Hi, My Name Is..

Teddi, and it’s nice to meet you. To be quite frank, it’s been a wild 26 years on this Earth.

I’ve always strived to prove myself somehow whether it be through my creativity or brutal (and loving) honesty. My life hasn’t been particularly “rough,” but it hasn’t always been the smoothest ride either. On this universal plane, I think we can all say that we’ve seen some sh*t and it’s time to open up and speak on it. In the end, I’m just here to entertain you, and [maybe] even put you at ease in some regard. And I’m pretty stoked to do that by sharing some of my anecdotal stories & life experiences with you.

So the better question is – who is Teddi? I’m a cis heteronormative woman who was raised on a quiet farm with a whole lot of land and the freedom to explore my imagination to my heart’s content. Albeit rare in a small, rural town, my parents allowed and embraced me to be who I wanted to be. Whether it be a tri-athlete who struggled with her very enduring growth spurt, a humble equestrian, a curious academic, or an introverted and erratic child with undiagnosed behavioral issues at home. My family underwent a lot of struggles once I turned 8, and financial traumas hit us hard. It was a little messy, but what childhood wasn’t?

My parents loved me, raised me, and here I am; 26 years old with a life of her own, fully developed mental health diagnoses, and two furry children who depend on me. I enjoy the repetitive loop of pop-punk playlists, QT cherry limeade freezeronis (with a mixed berry vodka), and taking part in shenanigans with my best friends. I have a big love for horror movies, I binge and rewatch shows to feed the quiet creature comforts, and I miss going to live shows. All the while, I take time daily to learn about/document mental illness symptoms that affect my every day life. And? I finally have a partner who is also willing to learn about those symptoms and love me just as I am despite the fact.

To be honest with you, there were two significant times in my life where I didn’t think I’d be typing this all up for you to read, but I’m grateful to be here. So I want to thank you, yes, you, for taking the time to take a read into my little spiel. Cheers, my friends, may this be a fun journey for all of us.

xo – Teddi

Finding Claire(ity)

I normally hate talking about myself but I’m on a path of self-love and acceptance, so I suppose writing about myself in a positive light is a step forward in the right direction. 

Instagram @claire.marie.photo

Typically when one reads about someone’s journey to discovering their love for photography, you see a small child being gifted a camera by one of the grandparents who lived in the countryside, where the scenery and the love for the family just really inspired them to pursue their passion for photography.

This is not that story. But truthfully, I don’t think every story has to be packaged with a pretty bow on top: it just has to be real.

Instagram @claire.marie.photo

While my interest in photography did start at a young age, it wasn’t that whole, “I held a camera for the first time and I knew this was my passion” moment.

I grew up in the time of disposable cameras and, for those lucky enough, reusable film cameras. Growing up my mom, like I’m sure most moms in the 90’s, was the one always trying to capture every moment of her children’s life. Whether that be a fun family vacation at the beach or simply playing outside with the dogs, she was always there following us around with a camera.

Seeing her in action definitely inspired me to pick up the disposable cameras and capture moments; granted my moments were less significant than hers.

Instagram @claire.marie.photo

I took the same energy for photography when I was given my first Polaroid camera; the old school ones that were bulky and printed out square photos. I almost understood the concept that Polaroid film was more expensive to buy, but that didn’t stop me from taking a picture of every cat we owned – and trust me, this was a lot of photos as we had a ton of cats at the time.

When that camera finally ran out, it seemed like my interest ran out too. My mom never gifted me a fancy expensive camera since I accidentally dropped her old film camera in the toilet (don’t ask).

So my passion, along with her fancy camera, went down the toilet. 

Instagram @claire.marie.photo

Fast forward a few years to 2014, the summer before sophomore year of college, fatefully my passion was reignited thanks to a former friend and her camera. This friend of mine was always taking photos and coming up with interesting concepts for photo shoots and I wanted to do that!

In an artistic sense, photography was one of the only ways I could express myself. I can’t draw, paint, or write very well, but capturing moments in time and editing them to fit the picture inside my mind seemed like second nature to me.

Instagram @claire.marie.photo

Although it wasn’t until the following summer when I had finally saved enough money to buy my own professional camera.

And, believe it or not, that’s the very same camera I still use today!

It can paint a picture of every self portrait, all the amazing friends that have allowed me to take photos of them, all the animals that have been my practice models and all my European adventures – which includes breaking my lens in Barcelona and hiding my camera on the plane ride to the French Riviera because I couldn’t fit everything into one bag.

Instagram @claire.marie.photo

Every time I hold that camera up, it’s been like an escape for me, a way to push myself to go outside my comfort zone. And let me tell you, outside of the comfort zone can be a beautiful place; it’s helped me create amazing pieces of myself, my friends, and the landscapes around me.

So, you see, young Claire had an air of simplicity about her, if she wanted to take a picture of something she did. Whether that be a polaroid of her foot or a plate of fries – not lying, I really did take pictures starring plates of fries lol – young Claire was just reflexively taking pictures of whatever caught her eye. I’d like to think that I still have that simplicity now as an adult.

Photography doesn’t need to be overly complicated as a lot of people make it out to be, myself included. Sometimes the best photos are the ones that you take on a whim or by accident. I’ve found that sometimes all you gotta do is just take the picture. So while this isn’t the perfect little story about a girl who grew up with a camera permanently in her hands, it is about a girl who learned that the simplicity in the art of photography is the most beautiful story.

. . .

“Political Camp, Dominated by Drag”: Marsha P. Johnson

Rupaul’s Drag Race came into my life later in high school via a friend and their personal obsession. Half of this friend’s witticisms stemming from the show, rendering us all into constant fits of laughter, paired with them constantly showing me photos of men done up as women looking way prettier than I ever felt… I found myself shook, completely intrigued, and tumbling down after my friend in their rabbit hole of a Drag Race obsession.

When I tell you that I live for the queens’ epic one-liners, the sass for days, the looks being served, the rawness of personality and vulnerability unabashedly being displayed, and the LOVE literally EVERYWHERE… girl, I truly live for it. Drag is an art form. I’ve always loved musicals, live music, performances in general, anything where people just get up on stage and express themselves, no qualms about it. And upon my first taste of Drag Race, I immediately felt that drag is just another facet of the performing arts – it’s the same magical world of comedy, confidence, pure talent, and so much more.

Honestly if you don’t vibe with drag, fine but…

Circa 2012, I was deep within the Drag Race labyrinth, my friend at the helm, us both with no desire to escape. I vividly remember being shocked when we found out that not only was Drag Race not new, but Rupaul wasn’t some underground secret queen locked away for high level fiends. No, no – Rupaul was someone our parents had heard of, jammed out to her music in the 90’s, in other words, a freakin’ star.

Why were we ignorant of this whole world until we were nearly 18? One could speculate that it’s one of the many side effects of growing up between the cornfields of Indiana, but that’s a whole other gift to unbox later down the road.

To this day, when I think I’m a bit more well rounded with the drag world, that I know what’s up, I still get surprised by incredibly important figures whom I had no clue existed. The more recent person that crossed my line of discovery is who Rupaul considers the very mother of drag, Marsha P. Johnson.

Image result for marsha p johnson

Marsha ‘Pay it no mind‘ Johnson

Marsha’s story begins in Elizabeth, NJ where she was born on August 24, 1945 (making her a charismatic Virgo) and she was one of seven children. She was raised in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and remained a devout, practicing Christian for her entire life. Her parents were not particularly accepting of homosexuality; and after graduating high school, Marsha booked it over to New York City with $15 and a bag of clothing. By 1966, she was waiting tables, engaging in sex work, knee deep in drag, and living on the streets of Greenwich Village.

“I was no one, nobody, from Nowheresville until I became a drag queen. That’s what made me in New York, that’s what made me in New Jersey, that’s what made me in the world.” 

