i will always speak out

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My voice

Some of us woke up this morning in shock, thinking we must be in some kind of nightmare, hoping that any minute, Trump will pop out and say, “Gotcha!” Some of us woke up overjoyed, relieved that our voices were finally heard, stepped outside with a renewed faith in America. Others never quite made it to bed, unable to sleep with all the noise in our heads. But everyone faced the morning with the same reality: This Is It.

Me? I woke up disappointed in my beautiful state, one I love deeply, so much so, I once wrote it a love letter. This morning I read it again, to remind me of that love. I still mean every word. I’m not ready to pen the divorce version quite yet, because Wisconsin has proven more than ever before, it needs me.

I woke up with the sad fact I live in a country where (slightly less than) half of the people value and respect a person like Donald Trump.

I woke up, my heart hurting as I heard the fear in the voices of my Muslim friends, my black friends, my gay friends, women of every age, people of every religion, trying to understand their place in this country, mothers and fathers, trying to figure out how to explain this to their children, how to tell them to be hopeful, to be good, after our country chose to put someone with no integrity, who openly preaches hate, behind the wheel of a vehicle he does not know how to drive.

I woke up a lot of things, but in disbelief was not one of them. I easily saw how America could make Trump their next President. I saw it driving from Minneapolis to Madison last weekend, from one bubble to the next. I saw it in every small town along the way. I saw it in the farmer cutting a giant TRUMP in his field. I saw it in the signs, I saw it on Facebook, on the news. I saw it in my family. I saw it in the Rust Belt that I live in. And everything I saw, scared me. As I have said before, I am not a very political person. But when I see the very real potential for the rights of my friends, the rights of human beings I love and value, people who make this country a better place, when I see the potential for their civil rights to be taken away, I speak up. Next time, I will do so much more.

But now that we are here, I just want to set the record straight on a few things.

I’m so tired of being quoted bible verses when discussing politics. If there is a supposed separation of Church and State, tell me how religion plays a such a huge role every election? We get it. You believe in God. But you don’t seem to understand that not everyone believes in your God. Which means the word of God is just that….words. Not the law. Bible verses do not translate into facts. Freedom of Religion. Please try to remember that. If you voting for Trump doesn’t make you a bad person, lack of belief in your God doesn’t make me a bad person. I don’t need to be saved. Please stop praying for me, I am not the one who needs it. We both made a choice. Except your choice affects everyone who lives in this country, and mine only affects me.

Everyone in this country deserves to be heard, I couldn’t agree more. And it seems like my neighbors in the Rust Belt feel like they have finally been heard. And I am truly happy for them. It’s a wonderful thing to have a voice. That is not what is upsetting so many in the nation today. It’s the underlying message in that collective voice that is terrifying.

Do I believe every person who voted for Trump is an evil person? A racist? Misogynist? Bigot? Homophobe? Xenophobe? No, of course not. Thanksgiving at home this year truly would be a nightmare if that were the case. But do I believe all racists, misogynists, bigots, homophobes and xenophobes voted for Trump? Absolutely. And the company we keep says a little something, no?

I am not saying your vote alone makes you those terrible things. I am saying your vote for Trump, your voice that has been heard loud and clear, the one that says you are tired of being left behind, that you want change? That voice is also saying you were WILLING to accept those things in a person representing America. You told the world you were WILLING to promote misogynistic acts, xenophobic statements, racism, bigotry to the highest position of power.

Donald Trump is president-elect. I acknowledge that. But now that Hillary is no longer your scapegoat, now that she can no longer be used as a distraction from all of the terrible things Donald Trump has done, has said, has shown he is capable of, now, it is time for you to acknowledge ALL that he is, not just the parts that you want to see, the parts that support your cause. Now it is time for you to speak up and let him know, it’s NOT OKAY to treat women with such blatant lack of respect. That’s it’s NOT OKAY to grab a woman anywhere, just ‘cuz you can. We are not playthings. Our looks don’t define our value as humans. We are not trophies. To make sure he understands it is NOT OKAY to make fun of anyone with a disability, not ever. To tell him it’s NOT OKAY to preach hate, to remind him that all men and women were created equal, and deserve to be treated with the same level of human decency, regardless of the color of their skin, the country they were born, the language they speak, the pew they worship from, the person they love.

I know it was hard to hear before, but this is what we’ve been saying this whole time. And now we need your help. Because I don’t think he heard us (like, at all). Yes, it’s downright depressing that our future president must be told these things, but this is the reality we chose. We need to take a step back from politics and a step toward who we are as a country. Come on, America, we’re better than this. You got your president. Now it is time to come together and let him know exactly where he got it wrong. Because he did get it wrong.

And I’ll leave you with this:

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me.

~ Pastor Martin Niemöller

for whom the bell tolls

 

Solo swimmer. Lake Monona, Madison, WI
I am filling this post with a bunch of unrelated old photographs from my past that make me feel good when I look at them. This photo makes me feel good.

On a sunny Badger football Saturday a few weekends ago, my nephew and I heard a loud rumble from above and looked up to the sky to see what was disrupting the sweet, sweet melody of On Wisconsin. Within seconds, a low flying airplane flew into view, waving a banner behind it with pride.

WI Chinese Americans For Trump

I read the sign to myself and thought, Mmmmm. Is that really representative of all Chinese Americans in Wisconsin? Or is it more like, That One Chinese American That Spent Money on an Airplane Banner is For Trump?

My nephew read the sign out loud and thought, Chinese Americans For Trump (The End).

I know he is 9 and I am 35, but it really doesn’t matter how old you are. This is how many people, regardless of age, absorb and process information.

With the uninvited election now on the discussion table, my nephew promptly asked what I hoped he wouldn’t. Who are you voting for? Which somehow means something entirely different when a nine year old child asks. It’s worth noting we were also standing with his dad (my brother), someone usually more aligned with the Republican Party. They live in my central Wisconsin hometown and I have no idea what my nephew has heard in school, what his father has communicated, what conclusions he has already drawn in his own little head. So I hesitated. They were visiting Madison for the Wisconsin vs Nebraska game and it was such a beautiful day. I didn’t want to mar it with a political discussion or be seen as the Opponent in my nephew’s eyes, especially when my life goal is to get my niece and nephew to love me so much, they fight over who gets to take care of Crazy Aunt Tosha when I’m old and senile (which I will pretend to be, if only to fart loudly in public, finally).

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Mont Royal, Montreal makes me feel real good.

Afterward I couldn’t help but think maybe I should have said something. I mean, this is a kid who literally stopped mid-present-rip-opening last Christmas and got real pensive and sad for all of the kids who had no presents to rip open, while simultaneously expressing how presents weren’t actually the important thing, but having food and shelter and being with family were what mattered most. If any kid could handle this heavily weighted topic, this was the kid. Maybe I should have said something so he could see how grown ups can disagree, but still love and treat each other with respect, like my brother and I do (most of the time…we have our moments). But instead I told him voting is sometimes a private thing, and gently guided the conversation to something else.

The truth is, I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t want to know who my brother was voting for. My nephew is a great kid and I can’t wait to see what kind of outstanding adult he becomes. And he’s being raised by a fine pair of adults, regardless of who they choose to vote for in this election. He’s actually lucky to have people in his life who don’t all think exactly the same, because that’s the most natural way to learn about difference, tolerance, acceptance.

Kayaking down the Jacques-Cartier in Québec is Good good. Yes, I realize the last two photos are based in Canada. No, that was not on purpose.

As some of you witnessed, my last two posts inspired a not so unexpected Facebook war with my very own mother. She comments on everything I write, so I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know this was coming. As one of my co-workers observed the interaction, a mother with daughters of her own, concerned I was damaging an important relationship, she called me immediately and said, Tosha, STOP IT, THAT IS YOUR MOTHER.

She sure is. And despite what some might conclude after reading that Facebook exchange, my mom is good people too. Though I feared it, I wasn’t totally convinced she’d even vote for Trump; her Catholicism means a lot to her and she struggled with Romney (a totally respectable legit human that I respect even more now that he continues to refuse to support Trump) because he is Mormon. I thought surely she’d struggle with All That is Trump, who virtually has no religion or respect for it, but I was wrong. And I still don’t know who my dad is voting for, and I DO NOT WANT TO, MOM.

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Winding roads. Winding roads make me feel good.

Growing up, all of us kids were expected to follow the rules of the house, which at the time seemed like a lot, but basically boiled down to: respect your parents, pull your weight, and don’t you ever use the Lord’s name in vain. They didn’t go to church every Sunday to confess their sins and feel like a good person again for doing so. They simply chose, much more efficiently, just to be good people. As a child, I watched my dad give to families less fortunate than our own, though many people may have easily looked at our family and considered us part of the “less fortunate” bunch. I remember buying presents for names on a tree, holding these wish gifts in my hands. I remember packing up giant boxes with normal things most of us take for granted, like toilet paper and personal hygiene items and food. I remember driving these boxes to members of my very own family.

