girl in Salt Lake City, UT had no idea why a white person would be upset that a person of color was drinking from the same coffee pot as them. It’s not everything. We shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back and say we’ve arrived at racial equality by any means, but still, I am so grateful for that little girl’s innocence.

More than anything, that was the reoccurring thought I had during the movie. I couldn’t wait to watch it with my children someday. To make sure that they know the hidden figures of history. To make sure it’s not just a story about John F. Kennedy and John Glenn, but it’s also a story about Catherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson.

As the credits started rolling, the audience clapped. I haven’t been in many films where the audience clapped, but it was difficult not to. As much as we all loved the film, I think most of us were clapping for these women. These incredible women who faced almost insurmountable obstacles and didn’t let it deter them. Who thought, “I want to be in the room where it happens, and you know what, I’m going to get there.” Who did amazing things because they dared to dream. Despite the difficult things I read on the news every day, it was a good reminder that humans are amazing creatures who have incredible potential and it reminded me not to give up hope.

Tomorrow

I woke up this morning to the sound of buzzing. The group text I had been engaged in the night before had started promptly at 6:00 am MST with my east coast friends who were now starting their day.

As the hazy morning came in to clarity, so did the reality of last night and the decision our country made. I rolled away from the phone as it continued to persistently vibrate on my nightstand, trying to fall back to sleep. But as the minutes ticked by the buzzing intensified and I finally gave up.

I picked up my phone and cracked open one, squinting eye, blinded by the sudden light emanating from my screen in the otherwise dark room. I started to read what I expected to be more texts of shock and despair, but what I found was the opposite.

I found determination and action.

These amazing women who had been up half the night worrying about their brothers and sisters of color and the message this election sends to them about their value. About those struggling under the weight of a criminal justice system that is designed for them to fail, and the millions of women who just heard that a man can brag about assaulting them without consequences. About the LGBTQ community who already are at risk for suicide and widespread discrimination, and about immigrants and refugees who dreamed of a future free of fear only to find that America is just as driven by fear as everywhere else.

I woke up to women who were disappointed but determined not to give up. Who were brainstorming things we could do to combat a future that we cannot stand behind.  Who realized that our country needs our support, our time, our money, our talents, and our voices more than ever, and I want to share some of their ideas.

Immigration reform:

  • There are free legal clinics that provide consultations for people who are seeking to be in this country legally, a process that is incredibly long, complex, and expensive, consider supporting them with money or volunteer hours.
  • Learn a foreign language and become friends with people from other countries and cultures.

Refugee outreach:

  • It’s safe to say that most refugees are not feeling particularly welcome right now, volunteer with a refugee resettlement agency, to help them acclimate to a new culture and country.
  • Tell your political leaders you want to accept more refugees for resettlement.
  • Teach English as a Second Language.
  • Give a refugee a job if you own your own business or are a hiring manager.
  • Donate goods and money to organizations like the International Rescue Committee, Catholic Relief Services, and Deseret Industries that help refugees.

Sexual assault response:

  • Many hospitals and non-profits have volunteers who sit and talk with assault victims so they don’t have to be alone in the hospital or police station as they report their rape. Consider getting involved there.
  • Volunteer at a local women’s shelter or donate goods that they need.
  • Lobby your local and national political leaders for stronger laws against perpetrators and hold the police force accountable for pursuing and prosecuting cases of sexual assault.
  • Stop blaming the victim.

Empowering women:

  • Lean in. Don’t be afraid. We need women to aspire for more and to be successful. We need more positive examples of female leadership.
  • Mentor women at a local school or community center. Big Brothers & Big Sisters is a national organization that can pair you with struggling youth.
  • If you’re involved with a community organization or religious congregation, consider having a Career Day for the girls to show them what they can dream up and become.