Marsha P. Johnson

. . .

Marsha had always been an activist for LGBTQ+, but she garnered her fame with the rumor that she sparked the Stonewall Riots having allegedly shouted, “I got my civil rights!” and subsequently throwing a shot glass at a mirror. Some said this — the “shot glass heard round the world” — was the moment that kicked off the riots.

While this is admittedly a largely disputed story, even by Marsha herself… how freakin’ epic does it sound, though?

To further build on Marsha’s bad-assery, in 1970, she and her friend Sylvia Rivera founded STAR (Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries) — an organization that provided community support for gay, trans, and gender nonconforming youth. STAR was the first LGBTQ+ youth shelter in North America, the first trans woman of color led organization in the USA, and it was the first trans sex worker labor organization. STAR later expanded to other cities, before unfortunately collapsing in the mid-1970s.

Marsha was also involved with the Gay Liberation Front and participated in the Christopher Street Liberation Pride rally that commemorated the first anniversary of Stonewall. During a rally, Marsha was asked by a member of the press what they were protesting for, to which she shouted famously into the reporter’s microphone, “Darling, I want my gay rights now!”

Throughout Marsha’s activism, she was still living it up performing in drag utilizing her earnings to fund STAR – aka pay rent for those under STAR’s care. Periodically she performed with the international drag troupe, Hot Peaches, which caught my eye for obvious reasons! Hot Peaches was a drag theatre company, founded by Jimmy Camicia in 1972, that would put on a play a week up until the 1990’s.

The work of these Hot Peaches has been described as “political camp, dominated by drag” and was instrumental in the development of the WOW Café as the Hot Peaches performed there frequently and set the tone, culture, and aesthetic of the space.

During her Hot Peaches time, Marsha was also performing with various other drag troupes, a muse for Andy Warhol, and was an AIDS activist working with ACT UP as an organizer and marshal.

She was a revolutionary.

Tragedy struck on July 6, 1992 when Marsha was found dead in the Hudson River. The police and coroner ended up rapidly ruling her death a suicide, despite pressure from the community and the blatant wound in the back of her head.

Almost as if the karmatic activism that Marsha put in the world was now circling back to carry on her legacy, in 2012, Mariah Lopez convinced the police to reopen Marsha’s case as a homicide, in 2017, Victoria Cruz conducted her very own investigation of the murder, and in 2018, Marsha P. Johnson finally got her obituary in the New York Times.

Her legacy even further lives on through the Marsha P. Johnson Institute (MPJI).

MPJI MISSION STATEMENT: “Protect and defend the human rights of BLACK transgender people. We do this by organizing, advocating, creating an intentional community to heal, developing transformative leadership, and promoting our collective power.”

“No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”

Marsha P. Johnson

. . .

According to research from the 2015 US Trans Survey – Report on the Experiences of Black Respondents: Black trans and gender non-conforming people report experiencing the highest levels of discrimination of all transgender people based on the combination of anti-transgender bias with structural and individual racism.

Marsha pioneered the fight at great length, she made a difference, but it’s our responsibility as a society to push for what is an evolutionary change. It is such a systemic discrimination taking place that it isn’t a change that can take place over night, but it is a change that can happen through meticulous desire and collective grind.

It’s important to get familiar with how to make a difference. Admittedly, this is perhaps the hardest part. As a straight white woman who grew up in a predominantly white corn-shuckin’ town in the Midwest, I struggle with this. How can I make a difference? As you could clearly tell from the beginning of this article, I’ve watched every season (nearly) of Drag Race and thought I knew all there was to know about drag and ‘the story of.’ Laughable.

I want to make a difference but to do that, I still have a lot of unlearning and learning to do.

As someone, somewhere, roughly once said, “You have to understand the system in order to break the system,” so here are some starting points if you want to travel down a compassionate road with me:

“How many years does it take for people to see that we’re all brothers and sisters and human beings in the human race? I mean how many years does it take for people to see that we’re all in this rat race together?”

-Marsha P. Johnson

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Everything in this article barely scratches the surface of Marsha P. Johnson and the discrimination of black trans and gender non-conforming people. Please peruse my sources and do your own research to learn more.

SOURCES:

World Queerstory, MPJI, Stonewall Foundation, NYC’s Hot Peaches, The Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), New York Times, BTAC, Vanity Fair, NY Daily News, WOW Cafe Theater, History on the Stonewall Riots, Biography on Sylvia Rivera

An Ode to Jenna Marbles

If you’ve spent any amount of time on the internet – specifically YouTube or Tumblr – in the last decade, at some point you’ve probably run across Jenna Marbles. Considered to be a part of the original group of YouTubers, Marbles posted her first notable video in 2010 titled ‘How to Trick People into Thinking You’re Good Looking’. Instantly a star thanks to her witty humor, adorable pets, fun skits and relatable content, Jenna Marbles has continued to make thousands laugh every ‘Wednesday-slash-Thursday’, until now. 

From make-up tutorials to dog birthdays to drunk crafts, Jenna Marbles has been a constant in my life for a decade. There was a time recently, when I was deep in the waves of a gnarly depression spell, where the weekly videos she posted were the one thing I could count on to give me a brief moment of happiness. Just five minutes where I would feel okay – a few lighthearted laughs at whatever antics she pulled. Even if it was one of her less exciting videos where she dip-dyed Crocs just for the hell of it – it was everything to me. 

Her content has changed dramatically over the years. Starting out she was a foul-mouthed ranting 22 year old in the Wild West of the internet. She made some problematic videos which were removed over the years as she transitioned into her new style. She’s since become a much more calm, mindfulness-minded *32 year old lady*.

Jenna decided to leave YouTube, social media, the whole shebang, at the beginning of the summer this year after many fans brought back long-deleted videos where she was being problematic. She posted one of the most realistic and relatable apology videos (that has since been removed) that I’ve ever seen and trust me, I watch them all when I’m bored – shout/out James Charles for the never ending stream of them. This is my ode to Jenna Marbles.

Jenna,

You’ve allowed us unfiltered access to your life for a decade; through break ups, new pets, new homes, everything. You’ve created endless jokes and relatable content for a sea of greedy fish. While I’ve never met you and never will, you provided a light during the darkest times of my life and for that, I will be forever grateful. I hope that you feel as much love and happiness as you’ve given to us over the last ten years, even if you decide to never return to the internet world. 

Always a fan,

Bailey 

Whatcha Thinkin’? – Introducing Alex

Hey everyone, my name is Alex and I’m the host of a podcast called Whatcha Thinkin’? I started this podcast on January 31, 2020 with some goals in mind.

I’m from a small town in Kentucky, moved to Louisville in the summer of 2019. I graduated from Western Kentucky University (May 2019) with my bachelors degree in systems management and got engaged a few months later. I am a huge nerd and I say that with pride. And I have Aspergers or high functioning autism.

I love attending comic cons where I’ve met the cast of Powderpuff Girls, Arrow, The Flash, My Hero Academia, Belle and Gaston from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and so many more celebrities. I love watching comedy specials on Netflix and I got to meet my favorite comedian Iliza Shlesinger. (Still can’t believe I met her!)

I enjoy swimming, baking, writing, cooking, spending time with my family and friends – and I have a passion for learning. In 2017 when I finished community college, that’s when I started listening to podcasts. After a few years went by, I found an app that allows me to create my own podcast.

I started “Whatcha Thinkin’?” so I could have an outlet to talk about everything from the history of basketball, lightsabers meanings in Star Wars, to the difference in dorks, nerds, and geeks. But these topics are just the tip of the iceberg to what I plan to share with y’all.

Breeze through Season Oneout now – and prep for a more in depth look at Alex Aikin in Season Two, coming soon!

