A girl and her cat take on the world with nothing more than a cup of tea and a good book and enough dreams to fill the universe.
This week, I asked my Upward Bound students what they considered their biggest challenge and how they’ve overcome it or are working to overcome it. In The Glass Castle, we’re talking about poverty and code-switching and different values. Jeannette had to overcome her own impoverished background and, in all the speeches and interviews I’ve heard her do, she always talks about how admitting her past was her past was the hardest parts for her, perhaps her biggest challenge. This has made me do a lot of thinking about what my own biggest challenge might be.
I have to be honest though, I’ve lived a fairly sheltered and easy life. I’ve had adventures and lived abroad and done cool things, but I haven’t had a challenge like Jeannette Walls or many of my students. My life has been blessed by having parents who loved me and cared and provided for me and a mom who makes lots and lots of money. It makes it a bit like my life’s challenges and hurdles have been cleared out of the way for me by my parents and my privilege. So, does that make my biggest challenge not having a ‘proper’ challenge?
What counts as a challenge? I’ve been pondering that for about a week now. Do I have to lose a limb? Someone I’m close to? Do I have to lose the privilege that comes with my parents and the money they make? Do I have to have a disability? What counts as a challenge? I’ve also worried about other people reading this and thinking, “Well, what sort of challenge is that? I’ve been through so much worse.” And they’re probably right.
In thinking about the challenges I’ve faced, a few came to mind, but they’re not a challenge that defines who I am or how I live my life necessarily. During my student teaching, I was faced with one of the worst suicide epidemics Pine Ridge has seen in a very long time. Between Christmas and May, approximately eleven students from the high school and surrounding middle schools and elementary schools committed suicide. One of my eighth graders was in this group of eleven. That was a challenge.
While living in France, I had an emotionally and mentally abusive host mom for my first three months. I cried myself to sleep for three months. My grandmother had given me a countdown calendar to my return and I had color coded my stickers for whether or not I got through the day without crying. I was insulted and belittled and made to feel like perhaps France was the worst decision I’d ever made every day, but I got out. I moved on. France is my second home and I thank my lucky stars that I got to go live there for a year and meet so many wonderful people that I consider family. Yet, the beginning was a challenge.
I’m terrible at budgeting. I do not handle the money that I work so hard for very well. I try and I am learning and getting better, but money is a source of terrible anxiety for me on a pretty consistent basis. The money induced panic attacks have subsided, but the worry is always there. It’s a challenge I’m working on all the time.
My dad and I struggle to see eye to eye a lot of the time. I believe it comes from a difference in how we view each other and how we are trying to redefine our relationship as two adults instead of adult and child, even though I’m sure there will always be an element of I am my dad’s daughter. We are both incredibly stubborn and can be unwilling to talk about the things that bother us, but we are trying. We are getting to a point where we can communicate a little easier and spending time with each other is not a point of anxiety or worry. It’s getting better, a lot better. It’s a challenge.
When I look at all of these challenges I have experienced, I don’t feel like one defines who I am. There are a few that I still struggle with or that I still think about, but I’m moving forward. They don’t feel like proper challenges to me, but they are. And no doubt the future holds even bigger challenges for me, but I’m more excited for it than I am dreading it.
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No One Here But a Writer Who Gets Up and Try
Brian Marggraf, Author of Dream Brother: A Novel, Independent publishing advocate, New York City dweller
Psychological, thriller, mystery, secrets, betrayal, adoption, romance, poetry, art
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New York City based photographer STEFAN FALKE visits artists who live and work on both sides of the 2000 miles long U.S.- Mexico border to document the vibrant culture of the region for his ongoing project. All photos and texts © Stefan Falke (No use without written permission by the author)