An Open Letter to the Loudoun County School Board

*For those of you who don’t know, Loudoun County, the county I essentially grew up in, is1463585_848223821855895_8269696314325443692_n strongly considering enacting a plan to rezone elementary schools in Leesburg by neighborhoods. At first glance, this seems logical, giving students shorter bus rides and whatnot, but it will result in a highly stratified system for elementary schools, which is what I take issue with here. This is a copy of the email I sent to the School Board, and I decided to publish it here as well in order to publicize my critique. If you feel strongly about this as well, send an email to the School Board at lcsb@lcps.org before March 29th, because that’s when they’ll vote on the rezoning plans! Without further ado, here is my open letter:

Dear members of the Loudoun County School Board,

My name is Brianna Meeks. I am a former student of the Loudoun County public schools. I graduated in 2014, and I now go to the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, VA. Northern Virginia, Loudoun County included, has quite a strong representation at William & Mary, and thus, people have created a stereotype for “NoVa” students: mainly, that we are all wealthy. While this stereotype fits many of the Northern Virginia residents, I do not believe it is the best stereotype. I believe that the most accurate statement that can be made of a Northern Virginia resident is that that student almost certainly went to a good school. I am impressed with the quality of my education in public schools in Loudoun County. I was able to attend the Academy of Science, do theatre and choir, and truly thrive while I was in the Loudoun County public school system, which has helped me to thrive here at William & Mary.

Plan 12 is a disgrace to the superior education I received in the Loudoun school system. This is segregation in today’s world, and I am shocked that such a plan could hold weight among a respected group of people as yourselves. Every child deserves the right to an excellent education, an education like the one I got, an education that Loudoun County can give them if you do not rezone based on neighborhoods. If you are making this decision purely for the ease of zoning in the future, then I respect that. However, to zone based on neighborhoods means to zone based on socioeconomic status and race. Making logistics simpler in the future may be a noble goal, but we cannot do so when the result is segregation. We cannot do so at the expense of the education of these children.

Not only are these students at a disadvantage economically and from a lack of proficiency with the English language; now you want to increase their setbacks in life. With society as a whole conspiring against them, the one thing disadvantaged students can count on to give them a chance to reach their full potential in life is a quality education. This plan would take that away, and I am ashamed of that. This plan sets up these students to fail from the beginning, and that is an injustice to them. This plan tells them that they are worth less than students who come from families with privilege, which, frankly, is despicable.

Furthermore, every student should have the opportunity to learn alongside students who are different from them. Diverse environments promote empathy, and empathy is one of the most valuable lessons a person could receive in an increasingly cruel world. Separating the disadvantaged from the advantaged not only severely hurts the disadvantaged, as I have mentioned, but it also steals an extremely valuable opportunity away from the advantaged and thus, hurts them as well. Just as sexism hurts men as well as women, so any form of discrimination hurts all people. If you do not have the empathy to care for the low-income and ELL students, care at least for the chance for your own children.

You are masking this plan under the guise of simplicity of zoning, to reduce the amount of changes that will be made in the future. I want to believe that you have pure motives, but I am forced to be skeptical. You as a board are not diverse at all, and you may not even be aware of the privilege you and your children have. Privilege affords blindness to those who have it, and it is time that those of us who do have it to look critically at the ease with which we can succeed and the difficulties we may never have to face. Maybe you are not explicitly xenophobic, but we all have implicit biases. This issue really comes down to racism, classism, and xenophobia. But diversity is not a weakness; it is a strength. We should not be afraid of differences but rather welcome them with open arms.

Thank you,

Brianna Meeks

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The Time I Almost Got Cancer

Disclaimer: this story has a happy ending, so don’t worry. It’ll be okay.

Once upon a time (actually the time was a few days before Thanksgiving break), I was chatting with a friend in my room. For some unfathomable reason, I decided to touch my back. “Huh, this feels like blood.”  Sure enough, it is blood. My mole is bleeding. So I get a paper towel and stop the bleeding and continue chatting. But I decide to google bleeding mole, because you always want to find out if you’re dying even when one tiny thing is wrong with you. And the google homepage is covered in “melanoma.” Okay. That puts a damper on things. It’s not like, “Oh you have a headache, and that could just be a headache or twenty million other things, including some rare disease that no one’s heard of.” We’ve all fallen prey to WebMD scare. But this was different. It seemed like this cancer could actually be real.

