Tuesday, July 31, 2012

YOLO, bro.

Beyond the Admissions brochure-worthy grandeur of lush campus lawns and sporting events, college is really just one big reminder of how much you don’t know.

There are the classrooms you can’t find, a library full of books you’ll never read and hundreds of faces passing by belonging to strangers you’ll never meet. And in a cruel twist of fate, there are multiple-choice tests that remind you that even when the answer is right in front of you, it’s possible to still be clueless.

The fact of the matter is that people don’t really expect the 18-year-old you to know anything. For the majority of four years, you are treated as a toddler roaming the streets of the adult world and provided with a nannie affectionately known as a resident assistant and an ID card that helps people return you to your owner should you get lost.  

Much of the highly-touted orientation week on a college campus is spent re-explaining things that were second nature in elementary school.

“If you hear a fire alarm, exit the building.”

“Don’t go anywhere without a buddy.”

“If you misbehave, we WILL call your parents!”

To most professors and community residents, college students are human receptacles for alcohol and drugs who sometimes successfully regurgitate study guide material in between cheers for the home team and catcalls. And yet, when you’re unleashed upon adult society at the end of four (or five…or six…) years, you’re expected to have something to contribute. Something that goes beyond a piece of paper with your degree stamped on it and an incredible tolerance for hard liquor.

The college experience is advertised as four years of somewhat contained mistake-making that happens to end with a graduation ceremony. It’s almost universally accepted that college is a time for fun. A time when we’re allowed to be sheeple travelling in packs to the dining hall, the stadium, the bars. Best case scenario, you walk away with some killer stories for your future progeny and a few semi-respectable experiences to list on your resume.

But you have to wonder what college would be like if we, the young adults of the world, were expected to know things. If unabashedly adult information like the consequences of credit card debt and what it takes to raise a puppy, let alone a child, was common knowledge, instead of part of the disclaimer on your diploma.

College is an incredible phenomenon that 20-somethings across the country wish would never end. But it does end. And the question “what are you doing Friday night?” becomes “what are you doing for the rest of your life?”

It’d be nice if more of us had the answer.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A bro in a bra.

Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away my Facebook feed was full of prom pictures instead of graduation posts. And among those many glamor shots was one that often flashes through my mind even four years down the road.
It's me. And I'm leaning against the wall in my patterned prom dress with my chuck taylors and air cast (soccer game gone wrong) among the men of our prom party in a moment of conversation that the photographer caught from the other end of the hallway.
The comment below from my ever-sassy friend Britta reads, "I just wish I was a chill girl...like you Kelsey Dallas."
And there it is my friends, the mission of my life: to be a chill girl.
I think it can all be traced back to my big brother. It was all fun and games when we were small enough to have no social life beyond making mud pies together in the back yard. But grade school really upped the ante. I had to compete for his attention with homework assignments! And bike rides! And, most importantly, bros.
Yep, you read that right.
And so it began.
My need to throw a perfect spiral with a football. To have a general knowledge of pokemon cards. To briefly run a Yahtzee-based gambling ring. (I know, I know. What a rebel, right?!)
And it continued!
By the time high school rolled around I had it down to a science. I could sing every lyric to the songs John played in the car. Rocked my own imitation Raybans. And was known to every guy in school as "Johnny D's little sister."
After John's graduation, I had the opportunity to strike out on my own in the high school halls. My copilot status with my big brother was permanently cemented so I could move on to the next great man challenge.
And so began my first bromance.
Though traditionally reserved for man-on-man friendships, I like to place my best male friendships in this category as well.
Why? Well that's easy. It's because they much more often involve me bro-ing it up than they do a guy getting girly.
I stand in cigarette smoke. I sip on Bud Lights. I reference baseball, football, hockey, basketball scores (you name the season, I'll have a general knowledge of standings).
And most importantly, I disguise that little tinge of crazy common in most of the fairer sex.
No, I am not a traitor to my kind. I just acknowledge that the things most often in the way of guy-girl friendships is the girl's inability to let go of over-analysis.
And so for the last decade or so I've been deadset on becoming the kind of cool that allows me to be one of the bros.
Looking back on it all, I'll admit that my strategy has its flaws. For one, I'm pretty sure my woefully short list of meaningful romantic relationships is at least in part due to my habit of friend zoning myself long before introductions are even over.
Because while I may be a self-described "cool girl", it is in much more of a wear-sweatpants-and-eat-disgusting-amounts-of-potato-chips-in-a-guys-presence kind of way than it is an oh-my-god-that-girl-is-so-cool-and-SEXY-that-i-must-make-her-mine talent.
It's really about balance.
I don't know where I'd be without the men in my life. I have some of the best female friends a girl could ask for, but my guys bring out a side of me that needs to be expressed.
I love that I know how to apply liquid liner AND could do a decent write-up about a baseball game.
I love that I could provide you with a detailed description of why guys love yoga pants so much AND have a working knowledge of what to eat when you want to lose weight.
Most importantly, I love the feeling that comes when a guy values me for more than just my boobs and my butt.
So the next time you see me choking back a Whiskey Sour, just recognize that there's a method behind my madness. And several great guy friends behind my smile.

