Friday, July 18, 2014

More Than Just a Game

I have just completed my ninth season of softball coaching. I started in college, responding to a call for volunteers to help with a local youth softball program, because I was homesick for the sport. Nine summers, eleven teams, and over a hundred kids later, I am on the board of directors for the organization and in charge of organizing the entirety of the recreational league program. I can't imagine not having it in my life, even during the busy stretch where I'm not sure I'll make it through and I get cranky and think, maybe this should be my last season. Because every time I think that, a different voice in my head responds, But it won't be.

It is something that I feel I will never be able to properly put into words. I've rambled on about little bits of the day to day before; I've written a few "big" pieces on the matter (like this one). But the magnitude of it all escapes me; why I do what I do is easy enough to articulate, but what it means... to me, for me, for the girls I coach... that's something else. Most days it's pretty easy; I take it at face-value. I help them learn to be better softball players, better teammates, and, with any luck, better people. Other days, the lens zooms out and I get a glimpse of a bigger picture and it's huge. It doesn't feel like much, but it goes beyond the simple act of throwing or hitting or catching a ball. There's so much of life intertwined with it. So much more teaching involved than I'm even aware of. And it almost knocks the wind out of me when I think about it too much. The things I say, the things I do - none of it is a throwaway word or action; like a parent, they are watching what I do. I could be affecting them, for better, for worse.

This particular bout of introspection was triggered by an article I happened to click on last night in my facebook news feed. It was nothing new or revelationary; hell, I'm not even sure that I haven't read this exact piece before. But it echoed something that I have been very mindful of, especially this season, for whatever reason. I have made a very concentrated effort to avoid discussing weight or body issues around my girls. It's something I have to watch myself on even more closely than swearing or making snide comments about, say, the other coaches when they are being rude. I can check my language; it's easy to avoid the 4-letter words. It's easy to stop myself from being snarky - sportsmanship, sportsmanship, sportsmanship... It's something I try to drill into their heads, and I may be a lot of things, but I try my damndest not to be a hypocrite.

It's really, really hard to bite back the self-deprecating comments. It's hard to hide my body image issues. It's hard to not make remarks about how sometimes I have to size up on my shirts or how they're all in much better shape than I am. If something like that does slip out, I'm quick to blame it on age. Never on size. I don't want them to even think about this or that body type being good or bad; I have some girls that are still shaped like toothpicks; I have others that are starting to fill out. I don't want them to play the comparison game. I don't want them to internalize that message - not from me. I may not be happy with myself, but I don't want them to know that.

Because if I can act like my size, my body, is no big deal... maybe they'll internalize that instead of the other messages they get. If I'm happy with myself, then hopefully they will sort of subconsciously learn to be happy with themselves, too. I'll lead by example that way, even if I have to fake it every step.

When I picked up the coaching mantle those many years ago, I didn't even think about it in terms of being a role model. I just wanted to get back to the game, and to "pay it forward" in a way. But I'm in kind of a unique position where I stand now. Most of the other coaches in this league are parents; I am the "other." There is less of a guard that is up, and that can go both ways. They may be more relaxed, but they are also more sponge-like. I am younger than their parents (though that won't always be the case - eventually, as I age and they don't, I will be the Matthew McConaughey of youth softball, except not creepy - eventually, I will be old enough that they could be my very own daughters) so perhaps that makes me more relatable. I know when I was young, I always looked up to the older girls and young women who I deemed as cool or impressive. And I want to be someone they can trust; someone they can confide in, if they need to. A fill-in big sister or a young, hip "aunt" even.

As the article states (and countless others, and all of our own personal experiences), girls will mold their body image off of what they observe, what is demonstrated to them - intentionally or not. They will absorb that feedback from their peers, sure - but they will also pick up more than you can imagine from the adult females in their life, especially those they trust.

And the ages I coach - those are the worst, for this. I coached two teams this summer - one full of 5th/6th graders and the other full of 7th/8th graders. The age ranged from 10 all the way through 14. I remember those years. Those years were awful. I wouldn't relive them if you paid me. And while they're starting to come into their own, starting to form the core of who they are going to be... there are people like me that they are looking to. And I know better, I know better than to entertain any sort of negativity around them. It was something I decided long ago without ever making a declaration to myself: do whatever you can to avoid damaging their sense of self. Don't buy into the body image game. It's too late for me, but not for them.

It's stuff like this that makes me stop and realize that, yeah, I'm coaching softball, but I'm not really JUST coaching softball.

And it just kind of sunk in what a hugely terrifying responsibility that is.

So. There's that. I don't have kids and I might not ever have kids, but I'm definitely shouldering my duty as part of the "auntie brigade" - I can still hopefully provide some useful guidance for the girls that are going to have to walk down the same road I did.