So I get home for break and call the dermatologist to get my mole looked at. Because I’m only home from college for a week, I don’t have time to see her that break. My appointment is scheduled for the 20th of December. That day rolls around, and I get a call that the dermatologist has a personal emergency or something, so I have to reschedule to the 13th of January. The day before I take a train ride back to Williamsburg. That day rolls around, and they see me, and the mole is just slightly concerning, so they take a biopsy (luckily I could get it that day). And then I go back to school, knowing that I don’t definitely know that I don’t have cancer (sorry for those of you who hate double negatives; this was just the most accurate way to say this) and that I should hear back in a week.

A week rolls around, and I call them. They haven’t gotten my results. I’m anxious and distracted, so I try to distract myself as much as possible, and that sort of works.

And then the snow comes. And in Northern Virginia, there was a ton of snow. So naturally, their office is closed that Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

Now it’s Tuesday, and I call them. They have my results, but they need to be processed. Tuesday was my worst day. Tuesday was the day that I realized that I didn’t really know how to deal with this, that I needed to actually tell people that “cancer” could become a familiar word on my lips. I hadn’t told people because I didn’t want to make it a problem, but by doing so, I made it even more of a problem. Tuesday was rough.

And then it’s Wednesday, and I call and leave a message. I’ve memorized my story by this point. It’s also officially been two weeks since I had my biopsy, and I’m more annoyed than anxious (though I’m still anxious) at this point. I just want to know.

Thursday rolls around, and I call them. They have my results, but apparently the person I’m talking to can’t view them, so I should get a call by the end of the day or first thing the next day.

It’s Friday. I do not get a call first thing in the morning. I call around 10:30. Again, the person I’m talking to can’t read my results. But she puts me on hold and gets them. It’s a normal mole. Everything is fine. I hang up, and the tears come. I wasn’t expecting to cry at finding out I don’t have cancer, but that’s what happened.

Yay! Happy endings! Yay for finally knowing what’s happening with my body after two months of having a question mark hanging over my head! It was a wild, anxiety-ridden ride. And as awful as it was, I did get some good things out of it.

Well, mostly just one good thing. This experience was a twisted mirror that really showed me how I don’t handle painful things well, how not telling people things hurts me. And even the people I did tell I didn’t allow to see me when I was actually anxious, either because talking to people made me think of it less or because I was repressing emotions that much. So I need to work on the sharing department. And I feel like a hypocrite because I’ve definitely written about being vulnerable with people, but I’m so bad at it. I think I’ve gotten better at being vulnerable, both with my friends and on this blog. I really learned that I need to be okay with showing people that I’m weak and allowing myself to actually feel things instead of pretending my own feelings don’t exist.

So let me tell you (while I tell myself this): it’s okay to feel things. They may feel ugly, but

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I’m done with walking on eggshells. Photo credit: Tara Meeks.

your feelings are valid, regardless of what you’re going through. You may say, “But hey, I’m just stressed about my grades. I don’t have a life-changing disease. I shouldn’t feel this bad!” And you know, it is important to have perspective, especially if you’re just putting yourself in a bad mood and throwing yourself a constant pity party. Sometimes you do just need to get over yourself (trust me, I’ve been there). But it’s okay to feel sad or angry or hopeless or confused, even when you know other people have it worse. Your experience, your feelings are legitimate. And it really is good to be vulnerable with people. Every time I am, I’m so glad I did, even though I fight against it tremendously. Vulnerability breaks down the barriers we put between us and other people. It leads the way to let us be our genuine selves.

I’ve been thinking about what I’m trying to accomplish with this blog. And maybe the only thing I can do on this blog is bring up difficult subjects so that we can all talk about them more, or maybe it’ll just be talking to the air. But I will be that person. So this is the story of when I was afraid I had cancer.

Epylle Spydre

Every Precious Story

I’m going to talk about politics today. Wow. Crazy, right? Miss “Let’s All Just Get Along” wants to speak about one of the most divisive topics: politics, specifically abortion.