One of the walls in our cramped house was covered in handmade tapestries, gifts from my dad’s co-workers, each one telling a story of the plight of the Hmong people. Their beautiful handmade ornaments hung from our tree, right next to baby Jesus, a snowman, and my first grade picture glued to a crappy piece of construction paper, sort of resembling a star. Though they might regret it now, they never pushed their own political or religious beliefs on any of us kids and as a result, I was raised to have an open mind, to understand difference, believe in acceptance, and teach tolerance. They led by example, the classic Show, Don’t Tell method. No matter how they vote, they are not bad people.

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Scotland! Scotland makes me feel great!

When I moved to Madison for college, I remember my mom disliking the city because it was too liberal and she worried it would turn me into a liberal too. I didn’t even fully understand what that word meant then, but it sounded like an insult. Today, I can understand her concern a little better. But this city didn’t turn me into anything. It exposed me to different cultures, viewpoints, ideas. It introduced me to new people with multiple religious beliefs and lifestyles. It gave me an opportunity to get to know those different from myself, discuss controversial topics intelligently, and celebrate progress. It helped me understand the world was bigger than the small town I grew up in, bigger than me and my wants and needs. It inspired me to travel, see what else the people of the world had to say.

A wise man (my dad) once told me no candidate is ever going to fully represent who you are; each election you need to fully evaluate both platforms and decide what matters most to you. The first time I voted Democrat, America was still deciding whether or not gay people were actually people at all, still deciding whether they deserved the same basic human rights as straight people. There was only one vote I could cast that meant I believed some of my closest lifelong friends deserved equal rights, that they deserved to love whomever they chose, that yes, they were people too.

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Yosemite. The Feel Good Place of Always.

Today, there is only one vote that I can cast that shows respect for ALL people regardless of their religion, their color of skin, their baby-making bits, their ranking on someone else’s scale of attraction, or whom they love with all of their heart. That is what matters most to me: human decency and a general respect for all people.

Regardless of what happens today, of which ballot box you check, we could all stand to take a step back and remember our that neighbors may be Democrats or Republicans, Catholic, Muslim, gay, straight, black, white, prefer Miracle Whip (obvi) over Mayonnaise. But they are also people. Actual human people. My mom voted Trump, but she’s still my mother, and I still love her, even if I can’t find one iota of logic in her reasoning. Because no matter which man or woman is sitting in the oval office, life will go on, and as long as we speak up, we will always have a voice. If your candidate wins, don’t gloat, don’t point fingers, don’t draw the line in the sand even deeper. The Us vs Them mentality is what got us here in the first place.

Arctic Finland! The place where Feeling Good was born.

People say how saddened they are how this election has divided us as a nation. Divided families, marriages, friendships. Don’t kid yourself. This election didn’t do that. Our core beliefs, our core values, what matters most to each of us did that. When this election is over, those values, those beliefs, they won’t just disappear.

Don’t let politics define who you are as a person. Let who you are as a person help define politics.

And hey, you know, be a good person.

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Madison, Wisconsin, the Goodest of them all.

an open letter to everyone who can read

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I found it difficult to find photographs I’ve taken to represent this particular post, so I guess you’ll just have to focus on the words.

From the very bottom of my heart, where all the good things are supposed to live, I always knew They were somewhere out there, heck maybe even beneath the pale moonlight our friend Fievel is always singing about. Only less in the way that someone out there is loving me and thinking of me tonight, and more in the way of knowing there are millions of microscopic dust mites crawling all over pretty much everything everywhere, all of the time. You just can’t see them.

And just like with dust mites, often it’s easier to pretend they don’t exist, to avoid thinking about them, than to acknowledge the map of the country we live in is dotted with racists, misogynists, bigots, white supremacists and haters of all kind. But just like dust mites, these people are not unique to America. Though it might sometimes feel like it, they weren’t created by this election. They were always there, they’ve always been there, they will probably always be there in some form or another. But now we can actually see them crawling out of the woodwork of America’s foundation because someone, someone two shakes of a lamb tail away from a powerful position, is telling them it’s okay to express hatred toward someone because of how they look, where they are from, or what they believe in. It’s okay, encouraged even, to shout your hatred from the rooftop, in fact, why don’t you help us build a giant wall, and we can all shout it from there, letting our hate spittle drop down on all those bad hombres beneath us?

Yes, just like those dust mites, these fuckers are absolutely terrifying up close. (Seriously, Google one before you go to sleep tonight. Then read about where they live. Sweet dreams.)

Now here’s where some of you might scratch your head: If there’s one thing me and the Human Dust Mites can agree upon, it’s that they absolutely should vote for Trump.

Hear me out.

I can’t erase all the hate in the hearts of the people in America, and I am done pretending it doesn’t exist. I can’t change the minds of those who thrive on this hate, and I will definitely never understand the evil that drives them. But what I can understand is why the members of the Hate Squad would choose Trump over Clinton. He aligns (way, like way, way, way, all of the ways) more with their values. I can’t fault them for that. I won’t fault them for that. I mean, isn’t that exactly why I’m With Her?

What makes America so Great is that everyone has the right to fight for what they believe in. Even if they believe in some really, really BAD, questionable shit. Because one person’s really, really BAD, questionable shit may very well be another person’s definition of super GOOD shit. That’s sort of how this whole thing goes. And though these racists, bigots, misogynists, white supremacist Human Dust Mites might be the absolute worst kind of people, they are not the worst kind of Trump supporters. At least they actually believe in everything he stands for (no matter how terrifying that stance is).

No, the worst Trump supporters are those that just can’t stand to see a Democrat in the White House. No, no, NO, not again. Not another four years! They have had ENOUGH. The people who would downright vote for the Devil himself if he declared loyalty to the Republican Party, find ways to pardon his past, questioning the souls he stole instead of the Devil himself, squawking about how terrible Johnny is after the Devil Went Down to Georgia. These people are the worst kind of Trump supporters.

Yes, I am talking to you.

Some highly respected Republican politicians can’t even bring themselves to back Trump. Why do you feel the need? Is it about religion? I thought the seven deadly sins were supposed to be frowned upon, not celebrated, crowned, promoted. Maybe because of your conservative values? Can you honestly look me in the face and tell me you think Donald Trump gives two shits about any of those? With all his divorcing and womanizing and pussy grabbing (yeah, I said it) and vanity and greed and hate speech? Yes, his million dollar self-portraits simply scream conservative.

Not either of those? What is it then? Have you let actually let hate for someone else (name starts with an H) burrow so deep into your soul, that you let it control everything that makes you, you? So deep you have forgotten your own common sense, your own virtues, your own morals? Are you really willing to forgive the sins of another that, under any other circumstance, you would consider so deplorable, so revolting, so un-Christian if that person weren’t running for President under the party in which you support?

The Republican Party might represent your values and everything you stand for. But I assure you (though I shouldn’t have to be the one to do that), Donald Trump does not.

This is not the election to dig your heels in. This is not about you and what you want. This isn’t even about politics anymore and it hasn’t been since the primaries. This is about the person we are electing to best represent who we are as Americans, the face of our country. This about straight-up human decency.

Yes, Hillary has done some shitty things governmentally. But she’s not an overall shitty human being. And you don’t have to like her or the Democratic Party. You don’t have to like liberals or abortion or the environment or hippies or drive a Toyota Prius or whatever you think the other side stands for. No one is asking you to do that. I would never ask you to do that, because I know that’s not who you are. And you can tell yourself all you want that you are voting against Hillary, and not for Trump. But you also need to accept that a vote against Hillary is a vote for Hate. A vote for Bigotry. Your vote against Hillary is a vote for Human Dust Mites.

But that’s not what you believe in. That’s not who you are. That’s not what you stand for.

Unless, of course…it is.

And if it is, I stand corrected.

By all means, Vote for Trump.

no experience necessary

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Leaving California

I’m just not that into politics. I’ve never been able to coerce my mind into weaving through the complex web of our government, the extent of my knowledge resembling a scary combination of House of Cards set to the tune of I’m Just a Bill from Schoolhouse Rocks. I try to avoid intense political discussions, because, like most people (even if they don’t realize it), I know just enough to be dangerous, but not enough to be effective. Things get dirty when people start yelling full opinions and half-truths at each other, mouths opened, ears closed.

Sometimes I feel guilty I don’t care to understand more than I do, that I don’t put forth more effort into the things I believe to be right and just, that I don’t take a bigger stand outside of voting in elections, considering that my voice. Personally I am grateful for the individuals who have made politics their chosen path because that means it doesn’t have to be mine. It can be a nasty, crooked, corrupt institution, no doubt. I mean, something tells me House of Cards wasn’t cooked up in a totally fictional bubble.

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Madison, WI

And this next part is sort of embarrassing to admit. When I was 19, I voted for Bush because my family did. When I was 23, I voted for Bush because my family did and my boyfriend was in Iraq and people basically told me he would probably die there if Kerry became president. When I was 27, I voted for Obama because a different boyfriend asked me why I was Republican, and for the first time, I actually thought about it. And I realized I wasn’t. On pretty much any level. Correction, that was 100% embarrassing to admit.

