Thursday, May 27, 2010


I'm a very social person. People have described me as talkative, friendly, gregarious, extroverted, warm, and open. I always feel the need to connect with people and I love long conversations. While I appreciate my alone time (especially after busy nights of work or when I'm sick), I typically do not fare well under it. However, at the end of this school year, I've found myself spending my days off with little company. As a server who works most weekends, I find it difficult to find friends free at the same time that I am. It was then that I decided to experiment with loneliness.

What I've found is that I can use this time, time that I have not had in my recent past, to grow into myself. In the past two days (both days off), I have learned new guitar tricks, written for pleasure, read multiple books, practiced my singing, lifted weights, tried new recipes, and most importantly, taken time to reconnect with my faith and go to Confession (hey, I needed it!). I've found that my quiet time has helped to regenerate my soul and led me to develop hobbies and interests. I've also found that, when I have run into friends and met new people, I appreciate encounters more. I've learned to value what other people have to say, rather than just waiting for my turn to talk.

When school is in session, other factors split my attention and consume my life. I pay my own rent, so I'm constantly working, in addition to taking a full course load (and working as hard as I can on my schoolwork). I also tend to take leadership positions and fill my time with extracurriculars and social events, anything to build my resume and increase my networks. In addition, I find a need to see my friends as much as possible and keep maintaining relationships. The little quiet time I get is usually the hour I spend at Mass, if that. As I'm constantly with people, I feel the need to talk all the time. I tend to speak more impulsively and I find silence impossible to deal with, as I feel either too lazy or too lonely. With the stress I experience during school, I am very surprised my health (emotional or physical) has endured as much as it has.

I'm finding that I'm learning to deal with myself in healthier ways. I'm more aware of my flaws but I don't feel they are as insurmountable (as my need for perfectionism has lowered significantly). I feel more motivated to work on them and to become a better person. I feel a stronger drive to create, to leave something of value. I don't feel the need to fill every space with words or to retreat away from the world as much. I feel refreshed, stronger, and more ready for challenges. I can appreciate my time with people more.

Most importantly, I'm learning that I have to rely on my own inner strength, the strength only God gives, when challenges arise. I need that strength to humble myself when I need help and to give to others, when they need help. However, developing that strength is an inner process, one that needs to happen when I'm one on one with God. For if I can learn to be strong when it's only me, I can be strong when I'm against an adversary. As a result, I'm much more confident, peaceful and self-assured.

I guess I'm not so lonely after all :)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

J.Lo's New Movie and Cultural Identity

OK, disclaimer: Katie has NOT seen the movie! However, I found this interesting article on Feministing and I had a few things to say. Also, some spoilers.

First, read the article here. Read all the comments, while you're at it.

Basic synopsis: They're pissed because J.Lo seems to play a "white" character when we all know the actress herself is of Puerto Rican descent.

OK......First, J.Lo is an actress. She's not allowed to play people of a different ethnicity if she can pass and she's qualified? Also, must she incorporate something about PR/Hispanic/Latina identity into every chick flick she makes?

Second, you'll notice I put "white" in quotes. I hope we all know that race is not always related to either national or cultural identity. The author, a Cuban herself, makes many assumptions about J.Lo's character, including that she can't have any European ancestry whatsoever or that it would be near impossible for her to have two redheaded babies. Never mind that people who identify with Hispanic or Latin cultures can have a wide variety of ethnic diversity. Never mind all the fair skinned, light haired Caribbeans and Central/South Americans I know and work alongside with. Never mind that it was European nations who colonized those countries, especially the islands (where many indigenous populations did NOT survive and, as a result, may have more European or African descended people than anything else). Never mind the influence of WWII and European immigration to many South American countries. After all that, it's unheard of for someone we've LABELED as "Hispanic" to be WHITE??

While I'm not Hispanic, it reminds me of the cultural labeling I constantly face. Because I'm fair-skinned but with darker features and because I'm multilingual, people are constantly trying to guess my ethnicity. I've been mistaken for everything from Puerto Rican to Greek to Sicilian, yet I am a mix of European ancestry and I identify with my Italian heritage (from Tuscany, a northern province). I've had people think I didn't speak English. At the same time, I always hear, "You don't LOOK Italian." What, because I don't have a certain kind of nose, my skin isn't dark, and my hair isn't thick, my ethnic and cultural heritage and identity just doesn't exist? Really? Should my professor, of Indian descent, be allowed to identify as Kenyan, even though her family is from Nairobi, just because she doesn't appear as your typical African?