I can almost always see every side to a debate. That’s probably because I value harmony so much, or maybe because I have difficulty making up my mind. I dunno. But with most debates, I see both sides, and then I struggle to make a decision until I see a way to unite them. So it is with this issue. On one side, I see many of my Christian brothers and sisters fighting for the beautiful, valuable lives of the unborn (they’re not always Christians, but Christians are the most vocal in this demographic). On the other side, I see most of my progressive classmates fighting for the importance of choice and the health of the beautiful, valuable women who make that choice. I have a foot in both pastures, but I’m not here because I can’t decide. I am here because I think that there is, in fact, a way to balance both.

I think every life has value. I know I’ve already said that, but I do. I think every life deserves a second chance and that every person can do beautiful things. I want all of those lives to be lived out to the fullest. So I think that every abortion is a tragedy. I think God cries for the unborn children, as do so many who are burdened for them. I think it’s foolish to believe that life starts having value at a certain point in time. From the moment the egg is fertilized, there is life and the potential for a beautiful human soul to walk upon the beautiful earth we call home. Life is sacred, and it deserves to be preserved.

But I don’t think banning abortion and defunding Planned Parenthood are the ways to do that. You can ban abortion, but that won’t stop people from getting abortions. It will probably reduce the number of people getting abortions, but it won’t stop them entirely. And if they do it when it’s illegal, it will probably be much more difficult, dangerous, and maybe even more expensive for them. And if there’s anything we want less than abortions, it’s abortions that are also putting the life of the mother in danger. GUYS. THIS IS HUGE. The problem is not merely that it is legal for women to have abortions. It’s that women feel the need to have abortions in the first place.

The woman who can barely feed the children she already has will feel like she has no choice but to terminate the life of the child inside her. To her, that is more merciful. And that’s tragic. That shouldn’t be the only choice for her. And to solve her problem by simply banning or allowing all abortions is incredibly reductive. I think we can do better than that. Her nuanced, multifaceted problem should not be solved by a single, simple law, but rather with a series of specific, intentional reforms that give her life and the life she carries the dignity they both hold. And yeah, maybe we won’t be able to do all of these things. But we can still try.

So what are some of the problems? Unplanned pregnancy is definitely one. I think there should be better sex education and more access to contraceptives that reduces the number of unplanned pregnancies. What else can we do? Oh, how about rape? Maybe, just maybe (please note the sarcasm), men should stop raping women, which can cause emotionally charged and painful unplanned pregnancies. The objectification of women is a whole other issue that you can read about elsewhere on the internet (not saying it’s not important; it’s just a big topic that I don’t want to get into at the moment but that other people have gotten into. I also want to emphasize that it’s not just women who are raped, but that’s what’s mostly relevant to this discussion.).

Another question: why don’t more people go through with pregnancies and give their child up for adoption? Because society isn’t very helpful to women who are pregnant. I think there should be better health practices that make every pregnancy and birth as safe as possible for every woman, so that health is not a concern with going through538317_293248474104546_166862026_n with a pregnancy. I think society should care for every child that needs a home, whether through adoption or through the foster care system. I think maternity (and paternity) leave should be something employers do more so that it’s easier for a woman not to be anxious about expenses when she’s pregnant. Wow, guys. Treating women like they’re valuable both to do work and to carry life are such crazy concepts, but maybe we’ll get on board eventually.

I also think we should reduce the stigma that women face, whether it’s for pregnancy out of wedlock or for the women who do end up having abortions. Because sometimes, abortion does end up being the best, most merciful option. And we shouldn’t silence those who make that choice. They still have value and worth, and though we may be saddened at the life lost, we cannot do so at the expense of the woman who is standing in front of us. We should be less quick to judge and more eager to listen to each person’s individual story. Fred Allen (don’t really know who he is; I just found this quote in a book) said that “A human being is nothing but a story with skin around it.” Let’s listen to each other’s stories. They are truly gorgeous stories.

In conclusion I suppose I am both pro-choice (more like pro-all-the-choices) and pro-life, as in pro-every-life. I want to reduce the number of abortions happening, even, make this phenomenon disappear entirely, but I want us to recognize that it’s a complicated issue. I think women should have the viable option to choose life. Because life is beautiful, and we all have beautiful stories to tell.