And it’s absolutely terrifying to think millions of 23 year-old-me’s will go to the polls next Tuesday to vote, with such little thought, such little knowledge, such ignorance. I mean, I’m a post-collegiate educated woman, a single homeowner, who falls into a fairly high tax bracket (er, when I’m actually employed). And it took three voting cycles for me to truly think about who I was as an individual, and who I believed most represented my values. I was the textbook definition of the swing voter political parties try to reach in these final days, huffing and puffing, hoping to blow me one way or the other.

And swing I did, but on my own accord. It took a while, but I eventually figured me out. I’m still not much for politics, but you know what I do love? Analogies. And logic. So let me make some analogies about logic in this 2016 election.

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If you haven’t figured out by now, the photo theme is flags. Somewhere on the AT.

Would you strap yourself to the chest of a person who had never jumped out of a plane before, trusting they’d reach the ground alive? Would you take your teenaged daughter out driving and make her merge onto a six lane expressway in Chicago two minutes into her very first lesson?

If you had to have brain surgery and were forced to choose between the only two doctors available, like you HAD TO CHOOSE OR YOU WOULD DIE (literally), would you choose the doctor with 30 years of experience on the surgery, but only a 60% success rate, or the person who never performed the surgery, actually come to think of it, he wasn’t even a real doctor. But he had been going to doctors all of his life and he’d watched a lot of doctor shows on the boob tube, shows like ER and Scrubs and Grey’s Anatomy, and feels pretty confident he could handle the surgery, probably better than anyone.

I am willing to bet you would not strap yourself to the newbie skydiver, you’d start your daughter off driving in a parking lot to get out all the kinks, learn the feel of the car, and given a choice, you’d choose the doctor that gave you an actual chance of survival.

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Even so called “bad experience” seems preferable over zero experience.

Nearly every profession out there requires a certain skill set, a certain level of experience, proof that you have what it takes. Which is why I am sincerely trying to understand how President of The United States of America, arguably one of the most important professions in the world, became a position with “no experience necessary” listed on the job posting. You know, like any other standard entry-level position. You gotta start somewhere, right? Why not at the top! You can learn all the steps you skipped later, in the abundance of free time you have in your new position as POTUS. How fun!!

In fact, these days, the words “experience” and “career” are actually being held against the people who have them, mostly to cover up the fact the people using them as insults have none. Is it so bad to be a career politician? I mean just like any other field, people find things they like to do, are skilled at doing, and if they’re lucky, stick to them. Are career football players and chefs, and doctors, and lawyers so awful? They don’t seem to be when you’re picking your fantasy football team, or trying to find someone to represent you in that crime you allegedly didn’t commit. Should maybe a brain surgeon try to be an electrician and the baseball player take up hockey just to mix things up? Wouldn’t want to make a career out of it.

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Failing to see the negative here.

 

What’s that? You’re a businessman? Golly, that’s great! And that makes you qualified to run our government…how? Oh, I see. You’re one of those people who think raising a puppy is similar to raising a child. I get it now.

Most of us are not politicians or businessmen, so it’s difficult comprehend how absurd this comparison is, or even to relate to what is actually happening. But all of us either parents or not parents. I am a Non-Parent. So what would you Parents think if I were to stand behind a podium and critique each and every parental decision you ever made, the ones where you majorly f*cked up and you know it, the ones where you did something selfish to benefit yourself and maybe not the whole family, the ones you regret, the ones you should but don’t, because you learned from them. And then what if I told you how much better I would do it if I had kids? What if told you all the ways I would make my kids the best kids ever? How they would always clean their room and get straight As and never talk back and I would never make a single mistake, not one.

You’d silently smile and shake your head and think, Oh honey, you think you know, but you have no idea. But you also wouldn’t really have anything to critique me on in the parenting field, because I haven’t made any parenting mistakes. Not because I am awesome at everything, but because I am not a parent. But I do have two cats (practically kids, amiright?), and boy are they the best, most successful cats ever. Sure, both are pretty obese, one walks around with constant dingleberries and the other has a midnight meow that will wake the neighbors…

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‘Merica

But none of that matters as I loudly accuse you of terrible parenting, pointing out all your flaws, wondering why you haven’t done more, done better, while simulataneously boasting how much more awesome I would be because everything you can do I can do better, I can do everything better than you. And though I am only unflawed in this area due to zero experience, for some reason, I feel very qualified in telling you how to parent without knowing what it even is to be a parent.

And all of the other Non-Parents would cheer me on, nodding eagerly in agreement, because the only thing easier than pointing out all of someone else’s flaws while making a claim as to how I would do it better, is nodding silently along in the background.

Would you think, “Yeah, this makes sense.”

Or would you be totally fricking confused as to how you found yourself standing up against a crazy-non-parent-cat-lady for the Parent of the Year Award?

if walls could talk, what would yours say?

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Channel Islands National Park, California

If you walk into my parents house, the first thing you’ll notice is a couple of cats, one because he’s invading all of your personal space, the other because she’s trying to kill you. For real. They have this sort of this good kitty/bad kitty thing going on and it’s terribly confusing.

Next, as you step carefully around outstretched claws, you’ll notice the memories. Moments in time captured in frames, life seen by my father behind a thin plate of glass, hung on the walls throughout the house. In the hallway, up the stairs, over the couch, around the dinner table. Walk into the office and you’ll discover shelves of thick, tattered photo albums, cataloguing years of adventures, experiences, four tiny babies growing into adorable little kids, morphing into super awkward teenagers, becoming fantastically stunning adults (I’m obviously biased).

My father quietly documented our lives since before I can remember. Often, my sister Tessa and I would spend hours cuddled up on the couch, flipping through albums, exchanging short stories about favorite polaroids, snaps in time. We spent hours with the younger versions of ourselves, growing up before our very own eyes, like a weird flip book, every awkward stage caught on camera, visual clues working with fuzzy memories to piece together the backstories of our lives. We dove deep into life’s cache, filling in blanks long forgotten or perhaps never really known. We’d argue over if it were her or me in the cute baby photo, yodeling for our mother to solve the mystery. She’d pass through the living room carrying laundry, glance briefly at the photo and deliver the ultimate shocker, “That’s your brother.”

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Proudly terrorizing cats since 1981

It’s hard to say if I remember my childhood so vividly because of actual memories, or because of my thorough and frequent review of captured time.

Do I truly remember the huge brown Manitowoc house we rented, the one with the giant two story wrap around porch, huge yard and circle driveway, complete with a plastic rocking horse that housed bees in the hollow handle, one which stung the crap out of me? Or do I remember a picture of that exact same scene with my mom retelling a story of the time I got stung by the bee? Can I possibly recall the farm I was born on so well because of my impeccable four-year-old memory, or because day in and day out, I stared at a large wooden barn-shaped frame surrounding a beautiful aerial photo of that same cozy farm, complete with tiny dotted cows munching on grass by the forest in the corner?

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Autumn walks in Madison, WI

Time is funny and the mind is tricky. For someone who struggles in the memory department, I’m just grateful I have a past to look back on. I loved our little library of memories so much, my senior year of high school I decided to started my own. I bound my first interpretation of Time in a soft green album, representative of my high school colors, the DCE Evergreens. Over the next two years, I carefully collected my college memories in some version of Badger Red. But if you were to walk into my home office today, to the shelves that hold my memories, you’d notice the photo albums abruptly stop.

That marks the day the world digitalized. I no longer had to print photos to see them, to store them, to remember. They lived on screens, on phones, on computers, forever on the internet. Like, forever, forever. I robbed my photo albums the rights to their sequel as iPhoto, Facebook and Instagram easily, cheaply, conveniently quenched my nostalgic thirst. Why flip when you can scroll? For free? Anywhere? Everywhere?

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What becomes of all of these photos we take? Santa Barbara, California

Fast forward to Fall of 2011 when I bought my own house. I painted the walls with vibrant colors, updated outdated appliances, kicked up the lighting, cleaned the floors, replaced dingy curtains. But no matter how much I scrubbed, brightened, updated…something was missing. That winter I walked through the door of my parent’s house searching for the missing ingredient. I wandered slowly down the hallways, fingering the framed photos of my nieces and nephews, old senior pictures and that ABSOLUTELY TERRIBLE family photo from what had to be the 80s, so unfortunately forever captured in time. I passed the glory days of my brother’s professional motorcycle career, walked through scenes from family road trips out west, explored the Arctic, Africa, and the Boundary Waters, artfully narrated by my dad. The walls were full of whispers, telling tales with every step, like Harry Potter, roaming the halls of Hogwarts.

This house was alive.

I rounded the corner, walked into the office and pulled out my favorite photo album, the white one with the little house stenciled on it, just barely keeping it together. I slowly turned the big plastic pages, carefully freeing cherished 4×6 pieces of life from the thin sheets. I could almost hear them cheering.