Tips From A Serial Wanderer

Long-time traveler and friend, Agnieszka, sat down with me to discuss everything she’s learned from a life of traveling. Currently residing and studying in Germany, she splits her time with her family in California. Agnieszka has traveled to roughly 45 countries since childhood including: Canada, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Bahamas, Iceland, England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Liechtenstein, Czech Republic, Monaco, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Tanzania , Kenya, China, Nepal, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Cuba, Dominican Republic


Tanzania, 2012

Where did your desire/love of travel come from?
I’ve been lucky enough to have been raised by a father with an insatiable passion and love for traveling. Since I can remember, he was constantly trying to find any opportunity for an adventure and almost always trying to bring his family along. Traveling with him were and still are the most fun and exciting experiences of my life. 

So where did your dad’s love of travel come from?
It was really his inability to travel. My parents grew up in Poland – which was then a communist country under (official/unofficial?) control of the Soviet Union. Traveling to another country was heavily restricted… people could essentially only travel to other communist/soviet eastern European countries. And when something is forbidden from you, usually that’s something you then really want. Growing up my father actually thought about becoming a sailer because that was then one of the very few opportunities to actually travel and see the world. Instead he immigrated at 23 years old to the US and as soon as he was able to afford it, his (and our) world adventures began.

Nepal, 2017

Do you prefer traveling alone or with others?
That’s a difficult question for me. There is a lot of good in both and I’ve enjoyed both tremendously. Traveling alone is – at least for me – a huge challenge. But it was a challenge that allowed me to learn a lot about myself and how to positively develop as a person. I’m self-conscious and antisocial and really quite nervous around people and so I had a lot of difficulty opening up to incredible people I was meeting during my travels alone and probably missed out on a lot of amazing experiences. But the occasions when someone was brave enough to push through my barriers and invite me along on their adventures or show me kindness and love are memories I will always always always cherish – and I would have probably also never experienced those had I been traveling with others. 

So I am grateful for the times I traveled alone and hope to travel alone again in the future… I had freedom to do and see what I pleased without worrying about what anyone else wanted but I then also had the freedom to meet and spend time with whatever wonderful person I meant along the way and experience so many other awesome things beyond just visiting the next famous site. Traveling with others is wonderful because I then have someone to share not only the incredible moments with but also the difficult times. It is not as lonely and therefore is not as mentally challenging.

Machu Picchu, 2012

Stereotypically, society says that women should not travel alone. Have you also experienced that stigma? Or do you feel that it is equally as safe as long as you’re smart about it?
Of course. As a women I’ve experienced sexism and many kinds of sexual harassment. There are countries I probably would not have traveled to had I been alone and don’t have the desire to visit in the future without a male companion. It is not as equally safe for women to travel in several parts of the world. But that has not and will not prevent me from traveling alone – and I don’t think it should prevent any other woman from doing so. Horrible things happen to people everywhere – even of course in the most “modern” and “safe” countries. In the end, it’s important to be as cautious as possible, avoid any possibly dangerous situations as much as humanly possible, and to always try to plan how to keep yourself safe in any given situation. Also I find that one should also try to respect the culture and customs of whatever place they’re visiting… if you’re visiting a country in which women generally cover their bodies in loose clothing, or cover their hair, or avoid doing a certain thing then I think it’s not only respectful to try to do the same, it also avoids more attention on you and hopefully then keeps you a little more safe.

Do you have any tips for staying in hostels?
I am not particularly easy-going about where or how I sleep, so I spend quite a lot of time and effort in choosing which hostels I will stay at – I proably spend more time on that than on actually planning what I will do outside the hostel once I’m there. I’ve only ever stayed in hostels in Europe and I would find and reserve them on “hostelworld.com.” I would base my decision on reviews, whether they provided breakfast, whether it was located close to the places I wanted to visit but also in a safe area, and of course on price. If you are like me and have a deep dislike of sleeping in dirty beds and showering in disgusting showers, these are my suggestions:

France, 2018
  • Book the hostel in advance. Give yourself time to do research and find the best one… This may however unfortunately require you to not take the cheapest bed in the cheapest hostel. 
  • Try to stay in a hostel in or at least near the areas you’d really like to visit or at least in an area that is said to be safe. I’ve stayed in hostels that fulfilled neither requirement and it made my time in that city/area much less enjoyable. 
  • Unless you can sleep through literally everything, bring earplugs and something to cover your eyes!
  • Bring a bedsheet or a sleeping bag! I am very sensitive about sleeping in unclean sheets and so bringing my own definitely allowed me to sleep much better. (I always brought a thin bedsheet with me which took up very little space in my backpack and which I used to wrap around me while I slept, serving as a mattress & pillow cover and as a blanket.
  • Bring flip flops to wear in the shower and a fast-drying towel!
  • Bring a lock! Oftentimes the hostels would provide lockers or similar to store your baggage but they would rarely come with locks and were of course always in public areas so a lock is great for additional security and sense of peace.
Dubai, 2016

What are 5 must-have essentials when traveling? (Besides the obvious)
I don’t really know if there are essentials other than the obvious. I find more people overpack and worry about bringing so much unnecessary things… unless you plan to go deep into no-man’s-land, you will be able to find and buy soap and other basic essentials. I’ve also never been one to travel and actually try to look attractive so I have no suggestions on essentials for when that is a goal of yours… But I suppose some things that I do try to always bring with me are: a comfortable day backpack/bag that closes all the way, medication for the basic pains and aches that you know works well for you, comfortable shoes, a rain jacket, and some secure way to keep my passport and money on me at all times.

Where is the favorite place/places that you’ve traveled?
I have never had nor will I ever have an answer to this question. I truly have difficulty trying to think of one place that I enjoyed more than the others. I have loved and appreciated every single place I’ve ever been to – even the places where I had unpleasant experiences and the places I’d never want to visit again. From every single adventure I learned something and experienced something good and I am grateful for them all. 

India, 2015

Where’s the most underrated or surprising place you’ve been?
Hmmm… this is also difficult. I suppose I am particularly grateful for my experiences in the economically/systematically “poorer” parts of the world. I am often thinking about my experiences in Tanzania where my father and I summited Mt. Kilimanjaro. I will never forget how kind the people were to us and how many huge, happy, beautiful smiles I saw and how much laughter I heard. This memory is something I always try to protect in my heart to remind myself to be grateful, to smile, and to just be freaking kind.

How important is the planning before a trip?
Well… I guess that depends on how easy-going you are, what is important for you to achieve from this trip and what you know you want to see or do. I do always try to plan enough in advance so that I can at least book where I will be sleeping and know what I can do the next day, but I have never planned all details of an entire trip. So it’s not necessarily important… I’ve learned that it is much easier and more enjoyable if you allow yourself to “go with the flow”.

Argentina, 2014

How do you find the less touristy places?
I google and read through a lot of blogs and travel websites, I always ask hotel/hostel staff for recommendations, I ask anyone and everyone I meet along the way for their suggestions, and I always try to get a map of the area from the hotel/hostel and I go through all the sites that are usually marked on them. But… I don’t purposely try to avoid the “touristy” places… they’re often touristy for a reason and I think they are worth seeing if it is indeed something you’re interested in. 

Where’s the next place you’re traveling?
I am deeply saddened to say that I have no idea when or where I will be able to travel next. Not only because of the pandemic, but also because my studies allow me to have very little life or time outside of it and when I do have any time free, I am utilizing it to visit my parents in California. I have lots of ideas and dreams and I hope I’ll be able to make one of them a reality sometime soon. With my boyfriend perhaps Norway or South Africa. My father’s next ambitions are exploring Bhutan and Madagascar, snowboarding in Japan and in the Andes, and kitesurfing in Zanzibar.I also would like to try to find an opportunity to travel a little bit alone again.