What do these have in common? They involve someone telling someone else that they can or cannot identify as something based on appearances. J.Lo's character can't be seen as "Hispanic" because her two babies are "white" and her relatives are "white" (never mind that she may not actually be using her identity in this film. Also, Cameron Diaz, a blond woman, is of Cuban descent). My ethnicity is always called into question because I look a certain way and I can talk a certain way. National, regional, and cultural identities of people can be questioned, simply because of how things appear (remember Teresa Heinz Kerry coming under fire for identifying as "African American", even though her family is from Africa?). And most of it is arbitrary. For example, Hotel Rwanda has a scene where a journalist is asking about the difference between Hutus and Tutsis. The journalist then asks two women what they identify as (one was Hutu, the other, a Tutsi). He said they looked exactly the same.

I am appalled that a community like Feministing, a community that claims to fight this sort of stereotyping (whether with racism, classism, or sexism), is actually making use of it. Not every movie (certainly not one meant for mere entertainment) needs to be a soap box for ethnic pride. As for the issues of identity, having a kid with red hair doesn't make you anything but a parent of a kid with red hair. It's our blood, our upbringing, our personal experiences, and our choices that choose that sort of identity. That last bit, the choice, was what I thought people fought for.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Katie's Stand....

Today, someone raised my temper.......That is, until I realized that the person who did it holds very little power over me. I realized that there will always be people like that, thorns in your side that get under your skin. That is, until you realize you hold the strength to pull them out, even if the pruning is quite painful. While the pain is intense, it doesn't last that long in the grand scheme of your life.

I don't need anyone dictating my life, telling me how to be or whether my reasons for action were legitimate. Time will tell the tale and I will reap the consequences of my actions. While yes, there will always be rules I need to follow, whether through work, school, church, or other aspects of my life, no one can form my soul to their measure. No one can mold me to a cookie cutter shape, will me to bend in their direction or take the pieces they like while discarding the ones they don't.

I am me. I am many things. I am a student, a worker, an activist, a musician, a writer, a blogger, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I identify as American by nationality, Italian-American by ethnicity and culture and Roman Catholic by faith, but these cannot begin to capture my essence, who I am as a person. I'm passionate about pro-life but also the environment and I take strong stands against poverty. I don't like to identify myself with my looks, for I understand that they will change, with age, with style, and with other factors. I'm sensitive, fiery, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes brusque, but always striving to know, to learn, and to love, despite my many imperfections. I love learning languages. I'm deeply spiritual, not just religious. I drink a lot of tea and coffee. I'm obsessed with the French and the Florentines but am bound for Africa. I'm a city girl and NYC and DC are my two loves. I'm loud. And I've just realized that I no longer care what others may say or think about me.

This is who I am. I'm sick of people's efforts to change me, to make me something different. I'm not who you want me to be. I'm trying to be who I want to be, who God wants me to be, as He made me. I cannot do both, just like I cannot have two masters. If the former was my master, I'd die a cruel death. Thus, I make this as my stand.

"A King may move a man. But the soul belongs to a man." Kingdom of Heaven.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Sexual Abstinence and Empowerment

"Why do you want to wait?" "Is it hard?" "But sex is FUN!" "You can't pay the mortgage off all at once, Katie." These are just a few of the myriad statements I hear when others learn of my decision to wait till marriage. As a twenty-one year old student (at a liberal university, in one of the most liberal cities), a self-proclaimed feminist, someone who's questioned her own sexuality, and someone who seems to have a crush a day (hey, I meet a lot of wonderful, beautiful, attractive people!), it seems shocking. Combined with my Catholicism, I seem an anamoly, especially given my previous statement. Yet I find this decision to be one of the most liberating ones of my life. To me, abstinence is empowerment.

