The voice of Amanda

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Reading all the books

As work and family try to vampire munch my energy levels, books continue to be a source of knowledge and escape. Let me tell you the story of awesome books I love. Note- I will add as I go through my collection. I brilliantly started this post at 1 am, limiting my ability to make a comprehensive surveillance of my favorites. 

A Problem From Hell by Samantha Power

Well, let’s just talk about the evolution of the word GENOCIDE, nbd. Though this books is dense, it is entirely engrossing and gives the perfect balance of urgency and facts. I am now looking at this Syrian refugee crisis through the lense of history. Try to turn a blind eye to the world after this scathing and brutal assessment of America’s involvement (or lack thereof) in times of global massacres. 

Half the sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Take a journey through the lives of women around the world. Experience the plight of third world countries and hear stories of change through education and outreach. I love how inspiring this book is and how accessible they make helping for those who read it and want to do something

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin

I love the cultural perspective of an African writer, telling the stories of people you would fail to meet elsewhere. The characters are unique and hold extreme depth, keeping the book moving at a quick pace. The secrets aren’t fully revealed until the end, resolving in a way that feels genuine.

Veronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho

I’m one of those readers who feels Coelho can do no wrong. I’ve loved everything I’ve read of his and always come away with a sense of learning a bit more about myself and the world. This book tackles apathy, suicide, rebirth of love, passion, and redemption. Parts of it truly resonated with me because of my own experiences as an artist, a crazy person, an inmate in a mental facility following an overdose. Perhaps my affinity for this book stems from it being a mirror, but others can surely recognize the need to live their passion and rediscover what makes their own life worth living. 


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So my sister had a secret.

It seems that some people draw the shit stick in life. My little sister must be one of them.

She was a toddler when our parents divorced, leaving her to see the broken alcoholic shell of the man who used to be Dad.

She sat by her high school boyfriend while his face was stapled up after retrieving a bullet from his head, then watched as he went on trial and eventually to jail for murder.

She suffered migraines for years, plus she had a difficult time eating without feeling ill. She underwent surgery last year to untwist her intestines and continued to live in pain.

She endured an abusive husband who physically and emotionally abused her, though they are thankfully separated right now.

…so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I guess the signs were there- the mishandling of money, stopping work, losing touch with her old friends, lying to family. When I stepped back and thought about it, her behavior was familiar. Much like my ex who overdosed.

I got the call that my sister ended up in the hospital after getting beaten up and robbed by a male acquaintance. He took the last belonging of value she had- her phone- which is the second time in a month that she has had her phone stolen. Probably because she owes money to the guy dealing her heroin.

Yeah. My baby sister somehow ended up on heroin. I feel like I’m writing the words to a book about someone else’s family, someone else’s life.

Being a few states away from her is brutal. I want to take her out of the hell-hole town full of either Christian wanna-be, ex-football hero homeboys or dirty, lying, skinny snakes peddling meth (and heroin I guess). I want to get her in a program as fast as possible…but how do we afford that?! I want to beat the shit out of her stupid husband who no doubt got her started. I want to protect her from ending up a week dead in a dirty, lonely apartment like my ex.

Do you know what the hospital did when she came in? They gave her pamphlets. Pamphlets about getting off heroin. I want to take a survey and see how many people were saved by pamphlets. Pamphlets! Fuck.

I keep flashing back to the adorable gap-toothed kid who scowled as we stole her Monopoly money, the kid who loved to draw, the animal lover, the “shrink dance” she’d do when her big sisters got new clothes she wanted.

I’m afraid I don’t know her. I’m afraid of what to say. I’m afraid I’ll lose her completely.

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No good deed…

No good deed goes unpunished, right? I got a taste of that after volunteering at a church I was invited to. I’ve never been hugely into institutionalized religion. I’ve done my stint. Not really something that feels comfortable to me. However, I like helping and volunteering and churches provide those opportunities.

So I work all the freaking time. Like 12 hour days, six days a week. I had just come off a day sort of like that and happened to have $115 in cash, an oddity for my wallet. My gas tank called out to me before making it to the church, so I stopped and pulled out $20 in cash, leaving the remaining $95 safely in my zipped wallet.