It's scary, and at the same time, I'm ready and willing to step up. If I can save anyone, just one, from falling into the trap of bad thoughts and self-loathing, then that, to me, is something worthwhile.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Writing on Writing.

*blows on blog and a poof of dust rises in a tiny little cloud*

HI EVERYONE. So in an attempt to start blogging again (remember when it was a thing I did?), I agreed to participate in a blog hop because all I had to do was answer some questions about the writing process and all the hard work was done for me, right? HAHA. So cute. I really meant to do it, I started mulling it over in my little writer-brain and then suddenly it was a month later and it wasn't done.

I was tagged by my friend Calee (her post is here) aaaaaaaaand I was supposed to go live with my post on June 7.  As you may have noticed by the fact that it's not anywhere close to June 7 anymore, I have clearly failed in that mission. But, as they say, better late than never, right? Right.

Always, always with the best of intentions.

Sometimes the best way to deal with a slump is to just wait it out. So I did, and here we are. 

So, onward. And we shall discuss Writing.

As I've probably mentioned a time or two before... I started writing as a wee Kellylet... I think around age ten or so. At least that's when it sticks out most prominently in my mind. I'd staple together sheets of notebook paper (or, sometimes, I'd fold them in half and THEN staple them, to give them a more book-like quality) and scribble my heart out. I would always include a "comments" page on the back for people to essentially leave a little review (yes, that's right - I invented the concept of comment pages, all the way back in 1994, because I am a hipster). It was my not-so-subtle way of seeking validation, though I wasn't aware that that was what I was doing until later. 

My friend and I spent our recesses in fourth and fifth grade writing and illustrating stories, which were largely, in hindsight, Disney Princess fanfic. (Yes, this was before Disney Princesses were a brand, and before we had any idea what "fanfic" was... MORE HIPSTER POINTS!). As we entered middle school, and self-consciousness took over, I still wrote, but not for anyone to read. (And yes, there was an angsty poetry phase that lasted for most of the late nineties.) But it was always there. 

During Back to School time, my mom would stock up on spiral bound notebooks when the major retail stores would sell them for 10¢ apiece, and I was allowed ONE new notebook per month. I was pretty good about sticking to this, too, even though I knew where she kept the stash.

I remember when other kids were all "I want to be a fireman/ballerina/doctor/astronaut" because career goals are much more open when you're young and not hindered by a thing called reality, all I wanted to be was a writer. Specifically, I wanted to write and publish novels. I wanted to walk into a bookstore and see my name on a spine. I wanted to be the library book that some kid checked out over and over because it resonated with them somehow. 

That's the funny thing about that sort of dream, though... while I may be unfit for several professions, the only thing stopping me from becoming a Writer is myself. 

I have folders upon folders of half-finished stories that have lived for up to twenty years* plastic totes/bins, most of which took up residence in my dad's basement. When he and my stepmom bought a new house, I was informed that I needed to reclaim my things. I can't bring myself to blindly toss everything out, though. There could be something worthwhile in there - either a spark of an idea that I can finish now, or something so absurdly horrible that we can laugh about it later. Either way, I've got some word-mining to do.


But I digress, and terribly. Here are the four questions I was supposed to answer:


I'd love to tell you that I've been super MIA because I've finally buckled down and started writing a novel, as is my lifelong dream, but that would sort of be a lie. 

But I'm getting closer. Of the two or three ideas that I've been tossing around, I've zeroed in on one of them. I've been sorting out plot points, character profiles, themes, scenes, the works... in my head, at least. They've been rolling around for weeks. I've made playlists to accompany the actual writing, songs that fit the mood of the story either lyrically or musically. I've got a secret pinboard with imagery that fits what I want to do. (And, of course, hypothetical actresses that would play my main female characters, because this is obviously an important element.) My plot and scope are creeping around, getting a bit far from where I originally started... I don't know if that's good or bad, but it's starting to not make sense. I need to tie pieces together and have some idea of where I'm going. Right now, Point A and Point B are on different planets. I've got other elements that I can't decide if they're stupid or interesting; hell, I can't tell if the entire thing is stupid or interesting. Maybe it's trying to hard right now (yes, it has become sentient). 

I handwrote two pages the other night. They were complete shit, but it's still two pages, and it's a step in the right direction. I can always rewrite them later. To quote Terry Prachett, "The first draft is just you telling yourself the story."

Also, my friend Steph talked me (and Calee) into signing up for Camp NaNoWriMo, so... perhaps that's a kick in the pants that I need. I'm going to give it a shot, I can't do any worse than the last time I tried NaNoWriMo, wherein I lasted all of two days. If that.