First, I don't have to deal with some life-changing complications. I carry a ton of stress in my life. I go to school full-time, work nearly the same amount, carry some extracurriculars, plus I make time for things I deem important (music, connecting with friends and family, writing, reading for fun, church). What would I do if I got pregnant? Abortion repulses me and I tend to be a maternal person.....yet I know I could not be the mother I should be, should I be blessed enough with a child. At the same time, I know I'd grieve a baby I placed for adoption. I'd rather not have to make that choice, given the tensions I already face. I also do not wish to put my physical health at risk for STI's (even with protection....I don't trust it with my city's AIDS rate) or cervical cancer (NIH says that risk is greater with greater numbers of sexual partners).

"But there's protection!" Except, what are my options? I don't like the idea of putting (potentially carcinogenic, see WHO and NIH) hormones into my body unless I had serious medical conditions that required it (side effects also have me worried). In addition, with concerns rising about hormones in the water, I feel these would have social and environmental costs attached (not to mention, the cost out of my pocket!). For barrier methods, I'm not so sure how much I like the idea of synthetic materials entering my orifices, not to mention some also require leaking chemicals through my body (and again, going back into the water, reiterating my point on the environment). Furthermore, most options are only for the prevention of pregnancy. For STI protection, we only have condoms. What if it breaks, despite best efforts? Are a few moments of fun worth the rest of your life? I'd rather say I waited till marriage and have my friends laugh at me, rather than say I have AIDS and see tears on their faces.

Also, protection only works for the body (and again, not 100% of the time). What about the heart? Yes, I know, some people will have encounters and not regret an adventure. I am not one of those people. For those who know me, I get very attached to other people, especially people who are affectionate with me. I receive love through hugs, kisses, and other forms of physical touch. If I were to engage in sex with someone, I know that it would have to be within the context of a lifelong relationship because, for me, it would be a bonding experience. Further, I would not want its power clouding my judgment if someone were truly not right for me. When I date, I'm looking at the person as a potential life partner (which is why it remains an infrequent part of my life). I don't want their ability to romance and seduce me (in ways sexual or not) to get in the way of my judgment of their character and our compatibility.

This brings me to my final point. I've found that our over-consumerism has spilled into our romantic lives. Dating is no longer about who would make a suitable spouse. It's about who's the best at flirting, the most attractive, the most sexual, the most lavish and extravagant, and maybe we'll get married at some point. Our society has discouraged us from looking for commitment, encouraged us to focus on the superficial, and forgot one of our main institutions. Even if someone is amazing, we're expected to look for someone "better" because we're "young". When it comes to sex, they must please us from the beginning or they're out the door. If they lose their physical appearance, they are also eliminated. What a sad outlook!

No thanks. For me, I'd rather focus on becoming a more complete person, rooted in her values and embracing the crazy directions life takes me, while still maintaining a level of sanity and practicality. I'll look carefully for a spouse when I'm ready to look. When we've found each other, we'll embark on adventures together, sexual and non-sexual alike. We'll learn how to make a relationship withstand every fire, build a life through good and bad, storm and sun. We'll learn this particular dance in the same way a band learns to play together (after all, the guys in U2 were complete novices. Yet they've become a piece of magnificence) and appreciate its power and beauty, even if it's not always earth-shattering. We will embrace joy, sorrow, children, careers, age, economic booms and bust, war and peace together, until one of us dies. That's what I want and that's worth more than a thousand lovers.

Now, THAT'S sexy ;-)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Art, God, Hierarchy, and the Poor

I took a trip to Europe when I was eighteen. For two weeks, I traveled around four countries, performing, touring, and visiting historical sites, while using rudimentary French to get around. I've visited small towns, big cities, mountains, beaches, cathedrals, and concentration camps. I flew for the first time in my life. It was incredible.

Everything struck me when I was there, but a visit to an old church in Dinkelsbühl, Germany gave me a moment of pause. You see, St. George's Catholic church is over a thousand years old, still standing to this day, with all of its beauty intact. When it was built, it was a huge community effort. The wealthy donated money for materials and labor, the artisans made use of their talents in crafting stained glass windows, paintings, and sculptures of the angels, prophets, and saints, and the laborers contributed the work of their hands and strength of their bodies. Not one person was left out. As a result, everyone in the community, regardless of class, age, or social standing, had a place to come together as fellow human beings, and glorify God every Sunday (granted, it never falls exactly to this ideal, people still bring their prejudices, etc, but you get where I'm coming from).