I went to the church. I sang. I wrapped gifts for underprivileged kids. It was fun and rewarding, if not slightly awkward with the forced merriment and back patting. After a few hours of this, I drove to Target to pick up a few things I needed. It was at that point I noticed the money missing from my wallet.

Now, despite my crazy working hours, I am not rich by any stretch of the imagination. This missing money made me first feel a bit numb and shocked, then confused, but as I pieced together the day I became sad. I know without a doubt that someone at the church stole it. It’s the only thing that fits in the timeline.

This violation of my private property and the theft of something I desperately need right now caused me a lot of worry. I contacted the pastor to see if I could reach out to the group and make a plea for it to be returned, no questions asked. Imagine my surprise as his call turned ever more condescending and accusatory toward me. I was the other in this situation and his flock would never perpetrate such a “high level of criminal activity.” Let me be clear. I have a pretty decent idea of who stole my money. A 12 year old girl had been sitting almost on top of my bag the whole time. My wallet was easily reached in my bag. I don’t feel like it was stolen with malice, just a bit of greed. The pastor then went on to insinuate that I was trying to leach money from him. Of course that was not my intent- I just wanted to give the person who stole my money the chance to return it.

This experience has reminded me some things in life. I’ve met “criminals” who are good people. I’ve met “God fearing Christians” who are some of the douchiest self righteous sinners. Morals and religion are not the same thing. They can exist quite separately from each other. Guess it’s time to find a nice group of atheists who want to do good deeds simply to be good.


Darren Wilson should be on trial

I sat in my car, patiently waiting to hear the announcement whether Darren Wilson would go to trial for the murder of Michael Brown. My body almost vibrated in anticipation, hoping that there was some chance of justice prevailing in what seemed a pretty clear case of excessive force. As the steady voice droned through my speakers, his words sunk in and I realized we hadn’t turned that corner. It is still okay for cops to gun down unarmed people of color.

Darren Wilson clearly has no remorse for what he has done, evidenced by his television appearance. Even in self defense, shouldn’t you have a modicum of feeling for ending someone else’s life? He also has the benefit of time to rehearse how he tells his story, to fine tune his wording to insist he felt imminent threat on his own life. That’s the trouble. All we have are his verbal statements, but we cannot get into his state of mind. We have to take his word on it. And if he was afraid, was his fear racially motivated? Did his own bigoted ideas influence his decision to act with his weapon? That’s not justification.

As for Wilson’s assertion that Brown beat him severely, evidence photos showed he had no bruising and just a slight pinkness to his cheek. He also said Brown tried to grab his gun. If Brown was so physically assuming and powerful, why didn’t he get the gun?

So what about the forensics. Michael Brown had one close wound in his hand. Everything else was from a distance because he was running away. How is it okay to shoot him to death when he is running away? Where is your imminent fear for your own life in that moment, Darren? Wilson claims Brown turned and started charging him, claiming Brown looked like a “demon.” Brown’s family insists that is ludicrous. Who would charge at the person shooting?

I know not to expect a guilty verdict, but I was hoping to at least see this case go to trial. There must be some consequence of killing an unarmed teenager. If Wilson was afraid of an unarmed 18 year old, maybe he never should have been a cop in the first place. If his natural reaction was to shoot, maybe he never should have been a cop in the first place. Police are meant to serve and protect their communities, not gun down its residents. With all the evidence that has come out, the only thing that seems to make it justified is Wilson saying he feared for his life. How do we disprove his claim? The forensics don’t paint a picture of imminent threat, but the grand jury felt inclined to believe the four hours of testimony from Wilson. Too bad dead boys don’t talk.

There are too many loose ends for this to be considered a closed book. My hope is that a civil case will take the money given to Wilson by the KKK. He is not the person who lost something that day and he certainly doesn’t deserve to profit from his deadly action.

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My love-hate relationship with Facebook

I have a confession to make. I might have had a bit of a Facebook addiction. Don’t worry, its users are slowly helping wean me away from my obsessive habitual timeline checking by doing what online users do best- being assholes.