I don't think there's anything particularly unique about my style of writing, to be honest... it's one of many tongue-in-cheek twentysomethings scribbling out personal essays of the nonfiction variety. There was one time I was reading a book of essays (I believe it was Sloane Crosley's I Was Told There'd Be Cake) and I had to set it down because I was so jealous. Her style was similar to mine and I was totally connecting with her narrative and her words, but the fact of the matter was that she'd actually sat down and turned her stories into a damn book. It was one of those cases of I could totally do this... yeah, but you didn't. There's no shortage of them, books of personal essays, but I don't feel like my writing is necessarily worthy of publication. (YET). Maybe the market is saturated now, I don't know. But you go into a bookstore, a huge bookstore - like Powell's in Portland - and you see all these numerous volumes of books and it's mind-blowing, how many people have put words to paper, how many people have done this thing that you want to do. And I had two distinct thoughts, at once: 1: there are all of these accomplished authors already, there is no room for me... 2: look at all these books - there is always room for one more.

I've been told by other Writers (capital W) that I have a distinctive voice; while I consider this to be a tremendous compliment, I am at a loss as to how to identify mine as being different than anyone else's. I just don't see it. Perhaps that's the biggest indicator of my amateur status, but sometimes I think it might be okay to go in without having a clue what you're doing. It's possible to know too much and think yourself out of whatever you were going to do. Though I'm worried that since I don't know what constitutes my voice, it might be easy for me to lose it. 

Lastly, there is another quote (you need a quote for something? COME AT ME. I collect quotes like Ariel collects sea trash) - "Don't forget - no one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories that you have to tell." Charles de Lint. 

I like that a lot. Not to get all "WE'RE ALL SPECIAL SNOWFLAKES" or anything, but it's just a reminder that two people can experience the exact same thing, and come away from it feeling completely differently. I am unique; I have a unique perspective. I can take a story that's maybe been told a million times before (haven't they all?), but I can put my own unique twist on it. 


Because... I have to? The words just come and I have to get them out or they bottle up inside me until I don't feel like myself. Writing - not fiction writing, per se, just writing in general - has been my lifeline, my constant. It's been therapy when I needed it most; it's been a tool of communication; it has been a marker for watching how I've changed and grown. At its most base level, that's what it is: trying to communicate and connect with the world, with people like me, my tribe, my soulmates. 

I think that's where I struggle with fiction. It used to come naturally; it doesn't now. There's this notion that a story comes out because it's something you have to tell; it will eat away at you until you free it. But for the fiction pieces I'm working on (playing fast and loose with the term "working")... there's no immediacy. It's something I want to write because I want to write an interesting, compelling, hopefully emotion-inducing story. But not because there is this repressed story that needs to get out. So I have a hard time getting enthused over it because, big whoop, it's just another story among millions. 

If these ideas, these stories, never go out into the world, the world will not suffer a void. They are unnecessary, probably. I have yet to hit any great human truth that needs to be shared. Perhaps that is the challenge that lies ahead of me.


HAPHAZARDLY. I like the idea of drafts and outlines, but oftentimes, it comes down to just sitting down at a keyboard and pounding away until coherent sentences come out. 

I'm currently working out of order. A scene here, a scene there. This is the opposite of how I used to write fiction, when I'd just start at a point and plow through until I lost momentum or interest (usually about four days later when something would pull me away.) Better? Worse? We'll see. I'll just have to make sure to fix tone shifts on my first round of edits. (Edits?! Ha. I rarely if ever edit. Most of what comes out on this blog is just flat-out stream of consciousness rambling. Editing is going to be an interesting process for me, but I'm actually looking forward to it, once I can just get the first draft hammered out.)

Other than that? I'll have to let you know. I don't have a process yet.

For nonfiction/blogging, my process is still pretty haphazard, but like I mentioned, it's pretty stream-of-consciousness. I used to be opposed to editing altogether: what came out is what came out, as raw and as unpolished as it was. Not so much now, though I don't have a lot of time to spend revising, so it's still pretty rough. If it gets published at all.

There's a site called 750 Words that encourages you to just sit down and start writing whatever comes to mind (also known as "stream of consciousness" writing) and by the time you get to about - you guessed it - 750 words, your scattered thoughts will start to form something cohesive. It's a great exercise for when you don't think you have anything to say... you'll find you do, but it's often buried. 

I should do this more, and I don't. I have started journaling rather sporadically, and I've found the aforementioned theory to be true. What starts off as half-thoughts eventually drives its way into a tangent and usually by the time I'm done, I feel like I actually wrote about something.