Upon hearing this, and stories of churches and cathedrals worldwide, it always angers me when I hear how we need to, "sell our art and give to the poor." While yes, as Catholics, we are obligated and commanded to give to the poor and fight for social justice, I don't believe this is an accurate statement or effective method. Here are a few reasons.

In the Bible, Jesus did command His disciples to sell what they had and give to the poor. However, there is a striking passage in John, where a woman anoints Jesus' head with oil. Judas rebukes her, stating that the ointment was expensive and the money from its selling could help so many people. Jesus makes an interesting comeback. He says that we'll always have the poor, but only Him for a short while. Sounds contradictory? Not really. Jesus was not being greedy or suggesting we forget about the least of these. Instead, He was acknowledging the importance of giving our talents and resources to God. In our faith, we believe that being generous with God, something we can't see, allows us to be more generous with each other, whom we do see. Does it always work like this? No, because we are broken. However, if one is truly open, you couldn't give your talents to God without sharing them. Should musicians who advocate justice sell their instruments and give to causes? No, because otherwise, others might not hear the message in the same way, as if the musician had written a song about it (hey, it was because of Bono that I made myself learn about world poverty). Same with the art in churches. It helps us to focus on what's really important and can give more voice to the causes of justice (considering you're focusing on a guy who was beaten and killed by an unjust government for suggesting a revolution of love).

Another issue I have with that is my own beliefs about art. I don't believe art was meant to be confined to the hierarchy, to those privileged enough to buy a painting or see a concert. Art, whether in its creation or appreciation, was meant to be enjoyed by humanity. That is our way of manifesting emotions and beauty in ways that mere speech cannot. Because of the Church's preserving art such as that of Michelangelo's, people all over are able to view and share this art, to share the messages (like Mary's grief over losing her Son in the Pietá). If we sold this art, this treasure of humanity, it would go into the hands of the hierarchy, of those who'd make its sharing much more exclusive, those who don't appreciate the significance and profundity of its creation. Further, with the issue of these churches and cathedrals, we're sending a message saying that art is merely for the rich, a luxury item, an exclusive club. For those who made their living through these creations, as well as those who've sacrificed more lucrative careers for art, this is a huge slap in the face.

Finally, while I agree that there are those leaders who could live more simply, I don't believe art is responsible for this poverty. First, in many of these communities, the Church is providing health care, school systems, and other programs not provided by governments (and it's Catholic movements who have been known to call governments to accountability. Think Brazil's land reform movement or Archbishop Romero in El Salvador). Second (and I'm hoping this is true in all cases), we stand against slavery, so I am sure that these workers are paid to create this art. This could be a livelihood for people who otherwise would not have had one. For local artisans, this is a way of preserving culture, showcasing talents, in ways that they might not have been able to otherwise. Poverty is caused by social injustice and unequal distribution of resources, as well as economic turmoil. While maybe some church leaders could do more, I'd hardly peg beautiful churches as the reason for infant mortality.

As Catholics, as people of faith (or no faith), as human beings, we have a responsibility to fight poverty. We have a responsibility to fight social injustice. Yet to take a tool that binds people together, manifests our own creative desires, and to condemn it to hierarchical prostitution is a crime against humanity. We have a right to create and appreciate creation, sacred or otherwise. Art is not a luxury. For some of us, it's how we breathe. Without it, life is mere survival. Beauty is not a privilege for the powerful. It's why we're here, to show the world how it is and what it could be. Blame governments, blame attitudes, blame unkind hearts for poverty. But don't blame humanity's creative power.

Cultural Identity.....Again.....

This seems to be all I think about lately. For my program in Kenya, I have to complete an internship with a not-for-profit organization. My International Development professor recommended I do something with cultural identity. A dear friend of mine (who completed the program during his time in school) stated agreement with that assertion. I'll admit, I was surprised. I always saw myself doing something with maternal health care or microfinance. Yet, upon pondering, it doesn't seem that surprising. It doesn't surprise me because I spend half my time analyzing my own.