Travel Tips for First Time Travelers:

  • Be open-minded. Be open to new experiences (foods, languages, customs, behavior, people) and try to find the good in them all.
  • Be ready to get out of your comfort zone. Traveling often includes stressful, frustrating, uncomfortable situations. Breathe through them. It will be OK and it really is all worth it in the end. Either way, it’s a story to tell for later.
  • Be respectful of other cultures. Do your research about what is illegal and what is considered disrepectful in the area you plan to explore. That is also perhaps involves adapting your behavior/appearance. 
  • Please don’t assume everyone speaks english. I find it more respectful to ask if the person speaks english before beginning to speak to them in it. Perhaps even try to at least pick up some basic words – especially the word “thank you” or “please”. And if you’re American, please do try to speak more quietly… we are really generally quite loud and it really can be quite annoying.
  • Don’t pack too much. You can always wash your clothes while traveling or buy essentials like shampoo at a store.
  • Look into local transport – some cities have apps available for subway lines, buses, etc. And it’s good to know a little bit about what is available in an area so you can always try to find the best and cheapest traveling solution. Find a map of the local area and embrace it! And most importantly – try to walk a little! Some of the coolest things I’ve discovered in a city have just been things I’ve walked past on my way to somewhere else.
  • Go with the flow and be flexible. It will make life much easier for you and you’ll discover incredible things. I promise.
  • Don’t keep important or expensive items in the back pocket of your pants or in the front pockets or the very bottom of a backpack. I’ve met so many people who have had things stolen from them and I’ve seen it in action as well. 
  • Try to be cautious and attentive about everything around you. Be aware of your surroundings so you can try to better protect yourself from possible dangerous situations. Err on the side of safety.
  • Traveling doesn’t have to be unaffordable. Try to be flexible with where and when you travel. Spend time looking at multiple websites for flights and hotels/hostels and try out every single date/location combination you can think of and you’ll be surprised what kind of possibilities you’ll find.

As my father always says, “traveling is the best teacher.” You’ll not only learn about other people and ways of life, but also about yourself and how you can be a better you. You’ll find so much gratitude and love for yourself, for others, and for this planet. Don’t be afraid – be open to the challenges that come with traveling and adventuring and embrace what you learn from them. Follow your heart, find what you want from your life, and just go for it. All in. 

Small Business Significance: Jennifer Knef of KnefTee

Meet Jennifer Knef and her husband, Sam:

Jennifer has been my best friend for nearly 15 years. They currently reside in Michigan where Sam works as a news reporter. Jennifer has a degree in teaching, works in dental assisting, teaches ESL (English as a Second Language), is a Poshmark ambassador, and now has her very own Etsy shop alongside her husband! To say she inspires me daily is an understatement. This woman is a powerhouse and I’m so grateful she sat down with me to talk about the importance of running a small business.


    L: So tell me about KnefTee. Who are you?

    J: KnefTee is an Etsy shop where my husband and I create our own fun-loving, colorful graphic tees.

    L: When did you all get started?

    J: YouTube actually inspired me to get the ball rolling. The creators I was watching at the time were talking a lot about entrepreneurship and being creative. I’ve always been a creative soul; I love to draw and design. So it got me thinking, “what could I do at home to where I don’t need a lot of up-front capital?” I had the idea back in April during the stay-at-home-order. We launched our Etsy shop in May.

    L: Awesome! I know the stay-at-home order gave a lot of people time in their homes to spark creativity. So KnefTee was your idea to get started?

    J: Yes. Sam was a little more hesitant because he was under the impression that we’d have to buy inventory and have lots of money upfront. I can’t blame him because that’s what a lot of people think! Luckily, I had done my research beforehand and found ways we could do a partnership with a manufacturer. We create the designs and they put it on the physical product. That way, we didn’t have to bring money to the table at the start. It’s a very beginner-friendly system!

    L: Absolutely — I can see how it’d be intimidating not knowing about the partnership when you’re just starting. So, you and Sam draw all your designs by hand, correct?

    J: Right. We both draw them by hand on our sketch app on our iPad.

    L: That’s so cool! Was there any sort of learning curve when drawing that way compared to drawing on a piece of paper?

    J: For sure. You need to make sure you have a quality stylus, too, to ensure you don’t have an issue with your artwork not looking how you picture it. I would definitely say having a well-made stylus is essential to what we do.

    L: That’s a great tip for anyone starting in digital artwork. Speaking of, what gives you the inspiration behind your designs? Do you make an effort to follow current trends?

    J: I focus most of my efforts on creating what I could see myself wearing or something unique that you can’t find anywhere else. I know graphic tees are everywhere, so Sam and I use our combined efforts to create designs you wouldn’t normally see walking into the mall, for example.

    L: And I think that’s great! It leads me to my follow-up question: how do you feel KnefTee separates itself from other graphic t-shirt brands?

    J: Our tees aren’t manufactured in the masses. When it comes from KnefTee it’s going to be an original design, to where when you buy from a big box store, you know there will be lots of other people with the same shirt. That’s one thing I love about small business, you will more than likely be one of the only people around wearing that tee in your city.

    L: We love a unique sister! Okay here’s a tough one: what’s your favorite design that you’ve created so far, and what’s your favorite design that Sam has created so far?

    J: Oh gosh that is tough! I can definitely say that Sam’s “Updog” shirt is my favorite that he’s created because it’s a good icebreaker into getting people talking about KnefTee. Plus, it’s hilarious! Wearing something that can make someone laugh is extremely important.

    J: As far as my designs go, my “Be Kind” shirt is definitely my most popular seller, and I can see why. It spreads a positive message which I feel is what people want to wear and want to see other people wearing.

    J: Other than that, I’d probably say the teacher shirts that I design. I remember back when I was teaching, I loved wearing the colorful tees! The “Get Your Cray-On” is specifically my favorite.

    L: Those are adorable. I have both the “Be Kind” and “Updog” shirts and I get compliments every time I wear them! Moving forward, would you ever want to move the business to full-time — opening a physical storefront or boutique?

    J: NO. Definitely not, but I have a good reason why! Sam and I love the freedom of being able to dive into other passions on top of KnefTee. I’d never want a brick-and-mortar store because I feel like online is the way the world is working nowadays. Online shopping is the way to go. This way, I can do something that I love but still have free time to do other things that I’m passionate about. If I spent all my time on the shop, I’d miss out on other hobbies. Our current arrangement is perfect for me, especially since we partner with a manufacturer. It’s not that I don’t love doing it, but I have other passions, you know?

    L: That’s really respectable. I love that you have set boundaries and know when it’s time to stop for the week. I believe very strongly in setting aside time to work on things you love. Can you see KnefTee ever branching out to making things besides tees? I know “tee” is literally in the name of your business.

    J: Actually, I’ve been taking courses for the past three months on how to better your brand taught by a professional Etsy seller. She talks about how you need to be able to excel in one specific category rather than having a little bit of everything. Think about when you go to a restaurant: if you have a menu with burgers, fish, pizza, tacos, etc. it can be a little overwhelming, right? That’s not what I want for my business. I don’t want to oversaturate my customers and I don’t want to spread myself too thin.

    J: If we ever did, however, they would be what my teacher calls “sister products”. A sister product is an item that goes along with a shirt. You wouldn’t want to sell a shirt and then all of a sudden you’re selling something like candles — it’s too random. But maybe we could sell baseball caps with our logo, hoodies, long sleeves, or crew necks. I do want to say, though, if you do that at your shop and it works for you, that’s great! I’m going for more of a boutique feel; that’s the kind of buyer experience I want online.

    L: Yes for sure! You are absolutely entitled to that. It’s your business, so you have the freedom to sell whatever you want. Switching gears a little, how has the dreaded coronavirus impacted KnefTee?