So, that's my bit. Frankly, just writing all of this has gotten me all jazzed to write more now. I HAVE AWOKEN THE BEAST. Or something. It's in my veins, it's always been there... time to go fulfill a twenty-year promise to myself.


Without much further ado (I excel at ado, guys), I pass the torch to... CASEY

Calling the Great White North his home, Casey's spent the last few decades in pursuit of creating killer content. From novels as a kid, comics as a teen, to blogs and photos once he could grow a beard, he'll use whatever's around him to create amazing stuff.

When he's not creating, he's parenting, exploring and trying to make life as awesome as possible for everyone around him.

Because a boring life's not a life worth living!

PS - I know a lot of you reading this are also writers... you should answer these prompts, also. I would love to read your responses! Feel free to link up in the comments and we'll all nerd out over words together!

Friday, May 16, 2014

It Doesn't Have to Be Las Vegas

This time last year, I was in Las Vegas. If Bloggers in Sin City had carried on another year, I would be in Vegas right now. It's Friday, which means it would have been Pool Day. I finally overcame my fear of Pool Day last year, although you wouldn't know that because I kind of abandoned my Vegas recap posts about halfway through. This might be a good time to finish them, yes?

Anyway, last night at a time somewhere between 2 and 3 am (probably closer to 3), as I was thinking about it, this little song popped into my head and naturally I thought it was brilliant and I've already wasted too much time not sharing it with you, so... behold.

Do you want to go to Vegas?
Come on, let's go and play

I never see you anymore
Come out the door
You live so far away
We used to have a conference
And now we don't
I think I am gonna cry
Do you want to go to Vegas?
It doesn't have to be Las Vegas

(Go away, Kelly)

Okay, bye...

Do you want to go to Vegas?
And wear sequins down the strip
I think a getaway is overdue
I'm tired of talking to
People not from the Internet
It gets a little lonely
All this cold and rain
Just watching my newsfeed scroll by...
(Click, Click, Click, Click)

Do you want to go to Vegas?

Humor aside, I do really wish I was in Vegas right now. I miss how time would just seem to stop for a weekend while we had adventures in the desert, all the sparkle and sequins and lights, all the food and the cool night air and the laughing and the bonding and the general escapism of it all. I miss the people, I miss having an annual trip to look forward to. Despite the emotional rollercoaster that always accompanied the return, I never realized how much of a break that it provided for my own sanity. The last couple weeks have been pretty rough on me and I've been fighting with everything I have to not just stay in a crumpled heap every day. (Although, maybe all I need is just one good Crumpled Heap Day and then I'll be fine again. Kind of like a battery recharge, something, I don't know.)

Love and 8-second hugs to all my BiSCuits, wherever you may be this weekend.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Just For a Moment

I've been putting this off all day, hoping that at some point, the words would come to me and I could say something worth saying, something meaningful, something... just something, I guess. I'm waiting for the year when May rolls around and I don't feel that sinking feeling in my stomach, but I sort of think that that might never happen. It's permanently entwined with this time of year. It has gotten easier, if such things can get easier. There's still a hole, but it's starting to scar over. I'm not sure I even do have much left to say, anymore. All these years, I've been pouring my heart out, hoping to dull the edges of the fragments that were left behind, but they're still sharp, even when sanded down. It's like when you've cried so much you don't have tears left, just that ache, that lump in your throat. Where it might feel good to cry, but at the same time, what good would crying do? It doesn't change a thing. Not a damn thing.

So here I am, faithfully at my keyboard on May 5. So many things have been left unsaid since last year; big changes, small changes, milestones, this that and the other, all things that I've been meaning to write down, meaning to commit to history. My nephew turned one last month. The flame of a relationship flickered and burnt out. My childhood home is being dismantled box by box. These are things, important things, that I've wanted - no, needed - to talk about, but I just... haven't. But here I am, now. An electronic vigil, every year, without fail. Even if there are no new words, it's still important that I'm here, that I'm remembering out loud, remembering so other people can hear and so that in some way, her memory is still alive, safe with strangers, safe in this digital archive. It's the very least of things that can be done, and it's insignificant. But it's a tiny candle in the dark, it's my own tribute, the best I know how. Even the littlest of words. Even if just for a minute. Remembering. Like always. Because I won't forget. No matter where I end up, there's always a tiny little piece of my heart reserved for one of the most amazing friends I've ever had. Those years can never be taken away, even if future years were. And I would have rather had just those years than none at all.