Freedom of the press:

  • Subscribe to a newspaper, or several. Give subscriptions as a Christmas present. Newspapers are going to be attacked in the coming years for reporting the news in the way the President of the United States doesn’t like, and the only way to combat that is to read what they write and to help them make a profit.
  • Read a newspaper that represents “the other side’s” perspective. We need to better understand each other over the next four years because this polarization of America isn’t working.

Civil justice system:

  • Call your political leaders and police department to find out what they’re going to do to decrease police brutality and numbers in our prison system.
  • Lobby for more training on inherent biases and de-escalation practices for law enforcement.
  • Volunteer at a half-way house.

Religious freedom:

  • Learn about other religions (especially Islam) and worship together.
  • Most religious organizations value service. Rather than serving in your individual silos, seek opportunities to serve side-by-side.
  • Talk about shared values and beliefs.

Global warming:

  • Support legislation that establish incentives to decrease greenhouse gases.
  • Take public transportation, use solar power, buy an electric car.
  • Limit your waste.

Organizations to volunteer with/assist:

Helpful websites/articles:

 

 

 

The Truth About Grad School

tumblr_mlbrr4bROJ1s3gs1lo1_500.jpgIf I had $5 for every time someone asked me how I was making a full-time job and grad school work, I would have way fewer student loans.

As I’ve answered that question 1,000 times over the last 9 months, I’ve developed a few polite responses:

  • You just take it one day at a time.
  • It’s crazy, but I’m surviving.
  • Yeah, I’m not sure what I was thinking, but I’m told it’s worth it.
  • Luckily I really love my job and school is interesting, so it’s a win-win.

While all of those are true statements, they are definitely my sugarcoated answers. I don’t think we all need to spill our deepest, darkest secrets about how messy our lives are, but I also think that we do others a disservice when we don’t let them see that our lives aren’t perfect. When we let them think that they’re the only person out there struggling to do it all. So here you go, my real answers for how am I making my life work with a full-time job and grad school?

  • I shower less because I don’t have the time/energy to do my hair every day. Whatever number of days is in your head, add one. Or two.
  • There are multiple days a week I don’t wear makeup.
  • I don’t cook, or eat real meals anymore. Cereal, anything microwavable, chips and melted cheese. These are now my dietary staples.
  • I do way less homework than I did as an undergrad. Not because I have less, but because I just can’t be quite as obsessed and go to the library every night like I used to.
  • It’s come down to exercise or sleep since I really only have time late at night or in the early morning, guess which one wins?
  • I don’t think about student debt if I can possibly help it.
  • There are multiple times a week when I get home and just lay on the couch  without moving for hours because I just need to stop and do something mindless.
  • I feel guilty a lot about not putting as much time or energy into things that I would normally want to do my best on.
  • I see a therapist.
  • Things are so overwhelming sometimes that it’s a never-ending battle against apathy.
  • Ice cream.
  • As tired as I get, and as much as I’m 100% done dealing with people at the end of the week, spending time with friends and family is really important and keeps a little sanity in my life.

Autumn

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Growing up in Las Vegas where there are only two seasons (blazing hot oven and sort-of bearable), moving to Utah opened my eyes to what seasons could really be. And ever since the moment I looked up on my way home from class and the mountains had started changing colors and the cold nipped at my nose and ears, I have loved autumn…until this year.

For whatever reason, I was NOT ready for fall this time around. Summer is about rest and adventuring. Fall is about returning to school and friends and setting goals, and for whatever reason, I was not quite ready to be responsible just yet. I didn’t feel ready for the balancing act of homework on top of work work and social responsibilities. It’s not that I didn’t want it to come, I just wasn’t ready for it to come quite so soon.

But yesterday, a fellow autumn-lover taught our lesson at church. The topic was the sacrament, which normally makes you think about spring and Easter, right? But she shared something I didn’t know about fall. You see, if all the trees didn’t turn bright orangey-hues and let go of their leaves, they would die. They wouldn’t be able to survive the winter and they wouldn’t be able to generate new growth in the spring. Fall and the sacrament is about shedding our burdens and growing deeper roots so that we can get taller and be green again.

