Being Present

 

Credit: Pinterest

Last week I came across the above quote and it really spoke to me. Being physically present and being mentally present have two completely different definitions. Lately I have been feeling the absence of deep, meaningful conversations in my life and I yearn for that void to be filled.

I cannot remember the last time a phone wasn’t pulled out at some point during a conversation. When hanging out with a group of friends all it takes is one person to pick up their phone and everyone feels obligated to check theirs too. We have grown accustomed to the presence of technology and it is getting harder and harder to be fully present in day to day life. The truth about technology is saddening because no one my age knows how to entertain themselves without a screen. Someone whip out Yahtzee or Pictionary, PLEASE.

It may seem ridiculous to live without technology but pulling back from constant screen use is a great way to slow down your brain. Lock your phone and instead pass some time by reading, journaling or drawing…unleash the creativity! Once enough time is focused in a more constructive place than the depths of someone’s Instagram page a feeling of relaxation arises. There will always be time to be engrossed in social media but I hope more than anything that young people can learn to stay present in the more simple joys of life.

When having a conversation, I try to remind myself to continuously look someone in the eye and ask questions about what they are saying. That is the best way to show your true interest in another person. It is just too easy to get lost behind a screen when the world is going by around us. We walk around engrossed in the latest Tasty video or Snapchat story, completely oblivious to the beauty passing by with every step.

 phones GIF
Giphy.com

It may seem impossible to go a full day without your phone but the experience will allow you to see the world a little differently. You don’t need that perfectly staged Snapchat video or Instagram story to show that you are having fun with your friends. There is definitely pressure in our world today about posting constantly to ensure that your followers know you are maintaining an interesting life. Your friends that you are hanging out with already know how much fun you are. Pictures and videos are great, but soaking in the memories with your eyes and ears is more organic and fulfilling.

It is always great to snap some pics of a new place or some cool food, but save the editing and posting until after in order to enjoy the rest of the day. People always seemed surprised when I say I left my phone at home for the day or night; it’s like a security blanket that is thought to be a necessity when I can function just as well without it.

Right now you are looking at a screen, as are billions of people around the world. Try taking a breather from all the screens and pay attention to the beautiful details all around you because the world is a lot more interesting than the Instagram popular page.

I snapped this pic before embarking on a beautiful walk down the beach a few weeks ago. Left my phone in the car (:

 

Advertisements

Being a Second Generation WOC in America

“Where are you from?” 

“Born and raised in Shrewsbury, Mass.” 

“No, where are you really from?”

It is difficult being of Indian descent having grown up in the United States. It’s like being caught between two different worlds, forever being pulled and shoved back and forth between two nations. I’ve always felt like I was having an identity crisis: am I Indian or am I American? Can I be both when it feels like people always need me to just make a decision? It’s like the whole nature vs. nurture conversation we’ve all had at least once in a high school science class. Are we defined more by our genes and roots or by our environment and upbringing?

My parents grew up in India, raised in the colorful, vibrant culture of our homeland. They had an arranged marriage when my mother was 21 and my father was 28 and moved to America a few years later to start a new life. I always wonder what that must feel like: leaving behind everything and everyone you know, packing up your entire life, and moving to a foreign country with a person you just met. Terrifying, confusing, and… thrilling.

Both my sister and I were born in Framingham, Massachusetts. I have always felt like we were raised in different ways. When my sister was born, my parents were still very attached to their Indian culture. She grew up only speaking our native language Tamil and didn’t hear English until she started going to school. I think my parents felt that they hadn’t assimilated her into America properly. That was what it was always about for people moving from India to America; it was about assimilating into the new culture and fitting in, not bringing in a taste of an old culture to a new world. So, when I was born, things were different. I was raised on an eclectic mix of Tamil phrases and English sentences. I could’ve grown up to be fluently bilingual but my parents stressed English with me much more than they did Tamil. I’ve grown up understanding Tamil almost fluently, and being able to speak it pretty well, but viewing Tamil texts as meaningless, confusing symbols.