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Freed polaroids

For months I had been pumping artificial life into my house instead of letting it breathe on its own. Now, each step I take upstairs is a journey through foreign lands, as framed maps of countries traveled dot the walls. When I reach the landing, I’m embraced by tiny pockets of life, from the freed family photo polaroids, to my sister’s wedding, the faces of my dogs in Finland, to standing on top of Katahdin. In the center of it all is a clock. Time surrounded by Memories. One cannot truly exist without the other.

So when Framebridge contacted me to collaborate, it was sort of creepy. How could they possibly know how much framed Life meant to me? We’re like, the perfect fit. As I browsed their website, I was also reminded my own walls needed some major updating; most of my framed photos depict life circa 2012. And a lot has happened in the past four years.

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Map wall, with space to fill.

As a concept, Framebridge is legit awesome, and I say this not only because I got a few frames on the house, but because I actually mean it. I am obsessed with how easy it is to frame, well, anything. Pictures stored on your computer, on Instagram, that concert poster where you met your boyfriend, long forgotten diplomas you’re still paying for, the exact outfit you were wearing when the Cubs finally made it to the World Series, actual art. My first stroll through the website with my shopping cart resulted in a couple thousands of dollars of product. Because I wanted one of everything. But since I’m about to spend five unpaid months hiking from Mexico to Canada, I was able to convince myself 66 framed photos weren’t necessary…for now.

I had to narrow my focus. Since Instagram was my first “big break” I decided to frame a bunch of Insta snaps from my Quit Your Day Job European adventure, mini stories to fill in the gaps between frames on my map wall. You can upload photos right from your computer or Instagram and preview your image with the dozens of frame and mat options available, which is both super convenient and totally necessary. As a person who has spent hours perusing the aisle of Target, Hobby Lobby and TJ MAXX to find the perfect classier-than-it-costs frame, I feel very qualified in saying it’s terribly difficult to enclose memories in way that accurately reflects your interpretation of time.

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The frames are hugged in place by cardboard sleeves and bubble wrap.

After you narrow 66 frames to a more reasonable number, Framebridge will print, frame, and send. For free. (Shipping, that is.) And when they arrive, it’s like Christmas morning. I have never seen anything more perfectly protected than these frames. I was a little worried about the photo quality, coming from Instagram, but they turned out even better than I had hoped. The ability to preview your photos with each frame proved invaluable, it’s like I reached into my computer screen and was holding the final product in my hand. No surprises.

Well, some surprises. I notice all the little things; seriously, I judge a restaurant based on the quality of toilet paper they have in their bathroom. And Framebridge thought of everything. Each frame comes with a little card with how to clean and hang, complete with the appropriate sized hardware to hang your specific piece. All you need is a hammer – literally. And my absolute favorite part? Two little felt circles on the bottom corners of the frame so the picture doesn’t scratch the wall, or jut out in all the wrong ways. My order even contained a legit handwritten Thank You. If Framebridge were a restaurant, they’d have some top notch toilet paper.

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Venice, Norway, Yosemite, Madison, Patagonia, Bosnia, Scotland, Finland. Framebridge gives little descriptions of each frame and what photos they pair well with. The silver beaded frame was a listed as a favorite for baby photos, so obviously a perfect fit for little Curly.

The whole process was just so easy. And fun. And a delightful trip down memory lane. All those memories hiding underneath the cover of your laptop, inside the walls of the web, tucked into tiny phones, up in the cloud are just waiting to be freed. So fill in those gaps. Surround yourself with the people you love, the journeys you’ve lived. Inspire yourself to get out and do more. Let your house breathe on its own.

Or better yet, help breathe life into someone else’s house. Recently I took a photo of my friend’s daughter in a sunflower field just loving life. Her father-in-law asked if he could print and frame to give to his wife for her birthday. I was flattered, but more impressed by his gift of choice. Just one picture can tell so many different stories for a lifetime. And memories make perfect gifts. (Especially when you get 15% off your first order – I suggest making it a big one: Just use this link to Framebridge and enter the code: OTHERFORK15 )

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Even the back of the frame is cute. Those felt circles…it’s the little things.

Though seriously, on my next parental visit I may or may not accidentally knock that horrendous family photo from the wall, pre-braces me with the huge pink glasses, bangs bump, 80s color-block-see through-sleeves-silk-shirt, and blame it on the murderous cat.

Because absolutely no one needs to hear that story.

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Channel Islands National Park, Santa Cruz

riding the wave

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Break room advice
I was staring that blank Monday morning stare, silently waiting for my coffee to brew when I noticed the sign, tucked in a box labeled Pick me ups. Stenciled on a bright yellow background, in mismatched lettering, it said: Do What You Love.

I looked around the drab break room with florescent lighting, fake flower centerpieces dotting the small round tables, a meek effort to bring cheer into an otherwise dull corner of an IT office. Seriously? Could anyone reading that sign actually be doing what they loved at the moment? Pick me up? How about pick me up, throw me on the ground, and crush my soul. Thanks for reminding me I’m nowhere near where I want to be right now, stupid notecard. I hope you love being a card, you hypocrite.

Okay fine, maybe I am not always doing what I love…but I do what I love some of the time. Does that count?

From the outside, I might appear like a plucky go-getter, quitting my career, traveling the world, hiking thousands of miles up and down the country, with plans for so many more adventures in all the years to come. And to an extent, I am. But I am also part coward. I took a life leap, but I took it with a parachute on my back and a packed lunch complete with a note from mom. Yeah, yeah, I quit my job and wandered aimlessly for years, but deep down I knew I would be able to pick up where I left off, in a slightly different realm. Maybe I didn’t feel this then, but I see it now: It’s not that scary or hard to jump from a burning boat when a beautiful tropical island is 10 feet away. You feel me?

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A sea of clouds at sunrise on Gaviota Peak
If I had taken a real leap, I’d being do exactly what that card smugly sat there suggesting. I’d be doing what I love, all of the time.

Even before putting my writing out there, before the blog, but especially after, people innocently questioned some of my career choices. Why are you doing this? Why aren’t you doing something more creative? You should write a book. Why are you working in IT?

My first favorite excuse is, dude, these days, with Facebook and WordPress and Tumblr and the ability to fully operate your own blog and get your voice out there, everyone is a writer. With Instagram, everyone is a photographer. Yeah, of course I want to write and explore, go on awesome adventures and get paid for it. But who doesn’t? Who wouldn’t want to be a travel writer, an adventure blogger? I went to Journalism school with the intention of going into advertising, and got out partially because it was so cutthroat. I didn’t want to compete or outshine; I wanted to be a part of a community. I wanted to work with people, not against them.

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Sunset on Gaviota Peak
My second favorite excuse is, I’m just riding the wave, letting things organically come to me rather than seeking out opportunities. I would love nothing more than to have a career where I travel to remote lands, explore the nooks and crannies of life, hike all the trails, go on all the road trips; but (and this is very hard and rather embarrassing to admit) I don’t want to put myself out there; I want those things to come to me, to just fall into my lap. Me, a person who fully believes in working for what you want, what you get, what you have, all of a sudden just wants these fruits of no ones labor to turn up on my doorstep? And my most embarrassing secret: sometimes I’ll read other travel blogs, articles in Backpacker magazine, listen to podcasts of people doing awesome things, things I want to do, people who have made this their life, who have fully committed, and I feel jealous. What sets them apart? How did they get there? We’re not all that different. I could do that/write that/experience that. So why am I the one staring at a notecard telling me to do what I love, while they are out doing what they love?

Because they took a real life leap and I’m still playing hopscotch. Because I am too scared to admit I am scared, because then I’d have to face my fears. This job is my baby blanket. It’s convenient and cozy and familiar and if you take it away, I might panic. I am still terrified to cut the cord, to take a real chance, to truly put myself out there. Because as I soon as I do that, I can’t make any more excuses.

I figured this out around the time a bunch of shit got dumped right on my doorstep, just like I was hoping, and I immediately high-tailed it in the other direction. Shortly after I got Instafamous while hiking the AT last year, after the Instagram interview and The Guardian picked up my photo of Emily on McAffey’s Knob (and boy did the Brits have a field day with the Knob part), I began receiving a bunch of random emails, requests, people who wanted to collaborate in some way or another. I brushed off most of these as junk mail, bots sending mass emails, people hitting send without doing their research.

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More clouds. Because they are cool. Almost as cool as my tent.
Part of me felt undeserving, like a fraud. Like if I accepted anything, they would have the opportunity to dive in and see the real me, see that I wasn’t all that special or different from the next girl doing pretty much the exact same thing I was. It felt weird, like it wasn’t the right time. I knew my ten-seconds of fame would be over sooner than they began, I know I should have seized the opportunity.

But I didn’t. And most decisions I am at peace with. I am honored and grateful for the offers I receive to write for other sites. If I had 24 more hours in my day, I would find a way. But realistically, working 50 hours a week and traveling 20 more, I can barely keep up with The Other Fork in the Road. It has become so much more than just a personal account of my life, and if I am going to write, it’s going to be for me, on my own terms.

Other decisions are harder to swallow.