The faint moment of happiness for the random girl in my 2004 sophomore English class getting a really great Starbucks latte has a way of disappearing when I see people I’ve spent time with posting racist garbage. Maybe our personal encounters were on the light side; a joke here, a beer there. Facebook has opened up the dark part of their character that also happens to dislike anyone who is dark…skinned.

My childhood in rural Idaho was quiet and comfortably white for its citizens (minus the steady gunshot deaths that somehow escaped everyone…but I’ve already spent time on that subject in prior posts). The demographic represented a color palate ranging from mildly pink to the blaring white of our annual snowfall. I somehow escaped the fear and hate of anything and anyone different, even without cable tv! I read a lot of books with varied characters, showing how humanity transcends beyond color or religion. That coupled with my parent’s laid-back approach to diversity allowed me to see someone new with curiosity and friendliness.

Moving to a densely populated city has only furthered my views. I’ve gotten to meet so many people, hear so many stories, eat so many great meals…it baffles my mind that people I grew up with wouldn’t want to enjoy this connection with the world, too.

Sometimes I groan in disgust and simply pass by the comments and pictures hell bent on destroying Muslims or trying to prove how Hispanics are ruining the economy. Sometimes I am so disgusted I can’t help but put in my two cents and point out what they are truly proving- how racist and isolated they are. How can these small town folks call for the eradication of an entire group of people whom they have zero experience with personally and not call it what it is? It sure as hell isn’t the patriotism they claim.

So here’s my challenge. You know that whole “see something, say something” deal? Let’s do that with racism. If you hear someone telling a racist joke, asks why it’s funny. If you see someone posting hateful comments about an entire ethnic or religious group, ask how many people from that group they know. If you see the illogical, take the time to be logical. It may seem pointless, but you never know what random person will hear you or see what you say and realize that they are all out of reasons for their racism.

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Playlist for my past

This month has gotten me thinking about the way life changes, seemingly at a more rapid pace each year. Yesterday would have marked my 9 year wedding anniversary, had I chosen to stay married. The end of this month also marks two years since the death of an ex boyfriend. So much has changed in my 20s and I created a playlist that took me on an emotional journey through some of these experiences and relationships. I’ll go back to the beginning of sorts, my first real relationship- my ex husband.

Secret Garden by Bruce Springsteen

Michael said this song made him think of me. To this day certain elements of it hold true. I still give away certain things too easily, but I closely guard my real emotions and trust.

Somehow Someday by Ryan Adams

The longing and nostalgia of this song, questioning what might have gone differently, really summed up my feelings after the divorce. I was a child in many ways and I know it was good I set out on my own, but what would have happened if I had stuck it out? Would we have a house? Kids? I think one of the parts that strikes me the most is the line “There ain’t no way I’ll ever stop from loving you now.” As I grow further away from that time in my life, I know that I don’t have any of that same love for Michael. He has a special place in my memory, but love for him has faded into a vague wisp, like a familiar cologne wafting by out of the blue.

We looked like Giants by Death Cab for Cutie

Morgan was an easy substitution as I made my way past marriage. He was intelligent and attractive, though not very socially adept. I struggled to gain approval and a place in his life. During quiet moments in his room we would take a break from the alternative rock that he loved so much and listen to Transatlanticism. This song became synonymous with my brief romance and the attempt at being a normal 21 year old.

I went a little wild after Morgan, before falling head over heels for Nick.

You Make it Easy by Air/ Here in My Room by Incubus

The intense attraction and attention that Nick bestowed upon me felt like the “real deal.” We acted silly, we would kiss each other as much as we wanted. We both were so desperate to make the other person better while completely distrusting one another because of our pasts. It was an obsessive love that was clearly doomed to fail. Even so, I remember him making me a cd with these songs and telling me how crazy he was about me. That warm glow of adoration infused me like a drug and I needed more. When we broke up I was devastated and spent the next year alternating between love and hate for him. I’d get a taste of him, then cower in my bed, shaking like an addict going through withdrawals. As the years have progressed, we are now able to talk to one another without searching for hidden signals or any lingering animosity. Time does heal.

