What College Taught Me

In 11 days I will graduate from UNC Chapel Hill with Highest Honors in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. I would like to say every second of my time here in Chapel Hill was flawless. That my four years of college were undoubtedly the best of my life. I would be lying.

Carolina gave me the opportunity to prove my abilities academically. Carolina always recognized my achievements. Carolina gave me the opportunity to network with impressive alumni worldwide. But I think the biggest lesson that Carolina taught me was how to find happiness in a place where I didn’t fully belong.

It’s depressing to say that joining a sorority my freshman year was a mistake; it’s hard to say it wasn’t. All I know is that if I hadn’t have joined the sorority, I wouldn’t have been pushed to the point that I needed an escape. I wouldn’t have woken up every single morning of my sophomore year wondering why I was living a life that wasn’t mine. I wouldn’t have finally chosen to leave that life by dropping greek life and filling out an application to study abroad. I wouldn’t have moved to Italy, met the most outstanding friends, and fallen in love with myself all over again.

I don’t believe in the ‘things happen for a reason’ speech. But I do believe that when bad things happen, you are left with a choice: make it better or don’t. Carolina and all the mismatches that came with it taught me to how make my situation better. It forced me to soul-search and find that which brings me true happiness: happiness without attachment; happiness on my own. Only through that soul searching and the inner happiness I discovered, was I able to start fresh. So even when I remained surrounded by old friends I could no longer connect with, I recognized my true happiness and in time, strangers began to see it too.

By learning what I loved about myself I learned what I loved about others. I was suddenly able to choose company that I could identify with on much deeper levels. Gradually, my surroundings did not seem so foreign. Gradually, I saw Carolina as a gorgeous place full of hope and opportunity. Gradually, I made friends that I truly admired, respected and learned from… and let go of my resentment for those different than me. That was the most important lesson of all: to release judgement from those unlike you. Even when you’ve found the things that make you happy, even when you are fully self aware (if that is ever possible), I believe you can’t achieve pure happiness until you let go of judgement for others.

So for me, Carolina was four years of trial and error. From finding the right crowd to finding the right major to finding myself – I know that having gone to Carolina, I am entering the next phase of life as a much more intelligent, open-minded, self-aware and self-confident woman than the girl at freshman orientation. Thank you for the challenge, UNC!

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A Random Life

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.” – Steve Jobs

“Daddy, tell me a story.” It’s easier to fall asleep with the promise of a happy ending.

“Preacher, tell me a story.” It’s easier to get through life with the promise of ultimate salvation. Stories make life easier.

Stories give me comfort. But the stories you tell me are all the same: a pleasant beginning; a scary middle; a happy ending. I’m conditioned to one sequence of relationships, events and emotions. Your strict order dug itself deep into my brain.

Now I can’t escape the confines of a your fantasy plot line and none of it is real. All your characters’ lives are told in a story in which each event gains meaning when examined behind the first and before the third. But life can’t be summed up by one plot line. My life can be constricted to one story.

So now I manipulate my own relationships, events, and emotions to fit into your fraudulent plot line. To form a story in which each step is related to the last and hints at the next. Now I explain each event in the context of a greater narrative, one that always has a happy ending.

So you ask me a question and I provide you with 4 years of backstory, desperately seeking to justify each scary middle with the pleasant beginning and the surely happy ending. I’ll do anything to find the ‘meaning.’

I’m a great storyteller. I’m the best at re-writing my own experience to match someone else’s irrelevant plot line. The one that gives you that deep sense of internal satisfaction when you reach the end. The one that ties a perfect ribbon around each self-deprecating thought with a beautiful lesson and a happy ending.

When things are good, my life is like a Cinderella story. When things are bad, my life is like a Shakespearean tragedy. But no matter how I twist my relationships, events and emotions… my life is neither: not an epic nor a tragedy. Sometimes the bad will foreshadow the good, but more often they coexist as completely irrelevant circumstances. No bigger picture. No larger ‘meaning.’

The timeline of my existence is not mirrored by your plotlines. It took me two decades to realize that life isn’t just one beginning and one ending. It’s a constant series of beginnings and endings. Nothing is permanent .You justified my struggles as a sign that happiness was around the corner. It’s not. You claimed these bad years were only a part of my bigger story. They’re not. You said we owed it to each other to keep fighting. We don’t.

