The Mirror

me!

 

My mirror is dusty. It sits in my carpeted bedroom, all but unused, and I cannot bring myself to clean it.

 

“Every teenager is self-conscious!” my mother has always chided. “This is normal. It’ll pass.”

 

The thing is, I don’t hate how I look. I’ve got a killer jawline, curves for days, and an adorable haircut. I don’t hate the way I dress. My fashion sense lies somewhere between a wannabe punk and a 2005 emo. I love my black skinny jeans and grungy beanies. But the crippling dysphoria, oh, how it kills me.

 

When people look at me, they see a tomboy. An androgynous one, perhaps, but clearly a girl. In the words of a less than kind friend, “You look like a punk butch! It’s, like, your whole thing.”

 

But I am not a tomboy. Not a girl. Not a “punk butch.”

 

I’m a boy.

 

I see the way my beloved black jeans hug my hips and I cringe. My cut-up band T-shirts reveal my chest, small, but forever a tell. My face, even with the square jaw and high cheekbones that make me feel like a Greek god on my best days, looks feminine.   

 

I try to romanticize myself. A feminine young man, a dandy. A 19th century fop. A young, androgynous devotee of Apollo back in ancient times. But then I look in the mirror and my illusion shatters.

 

“I identify as a guy who likes guys,” I correct the friend, the less-than-kind one. “I mean, I’m pansexual for sure. But when you call me a lesbian, it invalidates me. It’s crushing. I’m trying to look like a guy. Not like…whatever your image of a lesbian is.”

 

It’s an endless cycle of frustration. Of invalidation. People should be able to look however they want, no?

 

I wish I had a clean solution for all of this dysphoria, but I don’t. I have hope and excitement about my future, but please, everybody — be sensitive to your trans friends. Our everyday life is a battle.

Hope(less?)

me!

 

Sitting at my computer in my drafty little apartment, I’m sure I’m just a few mouse-clicks from insanity. I’ve got company tonight and work tomorrow, an essay due the same day, a lengthy blog, an essay Thursday — and about 500  pages of reading. All must be done within days of each other. I’m barely 19 and this seems awfully overwhelming.

Work to pay the rent. Go to school so that you can one day leave your food service job. Perform on the weekends so you don’t go crazy. Remember to be an attentive boyfriend, help your friends heal from their extensive traumas because they simply cannot on their own. Ignore your mental health and need for sleep. Finish that book. Make that discussion post. Attend that rehearsal. Watch your spending.

I push the laptop away.

I’m wrong, I decide. Overwhelmed is just too small a word for it.

Such is the life of a college student.

And yet, as I type and type, read and read, I don’t feel unhappy. Swamped and unmoored, sleepy and irritable, yes, but never unhappy. There is a spark inside me that work and school cannot put out. A happiness that my dear friends’ pain cannot quash. A stability and faith that my own mental illnesses cannot kill.

I have hope: That one day I will be in the career I want. That my friends will not be tormented by their minds. That my workload will be manageable.

There’s no panacea for college stress. Yoga and color-coded planners work for some people. Isolation and crappy dining hall food works for others. Diving into my workload and insomnia works for me.

All I know is that I am happy. Imperfect and overwhelmed, but happy.

I log back into my laptop. I smile at the screen. And back to work I go.

I love political science…right?

me!

 

It’s fall 2017, and I’m sitting in my freshman honors class. “And what’s your major?” my professor asks.

 

“I’m a political science major with a double minor in legal studies and theatre arts — and I’m on the pre-law track.” There’s a beat.

 

“Wow,” the professor chuckles. “That’s…a lot.”

 

glow. See, I’m the kind of overachiever who needs to, as I say, “major in everything.” I’m only 17 and academia is my thing. I know I’m smart.  My teenage bravado is real.

 

Winter term comes and I pile on even more credits, a political internship, an ex officio board position, a cabaret I perform in, my job, my social life. My political science classes are starting to weigh on me. Theory and economics wander into my dreams. My internship is overtaking my normal homework.

 

“Can’t wait to see President Jules!” one of my cabaret friends jokes one weekend. I glow. See, I only sleep tl3 hours a night, and my glow might be a little burnished now, but I’m an overachiever! I love politics more than anything!  Right?

 

I ignore the fact that I do much better in my English classes. It requires much less effort on my part, but I WANT to put in effort. English is the one place I feel free. But I’m going to the president one day! Politics is my thing. Right?

 

The spring term comes. I up my hours at work, keep up with my credits, and only take political science courses. I slowly notice my grades slipping. This is infuriating! I’m an overachiever! I get a tattoo that says “Nonstop” in a vain attempt to grab my passion back. I’ve made so much of myself political at this point that I can’t face how miserable I am. My weekend cabaret becomes the only thing that makes me happy. I drop the internship and board membership — really, I just let them slip away.

