Saturday, May 12, 2012


I'd like to start this post with one of the most embarrassing moments of my entire life.

 This may be a hard thing to believe but, once upon a time, I was a very nerdy fifth grader. A very nerdy fifth grader who was incredibly self-conscious about her eyebrows. And so, one day, very confused about the finer details of body hair removal, I decided to take matters into my own (not incredibly coordinated) hands. Armed with a disposable, pink Daisy razor, I did what is probably (to those of you with more common sense) the unthinkable. I took that shit to my face. For some reason, I was convinced that by running it over one eyebrow, I would just take off a few of the excess hairs. Long story short, I looked in the mirror to find that was not the case. I had shaved off the majority of my left eyebrow. I stayed in the bathroom for about three hours, until finally my mom came in. After finding out what happened and attempting not to completely lose it laughing at how ridiculous I looked, she helped me. We ended up shaving off both eyebrows, so that I would look... a little less crazy? For a full four months of my fifth grade education, I showed up to elementary school with two cartoonish, penciled in chola eyebrows, courtesy of Mom. You can even check out my school picture for proof, or just ask my sister. This is one of her favorite things to tell my friends when she first meets them.

As amusing and mortifying as this anecdote is, I'm not (really) sharing it for laughs. I am sharing it to say a little something about my mother. I bet this is a problem no other mother I know had to deal with, and she took it all in stride. (After about twenty minutes spent doubled over chuckling... I did look really goofy.) That's the kind of woman my mother is. I am someone who has spent her entire life getting herself into weird situations and ridiculous problems. And my wonderful, loving mother has spent that same amount of time helping me out of them.

This is a thank you, Mom. For the rides to dance classes and voice lessons, lacrosse practice and birthday parties, auditions and after school rehearsals, and letting me sing whatever I wanted at full volume the whole way there. (Probably a lot longer that you should have had to; I'm still working on that one!)  For all the times that you laughed through Breanne and I trying to beat each other with massive pork loins in Sam's Club, calling each other weird things and repeating that really vulgar Steve Austin gesture way too many times in the summer of 1998. Thank you for every french braid and packed lunch, every over the top musical I begged you to take me to, every single time that you told me my underwear was hanging out, every lame teen movie you sat through with us, every time that we kept you up til the wee hours of the morning shouting nonsense at each other. Thank you for tortoise sitting and exam food deliveries and teaching me to like vegetables, for the million and one trips to the library, for letting me make ridiculous messes in the kitchen every time I was learning to cook. Thanks for the life advice and the editing of every essay I ever wrote, just in case.

Thank you for helping me to appreciate the joy of laughing out loud and what really good fried chicken tastes like. Thanks for teaching me to dream big and letting me do so, even when I got a little too crazy. Thank you for supporting every adventure, every pipe dream, every monologue and science experiment. I thank you, more than I could ever express in these simple little words, for taking care of me for the past twenty years, helping me grow into the loud, weird person I have become, and loving me for it anyways. I could not have asked for anyone better. Happy Mother's Day :)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Why I Am Not a Christian (Or Anything Else For that Matter)

I have spent the past twenty years hiding. That sounds awfully dramatic, but in many ways, it's true. I grew up in small(ish)-town South Carolina, and I've felt like my beliefs were just things I wasn't allowed to say out loud since I realized them. It's an odd cycle, to be sure; all of my religious friends are allowed to flaunt their devoutness, and we respect them for it. We don't claim offense or demand they remove the verses from their Facebook "About Me" section. It's normal and completely expected, and most of us could care less. They can go to Bible study or celebrate their cousin's Bat Mitzvah or fast or don a hijab, and that is all well and good, this wearing their belief in their own god as a badge they will proudly display to the world.

I, however, have no badge, and if I did, I don't think I could flash it. I am an atheist. It's probably, in this modern world, one of the words with the heaviest negative connotation, aside from feminist (which I am) and liberal (which I am as well. Maybe I just delight in having an unpopular opinion?) It's not one I use often, if ever, outside the confines of my keyboard. I'm not sure I've ever actually used that word to describe myself before in a conversational setting. For many people, it's scary and harsh; it conjures immediate images of someone grungy and rude and hateful. I am proud to say that this description doesn't fit me; I am very clean, my mother raised me with manners, and I think sometimes I am a little too apt to love people. So why can't I tell people what I believe?