But if everything good is going to one day end, what is it all worth? Why fill my life with joy that will inevitably be taken from me? I was so blinded by the idea that a happy ending equated permanence of ‘all things good’ that I couldn’t see the beauty in the unpredictable, the beauty in the random. The happy ending that is each new beginning.

So I came to the conclusion that life is inherently bad. But I was wrong. Truthfully, life is inherently nothing. That’s the point. That’s the ‘meaning,’ if any. And I know you probably feel bad for me, but don’t. I feel bad for you. You can’t escape your plot line. You can’t escape your constant struggle to fit the puzzle pieces of your life into one beautiful picture. There isn’t one beautiful picture. The beauty is in the random and the imbalance. The beauty is in letting go of your discomfort around the missing puzzle pieces and the unmatched ones that somehow fit together perfectly. But you can’t accept that life is random and because of that, you can’t understand each ending. The gaps and exceptions make you so deeply uncomfortable that you can never be free.

I am free. I see an ending and know that a new beginning awaits. I am free. Each new beginning is just another happy ending in disguise.

Ashtanga Playlist

1. Ganesh Mahamantra

2. Hari Om Shiva Om

3. He Ma Durga

4. Govinda Jaya Jaya

5. Sita Ram

6. Hare Hare Mahadev

7. Om Shanti

8. Loca Samasta Suckhino Bahavantu

9 (sivasana). Ra Ma Da Sa

Accidental Passion

Have you ever heard a robot talk? Have you ever heard a robot say, “Let me tell you about my time in the pornographic industry?”

What, that’s not normal?

Contrary to his own beliefs, Chris Rosati is no normal man. “I’m really no different than any of you,” he tells our class. “I worry very little. I eat like a pig. I haven’t had a vegetable in…” On March 20, Chris wheeled himself into my classroom. Everyone applauded at the sight of him. He just said, “Give me a minute or two,” and before you knew it, a robot put a voice behind his next words.

A monotonous deep voice began the presentation by sharing one of Chris’ stories about his beautiful chocolate lab. “We would sleep in the same bed every night. She was my best friend. She was my companion.” There was something so beautiful about the dichotomy of the emotionless voice and deeply emotional sentiments expressed. Chris cut in to finish the story. “Whenever I was stressed, she would come over and drop a tennis ball in my life as if to say, ‘Fuck it, let’s play.'” I had never heard the unconditional simplicity of the dog-owner relationship described with such perfection.

But it wasn’t easy – understanding Chris’ words. There was a disconnect in what his brain tried to communicate and the sounds that escaped from his lips. At first, it was hard to believe we spoke the same language. But the more I listened, furrowed my eyebrows, watched his facial language, and focused on the syllables, the easier it was to piece together his message. And over time, as I adjusted to Chris’ language, it became as quick and easy as the conversations I have in my head.

As I sat there, listening to Chris speak, I got to thinking about other times when I’ve struggled to comprehend what others were attempting to communicate. All technological malfunctions and language barriers aside, there is a larger elephant in the room that gets between one person’s brain and the other’s ears. We’ve all experienced it– a friend, significant other, family member, trying desperately to make you understand how they feel, but to no avail. I wonder, if we can get past the border of ALS with some care and effort, why won’t the same formula break through the emotional barriers between our peers and ourselves?

Generational gaps, gender standards, socioeconomic walls, language barriers; we all struggle to understand each other at one point or another. Chris shared a tribute video of his daughter being interviewed on Father’s Day. When asked what she will remember about him, Chris’ daughter responded, “He tried to make friends with the world.” All daughters think that their dads are heroes. I did. But Chris’ daughter understood something that can take many daughters 20 years to fully grasp. “Dads who think their careers matter in the slightest, are clueless.”

Despite Chris’ chronic condition, he spread laughter throughout the room time and again. At the end of his robot’s speech, we asked him “Why do you care so much about making others smile?” Chris responded, “I guess in the end it makes me happy, and I like being happy. Maybe I’m the most self-centered guy in the world.” And so he got it, another laugh from the crowd.

But Chris always compounded the laughs with truly motivational words. Inspiring tears across the room, Chris’ muddled voice assured us, “every one of you will be knocked to your knees one day. It will happen. Get up and keep living.”