Everyone who knows me knows I identify with my Italian ancestry. My paternal grandfather was from Florence and my father was born there. In addition to having that influence, I grew up in two very Italian American neighborhoods and had gone to Catholic school at an Italian/Irish parish. I grew up with the food (my mother being the cook that she is) and was always fascinated with the culture. Later, when I became a Catholic (due to other factors), I found the need to learn about the country that not only housed my biological ancestry, but my spiritual home as well.

Yet, I'm not 100% Italian. I'm not even 50%. I'm a whopping 25% Italian, which causes some to raise their eyebrows. If I were to give an honest description of my ethnic identity, I'd have to say I'm half English, a quarter Italian, an eighth Austrian (and Jewish, if you count Jewish as an ethnicity as well as a religion), and some German, Scottish, and Spanish mixed in, with percentages unknown. At the same time, I've learned that ethnic composition doesn't always jive with cultural identity. Nor does it always mix with national identity (you can identify as American and be of any ethnic or cultural background). It's a complex phenomenon unto itself, one influenced by many factors: ethnicity, regionalism, nationalism, home environment, sometimes religion (and culture influences that as well), sometimes class (especially with privileged cultures), politics, resources, customs....pretty much everything that impacts a human being.

At the same time, our society feels the need to label and describe everything, according to perception. However, even these labels come into question. I have a professor of Caribbean descent, with family from Jamaica and the Dominican Republic. She's always told she could be Latina (due to her DR family) but she doesn't have enough blood or influence for that (WTF?). People describe her as "black", which she doesn't like, simply because she feels that there is an established "black culture" in the U.S., one based on the influences of slavery and not one necessarily inclusive of recent African, Caribbean, or Afro-Latino groups. I have friends of Native American descent, on both sides, but are blond and blue-eyed (and, while a good portion of their ancestry is, they don't have the "blood quanta" to register with any of the tribes). Or how there's a whole different category for Latin Americans, regardless of actual cultural or ethnic influence. Let me tell you, there is a WEALTH of difference between the German/Italian descended Argentine and the Mayan from Guatemala.

Cultural identity is complex, regardless of where you come from or what you choose as your identity. I've come to find that it goes beyond Census statistics and societal labels. It transcends even blood quanta and genetics. It's one of the markers of who we are, where we come from, and who we hope to be, what we hope to give to our children. At least, that's what it's taught me thus far.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


A Muslim friend and follower of mine posted an amazing and humorous article of the problems and awkwardness associated with teen dating (find here). In addition, the author speaks of the benefits of following Muslim tradition with regard to marriage. She emphasizes the need for consent, community involvement, and familial support in choosing a life partner. While giving me a good laugh (the lady has a wonderful sense of humor), the article also made me think about my own views on dating and marriage. As a Catholic, I found myself agreeing with most of the article.

You see, my faith teaches that marriage is to be for life. When you get married in the Catholic Church, you are assenting to always practicing fidelity, to staying together till death, and to raising a family, as God sees fit to bless you (whether through birth, adoption or any other means). As a result, the Church is very strict on its marital teachings. Sex is meant for your spouse only, for bonding and the creation of children. Engaged couples must prepare for marriage extensively and take classes and counseling before a priest will consent to a wedding. While couples are free to choose their form of dating or courtship and there is no specific Church teaching regarding the subject of teen dating, many priests will emphasize the need for discernment and traditional Catholics tend to see dating as a means to an end, not merely a fun activity for young people.

Because I do agree with all of these, I find myself shying away from mainstream dating. Many people say it's a way of getting to know people and figuring out what you like. The thing is, I could do that just as easily while being friends with someone, without feelings getting in the way. At other points, I'm trying to find someone who shares my values. Unfortunately, sex has become an expectation and traditional values are often looked down upon. I also have my future to consider. I know I'm not ready to marry at this point in my life....I don't want to start considering it before I have some basic factors in order.