As I got older, into middle school, that’s when I started realizing I was inevitably “different.” I had skin as tan as roasted almonds, eyes darker than twilight and a head of black waves. I didn’t look like most of my friends, who were pale-skinned and blue-eyed. This is when I started recognizing the pressures of society to “choose” a side. And as most tweens and teens, I chose the side of fitting in with my friends. From late middle school to high school, I found myself doing as much as I could to dig out my Indian roots and conform to my American culture. I stopped watching Tamil movies and listening to Tamil music with my parents. I ate Indian food at home, but would never have done so in front of friends. I wore scandalous clothing, fought with my parents and spent as much time as I could with friends. I donned the reputation as “the whitest Indian girl” at school, and it filled me with immense pride. Finally, finally, I was cool and wasn’t known as just another Indian girl. I was special because I fit in with my white friends. I had chosen my side and that side was America.

It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized how wrong I was. Emerson has taught me so much about embracing your culture, your roots and who you truly are. I had never been in such a welcoming, diverse environment that celebrated each other’s differences. I had never been appreciated for being Indian by non-Indian friends. This is where I have finally embraced my title of a woman of color. And ever since coming to school here, I have made efforts to speak in Tamil more often with my parents, talk about my culture with friends and enjoy the rich traits and lifestyles of my homeland.

Being a woman of color in America is hard because your family is constantly reminding you to stay true to your roots, while your friends are reminding you that you are in a different world. As if being a woman isn’t already difficult in this world, being a woman of color means less opportunities, less rights, and being taken less seriously. It means picking and choosing which aspects of your life you want to remain true to which culture, and making sense of how your heritage and environment coincide and have worked together to create the individual you are. I know I would be a completely different person if I wasn’t raised embracing two different cultures, and for that, I am thankful. But, most of all, I am thankful to come from parents who have never once pushed me to do one thing or another, but have let me make mistakes, forget and remember what is important and finally understand who I am all by myself.

What Sophomore Year Has Taught Me

College is quite a wild ride. I never expected to learn, change, and grow as much as I did. Sometimes, I feel like a completely different person. Other times, I feel merely like a more mature version of my high school self. Regardless of the impact college has left on you thus far, it’s inevitable that its going to teach you a few important lessons: some in the classroom and some in the broader sense of life.

Friendships are hard to maintain, but so valuable.

What everyone always told me about college is true: you do meet people who completely change your life, for the better. One of the absolute best parts about Emerson for me so far is the opportunities I’ve gotten to befriend some extraordinary people. It’s so rare to meet people who make you feel loved, supported, and cherished, but that’s what Emerson has done for me. However, I’ve also learned that friendships are hard. It’s easy to call someone your friend when you cross paths with them every day during the semester and can easily meet up at the DH after class or run down two flights of stairs to their room in LB. But, as soon as it hits summer, it honestly gets so difficult to see a lot of those people you still call “friends.” When you have to really go out of your way to make plans and schedule times to meet up with someone off-campus, those friendships might face a four-month hiatus. It’s disappointing, but I think it really proves to you, deep down, who your best friends really are. They are the people who you genuinely want to see and with whom it’s never a hassle to make plans. They’re the gems that college has given you.

Never take family for granted.

Family can mean something different for everyone. It’s not just the conventional family that we all expect; families can come from friends and organizations, too. Regardless of who it is you call “family,” college has taught me that those are so rare and meaningful. Family is the people who you know will support and love you unconditionally. And, as a college student when life is turned upside down often, it’s nice to have something like that. As most other high school people at that time, I hated being at home during high school. I was constantly out of the house and rolling my eyes about my parents. Now, I often can’t wait to go home and just lay around the house with my parents and sister, reliving old memories and laughing about things only we’d understand. Having a constant in my life has been such a breath of fresh air in the swirling vortex that can be Emerson. I’ve come to appreciate my rich culture and the caring parents who raised me in it. I feel wiser, stronger, and more independent because of my family.

Putting yourself out there is everything.