Love, a bro in a bra.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Friends Forever?

I have 580 Facebook friends.
77 followers orbiting around me in the Twitterverse.
And even 31 dedicated readers on this here blog.
But if asked to name my closest friends, I could count them all on my ten slightly-pudgy fingers.
And my absolute best friends in the world? Well that's only a select few.
One of whom is Rebecca Kasa, who has far too much blackmail material to ever be cut loose. And we can't forget Kevin Deluca, who I would frankly be afraid to leave to his own devices. ;-)
The point is that between Facebook, Twitter and the other numerous social media sites that clog up my free time, more than a few people have access to details of my life that I'd never share with them in a casual conversation.
It's become so easy in this day and age to be on autopilot accepting friend requests. To not think for a minute about the larger implications of opening up your photos, your statuses, your friend-to-friend contacts to the prying eyes of almost strangers.
And that includes those who were friends in the not-too-distant past.
There is an obvious taboo associated with de-friending. But why? Probably because there's a lot less drama in simply hiding someone from your newsfeed than completely evicting them from your Facebook world.
But I'm writing today in support of home foreclosure. 
No, I haven't recently engaged in a friend feed purge.
But tomorrow does mark the one-month anniversary of my college graduation, and darn it, I'd like to show I've learned something.
So here it is.
Friendships don't have to last forever.
Did you hear that?
That was the actual physical shudder I experienced typing out that sentence. 
Because it's a scary thought!
Who's going to keep me company in my old age if I start burning bridges at age 22? At 22 I can't even predict who drinks enough milk to be strong enough to support me in my old age!
But I think even at 22, or 27, or 19, or any age for that matter, I know in my heart what is healthiest for me as a human being. And as I'm growing up, I need to continue to understand that not every person that comes into my life is meant to be in it forever. 
My very good friend Monica shared a thought with me recently as I puzzled over this blog topic. 
It read:
"People come into your life for a reason, as season or a lifetime.
When you figure out which one it is, you will know what to do for each person."
I write this post not trying to make us all into back-stabbing, ungrateful little friend ditchers, but to, instead, help us all out on our search for self-identity. 
I recently learned that as heartbreaking as it is at the time, sometimes creating distance between yourself and an old friend is exactly what you need to do to move forward.
We need space to grow, to flex our personality muscles and stretch ourselves across old boundaries.
And so, tonight, I leave you with the thought that you can't let Mark Zuckerberg forever rule your life with his blasted friend count.
Do what you need to do for you. And trust yourself.
It will all be okay in the end. And if it's not okay, it's not the end.

Friday, May 11, 2012

From growing up to grown-up.