I am not judging anyone who chooses to date or follow mainstream society. However, I am proposing another model. I don't need to go to the movies with ten different guys to see who'd make the best husband and father. I also don't need to put myself at risk for things like pregnancy or STI's for the sake of being young. Instead, I'm preparing myself for an enduring, unconditional, lifelong journey. Until I find the one who will take it with me, I can at least start becoming the person I want to be, the person who is ready for any adventure. I find that type of love all the more thrilling.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Liberal vs. Leftist Intolerance

If there's one common point of contention among most of my friends and family-whatever their political beliefs/faith/lifestyle-it's the frustration we all hold with what we call the liberal elite. Don't get me wrong. I'm fairly liberal in most of my politics. I believe in health care reform, am against the war and torture, try to stay out of people's bedrooms, advocate for labor rights, and intend to experiment with veganism at some point. However, I try to be open-minded toward others' beliefs (and, if I've acted elitist and arrogant, I humbly apologize). I know others who try to do likewise, regardless of their ideology. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for all who profess "liberalism."

These are the people who protest animal experimentation but condemn those who fight abortion. These are the people who claim to think for themselves, yet feel the need to condescend to those who practice faith. These are the people who will travel to the most impoverished countries in the world yet who act like the South and Midwest are the most oppressive, backwoods places, regardless of the intelligent people they know from these regions. They'll stand for women's rights, unless those rights include choices like having lots of children and staying home with them. They'll stand for the rights of the blue-collar worker, unless he wants to date their daughter. They'll disrespect the military, even if these same soldiers are the reasons for their freedom. Yes, I'm talking about these people.

They are a disgrace to the word liberal. Liberal derives from the word liberas, which means "free" in Latin. That's where we get the word liberty. It means being open to other viewpoints, even as you hold your own, understanding that life experiences, education, culture, and other factors impact people in different ways. It means being humble, understanding that no one is better or worse than you, and trying to understand where someone comes from. It means having the freedom to share your viewpoints, whether someone else assents or dissents. It does not mean shoving your lifestyle down someone's throat or treating them like scum because they do not subscribe to yours. It does not mean persecuting, insulting, or otherwise chaining people. It destroys freedom, therefore, it isn't liberal.

So, if you are one of these people, do us all a favor. Refer to yourself as a leftist, for that is a more accurate description. Please, do not use a word for freedom. You make people fear its ideas. Also, please keep your insensitive, nasty comments to yourself. And stop telling me I'm oppressed. Thank you.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Boy All the Catholics Want-Procrastination......

I like the song "Girl All the Bad Guys Want"........and I was inspired.


Eight o'clock Monday night and I'm waiting
To finally talk to a boy a little cooler than me.
His name is Luca, he's a rocker with a rosary!
He wears a relic but I'm not quite sure what that means!

And when he walks,
The wind blows and
The angels sing!
But he doesn't notice me!

'Cause he's always serving!
Going for the ladies!
Listening to rock music,
Praying to the Queen of Peace!

It's like a bad movie, he's lookin' groovy
If you were me, then you'd be
Screaming someone shoot me!
As I fail miserably,
Trying to get the boy all the Catholics want!
He's the boy all the Catholics want!

He likes Switchfoot
And I like Bruce Springsteen!
His CD-changer's full of singers
That are praising their God!
He said he'd like to score a one trip to Italy!
He'll never know that I'm the best that
He'll never have!

And when he walks,
The wind blows and
The angels sing!
But he'll never notice me!

'Cause he's always serving!
Going for the ladies!
Listening to rock music!
Praying to the Queen of Peace!

He likes 'em with a Daily Mass
Scapulars and Pope pass!
Fighting for evil's end!
Does the medal make the man?

It's like a bad movie
He's looking groovy!
If you were me,
Then you'd be
Screaming someone shoot me!
As I fail miserably,
Trying to get the boy all the Catholics want!!
He's the boy all the Catholics want!!

There he goes again with a crucifix on
And holy water in his hair.
He broke my heart,
I want to be sedated!
All I wanted was the chance to date him!

It's like a bad movie,
He's looking groovy,
If you were me,
Then you'd be,
Screaming someone shoot me!
As I fail miserably!
Trying to get the boy all the Catholics want!
He's the boy all the Catholics want!