My first semester of college was, to be brief, a tragic mess. I, someone who was a social butterfly my entire life, finally felt like my wings had been clipped off. Starting fresh in a completely different environment was a major stress on my life. I didn’t know how to make new best friends when I’d known my best friends from home since the sixth grade. It wasn’t like I was holed up in my room alone every night; I just only really spent time with my roommates and went home every other weekend. I owed that solitude to the fact that all I did was go to class and come back to my enclosed dorm. I wasn’t a part of any organizations and didn’t have any opportunities to make friends. That simple idea of not putting myself out there by joining any new organizations and clubs almost led me to transferring from Emerson. However, second semester rolled around, and I got accepted into Emerson Noteworthy, an a cappella group. Finally having a group of people outside of class to see regularly and be myself around changed everything for me. Because that’s all it took: having an outlet where I could do something I was passionate about and also have people with whom to share it. That slowly led me to opening myself up more. And here I am now, a member of 6 different organizations and thriving (in most ways).

Nothing is certain, and that’s something you just have to embrace.

It’s really terrifying looking into the future and having absolutely no idea what it holds. That future for most college students is in the post-grad life; for me, it also includes the next two years of my life at Emerson. Since coming here, I’ve changed my major, made and lost friends, and had so many of my perspectives on life questioned and completely flipped around. I thought that I was going to graduate with a degree in Journalism to go on and pursue a career at a news station as an anchor. Now, I’m working towards a degree in Marketing Communications, hoping to someday be on a marketing team for one of my favorite brands (maybe even a CMO someday, or at least that’s the ultimate dream). I’ve had some best friends come and go with semesters and others remain permanently rooted in my life. I came into college extremely skeptical and uninterested in Fraternity and Sorority Life, and I am now a proud member of Zeta Phi Eta. It’s truly impossible to predict your every move in college. As you shift and grow, your likes, dislikes, beliefs, and opinions will shift and grow, too. I used to be the kind of person who needed to know exactly what was happening, when it was happening, and where it was happening. While I’m still like that at times, I’m learning to recognize that there are just some things that cannot be controlled. And while it can be disappointing and heartbreaking to lose people who meant the world to you once and have your entire future plans halted and turned on their heads, it’s also exciting. It’s thrilling that life can take so many twists and turns and that every decision can lead to a million wonderful things you never expected. Life is so moldable, and that’s quite beautiful (especially for an arts student).

So, regardless of if you absolutely love college or if you’re dying to get that diploma, it’s obvious that where you go to college, the classes you take, and the people you meet can have a huge impact on your life. It has an eerie mystery to it, yet that mystery holds so many unseen opportunities. It teaches you to exemplify your strengths and improve your weaknesses, making you a stronger and wiser human being. In the end, college is a brief time in your life, but it’s a special time that can really influence your path in the future.

Why I Love My Mom

Just a few weeks ago I had the pleasure of hosting my mom here on campus for four fun filled days–I mean it. She hadn’t seen Emerson since she flew up to move me into my dorm at the beginning of my Freshman year and it was such a joy to share with her the life I have built for myself in Boston. We explored the city, enjoyed the beautiful weather with nice morning walks in the Public Gardens and visited some of my favorite local food spots (soft serve from the DH included).

Continue reading “Why I Love My Mom”

A Blended Family’s Weekend Trip

Interestingly enough, my parents met in a Japanese hospital. One of their mutual friends got in a car accident and even though my dad had a girlfriend at the time, their connection was instant. Shortly after that moment, they became a couple and after moving around southern Japan and around the east coast of the U.S., the pair settled in my dad’s hometown of Boston, Massachusetts. And that is where I come in – as their last child and probably the one that eats the most food.

Continue reading “A Blended Family’s Weekend Trip”

Taking It Off

For some people, arriving at home after a long day means taking off their shoes or their pants. For me, it means taking off my bra.