Notes To My Selves

Dear 4 year old Mini-Me: What I would do to start over, to be in your shoes. To open my eyes each day.. or after each nap… to a bright, colorful, and unlimited world. To only be capable of thinking of myself with each motion, each mumble, and each mimic. Pure excitement. Pure selfishness. Enjoy it simply because you don’t know any better. Enjoy it simply because you don’t know how not to.

Dear 11 year old Me: Hug mom. Don’t let go. Make her understand how unrivaled she is. Don’t take your pain out on her. Hug her and never let go.

Also, enjoy each and every Disney movie. But don’t take them too seriously… there are some pretty misleading messages about gender and romance that will lead you astray if you’re not careful.

Dear 17 year old Me: Don’t smoke the spice. It will introduce you to an entirely new world filled with hallucinations and anxiety. It will take years to recover. Don’t smoke the spice.

On a similar note… choose your company wisely. But more importantly, be in a relationship with yourself. Let that be “your first serious relationship.” Not the high school boyfriend. He can be the second.

Dear 19 year old Me: Learn the difference between your gut and your anxiety. Why is it that fear and instinct are so easily confused? Trust your gut, not your anxiety. Whether it’s the boy who can’t make up his mind to be your man, or the girl can’t find the time to be your friend….. trust your gut, not your anxiety. The cost: your vulnerability.

With that being said, forgive. I might say a quarter of my life is complete, but that’s assuming I’ll live to be 90. Regardless of the percentage or ratio, I have a good chunk of my life under my belt and I have the scars to prove it — both visible and invisible. The visible ones, well maybe I should add in my 17 year old Letter to be better about applying Mederma 3x daily. The invisible ones, though, are the only scars capable of being healed – so heal them. Don’t carry their weight around for the rest of your life. They only get heavier over time and they will ruin everything that matters. Scars are ugly for a reason. Forgive those who’ve hurt you. Forgive even those who’ve betrayed you. Especially, forgive those who’ve betrayed you.

Dear 22 year old Me: Understand that bad things happen to good people because bad things happen to every people. And thus, bad things will continue to happen to you and to those you love. Develop the strength to stand back up every time life brings you to your knees.

Master the co-existence of independence and affection; understand it’s difference from co-dependence. Remember that, in reality, the most romantic way to love someone else is to love yourself just a tiny bit more.

Dear 30 year old Me: Take these lessons, don’t forget them. Remember the feeling of opening your eyes at 5 years old and know that it can be achieved with saved up money and a plane ticket. Travel, see the world, and be in awe. Choose the man who will travel it with you. Settle down with this man, but don’t ever settle.

The Best Day of My Life

In the midst of a 3am inebriated heart to heart, one of my roommates asked me to share the story of the best day of my life. He knew the best day of his life off the top of his head and could recount each dialogue on a minute-by-minute basis. At first, I recounted one of the final days in my study abroad experience. A group of friends spent the afternoon touring Tuscany by Vespa, stopping to taste wine at renowned vineyards and in San Gimigiano for award winning gelato, and ending the night watching the sunset while sitting on top of a van blasting music and drinking wine in plastic cups. A truly beautiful day. On second thought, though, one other day beats it out.

2008. The same year as Leona Lewis’ Bleeding Love and Lil Wayne’s Lollipop. It was sure to be a glorious summer. Sure enough, my best friend and I decided to go spend 2 months camping through Hawaii’s big island. It was the last week of our trip, which means we had spent the last 7 weeks exploring volcanoes, learning to surf and hiking through the waterfalls of Waipio Valley in a group of 14 teenagers from across the US. Now, we got to spend our last week lounging on a catamaran and celebrating America’s birthday in style.

July 4th started with the sun waking our gang up on the parachutes of the catamaran. We went through the chores of getting the boat ready for a day of sailing, pulled up the anchor, and set off for a full day. We told stories, took turns steering the ship, and our leaders ordered each of us to take 10 minutes alone with our thoughts and reflections on our trip. The radio blasted from another boat, letting us know there was a school of wild dolphins not far off. We geared up and headed in their direction, hoping to intersect them and catch their beauty. Sure enough, the captain yelled to look over the side as they passed by and flew up into the air, showing off for all of us on the boat. Not waiting for captain’s permission, one of my friends and I dove off the side right into the middle of them. Opening our eyes in the water, we watched the wild dolphins circle us on all four sides and gently nudge our legs as they passed by. I came up for air and dove back down again, reaching out to touch one with my hand.