Epylle Spydre

p.s. Here’s the excellent article talking about this issue from a feminist perspective that first sparked the thoughts that went into this post. And here’s another article that is more a critique specifically of the church’s involvement in the pro-life discussion, urging us to consider the full implications of what it means to protest abortion. These are both golden, so please read them.

p.p.s. I am almost certain there are aspects of this that I am forgetting. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. Do you disagree with me? Let’s talk about it, friends!

Edit: 1/22/16 I changed the wording of one phrase in the fourth paragraph to specifically be about the legality of abortion. I also added the second sentence in the last paragraph before my signature on this date.

Being Brave in the Middle Ground

I was talking to a friend recently, trying to figure out what appeared to be a contradiction in my behavior. But then I hit upon an interesting idea.  “I think I just hate the middle ground, you know? The uncertainty, the ‘this might happen, but I don’t really know.’ It just makes me uncomfortable.” And as I’ve thought about it more, I realize how true that is for me.

I know people who are getting “You should hear good things from us soon” messages from colleges, and I think, I would rather wait a week or two to hear a solid Yes or No than get that weird half-commitment. What if they change their mind? Why don’t they want to tell me they’ve accepted me now?  College, I don’t understand! For those of you in that boat, don’t listen to my irrational thoughts about that. They don’t make sense. Just be excited about college. So I recognize I have a problem with this, the middle ground.

But you know, the basic fear is not completely irrational. The middle ground is a scary place to be. There’s potential for all of your hopes to come true (whether that’s for getting something wonderful or avoiding something terrible), and there’s also potential for so much disappointment.

I might get into my dream school, I might not pass this class, that person might feel the same way about me, I might get the part, I might have this disease, I might get the job…

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Sometimes life feels like this…

When you’re in the middle ground, you are vulnerable. That’s just what it means to be there.

Especially when you tell people. I think that’s one of the things I hate the most. I can deal with my own disappointment, but I don’t want other people to be disappointed for me. Or maybe I just don’t want people to see me fail (because apparently being disappointed means failing in my mind…).

And oftentimes it is much easier to see how everything could go wrong. I know I do that. It’s easier to just prepare yourself for the worst so that it’s not more painful later.

And that works sometimes; it’s even healthy. Life is disappointing. Not all of your dreams come true. And it’s good to know that. But it’s also good to take risks. And I feel very hypocritical saying that, because too often, I just stay in my comfort zone. I say Nope! Life is scary and painful, and this right here is comfortable, and comfortable is good. 

I take risks, but I don’t take every risk. I’ll take a risk if I feel like it’s necessary for me to be a decent person. Because even if I cannot be brave, I will always try to be good (that’s why I’m pretty sure I’m a Hufflepuff and definitely not a Gryffindor). I’ll take a risk, venturing out into the middle ground, and then I’ll run back to my comfort zone. And I’m not proud of that by any means.

But I’m working on it. And that’s okay. I don’t know if there’s much more to do than keep trying. So I guess that’s my step towards the middle ground. By saying that I struggle with it. I might get better at being brave. I might not. We’ll see.

Help my Unbelief

So I talk a lot about the fact that I am a Christian on my blog, but I haven’t talked much about my experience as a Christian or about God. And I think it’s time to change that. And for me, at least right now, that goes hand in hand with a story about my semester.

So, it’s September of this year, right? (Not right now, I’m using this as a way to tell my story.) And I’m at school, I’m an RA, I’m taking cool classes, I’m a small group leader. Everything’s going great. And I go to this worship thing that was part of a prayer event on campus. I didn’t stay long, and I don’t remember most of what happened that evening. But I do remember this: I was praying, and something inspired me to say, “God, break me. Break everything that I trust in, so that I can trust in you instead.” And then, you know, I left soon after that. And I don’t remember when I started noticing the consequences of that prayer, but boy, did they come.