Lover, You Should Have Come Over by Jeff Buckley

I have a feeling that this song will always make me a little sad, will always make me think of how things could have gone differently for Travis. From the first weeks of our relationship, it was clear that Travis carried some baggage. He had never forgiven himself for a night back in high school when his best friend died in a car crash (strangely enough, my parents were the first to come across this same crash and saw his friend thrown from the car. Small towns, you know). Travis was verbally and physically abusive, he drank and took pills, he would sneak out at four in the morning and not return until the next day sometimes…but I still saw the beautiful qualities as well. He liked art. He was passionate about the affect of music in his life. He was very intelligent and well spoken, able to express his perception of life so eloquently (if he was sober).

We ended with me calling the police to take him from my house. I still knew he was around because he would leave me his version of love notes- a new form of vandalism for my car every week. I ended up moving to California a few months after we broke up. So did he, but he had joined a rehab program in San Francisco. I would ignore his calls until one day I didn’t recognize the number. He apologized for everything and I knew I forgave him.

The last time we spoke he was asking about this song by Jeff Buckley. In our better times we would light candles and play Grace in its entirety. Travis sounded weary and we both hesitated to end the conversation. About two months later I received a call from Nick (once again, small town) and he told me that Travis was dead. I played this song on repeat and cried, feeling like I would never be okay. “Lover, you should have come over. It’s not too late.” I knew I was too late, but how could I have ever saved him?

Amanda/Every time we say goodbye by Graham Dechter

Well, this one is easy- the intro was written for me. Graham holds a special place for me because he is the reason I moved back to California. He helped me to make a move with my life that I don’t know I would have gone through if I had been alone. He was also the first person to show me how an affluent family live their lives and ways to fit in in SoCal. That might sound absurd, but his family introduced me to a different perspective that has been quite valuable. They were the first family I had in my new home.

Won’t You Come Home by Devendra Banhart/ Go Home by Lucius

David is my second longest relationship besides my ex husband. I thought we would get married. I ached so much for him to love me more than his band, but I felt like I could never compete. I know that it wasn’t so much me versus his band, but me taking time and energy from his dream. Since he was constantly touring, we never saw each other and I began to feel like he was this mythic phantom boyfriend. Somehow I knew things were done, but I clung to the idea of forever. Devendra Banhart has the line “Why don’t you want to stay here suspended/in the dead arms of a year that has ended.” This completely summed up my feelings.

The day after David and I broke up, I found out I was pregnant. Timing is HILARIOUS. Not only was I hormonal and upset from a long relationship ending, but I now had to figure out by myself what to do with a potential human. David said he didn’t want any part of it, that it was “my thing.” I went to appointments by myself. I would cry in the bathroom at work. I would enjoy the words from this song by Lucius- “I don’t need you anyway, I don’t need you, go home,” somehow seeing the dual realities of vulnerability and found strength. I had a miscarriage, once again giving me the dual feelings of relief and anguish. David was a huge part of my life, but I think of this as my experience, my story. I began to see how I could break out of the cycle of constantly needing to be validated by a relationship.

We No Who U R by Nick Cave

I took comfort after David with Tommy, a kind and generous friend five years my junior. As we began our relationship, Tommy would play his Nick Cave record as the clouds hung silently on the LA winter morning. The deep, rough voice cut through my mind, supplanting my love for David and bestowing it upon this gentle, handsome guy who happily held my hand and made me breakfast each morning. Everything about him screamed “Mr Right,” but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. We recently broke up, giving me one of the first real opportunities to have freedom in my 20s.

Wide Eyes by Local Natives

“Oh to see it with my own eyes.” I feel this lightness as I end my playlist with a song for me. I’m about 99% sure this song is about acid, but it still resonates with my life shift and new perspective. I want to see the world through my own eyes. I want to make decisions that are just for me. I want to learn more about myself and continue to find value in who I am rather than just what I can do for others.

I love that these songs bring me back. At one point they might have been too much to bear, overwhelming me with feelings and no understanding of how to deal. Now this playlist is a gentle river ride down memory lane rather than the sinking ship in an emotional storm.