 I've always been afraid it would stir up trouble. In fact, I'd be willing to bet a lot of people think that way. Today, I went through the profile of all 304 of my Facebook friends. 198 of them self-identify with some religion. (Of those 198, 169 of them are Christian. I am from South Carolina though, so this demographic makes sense.) Of the other 106, I know that a vast majority of them are atheists.  So why doesn't their Facebook say so?  (Only three of them are willing to label themselves as atheist on a social media network.) Are they afraid of persecution from friends, relatives, and future employers just like I am? Are they ashamed of their beliefs? I always wonder if they grew up like I did, if anyone besides their friends knows who they are and what they think.

None of my friends from home do. I kept that card close to my chest, uncomfortable sharing my lack of belief in a sea of devout, church-going Christians with fish bumper stickers and matching Vera Bradley bags. I wanted to be the same as everyone else, to be accepted, and some small part of me, even then, knew that what I believed would burn some important bridges. And now, I don't mind if it does.

 I am through with hiding. I want every person in my life to know who I am and what I believe. My name is Casey Ellen Clough, and I'm an atheist. I don't want or need a god controlling my life; I have gotten pretty good at taking care of myself. I have given and received unconditional love that didn't require me to go days without eating, wear special hats, or stop eating seafood. I am a body. A beautiful, amazing, powerful human body with no special, magical force like a soul to keep me living. I exist based on the blood in my veins, the oxygen in my lungs, the synapses firing in my brain, and when they stop, I stop too. At the end, I want to look back on my life and be pleased with everything I did, so much so that I do not need the belief in something further to keep me going. Nothing more, no special place in the sky where the afterlife will be wonderful, no horrible place below where I can burn for an eternity if I am bad. I am very confused by the concept of a merciful, loving being that condemns love outside of its own narrow boundaries; I don't think I'll ever believe that any kind of love between two consenting individuals is wrong. Without a god or a religion, I am moral; I might even venture to say good. I give a substantial portion of any money that I make to charity, I take care of my friends and spend an extra hour at my grandmother's house uploading pictures to her Facebook profile, I talk to my mother at least once a week, I delight more than anything in making other people laugh. I don't do drugs or commit crimes or hurt others in any way. I believe in love and helping others. Above all things, I believe in the constant collection of knowledge; if I could learn every day for the rest of my life, I would never cease to be happy.  I do not hate people who believe differently from me; in fact, I try not to hate anyone. (It's something I'm still working on, to be honest, but who isn't?)

After I finish pouring my soul onto this silly Internet forum where my ideas go to die, I will probably share it on my Facebook. I will lose friends, I am willing to bet, and I am fine with that. If you cannot love me knowing that this is what I believe, maybe you just cannot love me. I would love to listen to your side of the story, but only if you're willing to listen to mine.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Bring it on down to frowny town.

I think I have been crying for probably the past twenty five minutes over something just completely out of nowhere. Do you ever have those moments where an event just makes your heart absolutely sink, because it is so lovely? But regardless of how lovely it was, it reminded me of how unhappy I am to exist in this world at times.

Today, a homeless man brought a suffering puppy into Pets Inc. He did not ask to be rewarded for his actions. He probably walked several miles, definitely at least one on the highway, just to save this other living thing. At first I wept because I am definitely one of those people who forgets how good humans can be. What senseless, selfless beautiful things we can do when our hearts are open and loving.  And yet, as he lives on the streets everyday, everyone else that passes him doesn't do the same for him. They don't offer him aid or do anything to alleviate his suffering. Realistically, how many of you would pass a homeless person begging for change on a street corner? I bet it's a lot. Now ask yourself this. How many of you would pass a puppy whining in a box on the side of the road? You said absolutely not, right? WHY? Why do you value that dog's life more than that human's, who could very well be just as sick, hungry, cold, wet, and miserable as the lab mix on the side of the highway?

And in what world is it that such a good, kind person must suffer? Must go sick and hungry every day of the rest of their life, sleep on cold concrete and keep their eyes open for where their next meal may come from? And in this same world, a hateful person can thrive. A person can abuse an animal, nigh on torture it, have it covered on the nightly news for years, and still be so successful. They can be millionaires and the most popular political figure in this country, even. In fact... oh wait! I came up with an example. Remember a few years ago when it came out that Mitt Romney strapped the crate of his Irish setter (with the dog uncomfortably crammed inside) to the roof of his family vehicle for an 12 hour trip to Canada?

I'm sorry to rage politically, but you notice where these links are coming from, right? It's not even a political partisanship issue. Even the right hates him, because it's a horrible thing to do to anyone or anything.

