Category Archives: depression

The Case for Walking

Nowhere can you see the realness and the history of where you live better than by foot. You may drive a place every day but until your feet touch its soil, until your eyes stop looking straight ahead but off to the side where a wide set of steps rise like an upside down waterfall leading to a young man with an old school ‘fro texting his girl on the night before his college graduation- will you begin to know a place.

Until you notice just how many people plant rows and rows of lavender along the strip of land after their yard but before the street on the other side of the sidewalk- you won’t understand the generosity of your neighbors and the glory of bees on a summer day.

I passed the cemetery and for the first time realized that a leafy tree stands as a sentinel at the end of even rows of each line of headstones. The grass is exactly even but not mechanized like a modern place, it is still different shades of green from dark to light with some dried grass, yellow and stiff. The rows are more like paths inviting me to follow them and get to know the people who came before.

I found families, a husband who died twenty years before his wife. I kneeled before three headstones of three brothers who all died in different wars. Those people once also walked these streets.

Rounding through town I was stopped by a gaggle of young and lively guys with long dreadlocks and short little songs they busted out in bursts for me. “We’re the rainbow, join us!” I stayed awhile, talked about the Rainbow Gathering coming to Oregon, we talked about their dog and one guy told me I was beautiful. It was generous given that he was a lovely young guy with eyes as blue as any I’d seen.

Walking can boost your morale substantially.

I walked past bus stops and old homes. I saw some trash left by the steps of a stately old place which bragged of its 1888 lineage and I picked it up thinking, it  must be hard to see everything change around you.

I visited with a guy roughly my age carrying a backpack and sleeping bag. He looked clean and was sorting some food as he tucked it away. “It was a good day,” he said smiling. “I see that and I’m glad,” I tipped my head and smiled back. He was about to offer me some of his food but I walked on waving as I passed.

Strangers can be kind for no reason.

I also fell in love with an assorted group of dogs who ran to greet me like their long lost friend. Tails wagging, some singing sorrowful songs urging me to come back and I walked on and I remembered the joy of a good dog. I saw a woman cradling her little black and white dog coming from the vet and kissing the top of her furry head.

Love is so present in the world if you look.

I exchanged dozens of smiles with strangers, witnessed countless acts of awe among children seeing birds and flowers and I never once wished I was in a car despite the sweat which pooled at the back of my neck.

The best moment was in passing a girl, maybe seven or eight, wearing a crisp blue and white dress, a ribbon in her dark wavy hair and the smile on her innocent illuminated face that made years roll backwards to my second grade year. She stood at the top of the stairs outside her home while her grandmother sat smiling that same way on her porch. The girl began waving at strangers and smiling, for no particular reason. She ate an orange popsicle. As I approached the popsicle slipped off its stick into the grass. She observed but didn’t react choosing to continue her waving campaign.

Everything about her gave me hope. I asked if I could capture her picture and I did. I did not ask her a million questions like I might normally do. Frankly I didn’t want to know more than what I could see–the perfect mixture of light and love, innocence and care, playfulness and childish boredom.

If you walk enough you will get bored. Boredom is such a relief. Boredom doesn’t have technology attached or success or failure. It is expansive and allows you to fill it or feel it just as it is. I love boredom.

The case for walking is great. It is good for every part of you except your oh so busy schedule. So here’s the best case for it beyond all others–walk because you do not have time to do it. Break free of your calendar and make the room for walking and seeing and loving and speaking to strangers, and flirting and being bored.

 

 

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The Sad Story of Christopher Toughill

I walked into my apartment and immediately locked the door. I did it before turning on the light, before slipping off my shoes, before looking around.

Locking the door is not something I’ve ever much bothered with. I’ve been scolded for years by friends and family but I didn’t want to be the person who locks my shit up and then decides I’m safe because my possessions are tucked tightly behind a lock. I didn’t want to let that paranoia creep in–not even a little.

But then today I heard in depth the story of Christopher Toughill exactly as he told me. He stopped often to cry. Sometimes he would dip his head and begin going through the photos on his phone of rainbows. “I just took a lot of rainbow pictures. I suppose it was a crime of opportunity,” he quipped.

Before October 18, 2016- Christopher describes himself as a person who believed in “…rainbows and Unicorns, I believed in the very best in people and I thought that’s what they gave me. If I was ever disappointed it was worth the price of believing in the good in people.”