After they had passed, we played in the ocean in our post-dolphin glory for another couple hours and eventually boarded the boat to let the real party began. Grills came out and we cooked up some hot dogs and burgers, lots of fresh fruit, and PG-13 drinks for all us 17 year olds. I was so full and bloated, dancing around the boat in my tiny bikini, that I successfully tried to convince one of the sailing mates that I was with-child. Eventually, we settled down, headed towards land, and anchored down to end the night with fireworks.

The 14 of us, out there on a beautiful catamaran in the Pacific Ocean, huddled close together as we watched the sky light up with all our favorite colors and booms that shook our hearts. We stayed up late that night, all sharing stories and growing closer with each other and with nature at once. One by one, we crawled into our sleeping bags, all sleeping shoulder to shoulder with our new best friends’ arms around each other, and let the gentle lapping of the water beneath us lull us to sleep.

That was the best day of my life.

Hoping For a Second Chance, One Day

I get it. I screwed up big time. I did something that may be beyond recovery. I ruined the best thing that ever happened to me. I held your hand as you shared your biggest insecurities and when you were finished, I wiped away your tears and threw it all back in your face.

I hurt you deeper than the dummy who broke your heart. And so what does that make me? Something terrible, I know. But I’m going to ask something huge of you. I know it’s unfair, but I have a request. And I want to say that it’s my last request ever, but it’s not…. which is kinda the point.

You see, one day I may request that you trust me and buy the too-expensive hand carved dining table (and chairs). Because it really completes our new apartment. One day I may request you to get up at 2am and take our little puppy out. There’s another request. One day I may request that you put a ring on my finger, make me the luckiest girl in the world for the rest of my eternity.

Bottom line, I don’t know what our future holds but apart from this huge mistake I’ve made, I have no plans that don’t include you. Therefore, in all honesty, there are infinite more requests that I plan on asking of you throughout our time together. But the biggest most crucial request of them all is that you give me the chance to ask them… eventually. One day.

One day, give me the chance to prove to you the depth of my desire. Give me a chance to prove that I understand the severity of what I did and have taken ownership over it. I ask this not because it’s fair. Not because you need me. Not because I deserve you. I don’t — you’re infinitely better than I am. I ask you to give me this chance because and only because I know that I love you and I know that you love me. For a long time I didn’t believe in love and I didn’t believe it could ever end happily. You changed my mind and not on purpose.

It wasn’t your undying love and trust that gave my heart permission to be vulnerable. It was when you told me to pack my bags and said we couldn’t be together. Not because I felt empty or hollow without you, but because I felt hopeful for the first time. I felt hopeful because I believe in our love. I felt hopeful because after 5 therapy sessions in 5 days, I finally understand some things about betrayal. Betrayal just means that the one guy has issues and really screwed up in his attempt to fix them. That’s it. It’s about that guy, not me. It’s about that guy, not you. Moreover, after 5 therapy sessions in 5 days, I finally understand that there are good men out there. Ones that will never cheat. And whether or not you are one of them, no hovering or fearing or insecurity on my behalf will change it. All I can do is detach myself and the rest of mankind from a few assholes’ mistakes, and trust the man that’s only ever given me reason to. So…. for the first time, I’m hopeful.

I know my timing is slightly off. What about me isn’t? The moment I decide to trust is the moment the most loyal man decides to stop begging for my trust. It’s backwards, but that’s me. That’s what this all really comes down to: unconditionality. So you don’t need to be with me if you don’t want to, and I won’t blame you if that’s what you decide. I’m not begging. This is not a plea letter. But if, one day, you decide that you still want to love me through that mistake and the baggage that caused it, then I will spend the rest of my time with you not only proving how unconditional my love is for you, not only proving how loyal, admirable, attractive, and capable I know you are, but also how hopeful I am to finally be able to release this baggage and love you the way you deserve.

And you may not believe it to be possible, but that’s exactly why I’m requesting a chance to prove it. One day.