Growing up, a day home sick from school meant a day lying on the couch next to my dad’s home office, listening in on his numerous conference calls, taking comfort in the ringing phone and faraway voices. Now many years older and generally wiser, it’s amazing how much my concept of adulthood still relies on the idea that to sit at a desk and talk on the phone is to be an adult. And so, over the past year, as tomorrow’s graduation ceremony crept ever-closer, I found myself growing more and more anxious about the phone call of my future that failed to come.
You see, no matter how many stories I heard about the wonderful adventures Iowa students went on to have after their own Commencement ceremony, I could never shake the sense that the only adventure I was supposed to have was to find the cubicle that contained the answers to the rest of my life. To answer that telephone call from the future that would change “growing up” to “grown-up” as I became a fully formed adult.
And yet, as I agonized over the continuous dial tone of confusion that haunted me throughout my post-graduation planning, I realized that if adulthood really were to call, my “hello” would more likely be answered by a superficially soothing computer voice listing menu options. Press 1 for grad school, 2 to join the corporate ladder, 3 to backpack through Europe, 4 to beg my parents for a spot on the couch. Graduation, at its very core, seems to be a question, not a statement, as we all decide for ourselves where the next few years will take us.
Faced with an endless amount of questions and not a single answer, my anxieties surrounding the end of my senior year did eventually begin to diminish. It seems even uncertainty can become calmingly monotonous if taken in large enough doses. And as my self-effacing jokes about my futureless self became more and more common, something incredible happened. I finally realized that no one- not even my friends who already had jobs awaiting them at amazing companies or my dad with his phone that continues to ring- has it all figured out. And that “figuring it all out” isn’t something that can be checked off a to-do list or completed on a final degree audit.
I finally began to understand that becoming an adult is something that happens far away from a desk. That, if done right, growing up is a process that should never end.
In reality, there may actually be some truth to my smaller self’s version of adulthood. This next chapter of our lives probably will be filled with numerous telephone calls. But my wish for all of us is that they be more often to friends and family than to business associates- phone calls filled with the details of recent adventures, of job promotions, of upcoming weddings and visits with college friends. Graduation, for many of us, may mark the end of essays, professors and all-nighters, but it certainly does not mark the end of growing up.
And what a relief it is to know that growing older and growing wiser does not stop today. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dallas does...racism and other gut-wrenching topics.

The topic of my senior seminar class this afternoon was supposed to be environmental racism, or the act of locating less-than-desirable factories and power plants on lands owned by or adjacent to peoples who have little voice in the political system. As I would imagine it does to most of you, this topic evokes in me a general concern with corporate corruption followed, quite frankly, with a few yawns. These yawns are obviously a point of contention when I take time to imagine what type of person I am in the scheme of solving the multitude of problems that face our modern world. These yawns are a viable concern as I begin a journey next fall toward a career that will allow me to speak out against a number of concerns that have haunted me since beginning to take Religious Studies classes in the spring of last year.
But, as is the case in many of Professor Diana Cates' classes, the conversation in this afternoon's seminar was far from yawn-worthy. Much removed from the glazed-over look I expected my eyes to have after the first hour of discussion passed, I found myself viewing the room with eyes pinched by discomfort, straining against an unwelcome realization that my yawns are just as dangerous as the corrupt corporate decision-makers depositing waste where it doesn't belong.
Today's blog post is about the kind of topics that leave us feeling beat-up by harsh truths and stunning social problems. It's about the collective amnesia that I continuously allow myself to fall victim to in order to avoid that extra trip to the recycling center or save the time it takes to call in a complaint to your senator.
I know I'm not alone when I say that over the past few weeks my Facebook feed has been clogged with college students trying to make a difference in the world by harnessing the power of social media. Whether it's a YouTube video announcing KONY 2012 or a Facebook event used to organize the Trayvon Martin rally, people understand that to get to the youth of our nation, you need to get on their friend feed.
I, like many millions of other American youths, watched the videos and responded to the event invitations, but thought little about what actual commitment I could make to see a change in the ever-depressing cycle of wrongs that exists in our world. More often than not, I see a social ill, think very seriously about what I can do to help, and then get distracted by who has broken up whom and the text message light blinking on my cell phone.
It isn't until I sit through a class like I had today with Professor Cates that I'm forced to consciously decide whether I'm going to be a person who continues to avert my gaze from the continuous stream of moral wrongs that are presented to us as mere negative externalities on the pursuit of progress. And the fact is, NO, I don't want to continue down this path of apathy, but I'm also very nervous about opening myself up to a continual reoccurrence of this punched-in-the-gut feeling that I get whenever I think about the world's inequalities.
Because, in the face of Trayvon Martin's untimely death, I have to confront the idea that as a white female, there are very few times in which I would be considered "suspicious" walking around with a hoodie on. And that as a middle-class American college student, it is nearly impossible for me to understand what it is like to be ripped from your bed in the middle of the night and forced into a rebel army. The fact of the matter is that when I take a step toward righting social wrongs, I must continuously confront the idea that even if I took zero steps toward improving my livelihood, I'd still live a life more privileged than millions of people around the world, simply because of the community and social system that I was born into.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that on this 27th day of March in the year 2012, I want to commit myself to being a person who genuinely cares about the way my actions impact the lives of the people around me. I want to be more like my friends who take the time to attend rallies in the Ped Mall for causes they believe in and stay up-to-date on world news even though the latest episode of Jersey Shore is on. I want to be more like my professors who have shown me over the past four years that there is true value in having tough conversations, whether you have the tools to make a real change or not.
One of my favorite young adult books, The Secret Life of Bees, features a character who feels so emotionally connected to the people of the world that she becomes hysterical when she hears of any tragedy, no matter how distant from her own sphere of loved ones. She writes down her prayers for the affected people and sticks the little slips of paper into her own personal wailing wall, constantly conscious and pained by global wrongdoings.
I've always seen myself in this character. That is not to say I'm noble enough to spend hours each day wailing for the heartaches of others. I see myself in her own personal heartbreak over issues that are very much out of her control.
Part of the commitment I'm making today is to grow-up and grow out of my fear of the big-bad monster of the global media sphere and the horrifying news it's always dumping on my doorstep. Because, frankly, if I can't even take the time to check out daily headlines, I don't deserve to call myself a student concerned with the course our world is taking.
Now obviously this post reeks of the idealism that plagues so much of my life, but I hope that you were able to find a grain of cold, hard truth in it that will help you navigate this difficult age in which we find ourselves. There's nothing to be gained from burying our head under the distracting rocks that so conveniently fill our American landscape and so much to be valued in a decision to become a more well-informed participant in the global community.