One of the smaller issues was waking up in the morning. I’ve always been very good about hearing my alarm and getting out of bed in a decent amount of time. I started sleeping through my alarms, even after I made them as loud as possible. And this wasn’t a big deal, but it did raise some questions about my health and whatnot. I think I’m just sleep deprived. Even this morning, I woke up 15 minutes before my alarm was supposed to go off and then fell back into a deep enough sleep that I didn’t even hear my alarms go off. So that’s an interesting issue, and we’ll see what happens next.

My freshman dorm.

My freshman dorm. 

A bigger issue was loneliness. I went from having the great freshman dorm experience, with all of my best friends living just down the hall to living in a single for the first time in my life really, with my friends scattered across campus and even off campus. And that didn’t bother me for a while, but then it started becoming a problem. I felt so isolated in the room I have to myself. I don’t usually mind eating alone, but I felt like it was becoming a habit, a habit that I didn’t enjoy. One night was so bad that I just flung myself on the floor and cried. Soon after that, I went to the campus Counseling Center because I wanted to figure out if I have a form of social anxiety or not. And the counselor I talked to said to me, “Well it sounds like belonging is your real issue here.” And I know belonging is an issue for me. I’ve written about it. But to hear it from someone else’s words… It was an emotional time.

But I’m okay now, and I still don’t know exactly what has changed. I think it’s probably a lot of small things, like talking to people more and being more intentional with my faith. I think a good part of it is that I’m going more out of my way to help my friends. And maybe they have more problems, maybe it just feels more out of the way, or maybe I’ve just taken this role on. But I love it. I love being able to serve them and love them. And I’m not saying that to make myself look good. I’m just in a position to care for people right now. One day, I’ll need them to care for me. And that’s okay. And I tell them to let me know if they’re not doing well, which makes me reflect on my own actions this semester. Because in the depths of my loneliness, I wanted people to just know I was having problems and come help me, but that’s ridiculous. So I’m trying to get better about telling people when I have problems the way I ask them to tell me.

More recently, I’ve had issues with academics. Organic Chemistry II is really hard, guys. I thought I was going to do well because I’m good at memorizing. But everything looks the same, and I did not do well keeping on track of things at the beginning of the semester. And now my grades are starting to show. Just the other week, I got a midterm back. It was embarrassing how terribly I did. Really. And I don’t want to write that on this blog that so many of my friends and a good number of strangers will see. But I want to be honest, and that’s the honest truth. I’m ashamed, really. And when I got my grade back, I felt like a failure. I questioned my career goals and my abilities as a student and so much in my life.

So I got that grade back two Fridays ago, right? And I was still feeling pretty down about it at the beginning of last week. And then came Wednesday. I have small group on Wednesday, the small group that I lead. And that has also been an interesting story because for several weeks at the beginning of the year, I didn’t have anyone coming to my weekly Bible studies. And that was discouraging, and it made me question whether I should have been doing it in the first place and whatnot. And then people started coming. Last week, I had four people. And we had an awesome discussion. Really, it was so good. And I was grinning afterwards, because it made me that happy. Two of the girls actually texted me and told me that it was great. And it’s not because of me. They’re all just really comfortable with each other, so conversation comes easily, and they’re not afraid to share about their lives.

And now I’m finally bringing this story back to God. Because it was God that did this good work. It was God who was with me when I picked out the passage, where a father says to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” It was God who brought each of those girls that night and inspired conversation. It was God who was faithful. God took this thing that wasn’t working and showed me that20150626_195502 He can make something beautiful out of it. When my life is going well, it’s because God made it that way. And when my life isn’t going well, I can still point to His faithfulness throughout my life. I can say, “Well, Orgo isn’t going well, and I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen with it. But God was faithful with small group and in so many other parts of my life, so He will be faithful with Orgo. He will put me where I need to be.” And there will be days when I doubt. There will be days when faith isn’t easy. There will be days when I try to find security in my abilities instead of in the God who provides. There will be days when I say, “God, I don’t understand what you’re doing.” But He is good, and He will bring me through.

Epylle Spydre

Dear Incoming Freshmen

Dear freshmen,

Greetings! Wherever you are going to school, I hope you feel welcome there already. You may have already moved in, or 11891163_1062086420468140_1429134503368646281_nyou may have yet to move in. But I wanted to write this to you to give you some of my advice.