I turned down an opportunity to speak at a TedX talk at the University of Maryland because I had a wedding conflict. The theme: Transcending Limitations. I read the email offer at least 1,000 times.

We find that your credentials make you a stellar candidate as a speaker for the conference; your experiences and perceptions of life and the world aligns with the values and ideas that TED promotes.

Probably still a mass email, but I was humbled to even be considered, imagining possibilities, picturing myself in front of room of people. Insert scratchy record sound. I tell other people I turned it down because of a wedding, but in reality, I turned it down because I am terrified of public speaking and still can’t quite figure out what the hell I really have to offer to a room full of people without feeling like a fool. In fact, I knew the moment I read the email, I wouldn’t accept. Not a chance, even though I pretended for awhile there was.

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Bicycling back roads of Wisconsin.
Whether you think TED talks are brilliant or believe we’ll all be shaking our heads in a few years, wondering why we made such a fuss about listening to pretentious people talk about themselves, who knows what fork the road it could have offered, what kind of doors it could have opened?

I’ll never know and it makes me kind of sad. Sad enough I decided to change tactics. I decided to start saying yes. Even if it scares me. When Mike Campbell from Live Immediately emailed in request of a podcast interview, I said yes for the first time. Even though I am terrible at speaking in sentences, even though I slur my words, hate my voice, can’t articulate my thoughts, I said yes. When Frambridge offered frames to display my adventures in exchange for a dedicated post and a few rounds of social media shout outs, I said yes. I flipping love frames. When PowerBar asked for a few Instagram posts in exchange for actual dollar bills, I said yes. Maybe I won’t smell like cat urine on the PCT next year with all that protein.

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Gaviota Peak, California
I know I am not a famous blogger with a million followers, but that just means I appreciate the support of those I do have even more. I respect every pair of eyes that decides to read one of my posts, especially if you make it all the way through. I’m grateful for every single Instagrammer that chooses to follow me, even if you’re a Bot, because for having no feelings or thoughts, you clearly have great taste.

So consider this your formal warning. All of my posts to this date have been the product of my mind and my hands making sweet love. In the future, some posts *may* be conceived with a third party involved. Don’t worry, my mind and my hands will still be making the love, the third party is just there to watch, and maybe give us a snack after.

This is getting weird. And pornographic.

But I’ve been riding the wave for so long, it’s time to make some ripples of my own.

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Calm before the storm. Madison, WI

spread the word

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Cliff running, Santa Barbara, California

“I just need something that packs well and I can wear a lot. Like every day, a lot.”

“…Every day?” The girl questioned, raising her eyebrow. Probably not something the salespeople at Anthropologie hear very often.

Which is how she became the first of many lucky strangers to listen to my Quit Your Day Job! See The World! Find Yourself! adventure on which I was a few weeks away from embarking. And to my surprise, she was into it. She asked thoughtful questions, said I was brave and inspiring, and through her college-aged eyes, she showed me that what I was about to do was way more awesome than it was scary. That was the moment the scale tipped.

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Beach hiking

Now I am much less reserved in telling absolute strangers about journeys I’ve taken, the journeys I’m about to take. Sometimes I subconsciously slip it in, other times, it sort-of-kind-of relates to the topic of conversation. Just the other day, while booking our boat ride to the backcountry campsite of Channel Islands National Park, the woman on the phone warned me that our actual site was over four miles from the boat landing and there was no potable water, so we would have to carry it all in, and could we handle that? My response was, “Oh definitely. We all hiked the whole Appalachian Trail last summer, I think we’ll be okay!”

A simple, yep, we’re good, would have been equally/more acceptable.

But she rolled with my unnecessary information, humored me even, and we chatted a little more about distance hiking.

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Above the clouds on a morning hike. That very tiny strip of far away land just above the horizon is one of the Channel Islands.

And then there was that Starbucks run just before work. In general I’m not the best at standing still, and it gets even worse when waiting in lines. I’m antsy. I sway, I tap, I move in place. I heard a voice behind me, “You must be a dancer.”

Confused, I turned around and located the voice. “Me? Oh, no, sir. No one’s ever accused me of that before. I’m incredibly uncoordinated.”

Apologizing, he seemed as confused as me. “Really? Just the way you were bopping around, and the muscles in your legs were moving, I assumed…”

This isn’t as creepy as it might sound. The gentleman was in his 70s at least, the kind of fella who meets his friends every morning for coffee to talk about the way things were. Sometimes you can exchange one word with someone and know they are good people. He was good people.

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Beach walking. Emily = good people.

To break the awkwardness, I offered this well-oiled goody, “But I DID hike the Appalachian Trail last year, so that might be a contributing factor to the leg thing. I’m more of a dancer on rocks.”

His eyes, his expression, his response, I wish I had a photo, a video. He hurled a series of questions as we inched toward my future grande flat white, extra shot and his coffee, black. How many miles did we walk, how much time did it take, why did I do it? He shook my hand and said congratulations, as plans for the PCT spilled out of my mouth. I wanted to stay, sit with him, talk more, but the cashier interrupted and work beckoned.

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The climb back up to the cliff.

I slowly walked out to my car, clouds of happy memories beneath me. In less than two days, I’d managed to have conversations with randoms about very intense, meaningful experiences in my life. But…why? I don’t casually mention these things because I get a kick out of telling people all of the awesome things I’ve done. It’s not because I like hearing myself talk, or think I’m cooler than you. I have done some incredible things, lived amazing experiences of which I am very proud. But these experiences don’t have to be, shouldn’t be, mustn’t be unique to me. Just like the first time I heard about dogsledding through the Arctic wilderness from Emily when she randomly entered my relatively normal life, just like I sparked the interest of the sales girl at Anthropologie.

I tell random strangers my story because I want to plant idea seeds in the minds of others. I want kickstart someone to do something maybe they thought they couldn’t do, something they might not have ever thought of doing. I want to help people see beyond their line of sight.

It’s up to you to find the bread to put it on; I just want to spread the word.

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On a mission.

 

the day i became hiker trash

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Dragontail in all her glory. Enchantments, WA

A few years back, my good friend Christina took one of those major life leaps so many people only dream of making. Trying to figure out her place in this crowded world, she loaded up the Honda with boxes of essentials, drove cross country with her dog Bella, and exchanged Wisconsin for Washington, slightly terrified and totally ready to pen a new chapter in her Book of Life.

And of course, Washington did what Washington does best. Gear became the main recipient of extra cash. Carabiners and ropes became a natural part of her weekend wardrobe; she dressed to impress only Mother Nature. Mountaineering courses happily dominated her free time, the Honda transformed into a Subaru and her essentials narrowed to ten.

Sometime after scrambling up big-ass mountains became her favorite weekend tune, Christina texted she hit the outdoor jackpot, winning a two-night permit in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area. I can’t even remember if she extended an actual invite, but I jumped at the chance to join her group of mountain friends on a west coast adventure.

After living out in the wilderness for almost five months straight last year, life inside never quite regained its former appeal. And yet that’s where I find myself way too much these days. I can point all the fingers I want at Life, at Employment, at Circumstance for building these walls around me, but I know in my heart I’m partially (or more) to blame for not finding the open door. It’s there, I know it’s there; it’s the same door I’ve used before, the same door I will use again. But lately I seem to be settling for the window.

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Filed under: Things You Can’t See From a Window. Climbing Aasgard Pass.

Now I stared blankly into my gear closet as I attempted to pack, overwhelmed by options. What did I actually need? Is surviving a weekend really any different from surviving five months in the great outdoors? Would it be fair to say, if I didn’t need it for hiking up and down mountains then, I wouldn’t need it now? I called Christina for advice. As we chatted, taking comfort in the fact our gear lists resembled pages from the same book, I wondered aloud what the major difference was between what I did, as a thru-hiker, and what she did, as a mountaineer. We both climbed mountains again and again…right? Not really knowing anything at all about each other’s outdoor world, we eventually settled on gear and routes. Oversimplified, Mountaineers take much more technical routes requiring helmets and ropes. Hikers take less technical routes, avoiding situations requiring helmets and ropes, because well, have you seen those heavily humongous ropes?

Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail changed my life in so many Forever ways, I’m still discovering all of them. It refocused the lens through which I see perfect strangers, no name towns and hitchhikers. It redefined gas stations, public restrooms and shitty motels (like, really shitty motels). Against my better judgement, I learned to revere cheap ramen noodles, Cheez-Its, and Little Debbie cream cheese streusel cakes (I still unconsciously look for them in every establishment that sells anything edible, overcome with joy when I spot them, but never quite able to justify the purchase). Mother Nature reached full personification, rounding out my Top Five Favorite People in the Whole World, and I have no reservations assuming I’m one of hers; I’ve learned this mutual respect goes a long way, even if it’s all in my head. Thru-hiking restored my faith in humanity, in America, in myself.

But I had yet to realize how thru-hiking shaped the way I approached the outdoors, period. It took approximately one minute and 45 seconds of reaching the Stuart Lake Trailhead for me to catch on. I watched Past Tosha evaporate into the crisp mountain air, the wisps of my assumptions winking at me, a safe distance from reality.