Not the best photo any of us have ever taken, but it was the first one we took together.
Move out day, spring 2004. Sadler House, Helser Hall, Iowa State University. Best year ever.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Recalls, Rentals, and Repairs: A Tale of Two Cars

A couple months ago, my noble steed (a 2007 Chevy Cobalt that shall henceforth be referred to as "Cobie" or "the Cobie") was part of a massive recall issued by General Motors due to a fault in the ignition that could cause the car to shut off at any given time and thus potentially cause things like death and disfigurement. Aside from the fact that they were aware of this little glitch as far back as 2001 (NBD, right?), when they finally were forced to send out recall notices, they didn't even have parts available for the dealers. So it was pretty  much a situation of "your car is a potential death trap and it's so fragile that you shouldn't put anything on your key ring except the actual ignition key - not even the remote-entry keyfob - because the extra weight could trigger it, buuuuuuuut there's not much that can be done about it yet, so sit tight."

At the insistence of my worrisome mother, I finally called the local Chevrolet dealership since there was a rumor that parts were going to start becoming available on April 7. (This was, like, April 3rd.) The rumor was in fact a rumor and they had no idea when parts were going to be available, but they did confirm the other rumor that if you were concerned about the safety of your vehicle, you could get a loaner car until it could be fixed. Given that I had prior weirdness with my ignition and that softball was going to be starting soon and there was the potential for chauffeuring around my players, I decided to go for it. I mean, my own safety is one thing, but I'm not going to put someone else's kids in danger just because GM was being shady and cheap about their manufacturing process. (One day, my key randomly didn't turn all the way off in the ignition, and after a day or two of frantic Googling and facebook-polling, I learned that the workaround for this was a tiny little white button somewhere up in the steering column that I could push to release the key. Unfortunately, in this window, I learned that if you take the key out even when it isn't all the way "off", the car doesn't actually shut off either, so I ran my battery down. From then on, though, it became an automatic process. Put the car in park, turn the key, reach into the steering column, push the button, finish turning key, remove key from ignition. Yes, it was a pain in the ass... however, it became so second nature that I stopped thinking about it, except for when I'd take my car in to get an oil change or something, and had to inform them of the proper way to turn my car off. It was about a 50/50 chance of them listening/remembering.)

Anyway, I dropped off the Cobie and was escorted over to Enterprise to select a rental car to use for an indeterminate period of time. I went with the Chevy Cruze as it was the most similar to my car, and I figured the lower the learning curve, the better. (Somewhere I think I heard that the Cruze had their own set of safety issues, but I opted to not look into it that closely.) It was a 2014 model, thereby making it the newest car I have ever driven, and still smelled newish, and it had fancy gadgets and features on the dashboard that I will miss. It also had Florida plates, which kind of made me feel like I had a target on my back, because everyone is suspicious of out of state plates.

After about a day, I decided to take things to the next level, and I programmed in all the radio presets. The following weekend, I got to take it on a spin out of town, and could not figure out how to set the damn cruise control... and when I googled it, I found exactly one helpful answer and a lot of answers to the effect of "READ THE MANUAL." HI, THANKS, I TRIED, BUT THERE WAS NO MANUAL, EFF OFF. Anyway, the newness and my paranoia about driving a car that did not belong to me eventually wore off, and I rather enjoyed driving it around.

All good things must come to an end, however, and I had to give back the loaner car today. I was a little sad to see it go. It was fun driving something new and shiny with features I didn't know existed and ample trunk space to haul softball equipment. (I will not miss the weird cruise control.)

It was especially sad when I got into my car, which I haven't driven since I dropped it off 25 days ago, and it felt all foreign and weird and tiny. And disgusting. I'd forgotten how dirty it had gotten.

Since the dealership had my vehicle anyway, I had them look into that weird thing where it doesn't release my key unless I feel up my steering column. Turns out there was a short in the shifter that had been causing that (a "solenoid" which is a thing I have never heard of), and the entire shifter had to be replaced. Oh, and the battery decided to go kaput somewhere in there too. I had a discussion with the service manager to make sure the battery died of natural causes and not, you know, the techs being negligent of the fact that my key doesn't shut off all the way and then just letting it sit there with the battery dying for almost a month. I think he was a bit confused at first and therefore wasn't quite answering my question, so he tried to explain the situation from their end, but as soon as he said that they had made sure the power was completely off when they weren't working on it, that was exactly what I needed to know so I wasn't having to pay for a new battery when it was their fault the old one went bad. Once we finally got back on the same page, it kind of just sounded like it might have been its time - it may have been the original battery to the car, who knows. I haven't replaced it in the 3 years that I've had that car so it was probably kind of a senior citizen battery anyway, and I'm sure being unused for 25 days didn't help. As long as it was OFF-off and not just half-off, then I really can't fault the dealership for that. Whatever, dead batteries happen. It's just annoying when they happen alongside something else.