A couple of years ago, I could have never imagined even writing about this. In between dance and school, my closet consisted of sports bras for dance and wire bras for school. No questions asked, because in my mind wearing bras was just the way things are supposed to be. I can’t specifically remember where this idea came from, whether it came from the media or my family. As a kid I just simply understood that at a certain moment in my life I would develop breasts and as a result I would need to start wearing a bra.

Women have been wearing bras in the Western hemisphere since the Romans were around. Women would tie bands around their breasts while they would exercise. And, since then bras have been modified to fit the standards of beauty of society at the time. For over 300 years, women had to wear corsets to make their curves more defined, like an hourglass. In the last century, bras have taken another step with technology. With the invention of spandex, sports bras were invented. (Learn more: Infographic). The point is that bras have always been imposed on women. The only real purpose of the bra is to be an object of modesty, to cover something that should not be seen. (Check out this video on the evolution of the bra in the Western world.)

In college, my horizons widened. I was no longer in patriarchal Latin America, but at Emerson College, a ‘liberal’ school. And in that sense, Emerson has changed me. It has taught me about social issues I had not experienced back home, such as systematized racism, or the fight for rights for the LGBTQ+. My time in college has also taught me a lot about myself, it has been my time where I get to decide what I like and don’t like. Also, being in a  school with such individualized ideals, and unique individuals, has reminded me that I am my own person. Being my own person includes the comforts of my breasts.

The movement and film Free The Nipple have played an influence in the way I understand how woman are censored. The statement of Free the Nipple states “we stand against female oppression and censorship, both in the United States and around the globe”. Today, in the USA it is effectively ILLEGAL for a woman to be topless, breastfeeding included, in 35 states. In less tolerant places like Louisiana, an exposed nipple can take a woman to jail for up to three years and cost $2,500 in fines. Even in New York City, which legalized public toplessness in 1992, the NYPD continues to arrest women. We’re working to change these inequalities through film, social media, and a grassroots campaign.”

I believe in micro-revolutions. The idea that change comes from within, that a rebellious action can sometimes go far. That’s why I decided to ditch the bras: the push ups, the wires, the too tight sports bra. I decided I was just going to stop wearing bras that did not fit comfortably on me, even though Victoria’s Secret kept hinting at me. All the bras I had that made me feel constricted were shoved to the back end of the drawers. I bought bra-lettes. The fancy version of training bras. The first time I tried one on, it was like wearing a very comfy oversized sweater.

When as a woman, you realize that you have a responsibility of questioning the “way things are supposed to be”, you become empowered. You begin to see possibilities when there were rules before. Finding alternative options to the bra (or none at all!), has proven to be a successful rebel act for me. It’s not just about the bra, it’s about having options. It’s about owning my body. It’s about making the choices that are best for me, and that should not be mandated by society or the media.

Living in the digital age is hard. Information is overwhelming. Too many ideals of who we need to be. By taking off the bra, I have also taken off the pressure of living up to many unrealistic standards imposed on women. Now, I’m a rebel. And I love it. You should try it too. Take it off, and love your body.

Looking Back on Childhood Friends and Memories

There are hundreds of relationships that one will have during their lifetime. There is the childhood friend, the high school group, the best friend, the boyfriend and the family friends. Of course, there are plenty more, and each will have different and unique experiences and memories. There will be a ton of laughter, smiles, and secrets, but also tears, fights, and second guessing. It happens with everyone, slowly, but surely, and at different times of everyone’s life. Within each relationship that you had, have and will have, there are lessons that you learn. The lessons, in turn, will be established in future friendships that you will make.

When I was little, like many, I had a childhood best friend. We did so much together, which was less of our choosing and more because our moms were close friends. Either way, we wanted to have “play dates” and play imaginary games. Personally, I believe that having a childhood best friend is important. It could be a person, imaginary friend, or a loved pet. With any of these types, we learn to play, love, interact and learn from others. I can confidently say that my childhood best friend began to teach me all of these characteristics and everyday human capabilities that would later turn into major building blocks for other friendships.