If you’ve ever had a time in your life when you’re just kind of living day-to-day and weren’t sure what you were doing or if God was even that interested, and then something subtle jumped out at you and you were like, “This! This was for me! This is what I needed to hear right now,” that was me during this lesson yesterday. Not only did I need to hear about the sacrament, but I needed to hear it in terms of something really personal to me. As stupid as it sounds, I think God knew that my negative feelings about fall were bugging me. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong and why something I normally love so much, was bringing me the opposite of joy. And so He reached into my heart and gave me a new reason to love this time of year.

People always say that God is in the details of our lives, but sometimes I don’t give Him enough credit. Happy Autumn everyone!

 

The Gift of Writing

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It doesn’t really make sense that I became a writer.

I never knew a writer growing up. My grandparents’ careers included pianist, dentist, model, president of a local arts organization, stock broker, and real estate appraiser. My mother is a dance professor and my father is a physical therapist.

I’ve always attributed my passion for the written word to be the result of my insatiable appetite for books as a child, but today I think I found a different answer.

Today is Mother’s Day, and like many individuals I received a letter from my mother in the mail. This letter made me cry. It made me grateful. It made me love my mom even more. It helped me see things in my life differently. It helped me see myself differently.

I was blessed with a mother who has a gift for letter writing.

As I read the letter I received today, I remembered the countless letters I have gotten from her over the years. Letters that started from as soon as I could read. And I remembered how formative they were. Somehow the fact that they were written out made everything she loved about me more real and I wanted to be all the wonderful things she said I was.

Since those early experiences, writing has become a core part of my identity. I was a bookworm all through middle school and high school. I majored in English in college, and a large part of my current job involves writing.

Looking back, I think my mother’s letters have subconsciously shaped every aspect of my life. Because learning to read and write was never just about doing homework or even telling stories. It was about making people feel loved and connected. Writing was a powerful tool that I wanted to learn how to use because my mother had shown me how much good it was capable of.

This is kind of a strange way to express how much my mom has impacted my life and how grateful I am to her, but then again it’s not. So much of who I am is the result of her love and example, even if I don’t always realize it.

A Feminist Binge-watches Hallmark Channel

I am a self-proclaimed, feminist. Which is why my next statement may seem a little contradictory or unexpected. Although I hate to admit it, I love cheesy romcoms. Those made for TV movies that have a 2 star rating on Netflix. I’ve seen them all. And I love them. Don’t get me wrong, they’re terrible. The writing is downright painful at times, and the plots are beyond predictable, but deep down I’m a hopeless romantic and these feed my desire to see a happy ending.

I think there’s this fallacy that feminists can’t be romantics. That they have to do everything on their own and resent all men. While there are women who feel this way, and some are feminists, that is not an inherent tenant of feminism.

No, feminism is about the equality of men and women, and when it comes to relationships it’s all about partnership. It doesn’t get more romantic than a mutually supportive team that wants to take on the world together…hence the hopeless romantic in me.

Well, having seen most of the romcoms that are out, I’ve been looking for new material to watch on Friday night (don’t judge my life). So I turned to the one true source of romantic film-making (besides Nicholas Sparks who, for the record, I’m not a fan of). Hallmark.

It started with one Hallmark movie, and then grew into stress binge (yay grad school!) and before I knew it I’d watched 6 or so in a little over a week. (I should note that I generally don’t take a full two hours to watch these. I fast forward through anything that makes me feel awkward which is a pretty decent percentage of the movie.)

Besides the lack of diversity on the entire channel, and the reinforced gender norms at every turn, the most disturbing thing about these movies was how much they were trying to teach me what a woman should want or expect out of a relationship, or rather how much of that was superficial: $20,000 wedding, huge engagement ring, lots of flowers, immediate attraction, super fast commitment, and someone who’s job title is veterinarian, philanthropist, or romance novelist.