On the bright side, my ignition is no longer in danger of randomly stalling in the middle of operation (probably, assuming GM doesn't have more faults hidden somewhere) and my key (of which I now have a spare!) comes out properly when I shut my car off.

Twenty bucks says I'm still going to reach up for the little button for a while until I remember that it's fixed.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Holding Back & Owning Up

It's been a while since I've dedicated an entire post to raving about an entirely different post, but I command you to drop everything you are doing RIGHT NOW and go read this post by Nicole if you haven't already.

Stop Playing Small

BAM, right in the heart. It's about how we don't always own up to what our goals actually are because we are afraid of the feeling of failure and inadequacy that follows if we don't meet them. I love her philosophy about redefining failure - instead of falling short, it should mean that you didn't try. We're not inspired by people who always achieve all their goals, all the time - we're inspired by the people that are honest about it, who struggle, who may or may not achieve what they were after but dammit they gave it their best shot.

"You don't want to fail? Neither do I. But it's time to redefine 'failure.' Why does failure have to mean not reaching your goal? Why can't failure instead be marked by not giving your best?"

Whatever, go read it, RIGHT NOW, and tell me it isn't the kick in the face you needed today. It's not often that I experience such a profound perspective shift, but... man. All the love for this post. All of it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why We Can't Have Nice Things

There was a riot at my alma mater last night. Why? Absolutely no good reason whatsoever, unless you count bored, drunken college students being idiots as a good reason. (One of my friends joked that it was a delayed reaction to winning the Big 12 basketball championship last month. I'll admit it: that gave me a quick laugh.) There's nothing to riot about here. Compared to most of the world, we're practically living in a damn utopia. The most prevalent crime in this town is illegal parking.

It's not the first time this has happened.

Ten years ago, I was a freshman at Iowa State. (Yes, just typing that makes me feel old.) It was my first VEISHEA, my first experience with the wonderful and strange traditions at the university that had instantly felt like home, like the place I belonged. If you can be soulmates with a place, I was soulmates with Iowa State University. From the moment I stepped on campus, I knew that that was where I was supposed to be. I felt like crying when I graduated. I wasn't ready to say goodbye to the friends and life that I'd had there. 

But I digress.

For the uninitiated, VEISHEA is the largest student-run college event in the country. It's (supposed to be) a celebration of the history, traditions, and educational excellence at Iowa State University. The acronym (which is why it's supposed to appear in all caps, though it often doesn't) stands for the original colleges that made up the university: (V)et Med, (E)ngineering, (I)ndustrial (S)cience, (H)ome (E)conomics, and (A)griculture. This marks the 92nd year (91st if you don't count the Year Without a VEISHEA in 2005, but we'll get to that.) It's a time for students to showcase the best of the university. There's a parade on Saturday. The Life Sciences college (what would have originally been the Home Ec college) mass-produces tiny little cherry pies that you can buy for $1, an endeavor that's organized and executed by the hotel/restaurant management majors. It's quite impressive, the way they make so many pies so quickly. (I'll admit - the pies are one of my favorite traditions. From a purely objective standpoint, they're really nothing special... but dammit, they are magical. Magical and tiny and awesome.)

 No but seriously. The cherry pies, man.

There are student demonstrations (the chemistry club demo is hands-down the best, they perform a clever skit while showing off science experiments, and it's always, always packed), displays and exhibits on central campus, and food. Lots of food. There are concerts by big names and small names; there is a battle of the bands, there are theater performances and the spring football scrimmage. It's not just for current students; alumni return every year and bring their kids and share their pride for the university with their families. It's a big deal, and it sounds corny as hell, but I always loved it. I was in the parade twice with my residence hall government group, carrying a giant inflatable dragon balloon (we even made the ISU homepage, and there is a photo of us hanging in our local Applebee's, though of course it's one from the other side, so you can't see me); we didn't get cherry pies before they sold out my junior year and nobody heard the end of it. We got sunburned and were exhausted, but it was amazing. We didn't have to drink to enjoy it.

I don't know who to credit this image to, but it was the one from the ISU homepage.
I am the girl in the very center holding one of the strings.

Unfortunately, that's not the case for most. Over the past twenty years or so, VEISHEA has been rapidly declining from what it once was. It has somehow become sort of beacon for debauchery, and people show up from all over to party. (We're not really even a party school - we leave that to our in-state rival, the University of Iowa, who was ranked the #1 party school in the country in 2013.) Most of the incidents (including a fatal stabbing in the 90s) were instigated by out of towners that had nothing to do with Iowa State.