I guess what I'm getting at is that I just don't understand how we can exist in a world where goodness goes unrewarded and evil prospers endlessly.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Grit your teeth and trust your gut.

Yesterday, I felt unsure about my choices. Was I giving up on my dreams, taking the easy route, going for something that was secure financially but might leave me wanting something more for the rest of my life? Today, I found the answer within myself.

Somehow, through the course of my internet browsing, I came across a website called "Fed Up With Lunch." An elementary school teacher has chronicled a year of photographs, consuming the same high-calorie, high-carb, low-in-nutrient lunches as her students. She intended this project as a promotion of awareness, and I was absolutely floored by what I saw. As a kid, I had a wonderful mother who was pretty health conscious- I never once consumed a school lunch. I had never seen those weird frozen fruit cups or square bricks of oily "pizza"; in fact, I had to ask my roommate what the former was. (Yes, the orange mush was that unidentifiable.) Seeing that these are the meals our kids are provided- at best! this is a decently funded school where meals are not government subsidized. That's a whole new horror story.- is a nightmare. It sends shivers up my spine and resolve into my heart.

I know I'm taking a round-about route changing my major to hospitality, but I have a plan. Through this program, I am gaining an understanding of the preparation of food and the running of a commercial kitchen. Next year, I will be taking culinary classes alongside my full university course load. After graduation, it's immediately on to graduate school, during which time I will be pursuing a degree in nutrition and getting my certification as a registered dietitian. In six years, with all of this information and reputability under my belt, I can begin my fight to change this. I've never really felt that I had a calling, just something I really wanted to do---but it turns out, I think this is it. The thing that I'm meant to do. To educate children and families, whether it be in their homes or in schools, how to provide themselves with good quality food at affordable prices, to make good choices outside of the home, consume in moderation, know what their body needs and what's just extra. I want to give people the skills to improve the most basic, important function of their lives- eating. None of us realize how terrible we feel eating the way that it is easy to eat, but if you take yourself off of convenience food, you start to realize- less stomach discomfort, more energy, easier and deeper sleep, regular periods, more mental clarity.... Hey! I'm really doing myself a favor cutting out the junk!

In short, I feel good today, and not just because of what I ate for dinner. I feel like I know who I am and what I want from my life, and I'm ready to make the choices to get my ultimate goal accomplished. I just want to save the world, or at least get them eating fewer Cheetos.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Second Grade Sexism

So today, after a fabulous evening of gingerbread cookie baking and Pokemon movie watching with one of my best friends, I came to a little realization. We were discussing the "science" behind Pokemon and how that topic never really seems to crop up for the characters when it hit me... why not? Where else does science come into play in children's entertainment?

For boys, comic books are filled to the brim with pseudo-science; it may be absolute bullshit, but attempts at reasonable explanations are taken, although they often involve crazy radioactive asteroids and giant mutant spiders. But the point is, they get them. Animators and writers decide that these forms of entertainment, vehicles geared solely towards prepubescent boys, are worthy of having a back-story that is based at least a little bit in reason, that allow the reader to accept something through logic and explanation. Nothing just IS, everything has a rhyme and reason, even if said rhyme and reason is dictated by pink intergalactic space police with giant heads.

But what about girls? Do we not deserve that same sort of explanation? Apparently not. Think back to every Disney movie you've ever seen. Specifically the Disney princess type film you were probably in love with as a kid. (I realize that this same pseudo-science can be found in movies like Treasure Island and Atlantis, but those are gender-neutral, leaning towards the male audience type films.) Can you think of a single instance in which an explanation of an event in a female geared Disney movie does not involve magic, the absolute anti-thesis of reason? Me neither. Because they don't exist. Outside of the gender neutral films like Nemo, Wall-E, and other newer additions to the Disney canon, magic is present in every single film. Even in Mulan, the most feminist of Disney tales I grew up on, she's watched over by a magic dragon and a lucky cricket. Sure, she does most of the stuff herself, but they're still there. For the most part, from Cinderella's fairy godmother to Pocahontas's crazy talking tree, things just are. If the question comes up, it's answered by a wave of some random chick's magic wand, and things are back to the happy-go-lucky, ask-no-questions, just-keep-swirling-your-skirt-around-and-cleaning-and-singing-like-an-adolescent-chickadee sort of thing that existed in the beginning. 

