Tuesday, July 19, 2016

75/100 and Done

Consider this my 75th and final post for the 100days challenge. The challenge allowed me to cut myself open and bleed all the words, feelings, emotions, secrets, and stories that I needed to let out in order to make sense of everything, and organize my thoughts. The last year has been like a brutal hike up a mountain pass where after never-ending switchbacks you wonder when things will turn around, and when you get to the top you realize the view was BEYOND worth it. And you also realize how unnecessarily heavy the pack you’re carrying is. Items are unpacked and burned in an effort to leave no trace and not have to carry them any longer.

It’s all downhill from here and all I can see is…everything.

I spent a week in Montana visiting a friend and four days off the grid in Glacier National Park. I spent a fair amount on time in Montana and Glacier as a kid, as my dad is from the Flathead Valley, but there is something special about being there as an adult. Not having a cell phone for four days was magical; I wish I could live without one. The effect of being in the church of the natural world and not having the noise of my normal life completely cleared out my head. I couldn’t use my phone (or internet) to numb out, pass the time, or give in to boredom. I had no choice but to show up as myself without distraction, ask for guidance from Mother Nature, and listen for the answers. I felt grounded and in my body for the first time in months (literally - before I left I was having to tap myself while driving to stay present and focused. It was creepy). My trip gave me the bandwidth to tie up a lot of loose ends in my head and my life, and helped manifest some very profound things for me and my life and what I want from it going forward.

This trip will serve as a waypoint for me: a before-and-after point when I reached the top and could look back and actually see how the work I’ve done this year has changed me.

Flathead Valley from Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana

Red Rock Falls, East Glacier National Park

Wynn Mountain, East Glacier National Park

Flathead Valley, looking north from Flathead Lake

Trail to Grinnell Glacier

Below Red Rock Falls, East Glacier National Park

Lake Josephine, East Glacier National Park

South of Swiftcurrent Lake, East Glacier National Park

"The mountains are calling, and I must go."
-John Muir

More photos from my trip on Instagram
All photos taken with iPhones and © Katie Swanberg, 2016

Monday, June 13, 2016

74/100 Consent

The events of the past week have allowed me to get in touch with an anger within myself that society has told me isn't OK or appropriate for a woman. Be polite, be sweet, never show them you're angry because you'll be called bossy, emotional, moody, or a bitch.

Call me a bitch. In the wise words of Adele, you can "suck my dick."

I'm still putting my thoughts together on the Orlando massacre, and in the mean time have made contributions to causes and candidates I believe in (and am grateful to have the means to be able to do so). I've voted in every election since I turned 18, even though I'm fairly discouraged by politics in general and try not to focus much energy toward it/them. However, as a woman living in the US, I no longer have the option to not take politics seriously or spend energy on it. The problem is being a woman on the internet who has an opinion draws is that it draws ire from the eye of Sauron and all the Orcs rush out of the darkness to harass and threaten you. Welcome to being a woman on the internet in 2016. I've managed to avoid the hate groups and their henchmen so far (notice I don't use my last name on social media?), and have carved out a nice little existence for myself online but only because I've never really taken a controversial stand on a topic. Given my childhood, I'm incredibly adept at cruising through the shadows and blending in, just outside of the gaze of these groups. But I've been lucky so far.

Writing is the way I process through something. I've written a post at least a dozen times in my head. But I'm not ready to open the gates for the Orcs just yet - I'm still sharpening my tools and watering my horses. Soon, we ride.

Today I want to talk about consent. The Stanford rapist case that made headlines this week left me nauseous. The anger feels like heartburn and from time to time I get the physical feeling that there is a heavy weight around my neck getting tighter and tighter. The rape victim's letter that she read in court to her rapist should be required reading for everyone. It's long. Read it anyway. (I won't even begin to touch the generations of abject privilege and lack of personal responsibility the rapist's family has shown. JFC).

I don't know about you, but the topic of consent was completely absent when I was coming of age. I went to an all-girl's catholic school where they showed us pictures of aborted fetuses and preached abstinence and the most forward thing they did was show us how to put a condom on a banana. Sex education is absolutely WOEFUL in the US.

I did not consent to the first time I had sex. I told that story here.

But this is a different story.

After my divorce I was seeing a guy who told me he wanted to take things slowly and not sleep together right away. A few weeks in, things were getting pretty hot and heavy one night when he declared that he wanted to fuck me. As much as that was all I wanted, I declined because I recognized that he was too drunk to consent. I told him he'd regret going against his stated wishes in the morning. He had a tendency to black out and seem totally coherent but not remember things the next day. The next day when I asked him if he remembered our conversation from the previous evening....he didn't. Thank goodness I made that decision. For the both of us. By the grace go I...

I won't sit here and claim some superior moral high ground though. I was pressuring him to go against his convictions at every turn. And the one time he relented is when he was black out drunk. Not sure what to think about that. It still feels yucky to say that and think about my behavior from that time in my life.

A few years ago I called him as part of my recovery process to make amends for pressuring him to do things he wasn't comfortable doing and putting him in an uncomfortable situation in general. Eating shit is never fun, but it is absolutely required to get right with yourself. Owning your part of a story is important. He brushed me off and said "it takes two to tango" but I was genuinely sorry. I learned a huge lesson from that experience and one of the things that came out of it is that it really put consent in perspective for me. It changed the way I interact with men during moments where consent is required and given. I'm more vocal in giving consent, and thankfully am able to recognize when it is being given. And when it isn't.

If you have kids, this is a crucial lesson to teach them. "Consensual sex" is a bit of a misnomer because by definition sex is consensual, anything other than that is rape. Point blank. Help them make the right choice. Boys and girls need to know this. We need to stop rape culture in its tracks and burn it to the ground, and the way to do that is start young and let kids know that both sexes deserve respect and have autonomy over their bodies. ESPECIALLY young girls.

Consent is not a back rub. Consent is not the absence of "No." Anything less than a clear-eyed, open-hearted, unequivocal YES is not a green light. If someone is pressuring you to do something you don't want to do, tell them to fuck off and show them the door. 

Monday, May 30, 2016


This is the change I've made lately, and it's made all the difference. It's funny, they say you meet someone when you stop looking. Only took me 3 years to surrender to being single, and now I enjoy it. Guess what that means? #singledaysarenumbered #butwealldiealone

One day, I realized he might not exist. My soulmate, I mean.
I realized there might not be someone walking around this earth just waiting to meet me. Someone with a private world just as intricate as mine that, one day, I would get to share and be a part of and know.
And I realized I was keeping a vacant spot in my heart for this person who might not exist. That I wasn’t allowing myself to be whole because how could I be whole with my other half missing?
It was an excuse, of course. A simple view of life that would exempt me from having to put in the effort of filling myself up with the love I was waiting for someone else to supply.
The reality is this: Life is a churning, chaotic thing with no guarantees, and in the throes of the tumbling you might run into people to hold on to for a while. Sometimes for a night, sometimes for life.
And holding on to someone is a worthy thing. A wonderful thing. Something to look forward to and appreciate and embrace with your whole heart.
But the love you get from holding on to someone will never be as reliable as the love you can give yourself. Right here. Right now.
So here’s my advice. Be open to love, but don’t be empty for it.
- John Paul Brammer