    J: Both negatively and positively. One positive has come from being home all the time. We were able to create designs and have them in our arsenal before we launched so we’d have a good variety when we opened the shop. Negatively, from June to July, our manufacturer was very backed up on our orders. Our processing time for shirts was up to 12 weeks! We probably got three orders that entire time which makes sense, who wants to wait that long for a t-shirt? Not me. That has been one downside to the partnership because Sam and I don’t have the manufacturing tools to physically make the shirts.

    J: It’s not the manufacturer’s fault, though! I don’t blame them for having to reduce their employees. We are going through a world-wide pandemic, after all. People weren’t wanting to spend money on t-shirts, myself included! There were more important things to buy during that time. Luckily, sales have gotten better since then! People are buying more and our processing time is anywhere from 5-10 days, not three months like it was earlier this year.

    L: Thank goodness! I know that was a very stressful time for many small business owners. Where can people find you online to see more?

    J: It’s super easy, we’re KnefTee everywhere! Instagram, Facebook, and Etsy. I love it because it’s my last name along with a play off the word “nifty”. Nifty / KnefTee, get it?

    *mind blown*

    J: Yeah! Originally we were going to call the shop “Nifty Tee”, but Sam had the genius idea, “what if we just called it ‘Knef Tee’?”

    L: I’m shocked and ashamed I didn’t piece that together earlier! That’s amazing. Before we wrap things up, is there anything else you want to share about KnefTee?

    J: I’d like everyone to keep in mind that with small businesses, there’s an actual person behind every design that we make. Sam and I care so much about our customers and truly enjoy putting in the effort to make our designs the best they can be. I’m sitting in my home putting these together — the artwork behind it is inspired by us thinking “what do people want to wear? What could we design that will make somebody smile?” Yes, we do partner with a manufacturer who physically makes and ships our tees, but each design that goes onto them is unique and created from my husband and me. The designs are made from the heart.


    BABs of History: Lizzie Johnson

    “BAB?? What’s a BAB?”

    It’s a not a what, it’s a who – and she is a Boss Ass Bitch. This article is the start of a new PKC series where knowledge is shared on BABs throughout history that shockingly didn’t make it into our mansplained school curriculum.

    First up is educator, entrepreneur, activist, and Taurus: Lizzie Johnson, the “Cattle Queen of Texas.”

    Lizzie was born in 1840 in Missouri, but she moved to Texas at such an early age that she really did most of her growing in The Lone Star State. The daughter of teachers, she was quick to follow in their footsteps and became an educator at her parents institute for sometime before opening her own school in Austin. While Lizzie valued playing a part in educating the future leaders of America, she craved a life that was simply more. Her need for change, her general need for more, led her to a bookkeeping gig for numerous cattlemen that all held high status and great wealth in Austin. After a short time of being nose deep in these prominent cowboys’ accounting books, she thought, “Well I can do what these guys do, easy.”

    And she did.

    By her early thirties, Lizzie had bought her first ten acres of land and was among the first women to wrangle her own cattle along one of the major routes through Texas – the Chisholm Trail. Her success was revolutionary, her path was trailblazing, and while she was building this empire, she was still an educator and did not stop teaching at her school in Austin until well into her forties. Lizzie Johnson challenged societal norms, pushed through gender roles set before her, and was an activist with a passion for both women’s rights and additionally prison reform.

    In the midst of expanding her business, Lizzie fell in love with widower Hezekiah Williams. But before she would marry him, our BAB, Lizzie, required a prenup that stated she would remain in full control of all of her finances and all of her property – Hezekiah couldn’t touch it without her say so.

    Can we take a moment to applaud this revolutionary act that no doubt caused a ripple in the community? A woman in the 19th century not relinquishing control of her life to her husband?! Blasphemous!

    This BAB said, “My blood, my sweat, my tears, my brain – my money.”

    And honestly Hezekiah must have been a dope dude, because he signed it and they were happily married, boosting each other along their respective ambitions until his death in 1914. Her husband’s death absolutely crushed her, resulting in her to live her remaining ten years as what locals called her: a miserly recluse. I refuse to end her story on a sad note, so you should most certainly know that by the end of her life, old gal, Lizzie, had acquired 160 acres of land and amassed $250,000 which would convert to nearly $3 million today! And more notably, in 2013, she was inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum.

    . . .

    What can be learned from Lizzie Johnson is that following familial traditions is okay up until the point which you find yourself unsatisfied. Don’t ever ignore the hunger inside you craving more, don’t ever try to tame your fire to make others feel comfortable – sort out what you want and create a realistic path of how you’re going to get there, then make it happen. Most of all, Lizzie is a prime example of all of the limitless possibilities that can happen when you know your worth.

    . . .

    Sources: Smithsonian Mag, WITH, Wide Open Country, TSHA

    Changing and Growing: Grace Seward with Evergreen Video Production

    Much like the evergreen tree, we humans are constantly changing and growing. I sat down with Grace Seward, a pal from college-turned talented photographer and videographer of Evergreen Video Production. Enjoy her hand-picked favorite shots throughout — we love to see a friend succeed!


    L: Tell me about how Evergreen got started.

    G: I work at a local news station in Creative Services doing things like commercials. It didn’t get old, but it was a lot more “commercial” and less creativity. I have a friend, Lori of Lori O’Shea Films who is an Event Videographer and she’s always pushed me to get out there and flex my creative muscle. Within a few months I was kind of making a website… but not really. Out of the blue, Lori text me saying, “Hey, I booked a wedding for you! I need all your contact information ASAP.” I was like, whoa, okay let’s do this! I had to get it together and create an email address and Instagram page in order to get the ball rolling. So I was basically sitting on the couch, watching TV when Lori texted reaching out and starting this process for me. She’s been amazing every step of the way, uplifting me and giving me really helpful advice.

    L: We need friends who will push us sometimes! Speaking of, is it just you who is in charge at Evergreen, or do you have a partner?

    G: I do have a partner! It’s my boyfriend, Tayler, and me, he helps with more of the bookings. He’s really talented at knowing the business side of things like tax information and how to start actually making some money.

    L: Yes, get that money! So where did the name “Evergreen” come from?

    G: I didn’t want it to be just my name because it felt weird – also no one knows how to say my last name! (Pronounced Soo-Werd, FYI). I wanted it to be a product and not just me starting a business-type thing. Evergreen came about because I wanted it to be nature-related as well as the fact that my boyfriend has a music project, TwoPine. I thought well hey, I like trees too! And evergreens are always changing and growing which I found fitting.

    L: I love that! It’s so sweet that you found inspiration through him. What is your favorite piece of work you’ve done so far and why?

    G: My favorite would have to be the Bluegrass piece (pictured left) that I did because I got to be kind of weird and creative with it. I was able to get my friend, Megan, do some pretty “out there” poses and it honestly made me a little emotional! It helped me realize that I’m growing into an artist and not just someone who takes pictures.

    L: Right, because it’s always “your cousin who has a nice camera” vs. true photographers coming up with ideas, creative poses, etc. In that same realm, do you ever plan on taking pictures of anything besides people? What do you enjoy doing most?

    G: I really like taking pictures of people – I like shooting weddings the most currently. I do enjoy landscapes, but I find people more interesting and I think people normally want to look at other people.

    L: I agree. Do you have any other services besides photography?

    G: I’m open to anything, really. I would love to get even more creative. I feel the main marketable business right now is definitely weddings, but we can also do video. We can do music videos, local marketing videos – there are a lot of cool local businesses around here.

    L: Yes, there are such cool spaces to work with! Well to wrap things up, where can we find out more about Evergreen?

    G: I have a website, it’s https://www.evergreenvp.com/ – also an Instagram @evergreenvideo – and you can find me on Facebook at Evergreen Video Production. We have all of our pricing on the website as well!