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The crispest, the cleanest, the most mountainous of all the air. Evening view from our campsite, Stuart Lake.

I loaded my pack onto expectant shoulders, snapped the buckles into place, adjusted the straps and grabbed my hiking poles, ready to tackle anything the day had to offer. The instant my fingers curled around the cork and the familiar sounds of hiking found my ears, floodgates holding back months of memories opened and energy roared through my body, eagerness dripped out my pores.

I smiled as Iinna, my favorite energetic, misfit husky back in Finland, empathetically crossed my mind. I pictured her and the rest of my team all harnessed up, secured to the gang line, lunging forward with anticipation, howling with enthusiasm, knowing in just a few seconds…they…I would be free. Then I lunged so hard, I broke free from my team.

That happens sometimes with a mismatched sled-dog team. Two great dogs might perform terrible together, two subpar dogs might make magic. You’re constantly swapping dogs around, trying to identify where they run best. Are they lead dogs, wheel dogs or best in swing? Do they run in rhythm? Personalities clash, too distracted? Do they trust each other?

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The moment I realized I lunged too hard…there was no one around to answer my questions about this sign. So I took a picture.

Over time on a long distance trail, you organically become a community, a team of thru-hikers made up of a bunch of random people with similar goals, motivations, expectations for this one major life journey. Everyone walks through the same highs and lows, ups and downs, lefts and rights. You share this unspoken camaraderie no one quite understands or can totally explain, but all the same, makes absolute sense. No matter who you are in the real world, everyone just sort of gets it out there, whatever it may be.

But today I was hooked up to a foreign team, one sprinkled with all kinds of outdoor enthusiasts. It took a trip full of (mostly) non thru-hikers for me to make a breakthrough in what it truly means to identify as a thru-hiker. For reference, mountaineers are the intelligent lead dogs, or the steadfast wheel dogs of the outdoor world; thru-hikers are the unpredictable misfit sled dogs no one really knows what to do with.

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Find Waldo. Top of Aasgard Pass.

Flashback to that conversation with Christina; Future Tosha would now have an answer for Past Tosha when she pondered what made mountaineering different from hiking. Only Future Tosha would realize Past Tosha had lost her mind and point out that walking thousands of miles for months through forests, across deserts, up and down mountains, is not really similar at all to hiking thousands of feet up snow-covered, rock-faced mountain peaks for the weekend. But because Future Tosha is sort of a know-it-all, she would also try to answer the question.

Welllllllll, Past Tosha, both mountaineers and thru-hikers most certainly are adventure seekers, adrenaline junkies, totally crazy and obviously awesome.

But mountaineering is really more of a team sport. Actually, after taking a quick peak into that world, I’m not even sure it is safe, sane or possible to make it a solo sport. They have this amazing bond formed by respect and admiration for their mutual passion. They operate under the Leave No Man Behind principle and rely heavily on the buddy system. I mean, seriously, mountaineers are often literally connected to each other in some fashion, whether rappelling down a rock face, crossing a steep snow field, climbing to the summit connected by rope. You get there together, or you don’t get there at all. Until next weekend of course, when you try again. Because that’s what you do.

Thru-hiking, is definitely more of a “let’s do this alone, together” activity. I hiked from Georgia to Maine with Emily, but I didn’t hike by her side every mile of every day. Some days I didn’t see her much at all. We sort of just fell into an unspoken rhythm, a simple understanding. She was always just ahead of me, or just behind, and if too much time passed or the trail got sketchy, we’d wait. It’s impossible to dance to the exact same beat as another person, day after day. We knew we’d meet up…eventually. We are incredibly lucky our hiking styles ended up being similar. Because more often than not, hikers start at the Mexico border, Springer Mountain, at whatever terminus, alone. Sure, groups form over time, but the trail families that last are molded by hiking speed, motivation and priorities. Bubbles formed by start date or attraction often dissolve as someone realizes someone is holding someone back, or priorities just aren’t the same.

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Fishing in Alpine Lakes should always be a priority. He was using a pole even the most ultra-light hiker would appreciate.

And even with perfectly matched groups, a thru-hiker will definitely leave a man behind. Not because they want to, because they have to. Time and money trees are scarce, and everyone is plucking from a different orchard. Everyone has something calling them home. When I was struggling with shin splints on the trail, another thru-hiker jokingly advised Emily to press on. It wasn’t really a joke and I wasn’t insulted. We want the best for our fellow hikers, even if that means being left behind. We even have an overused and abused motto to excuse any and all behavior: Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH). We’re a selfish lot, eh?

Because base camps are a thing, mountaineers are less obsessed with pack weight and can focus more on safety, comfort and camp happiness when packing. They carry a bunch of gear necessary to get them where they are going, preferably alive: ten(+) pound ropes, heaps of carabiners, appropriate attire for any and all possible weather situations. They don’t have to think twice about inflatable pillows, multiple pairs of footwear, delicious fruit and vegetables, sleep clothes/town clothes, extra anything period. Bricks of cheese and rolls of sausage are considered snacks, two foods you’ll see more thru-hikers salivating over than eating themselves, as they stare at day hikers with starving puppy dog eyes. And yes, that look works. And get this, they have communal garbage bags.

I will cut a B if someone tries to slip their snickers wrapper into my old beef-jerky-packet-converted-to-trash bag. Like some men have a waist-to-hip ratio, thru-hikers have a weight-to-calorie ratio, a weight-to-howmanyusesdoesithave-ratio, a weight-to-anything ratio. We’ll spend minutes hemming and hawing in the 7-Eleven over instant Idahoan Potatoes or Easy Mac, noting exactly how much weight we’ll be carrying per day if we choose one over the other. We cut off the ends of our toothbrushes. We construct cooking stoves from empty cat food cans just to shave three measly ounces off our base-weight. Because. Every. Ounce. Counts. Yes, that means we aren’t always prepared, often eat like shit, and know way more about Idahoan Potatoes than any decent human being should. Yes, we’re a little off in the head.

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The snow traverse to the left was well packed, but I know this won’t always be the case on the PCT. So much to look forward to!

In general, Time takes on a slightly different meaning when you are outdoors and not thru-hiking. Meals that take 20 minutes to prepare, aren’t absurd. You have time to socialize, interact, play games, do things other than hike. On the trail, you finally roll into camp as the sun is going down, you’re starving, but too exhausted to eat, and within 20 minutes you’ve already passed out, so it is essential meals take a nanosecond to prepare, or you will starve to death. Camp, defined for a thru-hiker, boils down an awesome view when you wake up from sleep. Sweet, sweet, uninterrupted, sleep. And you sleep when the sun goes down: hiker midnight.

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The perfect view to wake up to, Stuart Lake in the Enchantments.

Mountaineers are extremely aware of their surroundings, prepared for anything Mother Nature picks from her hat. They know their stuff. They take classes, have certifications, and are pretty serious about those ten essentials; the mountain isn’t a place to play around with life and death. As our group made it’s way toward Dragontail Peak, we were heavily reminded of this as we watched a rock triggered avalanche rush down the exact pass we were about to climb. Even one hour ahead of schedule, we could have been the actors instead of the audience in the scene we watched unfold around us. Immediately after, we passed a group of climbers looking for the body of their friend who had fallen through an air pocket while glissading a few weeks prior. If anything, the weekend definitely made me question my overall outdoor-survival-skills-when-shit-really-hits-the-fan for hiking PCT next year.

Thru-hikers are aware of their surroundings, there just isn’t much you can do to change them when you live outside. We can’t wait for perfect conditions, let alone decent ones. We’re not here for the weekend. We’re not even sure when the weekend is most of the time. We’re here until we reach the last dot on the map, whenever that may be, and we often have a small window to get there. It’s Mother N’s world, we’re just walking through it. The ten essentials are 100% essential, because no matter who you are, where you are, SHIT GOES WRONG. But “essential” is a loaded word. Though I’ve never technically counted, every item in my pack is deemed essential in some fashion, or I wouldn’t carry it on my back for thousands of miles. When I attempted to recite the actual ten essentials to a mountaineer, I snuck in an “errr…cribbage?” when I got stuck. Chances are, if it’s not cribbage and it weighs more than a Snickers bar and I can’t eat or drink it, I’ve down-graded the level of essentialness. Which is probably stupid of me, but also true of me.

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To the right of Dragontail you can see the dirty path left by the avalanche. You will never forget the sound of an avalanche.

If you ask a mountaineer how many total miles are scheduled for the day, they might look at you funny. They measure their adventures in elevation, not distance. Mountaineers live for the summit, dream about the climb, driven by lists of peaks to bag; hiking is a piece of the journey that often helps them reach their destination, but standing at the top of the world is the real carrot they chase, and it’s a damn tasty carrot.

For thru-hikers, the entire hike is the destination, the purpose. Fording rivers, climbing mountains, ridge walking, deep in the forest, middle of the desert; no matter where we’re at on the trail, it’s where we want to be. We’re driven by our own lists of distance trails to travel. But we know the more you focus on the top of the map, the more lofty your ambition becomes. Oh, we still dream about Katahdin, United States borders, or wherever the “end” may be, but reaching them wouldn’t be half as momentous without experiencing everything in between.