Peace, love and politics,

"The time is always right to do what is right." -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Dallas does...can it, cupid.

As I sit surrounded by the sweet sounds of Hootie and his Blowfish brethren, maxed out on the two Java House drinks I have had in as many hours, I can't help but smile about the impact a few weeks of a new outlook can have on the soul.
Just over a month ago I promised to rid myself of the expectations that have for so long ruled my life. I wanted to dive into my last semester at the University of Iowa with the understanding that every day is a day I'll never get to live again, so I shouldn't waste my time playing mental guessing games. And while these one and a half months haven't been without their share of downs to accompany the ups, I have to say that I'm healthier and happier than I was on January 1.
And before I type another word, let me acknowledge that, yes, this is not only a blogged life update; it's also a written acknowledgement of today's particularly Valentinistic qualities. Motivation to write tonight comes not only from a sense that I have something I'd like to say, but also from the knowledge that this time last year I had it all wrong.
If you look at my blog's history, you'll see that on February 14, 2011, I created a lover's manifesto, detailing exactly how'd I'd lead my romantic life over the next year. And though I haven't put together a "Year in Review" for my heart, I can tell you that the end goal of that list certainly was not achieved.
You see, no matter how self-assured these blogs generally appear to be, I'll admit that 90% of the time I'm buying directly into the game plan that if I just play my cards right, I'll reach that ecstatic point of singlehood where a fantastically gorgeous man can't help but ask to be on the guest list for this Kelsey party. Because isn't that how it always goes? You want to be just happy enough to earn a partner in crime.
But I'm DONE with that game, amigos. I'm so sick of angst-ridden if-I-just-keep-smiling-and-dressing-fashionably-then-my-life-has-to-start-following-the-romantic-comedy-plot-of-my-choice mentality that has been ruling my life for the past year.
This Valentine's Day, screw manifestos. I'm declaring lover's anarchy.
Let's face it: since when did anything work out the way we wanted it to?
If you're me? Never. Never in almost 22 years have I provided my heart with a win-win situation. It's comical really. Me, a love doctor? Someone file a malpractice suit.
I am so terrible at relationships that this Valentine's Day my heart couldn't even bring itself to leave the black hole it's crawled into.
And the real kicker is that every single time I'm heartbroken, I have the audacity to explain all the pain away with a reassuring "But think of all the lessons you've learned!"
People, you've got to stop encouraging me. Let's all agree that I know nothing.
But, you know what, when the right guy comes along, I'm pretty sure there won't be a quiz portion of the meet-and-greet. So why am I wasting all this time trying to figure it all out?
I guess it's because we all want to believe that there's something we can do on our own to speed up our happy ending's arrival.
But this year, I'm letting go of that unending urge for that perfect so-romantic-it-makes-your-heart-hurt portion of my life to begin.
Because, gosh dangit, my life is pretty awesome as it is.
In six months, I'll be leaving Iowa City and the Midwest for all the adventures of the East coast. And I couldn't be more excited. I couldn't be more proud of the fact that somewhere in the midst of this never-ending train wreck of a romantic life, I became the type of student that earns a place in the Ivy League.
And if I wasn't so busy despairing over my pathetic singleness, maybe I'd have time to be thankful for all of the blessings my life as solitary Kelsey has brought to me.
All I'm asking is for you, dear reader, to attempt along with me, to let go of that feeling that something is missing, and realize, that maybe, for right now, this is all you need.
A Netflix account.
A stack of books.
And (if you're lucky) a really cute puppy.
This Valentine's Day, I cancelled my annual pity party in favor of a Shut-Up and Smile Java House date.
And it may just be the best February 14 I've ever had.