    Making a Drag Queen: Euphoria MarxxX

    Who is Euphoria MarxxX? A millennial drag queen that’s ready to shake up the political world? Most definitely. Someone ready to question the norms of society and how we view politics? Absolutely.

    I met Kyle/Euphoria nearly four years ago while we were still bright-eyed, bushy-tailed seniors in college, studying abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. We connected quickly thanks to our shared midwestern roots and a dark sense of humor that could make anyone squirm. We reconnected over zoom this week to trace the path from Aix to drag. This is her story.


    Part One: Studying Abroad

    B: What made you want to study abroad?
    E: I really always wanted to. I wanted to study abroad in high school, but I thought that if I went then that I’d miss out on something. (Hello FOMO!) Look how great that turned out for me! When I went to college, I thought that maybe it was the best time. I pursued a Bachelor of Arts which required 12 hours of a foreign language. I decided my sophomore year that I would complete the entire requirement in one semester abroad. I’d taken french in high school so I knew I wanted to go somewhere french speaking. It worked out perfectly.

    B: What was that experience like for you?
    E: It was amazing – I want to go back so badly. There were obviously ups and downs, but overall it was such an amazing and life changing experience. It was culturally enlightening, we built friendships and had this whole experience together that no one else but our group had. We picked up our lives, moved across the world for six months, became friends for six months and then moved back to the States. It’s such a weird concept.

    B: What about a favorite or least favorite memory?
    E: I loved going out with our group in general. I loved going out and experiencing that social environment of living in a different country where everyone is speaking another language. It was definitely a culture shock. I loved our spring break trip – that will always be at the top of the list [read more about that here and here]. Except Bruxelles – nothing good happened there. As for least favorite, I once got on a bus to Bordeaux and our friend didn’t make it in time; I was horrified. I didn’t have any internet connection or a working cell phone, thinking ‘what am I going to do?’. I was honestly afraid that I’d go to this city and never make it back home.

    B: If you could do it again, what would you change?
    E: I would say that I’d want to go out and experience life more, but I feel like we did so much of that. We were always getting Crêpe à Go Go or pizza from Pizza Capri in town. I wish I would have stayed longer. I only stayed a week or two after classes were done so that I could be home to walk at graduation. If you’re thinking of about studying abroad, just do it. Don’t think about it. Figure out how to make it work and do it. It was such a liberating experience, even with the shitty parts I loved it. I look back on it so fondly now.

    B: What was it like returning to Missouri after studying abroad?
    E: I was going through a sort of transformation as a human being while studying abroad, I think. Right before leaving to study abroad, I was dealing with the death of my grandpa, the break up of my engagement and my ex’s mother passing so I was dealing with a lot emotionally. When I came back from studying abroad, I hadn’t really dealt with any of it yet, so it was a weird time. Within a year of coming home, I came out as gay. Around this time I started having a rift with my family because of their political views and homophobia. I decided to not deal with that sort of view or attitude in my life anymore. After I graduated college, I lived at home for maybe a month and then found a new place to live and moved out. That was one of the best decisions I’ve made, but coming back home was definitely hard.

    B: How did your life/perspective change after studying abroad?
    E: Studying abroad definitely made me a more liberated human. I felt like more of an adult, like I could adapt or figure out anything I put my mind to. I felt like we were in such precarious situations sometimes and we would just figure it out – even with the language barrier. We were kicked off the bus on the side of a mountain and still made it home. I think that when I came home I decided that I wasn’t going to settle for unhappiness anymore. Had I not studied abroad, I truly believe it would have taken me longer to come to terms with who I am. 


    Part Two: Center Stage

    B: When did you first become interested in drag?
    E: I didn’t become truly interested in drag until February of this year. When the pandemic hit, my boyfriend Josh had just moved in with me and he’d always tried to get me to watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. Watching the show really changed my perception of what drag is. I saw how revolutionary it was and how it questions the gender binary. For me, I had never been able to express femininity and this was an outlet for me to explore that. It started off as kind of a joke – just doing it for fun. But I really didn’t want to half ass something, so I started spending more time practicing it. I started to think, ‘Ok, what can I do with this? I’m in quarantine, but how can I still reach people?’. That’s when I started exploring the idea of political drag. Drag queens have always been the torchbearers for political revolution, especially for the LGBTQ community. They were the ones who stood up to the police at Stonewall and they’re the reason we celebrate pride and it’s so important today to not forget that. I started thinking of how I could still contribute to this political movement, even while social distancing. I decided that I’m going to interview political members while in drag. I want my community, the community I’m surrounded with, to appreciate this as an art form of it. It’s creative.

    B: How does it feel to be doing drag in such an intense political climate?
    E: It’s given me some anxiety for sure. Even just by announcing to the world that this is what I’m doing, I’m obviously alienating myself from people who may not agree with this. I have to keep reminding myself, ‘what am I doing this for?’. I want to question the norm and I want people to do that as well. It’s very liberating but also a little bit scary.

    B: Does the popularity of RuPaul’s Drag Race give you any extra security – knowing that drag is in such a public space now?
    E: I do think it helps. RuPaul has said numerous times on the show that the world would be a better place if more people did drag, and I believe that. She also says don’t take yourself too seriously. In this interview the runway is executive realness. I’m wearing six inch stripper heels, a vibrator necklace and there’s an eggplant emoji in the background. It is so ridiculous. That’s what I have to remind myself; not to take myself too seriously which is something I do often.

    B: Who are your drag influences?
    E: One of my all time favorites – despite her diva moment – is Alaska Thunderf**k 5000. Then it’d be Naomi Smalls, Kim-Chi, Katya Zamolodchikova and Violet Chachki. The first season I watched was season 4, which was in 2012. One of the challenges on the show was to do a presidential campaign, running as the first drag queen of the United States. So many of the contestants said, “I just don’t associate drag with politics”. To me, everything about drag is political. Everything. 

    B: What is the future of Euphoria – what is the end goal?
    E: Right now, I’m trying to not set expectations. I think that’s something that gave me a lot of anxiety when I first started. When I went public with this, it was ‘oh now there’s an expectation’. My ultimate goal would be to inspire or to empower anyone that I can. I’ve had one person reach out about me going public with my drag saying that it empowered them to start experimenting with drag which is amazing. At the end of the day, that’s what I want. I think our social media presence is more impactful than people realize – I didn’t realize it until this experience. 

    Follow along on Euphoria MarxxX’s journey on Instagram

    Watch her first political interview with 2020 Candidate for Congress Maite Salazar

    Winnie’s Story: Young and Diagnosed

    On the outside, Winnie H. looks like any 27-year-old woman: beautiful, thin, tan and well put together. She works two jobs, like any other twenty-something, tries to go to the gym as often as possible, has an enormous library on her kindle and is completing a job certification. However, on the inside, she is in constant pain. Winnie has Fibromyalgia.

    I met Winnie at the age of 14. I, like most other teenagers, was full of energy and eager to do anything for fun. I knew that Winnie had some sort of illness, but I never fully understood why she hated giving me hugs or why some days she felt like she couldn’t get out of bed. As I got older and talked more with her, I learned more about the “disease” Winnie had and why it affected her the way it did.

    Today, I sat down with Winnie to ask her more questions about what Fibromyalgia was and how it affected her.

    _________________________________________________________________

    How old were you when you realized something was wrong? What kind of symptoms were you feeling?

    I was 10 years old. It was after I had my appendix taken out and I figured all of the pain I felt was because of that, but then it started to get worse. The pain got to be unbearable. I didn’t like the feeling of my clothes on my body. I couldn’t let anyone touch me at all. Even when family would try to hug me, it hurt too much, so I’d run away from them. I pretty much avoided “goodbyes” at family gatherings.