 

On comes the next fall term — I’ve turned 18 by now, still full of teenage bravado, still the overachiever. I did take 16 credits and work twenty-five hours a week all summer, after all!

 

I take a deep breath one day, staring at my computer screen. I carefully select “ENGLISH” as my major and political science as my minor.

 

And I glow.

Keep Portland Geeky

      adbi2  By: Adair Bingham

I recently attended Portland’s own annual anime convention, aptly named Kumoricon (or Cloudy Con). As a novice con-goer, I wasn’t too sure what to expect. I felt like a bit of a clown as I passed my school peers dressed in a not-so-flattering green wig and anime apparel from a show that I don’t regularly watch. Public transportation felt like a one-way ticket to shame town, especially since my friends and I were the only ones in bizarre attire. That feeling, however, quickly vanishes as soon we arrived at the convention center.

I’m writing this on the final day of the convention, reflecting on just how welcoming, warm, and energetic these types of communities are. They’re also unexpectedly diverse. Often, the kinds of people who attend these conventions are severely misrepresented and made out to be obnoxious and horrid, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

As someone who has always had a strong interest in anything and everything nerdy, I felt as if this was where I truly belonged. Being surrounded by hundreds of other like-minded people is a rejuvenating experience, especially for an entire weekend. In fact, this was my first ever experience being surrounded by so many other people like me and it was amazing.

I’m well aware that there are lots of other people who have interests akin to mine, and I’m not as alone as I was in high school, but isolation is still a hard feeling to shake. Living in Portland has shown me that no matter who you are and what your interests may be, there is always a community that will be ecstatic to welcome you.

My Reluctant Craving for Adventure

_DSC6107 by Jennifer Vo-Nguyen

I have never been a traveler. I’ve actually never been outside of the country, but I know that even if I did, I wouldn’t like it. I don’t like leaving the comfort of my own bed and home, and I never understood why people want to travel so much.

It wasn’t until about a month ago, I took a road trip to Las Vegas. A few of my friends and I drove 16 hours to Vegas, and within this short amount of time, my opinion of traveling changed completely.

During the trip, my friends and I took turns driving with each of us at the wheel for four hours. This car ride from Oregon to Nevada was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. Going 85 miles per hour through the lonely road, going past the sand dunes, passing by the mountains, and especially seeing the sun rise in the desert was a sight that I will forever hold in my heart. It may sound kind of cheesy, but it was during this time that I realized that there is so much beauty to explore in the world.

I am now looking into studying abroad during my last term of college next year. I don’t know where I want to go yet, but I know for sure that wherever I choose to go, I will make it a goal to explore the nature and beauty of that country even if it’s something as simple as a sunset. Like I said, there is so much beauty on this Earth and all of us should take some time to search for it.

The Great Unknown

IMG_7864 by Molly MacGilbert

I’m graduating in 11 days. The emotion that arises when I think about this fact can only be expressed as a cross between a celebratory squeal of freedom and a blood-curdling Hitchcock scream. The question I’ve been asked at an increasing frequency in recent months, weeks and days provokes a similar cocktail of excitement and terror: “What’s next?”

Really, the person who has asked me this question the most is myself. And despite the ominous tick-tocking of the clock of my undergraduate education, the answer remains: I don’t know. I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. And regardless of my search for answers and the anxiety that arises when I come up short, I think I’m becoming more okay with not knowing.

From a young age, there’s so much pressure to know what we want to be when we grow up. We grow up playing house and prescribing careers to our Barbie dolls, from pastry chef to firefighter to fairy princess. Our high school years are geared toward preparing for college, and most of us start applying our junior year. I don’t know about you, but at age 16 I could hardly plan my breakfast, let alone pinpoint the career path I was supposed to follow for the remaining (hopefully) several decades of my existence. Which is probably why my college years have been full of indecision, confusion, change, dropping out and transferring.

But with every stressful semester and unpleasant job, I’ve gotten a little closer to figuring out what I want. And even if we never figure out what we want to be when we grow up, I think that’s okay. I’m pretty sure no matter how old I get, I’ll be stumbling blindly through life with more questions than answers. And anyone who honestly thinks they have all the answers is someone I neither want to be nor be around. Life is inherently mysterious and ridiculous, and we might as well accept that.

The one thing I know I’m doing after graduation is taking a well-earned road trip down the Pacific coast. Not only does this give me an opportunity to get a little less pale, it also gives me an opportunity to run away from my anxieties and put off the job search until July. Cheers to that—and cheers to the great unknown.