The 2004 riot was a series of unfortunate events. Student-police relations weren't great (are they ever?), and when the police broke up a huge house party, the partygoers were essentially herded into our Campustown area - the street with all of the bars. Disgruntled drunk people + more drunk people = not a great situation. Crowds gathered, vandalism broke out. Cars were flipped, windows were broken, lightpoles were uprooted. There's a pretty infamous picture of a kid pushing a flaming dumpster down the street. We were in the den area of our residence hall, hanging out and probably working on art projects because that's what you do when you're a first-year design student, and people were starting to trickle in and it was clear that something was Happening. Being young, stupid, and curious, we ran across the parking lot to the next dorm over to see what was going on - just in time to see a lightpole come crashing down. The police set off tear gas to disperse the crowd, we scampered back to our dorm and stayed there, wanting no part of this mess that was unfolding. (The residence hall we ran to was right along the main road and got the brunt of the gas; it was doubly unfortunate because that was the section of the building with no air-conditioning, and having been a really warm day, most of them had their windows open. People that were innocently sleeping or hanging out in their dorm room became collateral damage.)

 Remember when there were actual paper newspapers? 
And people saved them? Me too!
Found this while cleaning a couple months ago.
Should have known it was a bad sign.

This was before social media existed. Facebook had barely been invented, and wasn't widely available. Twitter and Instagram were made-up words that nobody knew yet. My roommate and I stayed up in our room waiting to see when it would make the news. It hit CNN around 3am that morning.

The university promptly suspended VEISHEA for the following year and put together a task force to examine what they could do to eliminate "disturbances" like this from happening again in the future. The event had been "dry" since the stabbing incident; mostly that meant that everyone was pushed off campus into house parties like the one that had triggered the chaos. More events were moved on campus, away from the booze-soaked scene of Campustown. Concerts were held in parking lots and underneath the Campanile on central campus; the food vendors were lined up along our lake instead of along Welch Avenue. For my part, we lobbied to permit of-age students living on-campus to be able to consume alcohol in their room - four people drinking and being silly in a room is a lot less dangerous than 500 people crammed into a house that will eventually spill out into the street. Our measure passed.

All the measures taken seem to have worked; when VEISHEA came back in 2006, everyone was on their best behavior. Partygoers from out of town still arrived, but things were calm. We spent the day on central campus and the night at a concert. My senior year was the same, probably my favorite VEISHEA aside from pre-riot 2004. It was bright and sunny, I walked in the parade, we got cherry pies, we went to the chemistry show, we got hella sunburned, we went to concerts in the evening. Saturday night we came back to our residence hall and ended up playing Cranium in our den, because we were too exhausted to do anything else.

But every time I could hear hints of a crowd, anything that sounded like a louder roar than usual, I panicked. I had flashbacks to the mob that was a little to close to our dorm for comfort. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I was always holding my breath, always listening for the sound of a riot. They had warned us: you screw up again, and it's gone forever. Nobody wanted to see that happen. Everything was kept in check.

This is probably one of my favorite pictures, both of VEISHEA and of ever.
My friend ran literally into the parade while we were stopped and we took this picture.

Fast forward ten years. I attended VEISHEA a few more times, more parades, more cherry pies. There was a rainy year and there was a snowy year. There were sunny years and years I didn't go. Things seemed to be fine. Which is why I was totally blindsided this morning when I logged on to facebook and saw an alarming trend in my feed.

Splashed all over social media (and national news headlines) were pictures and videos of an encore performance of 2004. There was one kid who had to be airlifted to a hospital down in Des Moines when a lightpost fell on him and hit him in the back of the head. Sources say that when the ambulance came, the crowd wouldn't even move. More windows smashed, more cars flipped, more businesses damaged, more things thrown at the police. On a Tuesday night, no less. It makes it a lot harder to blame out of towners this time, because most of those don't arrive until the weekend. That means it was ISU students. To quote the university president,"This time it was us."

I was stunned at first, and then I was sad, and then I was angry.

It was pointless and idiotic in 2004, and it's pointless and idiotic in 2014.

It's funny, in a not-funny way, how ISU can do such a 180 on the national spotlight scene. Our basketball team was setting records right and left this year; we went to the Sweet Sixteen in the NCAA tournament, losing to the eventual national champions. A video of our basketball coach doing a silly white-man dance in the locker room went viral. The entire "Cyclone Nation" was bursting with pride. 

And then this.

It's so sad that we continually erase any positivity that ISU gets in the press, and instead become known as a cesspool of entitlement, violence, and immature behavior. The resounding sentiment in my newsfeed today was embarrassment and disgust. Most of us were there for the last one. Some people I know were there for the one before that. 

The university held a press conference today, and the new university president is not fucking around. At a press conference this afternoon, he promptly cancelled the remainder of the VEISHEA activities for the week. Another task force has been appointed to examine the future of VEISHEA. At this point, I feel like it could go either way. I hope they find a solution, one that doesn't involve canceling it forever. I wouldn't blame them if they did, though.