    To describe the pain…on good days it feels sort of like body aches from the flu. On bad days, it feels like pins and needles, like when you sit on your foot for too long and it falls asleep– that numbness and needle-prick feeling. My legs were the worst back then. Sometimes they’d randomly give out on me.

    The pain all over my body would get so bad that it made me vomit or would send me into panic attacks. I didn’t know what was happening or how to handle it!

    How long did it take for doctors to diagnose you with Fibromyalgia? Were you wrongfully diagnosed at first?

    Before they figured it out, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder, Anxiety, really anything mental because they thought the pain was all in my head or I was faking it. One doctor would say it was one thing and the next doctor disagreed and said it was something else! I was finally diagnosed with Fibromyalgia at 13, almost 14, years old.

    What different kinds of tests or treatments have you tried over the years?

    I went to many different therapists, like VERY different. One was super peppy and was all like “LET’S COLOR,” and another was just like, “here’s your meds, ma’am.”

    I also tried these breathing treatments for awhile at the children’s hospital. It was actually kind of fun though, like a video game. They hooked me up to this heart monitor that was attached to a screen and I’d stare at a tree or build a bridge with my breathing patterns and heart rate.

    In middle school, I had to wear a heart monitor for a week because apparently I had a heart murmur too, so that’s really cool. They had me wear this helmet thing too to measure my brain waves or something.

    My back doctor wanted to try giving me shots in my spine but I was like, “HELL NAH!” That’s kind of funny though because now my back is where my worst pain is.

    I tried a lot of physical therapy and massage therapy. Massage Therapy was my favorite. I also tried hydro-therapy where they change it from really cold to really hot but that was the worst! Extreme cold makes my muscles tense up. I can’t handle temperature changes very well.

    What about medications? Did you experience any bad side effects?

    Once I was on an antidepressant that made me hallucinate! I saw all kinds of weird stuff. I saw a glowing, blue, f***ing bird everywhere! It swooped down at me once at Walmart and I looked like a lunatic trying to dodge that damn bird. I always tried to laugh it off though.

    The thing about medication is that if it has possible side effects, I’m probably going to get them. I guess I’m really sensitive to meds. Even the antidepressant I’m on now makes me so nauseated that I’ll usually throw up once a day. I just have to try a lot of things to see what works.

    The biggest problem I had though, was that I went to like 5 different doctors at once and they never talked to each other. I took so many medications at once that I had these things I’d call “mini overdoses.” I’d be awake but lying there, unable to move or speak, and it was really hard to breathe! Those were the scariest moments of my life. As soon as I came out of them I’d run down to my mom, freaking out about how something was NOT right.

    What kinds of medications or treatments do you use today?

    By the time I was 18, I was on 22 different pills a day. My boyfriend at the time cheated on me and our breakup gave some sort of wake up call. I decided to go cold turkey on all my meds at once. I was withdrawing so bad that I was hugging the toilet and shaking for what seemed like forever. After that, I chose my own medications.

    Now I’m taking a new antidepressant. There’s no “happy pill,” but this one really helps. I honestly didn’t plan on living past 18 years old. I had plans to kill myself. I still have some passive suicidal idealizations, but I want to live now.

    Aside from that, I’m now taking Vyvanse, which is usually for ADHD, so it seems weird that I’d take it with Fibromyalgia. It helps with the brain fog, I call it “fibro fog.” I can sort of handle the pain nowadays, but I can’t deal with the fog. I literally have fallen asleep from it, standing up, at work!

    “Fibro fog” is where you can’t think clearly or remember anything. It’s like my thoughts are moving through oil in my head. Answering simple questions like “What did you have for breakfast today?” are too difficult. I’d be like, “did I even eat today?” The fog is the hardest thing for me, even though my pain is still at an all time high. I hate it because I need to work; I need to study and think. It’s all too hard to do with the fog.

    I also occasionally will take a muscle relaxer. My spine swells and locks sometimes at night and the pain keeps me from sleeping, so a muscle relaxer helps me get to sleep.

    How does Fibromyalgia affect your mental health?

    For so many years, people told me my disease wasn’t real and people still think that today. It really f***s with me. Even doctors who are educated on the disease have written me off like I was faking it.

    I have severe depression. If I go into a bad swing of depression, my fibromyalgia flares up, because my mental health and physical symptoms tie into each other.

    I used to have panic attacks that were so bad I’d black out at school and my mom had to pick me up and bring me to the hospital. My anxiety is still very present in my life today, but I struggle more with depression.

    Has Fibromyalgia ever affected your ability to live a “normal life?”

    I couldn’t get my driver’s license when everyone else did because I was having absent seizures. When my seizures got better and I got the OK to get my license, I too afraid to get it. I was worried that I’d have a seizure while driving and kill a whole family! Fibromyalgia has made me fearful of so many things.

    I used to drink a lot to numb the pain. In middle school and high school I’d drink a vodka and orange juice before school even! I continued to take my meds when I drank too. Alongside alcohol, I used to smoke pot a lot to ease the pain I felt.

    Maybe this is TMI, but sex is very difficult with Fibromyalgia! Having sex on your bad days is nearly impossible. On your good days, you’re in a lot of pain, but you can still orgasm. Don’t get me wrong, I love sex and still do it! It’s just very difficult to enjoy it as much as you could without Fibromyalgia.

    Tell me about why you decided to pursue massage therapy.

    I had a massage therapist in middle school and high school named Nina. She helped me through SO much. When she first got me, I would tense up and squeal every time she touched me. She helped me build up a tolerance for physical contact. She also truly listened to me when I told her I was in pain and really worked with me.

    One day on her massage table, I looked up and told her I wanted to do what she does and she told me that I could. All of my doctors shot down my dreams and said I wouldn’t be able to do anything. They said I’d be in a wheel chair by the time I was 45. Nina believed in me.

    I want to help people that are like me or even older people. One time I got to help a special needs girl who was ready to live on her own and get a job, but she’d never been touched!

    I want to help people the way that Nina helped me.

    What advice do you have for anyone dealing with Fibromyalgia?

    Cry as much as you need to, but make sure to laugh it off.

    F*** the people who say your disease is just in your head. It’s real. Don’t let them make you second guess yourself. No one truly knows what you’re feeling except for you. Fight for yourself.

    I think the the most important piece of advice I have is to find your support group and hold on tight. If I didn’t have my mom who did anything and everything she could to make me feel better, I don’t know where I’d be. If I didn’t have such understanding friends who supported me and never let me be alone when I was sad, I don’t think I’d be here today. Being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia is not lucky, but being blessed with my support group was the luckiest thing that happened to me.

    _______________________________________________________________________

    Winnie H. has been through so many trials and tribulations due to her early diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. Her mother did everything she could for her, but still worried that one day she’d come home to find her daughter dead. Thanks to Winnie’s strong soul, determined mind and loving support system, this inspirational young woman is on her way to change lives. She has overcome the odds and will continue to do so throughout her entire life.

    Those of you who are reading this and suffering from Fibromyalgia, know that you are not alone. Your pain is REAL.

    Ali’s Story: A Look Inside the life of a Female Marine and a Single Mother

    We used to be dancers.

    From the ages of 2 to 18, I took classes in ballet, tap dance, jazz dance, lyrical and a bit of tumbling. Since I’m a woman who does not hide her femininity and frankly hates doing hard labor or even the thought of being outside or sweating, I fit the stereotype that many people hold in their minds when they envision a ballerina.

    However, during my time as a dancer I met one of my very best friends, Ali O. Ali did not, and still does not, fit the ballerina stereotype. She is hardworking, adventurous, outdoorsy and strong. She is a Marine.

    Ali danced for 16 years, just like I did. When we graduated high school, Ali said to me, “Could you see this graceful ballerina being a Marine?”