Thru-hikers calculate their days in miles because elevation is one tricky bitch. Over the course of the AT you gain over 515,000 feet. In one 25-mile day you can gain 7,000 feet in elevation, but still end up lower than you started, a phenomenon fondly referred to as PUDs (Pointless Ups and Downs). One section of the trail is literally referred to as the Roller Coaster. On that day, we expertly calculated elevation: okay only eight more ups and seven more downs….we got this. Thru-hikers love to boast that hiking the entire AT is equivalent to hiking Mt Everest 17 times, probably because that sounds more badass than: it’s packed full of PUDs.

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Absolutely nothing pointless about this. Climbing Aasgard Pass.

You know those outdoor advertisements with people sipping hot mugs of steaming coffee staring out over the most amazing, remote, wild vista, all beautiful, badass and clean, every hair in place, and everything just makes you smile, makes you want to wear what they are wearing, be where they are, do what they are doing? They could be climbers, mountaineers, day hikers…but there’s no chance in hell they are thru-hikers. You could smell a thru-hiker through that magazine, wipe the grime from the page.

Mountaineers are true badasses. They climb scary-ass mountains using intimidating (to lay people) gear, their survival skills are top-notch, they take phenomenal summit photos, and tell stories that will make any thru-hiker retreat to the smelly ultra-light cave they live in. From their world, it would pretty easy to boil thru-hiking down to just a long-ass, dirty, often uneventful, walk.

And it most definitely is a long-ass, dirty, often uneventful, walk. But that’s not all it is.

It’s overcoming constant exhaustion, walking through pain, hiking through hunger, thirst, stress, and obstacle after obstacle after freaking obstacle. It’s not knowing what to do in every situation, making it up as you go. It’s learning from mistakes. It’s not having the right gear for every possible situation. It’s learning over time what you really need, and what you can live without…which is almost everything. It’s being cold. It’s being hot. It’s being wet. It’s being hungry. It’s being uncomfortable. It’s being comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s making do with what you have. It’s surviving. It’s knowing better than anyone, tomorrow is a different day. The sun will come out, the rocks will go away, everything will dry. Water is just around the corner, the town is just a half-day’s hike away. You will shower, you will eat real food, you will make it. Things will get better…eventually.

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Just trying to cheer up the flowers, so down without the sun. Madison, WI

Thru-hiking is a mental and physical rollercoaster of punishment and ecstasy, and you love it all the same. Why? Because you know, after you are back in that Real World, where everything is exactly the way it was when you left it, except for some reason you see it sooo much differently, you’d give anything to be back on the trail, even at it’s most miserable moment. Embrace the suck, because you, my friend, are hiker trash.

I’ve never liked that term. I mean, who wants to be looked at as trash? But it finally makes sense to me. It’s sort of who I am.

It’s who I want to be.

But don’t take my word for it, Past Tosha. Go play outside and live your own experiences.

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Seriously. Get out there.

**Originally posted on AppalachianTrials.com**

it’s not about the guns

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Pacific Coast Highway 1, California

“I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”
~ Albert Einstein

So it’s come to my attention that many of you thought my last post was all about guns. I guess I’m not surprised. The title had “gun” right in it and I suppose I did mention guns a number of times. The mere presence of that word really gets people going, sort of like “abortion.” (Annnd now people are going to comment on this post on how I’m a baby killer.) In any case, I certainly learned more about guns in the 24 hours after I posted than expected. So thank you to those who sent me informational links to videos about guns and other news stories and to those who legitimately tried to help me sort it out, correct my terminology, point out misunderstandings.

I like learning. But some things were more eye-opening than educational.

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A friend of mine shared my post on FB. I always feel a bit guilty calling out people I don’t know, but then I remember this came from Facebook, where people choose how to identify themselves publicly. 

Fair enough. Except for this part: I didn’t state any facts in my post. Never once did I mention AR-15, and I most certainly did not call it an automatic weapon, because until this week, I had no idea what an AR-15 even was. Now I do, so, there’s that. I am not a gun expert. I never claimed to be. I made it very clear I knew nothing about guns, but booooy did I enjoy shooting them that one time I shot them. I deliberately made sure the only facts in that post were the actual guns I held in my own hands at the range. And I won’t even pretend to understand what connection was being made in the second half of that comment, but it wasn’t a one I was trying to make.

Buuuuut, now that I know a little more about gun classification, I do feel qualified to say this: I could give two shits how guns are “classified.” Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug, while Meth classifies as Schedule II and we all know how much sense that makes. In case you’re not up on your drug schedules:

Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.

Marijuana in some form, is now legal in several states and medical marijuana has been a thing for quite some time. Apparently if you put the word “medical” in front of “marijuana” it’s magically less dangerous and more acceptable. And seriously, parents of America, would you be more upset if you found out your kid was smoking pot or smoking meth? Yeah, that’s what I thought. So, that’s how I feel about your government classifications.

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This is me. Enjoying my first time ever shooting at the range. Damn, I’m good.

 

Back to the original post. So I used the words “assault” and “automatic.” My bad, I seriously had no idea there was such a semantic war in the gun debate. What I should have said, in retrospect, is WHY THE NEED FOR THOSE BIG GUYS THAT HOLD SO MANY OF THOSE LITTLE GUYS THAT SEEM TO REALLY MAKE IT RAIN DEATH?

Did I put that in words we can all understand and agree upon definitions? To clarify:

BIG GUYS = large guns
LITTLE GUYS = anything shooting out of the big guys
MAKE IT RAIN DEATH = Make it Rain Death

Now, I am a word person. I (now) understand that gun terminology is a hot-headed debate, and for that I apologize. I was scolded for incorrectly using the word “assault” next to the word “weapon.” Apparently “those damn Dems” are using the words all wrong to induce fear and what have you. I actually get it, I understand the stance. Words are extremely powerful. (A serious thank you to Brian F – your Facebook messages were quite informative and helpful.) Honestly though, as someone relatively new to this gun conversation, I wasn’t trying to call anything that it wasn’t, and I don’t think my choice of words was all that out of line.

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The full definition of assault.
WEAPON
The full definition of weapon.

I am simple layperson, someone in the business of stringing words together in hopes of making people feel and think, definitely NOT in the business of tricking anyone into thinking anything. And there is nothing in those two definitions that makes me think, oh shoot, you’re right. Assault doesn’t really fit next to weapon here. Because I, like many other people across the world, consider anything used to purposefully kill people an “assault weapon.” That’s why I used the generic term “weapon.”

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Tree.

Because a weapon can be anything. Imagine substituting “gun” for something else. Remove that sensitive word from the equation. Replace it with literally ANYTHING ELSE. If people were entering rooms and slaughtering people in mass quantities with scissors before being stopped, I assure you, I would feel the same way about scissors. Scissors would be the assault weapon. But when it came to the necessity of scissors, at least you’d be able to give some valid reasons as to why you need scissors:

But, tosha, I cut hair for a living. It’s my livelihood. I’m a tailor, I cut cloth. Sometimes during the holiday, I admit, I use my scissors for pleasure, like cutting out pictures of snowmen with my children, and making daisy chains. But you know what? These scissors are killing people. I can find a way to live without them. Hey, maybe I can try to make it work with those round-tipped ones. Oooh, or the fun ones that cut shapes into construction paper. 

And why did everyone assume I was reacting directly to Orlando? Maybe you’re glued to the TV reliving the terrible details of the massacre again and again, correcting the newscaster on their gun terminology and all the facts they got wrong. But I’m not. I heard the basics: A dude walked into a club and killed a bunch of innocent people dancing. Do I need to hear more? And yes, it may be the most recent “newsworthy” shooting, but it’s certainly not the only one still on my mind. They’re all on my mind. Every one. Just a few weeks ago, I witnessed my coworker slowly realize his brother was the sole victim in the UCLA campus shooting. His expression is one I hope to never to see again, yet there it is, forever burned into my memory.

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In search for the beauty in an ugly world. Big Sur, California. Photo cred: my sister

America seems to be stuck in a tragic cycle of catastrophe, followed by a vicious defense of rights, sprinkled with go-to gun facts to counter any argument made, until enough time passes and emotions subside, but just until another tragedy strikes. We would rather argue over the definition of meaningless words than turn an internal eye on ourselves, because it’s easier than asking ourselves questions that challenge the beliefs we’re clinging onto for dear life. Don’t you see? I wasn’t referring to any one massacre, any one shooter, any specific blip in time. I don’t care what specific gun was used in Orlando. That’s why I never said a word about Orlando. I don’t care if it was an AK47, military grade, assault automatic bazooka Joe bubblegum. I don’t care if the words I used aren’t technically accurate. Because that’s not the point. I was attempting to paint a bigger picture, a picture of a huge forest with lots of trees. Yet for some reason, it was the tiny details I never even used that you focused on, that caught your attention. You saw the giant palm tree I never painted into my coniferous forest.