Congratulations on getting through the craziness of high school and the college application process (also know that I am not trying to exclude those of you who aren’t going to college–most of this will apply to you as well). Now you’re starting this new step in your life, and I’m sure you’re excited and nervous and twenty million other emotions all at once. There are many things I could talk about in this post. I could give you a whole list of advice just like all the other articles you might find here on the internet. But I only really want to talk about one thing.

Most of your high school life was figured out for you. You got to choose your electives and whether you took AP or honors or IB or what. You got to choose your extracurriculars, but it was still mostly handed to you. But now, now is so different. You’re moving away from your family; you’re making a new life for yourself; you’re figuring out what classes you want to take and when and how to make them all work together whilst praying that they don’t fill up before you can register for them. You may be trying to get a job or investigating all of the hundreds of organizations you can join. It’s a lot. And you are finally in the position where you get to decide it all for yourself. The possibilities are endless, and you may discover that you have way too many interests to be able to adequately quench them all. And that’s okay.

You may even discover that what you thought you were interested in is taking second place to some newer, bigger interest. You may have come into college knowing you were going to be a government major on the track to law school and find out that Asian and Middle Eastern Studies is way cooler. And that can be kind of freaky. Let me be the first to tell you: it is completely normal to have existential crises like this in this period of your life. In fact, it will probably happen to you. It’s okay. It’s normal. Your life is not over now that you’re changing your mind.

It’s also okay to have no clue what you’re interested in and what you want to do with your life. As a culture, we like to force everyone to have that 5 or 10 year plan. We are asked what we want to do when we grow up as little, little kids, and we never stop hearing that question. It’s really quite ridiculous. We can’t plan how our life is going to end up. And it’s crazy that we make ourselves even more stressed by obsessing about the future. We have enough stress as it is; we don’t need to make it worse.

So you may not have started questioning your life plans yet, but you probably will. And you will be okay. Know that you don’t need to know your future career, your major, or even what classes you are taking this semester to have worth. You don’t need all that to make a difference in the world. Ask questions. Try new things. Take time to analyze yourself and reflect on your life. Remember that everyone around you is in the exact same boat, so be kind. Smile at random strangers. Give thanks where thanks is due. Own your mistakes because you will make them. Work hard. And enjoy life. Today is the only August 21st of 2015 you’ll ever get, so make the most of it. Good luck to you. I really believe in you.

With all my love,

Brianna “Epylle Spydre”

p.s. This is technically written to incoming freshmen, but it’s really for anyone. Enjoy!

Song for the Sorrowful

Guys, I’m really excited. So because my school is awesome, this summer I was paid to spend 20 days reading and writing388634_312874848724131_1928943340_n poetry. Yes, I was paid to do this. How cool is that? Anyway, each day, I had a different poet. I would read their biography and a good number of their poetry, and then I wrote my own poetry as a response to what I had read. This is what I did at the beginning of the summer. Then I went on vacation/a mission trip, and since I came back, I have been editing the poems that I feel are worth it to actually make better. My intention from the beginning was to use these to fuel blog posts (so if I post poetry randomly in the next few months, know that this is where they came from). And now I am finally doing that!

This poem I wrote close to the end of the 20 days on the day I studied Sylvia Plath. I was actually pretty frustrated because I had had a difficult time writing very inspired pieces that day, but then the opening lines of this poem just came to me. So that’s pretty cool. It’s not my best poem, but I felt like it was ready for the blog. So yeah, I hope you all get something out of this.

Song for the Sorrowful

Speak to me of joyful things;
Let sadness take its leave.
Sing to me a lullaby,
And darling, please don’t grieve.

Your heart was made for more than this;
I know this much is true.
You only see your brokenness,
But I’ve seen deeper in you.

Your eyes are made of joy,
Your smile is made of love,
Your hands are raw, pure gentleness,
And your heart is a gift from above.

I know that it’s not easy
To break off the bonds of fear,
But in your endless trying,
Don’t forget that I am here.

You were not made to go it alone;
Let your brothers and sisters aid.
You’ve helped us all throughout your pain,
Now finally, be repaid.

Don’t let sorrows storm your soul;
You will get through this strife.
You have a place upon this earth.
There is purpose for your life.