The face of a man who does not fuck around.

There are murmurs about "what if they riot again, in protest"? Well, maybe. If they're stupid enough. You can bet your ass that the iron fist of law enforcement is going to have campus in its grip. They already have both the city police and campus police at full-strength during this week, and borrow officers from neighboring towns. They're probably going to bring in some of the Des Moines metro area police, and whoever else they can get. They're going to come down hard on anything that looks remotely like a disturbance, if my friends who have friends working for ISU are to be believed (and trust me, they have taken this seriously for years, so I believe them.) Some say it was a knee-jerk reaction, but honestly? I'm not sure what else they could have done. The writing was on the wall for them. They couldn't not cancel it. They couldn't send the message that this was okay. They had to draw the line, and draw it hard and fast. It sucks, but I absolutely think it was the right thing to do. I hope the kids that ruined it for everyone feel adequately terrible, and to learn that their actions have consequences, and that everyone thinks they are assholes.

I feel so bad for all of the students that put in so much time planning and organizing VEISHEA. I knew a lot of the people that worked on VEISHEA when I was at ISU and I know how hard they work. It's pretty much a life-consuming endeavor. They start planning for the next VEISHEA the very day the current VEISHEA ends.

I feel bad for all the alumni that were going to bring their kids to the parade. I feel bad for the groups that had prepared their displays and their performances. I feel bad for the clubs that are going to miss out on their fundraising. I feel bad for all the cherry pies that are not going to get eaten. I hate that the fuckups once again ruin it for everyone.

The worst part of all of it, is that I'm willing to bet money that most of those students have no idea they did anything wrong. They don't believe they can get in trouble for it, they don't believe they can be held accountable for it. They are part of the generation that grew up without consequences, and if there is any justice in this world, they will start learning about it now. Mommy and Daddy can only protect you to a point. The Real World is not going to be so kind.

It's terrible. It's gotten terrible. I have friends that teach and they have students that will flat-out say things like "no one tells me no" and that they get want they want, period. I guess it's become common to see students bringing their parents to a career fair. (I was reading the comments on a LinkedIn article, and one hiring manager said that he interviewed a recent graduate who brought her mother along. To the interview. AND HER MOM ANSWERED THE QUESTIONS. WHAT the ACTUAL fuck is happening?). 

I have to believe that they are the minority. There are so many thoughtful and bright people out there. I wish they were louder.  I hope there is a way to amplify the voices of the good kids over the weeks ahead. I hope there is a way to erase the mentality and actions of the type that participate in the destructive behavior, a way to make it known that this is not what Iowa State is. Iowa State is more than that, it is better than that. 

I hope they track down the people that incited this riot, who participated in it. It shouldn't be hard. They've all helpfully taken photos and videos and selfies of the scene. I hope they expel all of them. They don't deserve to be a part of Iowa State or its community. I hope they slap as many of them with criminal charges as they can. Even the ones not actively destroying property should get charged with something. Because they're just as guilty, almost as much at fault as if they'd done it themselves. If people weren't in the crowd, there wouldn't have been a crowd, and no crowd = no riot. The crowd is what egged on the instigators, so frankly, I'd say they are deserving of some sort of punishment. You find yourself in a riot crowd, you leave, or you're just as guilty. You are an enabler, an accomplice.

Can VEISHEA go back to what it was originally intended to be? I don't know. Most of the students are good kids. There is always a large pocket that "gets" it. Those students are probably devastated right now, and I don't blame them. There is that stigma around the event now, though. Simply by it being VEISHEA, the troublemakers are going to roll into town and stir things up. What was supposed to be a positive event has become a codeword for a modern-day bacchanalia, and I don't know how anyone can stop that.

I obviously have a lot of (circular) thoughts on feelings on this. I'm not even sure I've expressed them. I'm frustrated by all of it, obviously. It's been so long since I've written that I'm flailing around and not succeeding. Apparently, this is what it takes to get me blogging again.

I'm going to leave you with a couple links to better-written thoughtpieces than this. One from my friend who is an incredibly intelligent radio personality who happens to be as nutso about our alma mater as I am, and the other is from a former ISU football player who absolutely nails it so much that I wish I'd written it. It's much more to the point (and much shorter) than what I've rambled about here. Perhaps I should have just asked for permission to repost it, instead.

Despite everything, I know my university is better than this. I know that there are more good people than bad people. I'm angry and frustrated and disappointed, but there is another thing that I will always be. I will always be part of the Iowa State family, and I will always fiercely love and defend it. Even now.

(source unknown, borrowed from a friend's facebook feed)