Seriously, if any guy is out there reading this and wants to know how to woo me, watch some Hallmark channel, write a list of everything you see, and then title it “How not to date Tracy.”

So if these are all so abhorrent to me, why couldn’t I look away. Why did I keep watching movie after movie?

I think the answer is hope. The movies helped me keep hoping. Hoping that despite my insecurities I can also find someone who thinks the world of me and that I’m excited to see every day. The hope that maybe I’m just at the beginning of my own romantic comedy and “the one,” as they often call him, is going to bump into me tomorrow.

But I think the real truth is, it makes it seem easy. I don’t have to be vulnerable when I watch Hallmark because there’s a formula and it always works out. I don’t have to sacrifice anything with a Hallmark story: the man is too good to be true, and even though the protagonist probably has a tragic past, she doesn’t have much emotional baggage. #totallyrealistic

What we really need more of are movies like About Time. Stories that keep going after the wedding, and cover the infuriating conversations about which dress to wear, and freak outs because the toddler just shredded your presentation, and how to move forward after the death of a loved one and watching people you love struggle.

Hallmark is a cheep imitation of these movies. Movies that remind me of why I still go out there and try to meet new people despite the fact that it’s often a painful experience. Moves that remind me that I want to find someone to be vulnerable with. I want to find someone who isn’t the perfect cookie-cutter man, but a real person that I can share my life with. And even though he likely will not be able to travel through time, we can still work towards building a life worth living over and over and over again. A simple and beautiful life.

So, although I have some fundamental issues with Hallmark’s storytelling formula, and believe it’s a cheep imitation of a good imitation of something wonderful (aka true love), I’ll probably keep on watching the terrible shows because they help me keep hoping, and that’s worth never letting go of. Happy Early Valentine’s Day everyone!

The Birthday Questions

I think my first birthday with the official birthday questions was on my 20th. I was just home from studying abroad in London and had moved in with the women who would quickly become a second family to me.

Now, every time I  answer them, they remind me of those days sitting at our kitchen table under the florescent lights and sky-patterned, crepe-paper ceiling  when it seemed as if everything was possible. So in honor of my recently celebrated birthday, I thought I’d take a minute to reflect with the help of the official birthday questions (Thanks Jessie!).

What was the best part of the last year?

The best part of the last year has been seeing how much more I am capable of than I even realized. A year ago I was still an intern who wasn’t exactly sure what she wanted to do. In the last year I was hired full-time, helped out on some high profile projects, and was accepted to graduate school.

But even beyond all of that, I think that the biggest growth has come in my Church callings. I love thinking about who needs a visit or a meal or a hug and then being the person who brightens another’s day. While these aren’t unnatural responses for me, my natural inclination is to talk to people I already know and stay home on Friday night with a good book. Knowing there are people I want to meet and reach out to has helped me overcome that and build more meaningful relationships.

Something I hope I take away from this experience is that I don’t have to be in a specific calling to minister to the people around me. So much of what I’m doing now, could be done by any member of the ward.

What is a piece of wisdom you’ve gained over the last year?

Keep moving forward and don’t freak out too much. It’s going to work out.

In retrospect that seems so easy to say. That I shouldn’t have been freaking out when my internship was ending and I didn’t have a job, or when I decided to do an MBA and didn’t know what schools I should apply to, or when I had a disagreement with someone and thought we could never recover our friendship.

Thinking about the big decisions and problems and how they could effect your life is almost paralyzing, but stopping for a second and thinking, “What can I do about this today?” has helped me continue moving forward despite the overwhelming stuff that I know needs to be resolved. And it often puts me in a better place by the time the resolution need to be made.

What are you most looking forward to in the next year?

I’m excited to go back to school (minus the lack of sleep, homework, and tuition). I like being stretched intellectually and can already see it applying to work situations. I know it’s going to push me and help me become a better contributor and I like the idea of having more capacity and skills. And surprisingly, I’m excited to meet new people (that’s big for an introvert.) Especially new friends that are outside of my normal Church employment/ward circles.