He grew up in DC to a journalist mom and a speech writing dad. His father, also a union organizer, taught him every labor song and chant and he still recounts them without a prompt breaking into song across the lunch table. In those moments, he’s someone else.

After October 18, 2016- Christopher has nowhere to live, owns nothing but one change of clothes and his dog, Harmony, a 14 year old geriatric pup who fits her name. His hands are still recovering, his teeth never will and his heart, however expansive, is shattered.

I found Christopher after he posted something on Facebook that sounded suicidal. “I give up” it began. When my intrepid friend tracked him down she asked me to go to him–a total stranger–and help. I said yes. That lead me to an abandoned mobile home space and a tall man with a brown dog sitting in a gravel spot surrounded by trash in a broken chair. He was on his cell phone and by his posture and expression he could have been a business person closing a deal, yet his dirty clothes, his untrimmed toe nails poking from old sandals, a single backpack with a broken zipper and his entire lack of options told part of the story.

But only part.

Christopher had been a very successful business owner. He had an optical shop in the affluent art village of Ashland, Oregon where he sold high end, hand crafted glasses to the rich and famous including more than one movie star.

Now-after his attacker brutalized him- he is homeless and by outside appearances looks broken.

On October 18, 2016- he was held hostage–chained in fact–by his landlord who rented him a one bedroom shop behind his house. Christopher was beaten, his hands broken, his teeth knocked out, his feet battered and he was burned with hot oil and dowsed in gasoline. “I was humiliated, degraded and tortured,” he says of the experience. Unknown to him at the time he rented his place–his landlord belonged to a criminal gang and had a long, violent history.

Christopher managed to escape to safety and the man who held him hostage is now in prison.

But in some ways so is Christopher. He cannot understand how so much evil exists on one hand, on another he chose mercy for his attacker. He agreed to his plea bargain. “I couldn’t be responsible for depriving someone of their freedom for life–even though I couldn’t understand what he did to me. Still, sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t have taken the deal. He is not fit to live free among people. He is a monster.”

Christopher considered taking his own life. “I was in my shell. I was non functional.” He came away from the experience with nothing. His health too fragile to work, his home gone because he could never go back there, he found himself deteriorating. He went into a diabetic coma due to stress and lack of food and crashed his last thing–his car.

Christopher was waiting for his old dog to die so he could take his own life. “I couldn’t let Harmony down.” But Harmony did not die. She kept living and so did Christopher. “Now I don’t want to do it anymore. There are still sunrises and sunsets…the world itself. I got touched by the dregs of society, but for all its sham and drudgery the world is still a beautiful place.”

His pain is noticeable and I could feel it when we talked. He cried often, reached out for my hand, sometimes needed to get up and walk it off.  He would speak of the crime and discuss the “incomprehensible.”  He says he is disappointed that there was not a safety net deep enough to hold him. He’s tried all the services, he shows me all the calls he’s made on his cell phone to no good effect. “They can’t really help me.”

I left him at a clean hotel for the night where he could get a shower and his dog could take rest. It’s not enough. Nothing I do for Christopher is enough.

One time a cop told me there are few real, innocent victims. He implied most people put themselves in bad spots. I tried to believe that because it makes life less scary. But Christopher did not invite his trouble. What happened to him could have happened to me–or you.

There are innocent victims. There are people who do evil to them.

But there are also people who forgive evil, people who get back up and try again. There is me and you. And those pictures of rainbows on Christopher’s phone did happen.

So tonight I’m behind the locked door. I’m thinking of Christopher and I may shed more tears. I don’t know the way forward for him and I don’t know how he overcomes but I know he does. I can see that he is still the hero of his story.

If you want to help Christopher he has a GoFundme:

https://www.gofundme.com/HelpChrisRecoverFromTortureMaiming

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The True Chill

His e-mail title was, “comma before a quote.” I opened the e-mail which began, “I keep making the same correction.” Anyone who writes and receives an e-mail from their editor like this most likely has that all over body cringe.

Uhhh.

Grammar mistakes are like kryptonite for me. I immediately fall down the elevator of shame that is an express ride to shame.

Confidence is an odd thing.

When I have it, I can do anything. When it’s lost, I’m lost.

Right now I’m in the dreaded lost phase. Everything I write seems disjointed and oddly shallow. There’s no there– there. Commas are becoming unknown to me in my mad dash scramble to conquer my inner fourth grade teacher who red lines my paper.