Peace, love and peppermint tea,

"The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else's highlight reel."

Monday, January 30, 2012

Dallas does...reality versus expectation.

10 days ago an email delivered a message that changed my entire life. Though a 16-year veteran of an academic system that was built for dedicated students just like me, even a 4.0 gpa and shining recommendations felt like they'd fall short of the demands of the Ivy League.
But there it was. The email from the admissions committee of Yale University detailing how, in their eyes, I was special. Special enough to be notified early and offered a position for the Fall of 2012.
And though, as mentioned, 10 days have passed, I still sit in a perpetual state of confusion, as my expectations try desperately to play nice with the reality that arrived in my Hawkmail account.
And with this confusion has come a kind of disgust with the way I often mistrust unexpected blessings. Frustration with the idea that it feels impossible to just believe that this is the way things were meant to happen, no matter how surreal it continues to feel.
I know I'm not the only one who walks around with a general understanding of the way their life will play out. Though disappointments may come in the form of rejection by the junior high crush you were sure was your soulmate or heartache that the only men courting you during your senior year sit on admissions committees at graduate schools, most people, in knowing themselves, know where their life path will most likely lead, at least for the next few years.
I, for one, saw myself spending the next few years walking up and down city streets in confidence-inspiring heels as I make my bosses love me with my witty remarks and flawless press releases.
I have always been a people-pleaser. Meant to get a salaried job and put a downpayment on a house by age 30. Other people are the free spirits, born to roam and positive that, at least their twenties, will be spent without a forwarding address.
But then there was my summer in Colorado, and the way that just a taste of a brand-new place seeped into my understanding of myself. My expected life plan tried to make room for this mountain love, changing that imaging of high heels on Chicago pavement to fall boots in a Boulder coffee shop writing a first draft of an article.
But then came this email. And the realization that this is the kind of joyful surprise that even my spotless report cards from grades 1 through 16 didn't see coming. Because who I am I to say what two years in New Haven, Connecticut could do for my future? Suddenly the timeline of my twenties has gone blank beyond age 23, as I am forced to consider all of the opportunities that I can't even begin to imagine that this degree can bring me.
Is this the last summer I'll spend near my family? Will magazine articles win my love away from my Facebook news feed once and for all? Will my favorite sunsets still sink down behind Colorado mountains?
At a moment in life where I should wear nothing but a smile on my face, I often find it, instead, marred by a scrunched forehead and tight frown, as I try to rearrange and replace the expectations that led me to this confusion in the first place.
And somewhere in this midst of all this self-absorption, I stumbled upon a life lesson that has changed the way I understand the people I come across in my daily life.
You see, whether freshly accepted to graduate school or not, we all live lives filled with the kinds of decisions that slowly but surely chip away at the expectations we hold most dear, amounting to a relocation in reality that will always be able to catch us off-guard.
No matter how frustrating the decisions that define our friends' lives may be to us, we must remember that they are fighting their own battle with the monster of expectation. They are fighting to follow the path that they have laid out for themselves, before reality comes to reassert itself and leave them dazed and confused.
Sure, from your standpoint you may find it easy to believe that I will be at Yale next semester or impossible not to hate that your roommate sees nothing wrong in going after his best friend's girl, but you must always remember that it is only the individual's perception that comes to matter.
Give it time. Soon, I will be signing my first grad school tuition check and it will hit me how very real my acceptance was. Or that roommate will finally grasp just how wrong it is to risk friendship for a crush.
But we all need a while to understand the reality that has arrived on our doorstep.
So let's all take a deep breath. And look at the plan we have for our lives. And realize that there isn't a small enough number in the world to signify the chance that your expected path will actually match reality. But it gets awful hard to admit just how wrong we are.
Take it easy on each other.
Obviously the realty of my Yale acceptance is an easy pill to swallow. But that roommate convinced he's found love with his friend's gal? Not as easy to grasp that pursuing her is not acceptable under some sort of fairytale love exception to the bro code. Because the expectation of love is that hardest to let go of.
Again, take it easy on each other.
It will all make sense in the end.

Peace, love and a peaceful night's sleep,

"Day by day, nothing seems to change, but pretty soon everything's different."