Obviously this isn't some crazy life changing revelation, but it was something that really struck me because I'd never noticed it before. As someone who grew up an odd mix of girly girl and quasi-boyish (I adored Snow White and Hal Jordan just the same, but for different reasons. She had a glorious singing voice and he had a ring that could create anything he imagined... Notice the imbalance?) It's never something I really had to deal with, but it really got me thinking... what kind of lesson is this continuing to teach our children? That it's okay for girls to just sit back and let things happen to them because Prince Charming or a fairy is going to come along and save them without worrying whether or not they know a thing for themselves? Clearly that's not the intention, but still... How young is too young to indoctrinate children to the ideas of these antiquated gender roles? And can they ever truly stop existing if we keep implanting them so early? 

An Exercise in Procrastination

Most days, I have all the time in the world to fill, and I can't think of a single thing. I waste hours on the internet, watch too much television, take walks to get things I don't want or need, and none of it matters. Nothing is produced, nothing used, nothing changes. But on days like this, I can find a whole world of things that are more pressing than what I really need.

I should be studying for a final exam that's forty percent of my grade. I barely have a B in this class. I've never gotten a B in my life, and I don't think I can pass this test. I have never known what this feels like, and let me just say, it's terrible. But the funny thing is, I don't give a shit. I don't feel a thing. Not even a little bit. No regret, no remorse, no fear. Just this hungry, gnawing thing that worms it's way through my intestines, telling me to just bide this time, to not waste it studying something I won't ever be able to understand. A month ago, a year ago, maybe even a day ago, I wouldn't have stopped to write, to eat, to sleep, to talk to my mother... Nothing would have mattered but the work, the getting the grade. Being the best at something, not failing. (In my mind, a B is failing. I know that sounds stupid, but I fail myself. I know I can do better, and yet, here I am. Underachieving. I never underachieve.) In the past, not succeeding in this would have been my absolute undoing. But somehow, without my noticing, the pieces in me shifted. What used to be important just doesn't seem to matter anymore.

I'm at a point in my life where I can't tell if I'm growing up or giving up. I've never been the kind of person to give up on something I wanted. I will throw myself in front of a train if that train is headed to the station where I need to be. (Bear with me. I am awful with metaphors.) I have had this vision of myself since I was about seven, the first time I stayed up in secret and watched Saturday Night Live, that I would be a writer. A female comedy writer, breaking barriers and giving people the single greatest thing you can share with someone else: laughter. Even going to this college, without a developed program for it, I chose the closest major to screenwriting, to achieving and living out this dream that I've had for so long. This goal is so intertwined with my identity that I can't say where I end and it begins, and last week, I gave it up. I quit my major, changed to something that I'm too ashamed to share because I know everyone considers it softer and easier.

Maybe I'm living out another dream of mine, or maybe I'm just scared. I've told myself a million different ways I'm not good enough to do what I wanted to do. I can't write that well, I'm not that funny, I don't have the stomach to take when people say my work is bad. It's all for the best, and besides, at least this way, I know I can support myself. A wannabe writer is the same as a part-time bartender in this economy. I can't tell if it's the right decision. I haven't felt my feet touch the ground since I did it. I feel as if I cut away a half of myself, and the piece that's missing won't grow back. How will I ever know that what I am doing is the right thing? Will some magic ghost come to me at the end of my life, a la the Ghost of Christmas Past, and make me regret, teach me that my world would have been something better if I had just had the strength to believe I could do it? It's not a dream that fades easily. I've been talking myself up to quitting, to throwing it, like so many others, into that deep old well of could-have-beens in the dusky forest of my thoughts. I never thought I would actually follow through with it, but here I am. And I don't feel regret. I just feel lost. Everything seems dark. Not black, but gray, just enough that I can't see through it, and I'm stumbling, tripping over my own feet and thoughts and fears and piles of notebooks of things that I should be learning.

I know this little period of ennui will end soon, that I'll wind up chugging Red Bull and staying up into the night, trying to cram diagrams of foreign proteins into my head last minute. I trust myself to stay responsible, but it's nice to stop and understand what's going inside me, that things are changing, even though I can't feel it every second. That soon, I'll be different. Maybe that I am even now and just don't know it. Some moments, I'm filled with hope for the coming semester. The world seems nicer in this new place. The people are warmer and kinder; there's more promise of a job coming out of it, and you still get to do something you'll be happy with. But I'm afraid that this niggling sense of regret will stick around for longer than I can deal with, that I'll spend weeks or months or years feeling hungry for something that I can't get my hands on.