    Although I was shocked, I knew that Ali had much more grit than I. She’s a farmer’s daughter, and worked in her dad’s watermelon fields practically from the time she could walk.(Side bar: She asked me to work with her when I was in middle school and I barely made it 4 hours out there. She still makes fun of me for how much I whined, but it is NOT an easy job!!)

    Being a female Marine is not the only badass thing about her. When Ali was active in the Marine Corps, she also became a single mother.

    Ali was stationed in Japan, California and Virginia. After serving 7 and a half years in active duty, she is now back in Indiana with her 5-year-old son.

    This summer, I got to catch up with Ali and ask her questions about her experience as a Marine and as a single mom.

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    Why did you decide to join the Marine Corps in the first place?

    I kind of had mixed emotions about going to college. I saw my friends going places for school and I didn’t really know what I wanted to study, so, why pay for the degree? School’s not my thing. I wanted to do something different for myself.

    What was the most difficult part of being a Marine for you?

    I would say just overcoming the trials you face as a female Marine. There are a lot of standards that are supposed to be held equally, but they’re not. They never are.

    Let’s dig deeper into that. Women are constantly portrayed as “weak” or “too emotional” in today’s society. Did you ever have an encounter where someone in the Marines made you feel “weak” for being a woman?

    Oh yea. One example where you’re looked at as weak is that typically women don’t run as fast as men. Look at how the physical exams are scored: a female would have to run 3 miles in 20 minutes for a “perfect score,” where a man’s “perfect score” would require him running the same distance in 17 minutes. Even if a woman got a “perfect score” of 20 minutes, the men still saw her as “less-than” because it’s not as fast as them.

    What other things happened to you as a Marine that made you feel “less-than” or that lead your male counterparts to wrongfully judge you?

    I had a boss once that would make me come into his office to write on his whiteboard. He told me he thought my handwriting was better than others’, but really, he was looking at my butt as I wrote. He made me do all kinds of other tasks for him too. If I refused to work for him, he’d send me out to the field. If I went to the field, I had to leave my kid behind for months on end, so I had no choice. When I did this work for him though, the other male Marines would think I was getting some sort of special treatment for being a woman. In actuality, I was being used and not treated well at all!

    (I didn’t know what “the field” meant, so I asked her to explain it. Going to the field means going out in the middle of nowhere, usually in a desert area. Out there you do a lot of driving and logistics. Still confused?? Me too.)

    Now let’s talk about the stereotype of women being “too emotional.” What did you encounter in your time as a Marine that was caused by this stereotype?

    I was a Marine Sergeant, and a female at that. Since I was the boss to so many men, I had to control my emotions in order to get their respect. For example, if I didn’t yell at them all the time, they wouldn’t take me seriously and try to walk all over me. On the other hand, if I did yell at them, they’d call me a crazy bitch!

    What about other female Marines that you worked with? Were they treated differently because they were women?

    Yes. No matter a woman’s rank, she was treated differently. If a woman was treated well, other men would say she was getting “special treatment” and didn’t deserve it. If a woman was screamed at by her higher-up, the men would say something like, “that was nothing compared to the way he screamed at me earlier!” It was like nothing we ever got was merited or just, good or bad.

    What do you think about the stereotypes of women being “weak” or “ruled by emotion”?

    I don’t think I’m weak or too emotional. I understand why the stereotypes exist though. Yes, women typically express emotion more than men do. Yes, I can’t run as fast as a man…Whoop-dee-doo! However, I rose in the ranks for a reason, and there are other “manly” things I can do 10 times better than my male counterparts. I think the issue is that women can usually understand both sides, but men typically don’t see from a woman’s point of view.

    Let’s switch gears now. I know that you had your son while on active duty. Tell me about this! Did you feel judged? Did you feel supported?

    It’s a crazy story. Well, my son happened when my mom and sister came to Japan (where I was stationed) for vacation. When they came, my son’s dad and I had to ask for leave to go on vacation too.

    His dad was a corporal at the time and I was a lance corporal then. It already looked bad that two higher-ups in the Marines were dating. Well, when we asked for the time off, my commanding officer said to me, “I’ll let you two go together out of the kindness of my heart, but don’t let anything happen.” This was him telling me not to get pregnant. So, when I came back pregnant it was a huge ordeal. (Side bar: I personally think it’s hilarious that she DID get pregnant on the trip after her commanding officer told her she couldn’t. Maybe I just revel in chaos and rebellion, but it’s a great way to stick it to the man, I think!)

    The Marines only see you as a number, as an asset to the Corps. They don’t even pretend to care about your mental health, your family life…nothing.

    Tell me more about being treated as a number. How did this affect you where pregnant?

    Well, one example is when I worked as a dispatcher. Basically, I had to stay in the shop from the time a truck left until the truck came back. One time they had me stay in the shop for weeks on end, pregnant, only eating tuna and crackers. They didn’t take my pregnancy or my baby’s health into consideration when they sent me out there.

    Another example of this lack of concern for my baby’s well-being was when they had me come support securing trucks before a typhoon. Before a big storm like that, they make you come immediately, as you are, to clear out weapons and things from trucks. I came as I was, in flip-flops and shorts, to work in the pouring rain when I was pregnant. I stepped into a wet truck, slipped, and fell flat on my face. I was pregnant! That was when I started to think, “f*** all of this!”

    There are other things like that I could tell you about, but being pregnant in the Marines was challenging in every aspect. You’re looked down upon for even going to a doctor’s appointment. They have me for life and I could barely take an hour to get an ultrasound!

    I know that you and your son’s father did not stay together after your son was born, but we won’t go into details of that. What was it like to be a single mom while you were on active duty?

    It’s difficult to have a family and be in the Marine Corps. Male bosses just don’t seem to care that you have a child to take care of. Say that they’re looking for someone to do a task…they don’t take you having a child into consideration when they choose someone for it.

    A more specific example is when they sent me to the field for months. I couldn’t take my son with me, so I had to fly with him to Indiana to stay at my parents’ house. Then I’d have to fly back to where I was stationed. The money I had to spend on airline tickets was astronomical!

    I also would be looked down upon if I didn’t go work out with the marines at 5:30 AM, so I’d have to get him up at 4:30 to bring him to a sitter…just to work out!

    In general, it was very overwhelming to balance my duties as a mom and a Marine. Since we had to move around a lot, my son’s behavior was changed a lot and it was a lot to handle. I’d have breakdowns from the stress!

    What do you do now that you’re no longer in active duty? How do you balance that with your duties of being a mother?

    I’m in school now and we’re living at my parents’ house. I was working working part time, too, but I wasn’t making enough money. I decided it was better to just be a full time student. It’s god awful living with my parents again, but it’s what I need right now.

    You would think that I’d feel better at balancing duties, but because of COVID-19, my son is home all the time and asking me to play when I’m trying to do school work. It’s really hard to be the mom that gets to play with her kid AND be the student that gets A’s.

    What are some of the positives of being a single mother to your son?

    My son and I are pretty much best buds and I know that he thinks the world of me. Even though it would be nice to have some help and someone to lean on, you also don’t have someone telling you exactly how to raise your child. It’s all up to you!

    What advice or words of inspiration do you have for current or future single mamas?

    Don’t stress out about the little things!

    Don’t let someone tell you how to parent; you know what’s best for your child.

    Most importantly, if a family member does not want to be in your child’s life, do not try to force it. If someone wants to know and love your kid, they will make an effort.

    What advice do you have for women that are thinking of joining the Marine Corps?

    Make sure that you are physically and emotionally in the right space. Weigh the options and decide if it’s what is best for you now. Do you want to start a family soon? Think it over before you decide to join.

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    Ali O. is and always has been one of the strongest people I know. Her son has been through a lot of changes in his 5 years of life, but he is kind, smart, funny and well-rounded, all thanks to his devoted mother. She is constantly breaking stereotypes and, I believe, is an inspiration for all women out there.