You filled details into the blanks I wasn’t leaving. You made connections that didn’t exist. You made points that I would never attempt to make. I try not to speak above my pay grade, above my knowledge base, which is exactly why I write about how I feel and the crazy thoughts running wild in my head instead of current events and factoids. I went to Journalism school and never became a Journalist for a reason. It’s not my thing.

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The clouds covering the ocean at the end of the world. Big Sur, California.

So no. I wasn’t trying to challenge gun facts, argue politics, scare anyone with creative terminology. Because that last post wasn’t about guns; it was about you.

In case you missed it the first time…

I was just questioning how you could justify the right to possess weapons which seem to exist solely for “sport and entertainment,” OR, if placed in the wrong hands, to assault people in mass quantities.

(Side note: even when I separate “assault” from “weapon” the end result is the same: People are Dying.)

I was just curious, as to how you could justify the need for these weapons, weapons that have already destroyed so many lives, unless you are planning to destroy something, too.

I was just wondering how an object, a thing, a possession came to mean more to you than someone else’s daughter, son, mother, brother, sister, father. And I was wondering when that happened, when Your sport and entertainment, Your needs and Your rights became more valuable, more sacred than Life itself.

I got a lot of emails, comments, messages. But it was so weird.

Nobody answered my question.

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Big Sur, California

that time i shot a gun

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House of Betsy Ross, Philadelphia, PA
Thanksgiving 2015, I shot a gun for the first time. Actually I shot five guns many times. In full disclosure: a Glock 34 9 mm, Beretta Neos, Ruger 22/45 Lite, Ruger 22 Takedown and a Ruger 10/22 rifle. I have no idea what all that gibberish is, I had to ask my Dad to recount the actual pieces. To me, it was more like: the small shiny silver one, the stubby black one, the long wooden guy, the long black plastic thing, that one over there, etc.

Never in my life had I a desire to shoot anything (except the shit, I live for that), but my Dad was taking all the kids to the shooting range, and I didn’t want to be left out of the family fun. Not-so-strangely, he had pre-arranged this with all of the kids but me, most likely because he didn’t think I’d be interested. It’s no secret my Dad and I have quite a difference of opinion on certain subject matters, namely all the ones you never bring up at a party if you want it to remain a party.

I should mention all of us “kids” are well into our 30s, some with kids of our (their) own.

We left the shooting range carrying a basket full of mixed feelings. My brother enjoyed himself, just as he had the time before, and the times before that. His wife did not. She hated pretty much everything about it. My sister appreciated learning the basics, but meh, guns aren’t really her thing. Her husband thought shooting at a range was fine; he owns a shotgun and sometimes hunts pheasants. To eat, not just cuz.

But me? I loved it. Loved it.

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But not as much as I love my bike. New Glarus, WI
Gun people, I get you. These manmade handheld objects fascinated me. It’s hard not to have fear and respect for such a powerful machine. Just knowing what they are capable of is part of the adrenaline rush, part of the fear. My brain struggled to connect the tiny visual with the gigantic sound. I pulled the target in closer to view, again and again, amazed that I created those tiny puncture holes from farther and farther away. I was delighted when I hit clusters of accuracy, exactly what I aimed for, five splatterburst bullet holes in the same small circle. I liked learning how to lock and load, unload, knowing the proper way to handle and hold. I liked learning from my mistakes, adjusting my aim. I liked the challenge. I liked the process. I liked shooting guns.

Though I haven’t shot a gun since, I would definitely shoot a gun at a range again. I personally think it’s safer to know the correct way to use a gun than to NOT know how to use a gun at all, if only for the simple fact that guns exist. That is a fact we cannot ignore. Sort of like going hiking in the woods and not knowing how to protect yourself in an encounter with a grizzly bear. Do bears exist? Yes. Will you encounter them in the woods? Depends which woods, maybe, maybe not, but if I do, I sure as hell want to know what to do next. Do guns exist? Yes. Will you encounter them randomly in the woods? Depends which woods, not likely, but on the off chance I do, I sure as hell want to know how to disarm one. Plus when the zombies come, I’ll be ready. That, my friends, is called Tosh-Logic.

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How I often feel when I apply tosh-logic…alone. Tree found bicycling Wisconsin roads.
I never felt powerful while shooting, though I recognized I was holding power, in the presence of power. I like to think I am a fairly stable human with a fairly sane mind. But those same feelings of adrenaline and power, power that I felt radiate from the gun, not from my hand, could easily transform into a feeling of exaggerated human strength, super powers, given to a slightly unstable human with a slightly less sane mind. Maybe even a mind that has had the, “I’ll show them,” thought cross it more than a few times. I don’t even want to imagine what kind of thoughts go through some minds after shooting a gun for the first time.

And that’s sort of the problem.

We can’t hear thoughts, predict intent. We can’t enter the minds of others. And then we hand them assault weapons. Legally.

Lots of people own guns. Tall people, short people, rich people, poor people, all colors of skin people, people of all religions, men, women, old, young; good people own guns and bad people own guns. And just so we’re clear, the good gun owners aren’t all tall white Christian men, while the bad gun owners = every other combination. My Dad is the kind of person you want to own guns. You know, intelligent, military trained, respects the piece, still has his sanity. I sort of wish he’d make it a personal mission to just buy up all the available guns and store them in a giant undisclosed bunker, just waiting for whatever it is people with bunkers of guns are waiting for. He’s not a violent man, but he is a man of a certain opinion. And he likes his guns. And that’s fine. We can’t get rid of all guns. We can’t get rid of all violence, all terrorism, even if we could get rid of all the guns. Guns are a part of the world we live in, like it or not.

But that doesn’t mean we have to sit back and accept the way the world is turning.

I get it, guns serve a purpose. They provide protection. They save lives, when put in the right hands. But for the love of Prince, please, please, tell me how any civilian can justify the need to own military grade weapons of war, designed for nothing but rapidly destroying anything aimed at as quickly as possible?

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For whom the bell tolls…Philadelphia, PA
Yeah, yeah, I heard you. Guns don’t kill people. People kill people. That may be true, but WE are the ones putting those assault weapons in the hands of the People Not Killing People AND the People Killing People, allowing them to kill even more People. WE give people the ability to kill 50 instead of five when they carryout their Plans of Destruction. WE are killing people, people. Don’t put yourself above the “Bad” People holding the “Good” guns that kill people. Don’t wait until your child is the victim, when you get the call that your husband or mother or daughter has been murdered in a senseless act of violence, until you yourself are directly affected, to let this point sink in.

And please don’t spout off that right to bear arms baloney. You have the right to bear arms…no one is taking away your right to bear arms. Rest assured, you arms are beared. Bear all the arms. But unless you are planning a mass shooting in the near future, why the automatic assault weapons? Please tell me how and why your need and your right to bear these particular arms is worth more than the LIVES destroyed by these same weapons? Please look into the eyes of the friends and families of every victim gunned down by your precious assault weapons and stand your ground, while you watch the ground around them collapse. While their world crumbles. While they have to wake up in a tomorrow without the people that made them whole. Tell them how they are mistaken, how a gun didn’t kill their husband and father of three, but People did. And then walk away, pretending you aren’t part of the People, proud and tall. At least you can sleep at night knowing you still have your right to that assault weapon to protect you from…wait…

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It’s coming…whatever IT is.
Protect you from what exactly? Ten thousand angry yetis storming your front door? Vampire and Wesen takeovers? The zombie apocalypse? The White Walkers? Winter IS coming, but you’re gonna need some dragon glass for that, man. Plus, you watch too much TV.

Or maybe you are one of those people who feel assault weapons, any weapons, will protect you from us. From the People, from the Government, when they turn on you, turn on us all. And if that’s where you are at in life, then I feel sorry for you. Because you’ve already given up. You’d rather sit and wait for the world to end, trigger finger ready, instead of lifting that same finger to help make change for good. Instead of working toward a better tomorrow, you’ve prematurely created, accepted and live in the worst today. And that’s on you, my friend.

Plenty of citizens (first world to boot) coexist with their governments without the unrestricted right to bear arms. Imagine that. If we are this great country we say we are, with all of our lands of opportunities filled with freedom…what the hell are we so afraid of? I thought the point was to NOT live in fear.

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Philadelphia, PA
But let’s say your worst fear comes to fruition. That moment you’ve been preparing for, the end of America as we know it…I for one don’t want to be one of the elite few standing. I don’t want to sit on my Have Throne with my assault weapons and bricks of gold, looking down at all the Have Nots. How much joy can I find in a world where everyone around me is suffering or dead? What’s the point? To survive? To make it? To be right? To be feared? To cling onto rights our forefathers would most certainly cringe at today if they saw how the world, how people have changed? I worked my ass off to get where I am in today in this free world, and I’ll work just as smart and hard to survive in this hypothetical world of destruction. And I’ll do it without assault weapons and bricks of gold.

But hey, that’s just me.

You can do what you want.

Because, America.

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Love. Madison, WI
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