There is always a specific memory that you can tag to a person. With this friend (you know who you are), we used to play on the wooden swing in her backyard. It was the type of the swing that had a plank of wood connected to rope, you know, the ones that swung really high with just one push. We used to take turns playing on that swing for hours, screaming and smiling all at once as we quickly got higher and higher off of the ground and closer to the shining sun. This was one of my favorite things to do when I was a kid, plainly because it was just so simple but so fun.

Unfortunately for me, I have always been scared of heights and also that feeling of dropping backwards without having control of it. Therefore, I would always have fun going up, but as soon as it hit the highest part of the swing and began to go back to the ground, I would panic. I thought that I was going to run into the wooden fence that shut my friend’s yard off from weeds and sharp bushes that lived in her neighbor’s. I would shut my eyes tight, and turtle my chin into my neck, ready for impact. But it would never happen. She would always catch the swing before it would hit the fence. I would open my eyes and find myself still intact.

As silly as this sounds, these simple playtimes at the swing helped me to begin building trust for people besides my family. The fact that I never crashed into the fence because of the true dedication of my friend (think about it, two small and young girls can’t stop a fast moving swing with someone equally as heavy on top of it that easily) helped me to open up to other people rather than hide from them.

Now, with an experience that brought me so much trust to instill in my everyday surroundings and the people within them, came others that brought me back down to earth. We all have experienced friends who talked about us behind our backs, lied to us, or smirked meanly at us when we made stupid comments. Maybe you didn’t know it, but someone did. Middle school and high school, for most of us, are the grounds for bringing down our trust levels. Especially for girls. We really are mean. I mean, guys are also pretty bad. Though, in middle school, they tend to separate themselves into two categories: loud and obnoxious or quiet and shy. Girls on the other hand, well, quiet or not, we are just plain mean. If not all of the time, then a pretty good amount of it. And half the time we don’t even intend to be.

For me, I was more quiet in middle school and stuck to a smaller group of friends. But was I a perfect friend who never talked about anyone behind their backs? Absolutely not. It’s in our nature, and at a time when everything both physically and mentally is changing for us, it helps something to feel normal. This by no means excuses bullying, however emphasizes that sad fact that we as girls do eventually thrive off of some sort of drama in order to distract ourselves from our own ongoing lives.

As I thread through thousands of unfinished journal pages covered with sloppy handwriting and unidentifiable drawings, I remember those times in my life while growing into that “awkward middle school phase.” I remember times that I was mean (like when I threw a dinner roll at my aunt to stop her from telling an embarrassing story) and then times that people were mean to me. (Remember FormSpring?) If I could relive those moments now, as a 20-year-old woman rather than a ten to 13-year-old girl, I would probably change a couple of things. One, I wouldn’t throw the dinner roll, I would most likely let my aunt continue her embarrassing story and secretly plan a less harmful revenge. Two, I would probably delete my FormSpring account and never look back at it again.

Both of these instances described above, (one being cute and nostalgic, and the other more of a laughing stock), are completely different. However, both of the relationships had in them helped me to become the person I am today. As you can tell through this article, I am a big believer of “everything happens for a reason.” But thinking back onto every relationship you have ever had (which is a lot), there is some sort of happy, sad or angry ending to it that makes you more wary or trusting about others around you. If all of the relationships that we had in our lives were happy and had positive outcomes, no fights or crying, then we would never expect anything bad of anyone. We would be naive and a serious target for anything and everything horrible and evil.

Even through intimate relationships we learn. If I acted shy and uncomfortable around my current boyfriend like I did with my first boyfriend, then our relationship would not be going very far (and would possibly already be over.) If someone had never made fun of me, then I never would have built a thicker skin (and a wildly large determination to do everything to prove them wrong.) And even as I am presented with similar relationships that I dealt with in the past, I realize that it is another chance to deal with them in a better and more responsible way than how I did before.

As awkward as our memories of the past may be, they can not be rewritten. And honestly, why would you ever want to?

It’s a Love-Hate Relationship Between Siblings

Does anyone remember that 2003 movie, Cheaper by the Dozen?  It’s the one starring Steve Martin, Bonnie Hunt and a teenage Hilary Duff. In the movie, Steve and Bonnie have 12 kids and they move from the country to suburbia for Steve’s dream job. The entire family has trouble with relocating and the film ends with a huge reunion after one of the children, Mark, runs away.

As my brother picked me up from work the other day, I was reminded of Cheaper by the Dozen. Not because I have 11 siblings—I can’t even imagine what that would be like—but because of the relationships the siblings maintained with each other. There were rivalries, alliances, fights and making up. Underneath it all, there was loyalty and love.

I’ve realized that siblings have a unique relationship. Sometimes the relationship can be extremely close. Other times it can be distant or volatile. Almost always, though, the relationship changes over time and with maturity. Before I entered kindergarten, my brother and I were very close. My mom tells me that when I started going to school, my brother Joey, would constantly ask, “Where’s Ally? When’s Ally coming home?”

If I was writing this article five years ago I would have laughed. That friendship my brother and I shared disappeared in late elementary school/early middle school. Maybe this is because at that age we’d been developing our own ideas and figuring out our identities. Younger children wouldn’t have yet experienced the divide caused by “eww boys/girls have cooties.” Also, at that time, we’d recently moved. We’d previously lived in a housing complex where we’d had mutual friends with similar interests. As we discovered what new activities we enjoyed we began to drift apart.

Then add in teenage hormones, the belief that we were invincible, independent, and infinitely knowledgeable and there was no way my brother and I would ever get along. We became two entirely different people. Joey was, and still is, charismatic, athletic and social. I was, and still am, introverted, quiet and studious.

During middle school and high school, our rivalry grew out of control. Every day as we got off the bus, Joey would rush to the back door before I did. He would then slam the door shut and lock it, prohibiting me from getting inside. He’d laugh; I’d yell. Our relationship was not a happy one.

Now that I’m older, I think that a reason we didn’t get along is because our personalities were so different. We saw in each other qualities we wanted to possess ourselves. He wanted to perform better in school while I wanted to meet new people with ease. I think that this situation can be attributed to almost any sibling relationship. Each person has a distinct personality and due to insecurities, hormones and any other pressure, whether it’s coming from friends or family, relationships become strained. It’s almost like a battle of who has the dominant personality.

This is not to say all siblings will act like opponents circling one another in a boxing ring. I have two friends who are twin sisters. They’ve always been close and even though they’ve had their differences, they’re still close today. They have a mutual friend group and similar hobbies.

As my brother and I are nearing adulthood, we’ve re-forged our friendship. Nowadays, we’ll have long conversations about our weekend plans, our parents and what we want in our futures. With maturity, we’ve grown comfortable with who we are, our interests and our individual idiosyncrasies. We’ve acknowledged our differences and know that we want to get along so that we can always be in each other’s life. For anyone, maturity changes you. You’re more knowledgeable and not as naïve. You also begin to realize what is important and what you want as a priority in your life.

Obviously, not all sibling relationships are like the one I have with my brother. Joey and I are only a year apart and so we both had to face similar challenges around the same time. Many siblings have a larger age gap. Some have step-siblings or half-siblings they may not see often due to a multitude of reasons.

While every family is different, siblings may still face similar challenges. Personalities may compete, differences in opinions on a subject may cause a heated debate. There are a number of reasons why siblings may not get along. With maturity and time, however, the relationship between siblings will change. Whether this is to bring siblings closer together or have them drift farther apart is individual. In my case, I’m pleased that my brother and I get along. He’s another person in my life I know I can count on and he knows I’ll be there for him as well.

Beyond Awareness: Autism Acceptance Month

Published anonymously

April is “Autism Awareness Month,” a time where national landmarks light up blue and people share stock photos with phrases like “I support Autism” or “30 days of Autism Awareness.” It’s one of the few times a year when autism is actually recognized or even acknowledged in popular media. It can be easy to forget that autism is actually an everyday part of life for a large number of families in America. According to the Center of Disease Control’s most recent statistics, in 2012, 1 in 68 children were placed on the autism spectrum. My younger brother is one of those 68 children and he’s part of the spike in autistic diagnoses that occurred in the late 90s and early 2000s. While he’s always my brother first and a person with moderate autism second, the autism awareness campaign always makes me reflect on his disability.

To be honest, autism is a very confusing disability, and even though my brother has it, there have been times where I have even struggled to understand it.  Medically speaking, autism is a neurological communication disorder that affects an individual’s verbal communication and motor skills. Additionally, it can also impact their cognitive intelligence.  I find that this very clinical definition of autism doesn’t really give a sense of what autism is like beyond it’s biological functions.

While I’m not on the spectrum myself, I think I can offer some insights on what autism is like in a more tangible context.  I would best describe autism as a barrier between the person’s inner self and the rest of the world, almost a metaphorical wall or fog that prevents my brother from fully expressing what he is experiencing. Of course, autism is a spectrum and depending on where you fall on the spectrum, your barriers are different.  My brother falls in the middle of the spectrum, where his disability greatly impacts his life and prevents him from living or expressing himself to his full potential.

But autism isn’t something that gets better over time, instead it gets harder as autistic children get older. When they are young kids, everyone else their age is dependent on their parents. I’ve also found that people are a lot more accepting of disabled kids when they are still the age where they are cute. However, like everyone else, people on the autistic spectrum grow up and it becomes harder for families to protect and care for them.  The unfortunate reality is a large portion of people on the autism spectrum will never be fully independent and many parents with autistic children live in fear of what will happen to their children when they are gone. I know that responsibility personally, and when it falls to me, I will embrace it, knowing that when my parents can no longer take care of my brother, I will guide him through adulthood.

As many siblings of children with disabilities feel, I was conflicted going away to college. On one hand, I felt like I was abandoning my brother, selfishly taking part in an experience he would never get to have, while on the other hand I was excited to pursue my degree in Media Production. After a lot of contemplation I knew going to college would help me get a better job and therefore allow me to support my brother in his adult life.  I would say there is truly no right or wrong answer, it’s about doing what is best for yourself and your sibling long term.

Unlike other siblings, keeping in touch with a sibling on the autism spectrum presents a unique set of communication challenges. Calling him up on the phone isn’t really an option, because it’s hard to get even yes or no answer out of him and often he’ll sit silently leaving it to be a completely one sided conversation. For example, one time we tried Facetiming and it did not go well, he had trouble maintaining a conversation with me even on the screen. Instead, it turned into him bringing me around our house virtually but going about his day as if I wasn’t on Facetime.

However, we have found other ways to stay connected; he’s always on his iPad so Facebook Messager is the best and least stressful way for him to keep in touch with me. Snapchat has also become a fun medium for him to keep me updated on what’s going on in his life. Also, many people with autism have trouble expressing or understanding their emotions, but social media has helped with that. While he’s never going to text or message me to tell me he misses having me at home, I know when he stalks my social media profiles and likes and relikes old posts of mine that he’s thinking of me.

As this month continues, it’s important to take time to reflect on the impact autism has on individuals, as well as, the community at large. While sharing a”light-it-up” blue photo to Facebook may be a very public way to show your support, less public strides can often achieve a greater impact. For example, you can support companies, such as Home Depot, Walgreens and Shaw’s, who have programs that give disabled workers jobs. The importance of these program plans should not be underestimated because they provide both a monetary independence and, even more importantly, a sense of purpose.

Furthermore, you can choose to make a committed effort on a personal level to be more accepting and inclusive to people on a daily basis. I can promise that behaviors such as these will be noticed by people on the spectrum and their families, because even in this alleged age of acceptance, autism still faces a great deal of stigma.  By leading by example and educating others to do the same, it is possible to help break down the stigma surrounding autism. Ultimately, the goal of “Autism Awareness Month” is to show that people on the spectrum are not defined by their disability.

i-will-not-keep-calm-until-there-is-so-much-autism-awareness-that-there-is-autism-acceptance

The Nutcracker Ballet and Me

Now that Thanksgiving break has passed and the end of the semester is rapidly approaching, it’s time to start thinking about the holiday season. Everybody has their own traditions, whether it’s a specific food only served during the holidays, a favorite movie that the whole family watches, or a ritual, like going out on Black Friday.

For me personally, one of the things I look forward to the most around Christmas time is seeing The Nutcracker Ballet. I can’t really remember how this tradition started for me, because I don’t remember the first time I watched it or heard about it. Much like Christmas itself, the Nutcracker Ballet is just something that’s been a fixture in my life for as long as I can remember.

I have several cousins who took dance lessons and a dance teacher for an aunt, so I came by ballet naturally. I can vividly remember being four or five-years-old, watching my cousins perform in a local youth production of the Nutcracker and being absolutely enthralled by it. All I wanted was to be like the beautiful dancers on stage, so I started taking lessons, and finally got to be in the Nutcracker when I was seven. Of course, I ended up with a cute little role that didn’t actually involve any dancing, but every year I came back and every year I got bigger parts and got to dance more.

Even though it was the busiest time of year, the Nutcracker was almost the most fun time of year when I was little, especially leading up to the performances. During tech week, I got to stay up way past my bedtime to be at rehearsal, where I could hang out with my friends and watch all the dancers. Plus, every year I got to skip a day of school to perform in the “school show,” which was for field trip groups. The weekend of performances-almost always threatened by some kind of snow storm-were complete pandemonium, but I loved every minute of it. I felt very grown-up being backstage, putting on my makeup and my hairpieces and getting to wear the gorgeous costumes.

When I was 12, my usual annual Nutcracker treat was supplemented because my grandmother took my mother, my sister and me to see Boston Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker for Christmas. I’d been performing with the same group for five years by that point, so I’d had that production memorized, but being able to watch a different company-and a professional company with actual, adult, professional ballerinas and in the real, honest-to-goodness Boston Opera House-was an unforgettable experience. It was one of those truly transformative moments, one of those moments where you’re so happy that all you want is to be that happy for the rest of your life.

Around that time, though, my local production of the Nutcracker was becoming a little less fun for me. At 13, you could start trying out for roles on pointe. I hadn’t started pointe yet, though, so the number of roles I qualified for was limited. (They were even further limited by the fact that the directors played favorites and gave the same kids the good parts every year, but that’s a different story.) I was also older and just getting to be too busy for the show. It was fun as a nine-year-old to stay at rehearsals and shows until 11 o’clock every night, but as a high school student with other commitments, it was too much.

I quit the Nutcracker when I was 16, after performing in it for nine consecutive years. I kept dancing with my own studio even after that, but after getting injured my senior year of high school, ballet has mostly been put on hold for now. But even after all the frustration, the Nutcracker is still extremely close to my heart. Every year I find some way to watch it multiple times. I don’t always make it to Boston Ballet’s production before it closes, but I own the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s version (with designs from children’s book author Maurice Sendak) on DVD. I also watch any version of it I can find playing on TV (especially Ovation’s “Battle of the Nutcrackers,”) and sometimes I’ll even stop by my old company’s production of it, just to see how the show has changed over the years.

I can’t pinpoint what exactly it is about the Nutcracker that I find so magical. Maybe it’s because I’m a fantasy nerd  and I’ve always been obsessed with stories that involve magic, transformations and journeys to other worlds. But I also think that nostalgia is a huge factor in why I love it so much. Whenever I drive around my hometown in the fall and winter, I think about being a little kid and being shuttled to Nutcracker rehearsals on the weekends. The Nutcracker is something that’s always stayed constant in my life for so many years, even if the way that it plays a role in my life now is different than the one it played when I was younger. I think everyone has these things in their life, the things that they can’t quite let go of and that stay important even after so many years. Moreover, I think it’s good to have these things. They’re a good measuring stick for how much you’ve grown but also good for reminding you of the ways that you’ve stayed the same, even after all these years.

What are your favorite, nostalgic holiday traditions? Let Atlas know in the comments!