I’m having a glass of red wine in one of my favorite pubs and this is my thought stream:

“Aren’t you too old to sacrifice your skin for that? Or: Can you afford to have wine out, especially when paying your own way seems tougher by the minute? Or: Aren’t you too old to be out? Or: People are looking because I look terrible. Why did I get this nasty cold? Maybe I’m out of touch with my health.”

What causes this sudden, ‘I’m naked on a stage and looking my worst’ thing to happen without apparent warning?

I’m not sure but my guess is this happens as the result of a few things stacking up which become a perception or story of reality. A person doesn’t smile back, you run into someone  who actually doesn’t like you, you get a bill and think–holy crap, how is that getting paid? and you step on a scale or look at that spot on the back of your head and voila! You feel badly. Throw in an errant comma and–burned toast. You crumble apart.

Confidence: Zero.

It’s these times when I either tuck into bed with Netflix and make the world go away or reach out to someone who I think is for sure going to be nice. But frankly Netflix and chill is not a one size fits all solution. I know–heresy–but I’m thinking there are only so many period dramas to hide in. I’m also thinking calling on your person to solve the confidence problem may not be the way either–not all the time. They may need a minute too.

So, what’s my move? I’m going to try none of the above. Maybe a brisk walk until I notice that through the windows of those houses I pass are people all playing out their lives in the best way they can. Even the really pretty homes filled with pretty people have imperfect days. I am most certainly not alone.

I’m also thinking that my problem is one of self absorption. If I was doing something kind for a friend or a stranger, I wouldn’t care about my own thoughts so much. Confidence is based on self esteem. Self worth is based on what we bring to the lives of others.

Stop! Breathe!

Now my mind is going to a new plot where I am critical of how myopic I’m capable of being. But that’s not helpful either. This is the time for perspective. Some days you cuddle the dragon until he wants to use his fire to make smores and sometimes the dragon walks by and tells you you’re ugly and sets fire to your offerings.

Everyday isn’t going to feel like a victory. But that does not add up to the measure of me.

Life is long. The story, too, is long. No one day or snapshot is the full story and no one day tells me if I’m okay.

Time to think long term. Take off those shoes. Write something to a friend. Tell some folks you love them. Look at a picture of your people and reflect on those times when the dragon ate out of your hand–happy. Those days are there too. For all of us.

Dark days are present sometimes. It’s getting cold and I’m turning up my collar on my coat. I never feel quite as carefree when it’s cold. That’s a factor to consider in the loss of confidence as well. I’m also affected by my sense of being connected to a larger community. On days when I’m not dialed into the world around me, I feel lost.

It’s most certainly not the time to pick on me….nor you.

Let’s say it together: “Today is not my only day. There is no permanent record. I am doing my best most of the time and most of the time it’s totally fine.”

If that isn’t enough, perhaps looking ahead to better days. Plan a vacation that may be possible, think of a holiday and research a cool, new dish to cook or make up a fitness goal.

“This whole adventure is up to us to make up,” my friend Vanessa reminded me. And, hey, I have a friend–so that’s good. Oh and I have an amazing guy who loves me and children and grandchildren and sometimes work is so meaningful too.

Maybe I’ll take a hot shower and breathe out, “Thank you, thank you.”

Confidence smonfidence. We got this.

 

 

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Ten Ways to Tell if Your Guy(partner) is a Grown Ass Man(person).

Let me be clear I stand on no high ground here. If there’s a way to make a poor choice–I’ve done it. But lately I’ve been hanging around with a grown ass man and despite the fact I’m a slow learner some things are coming into focus.

First: I had the good fortune of grown ass man friends. They were the ones helping me, letting me lean on them from time to time and being reliable while my boy was out playing. I’m so grateful to those grown up guys who showed up and showed me what a grown ass man really looks like. If you find yourself leaning on your friends rather than your partner–chances are he’s not grown.

Second: age has nothing to do with it. I wasted months of my life on an old guy who was damn near seventy still trying to be the captain of his high school football team surrounded by cheerleaders. His self-esteem was so low he couldn’t stop playing games. He was so desperate to be admired. I feel bad for him, but not too bad. If your partner can’t commit to a plan, a phone call and a relationship, no matter what else he says, he’s not a grown ass man.

What follows works for any gender and any pairing. I’ve just selected my own experience so I’m using man to fit the role since I’m a cisgender, heterosexual female. You can substitute woman or they and it still works.

So here are the ways you can tell if your guy is a grown ass man:

  1. He is not ambiguous. Having been successful in his life he knows what he wants and how to achieve it. He will be clear with you what his intentions are and check in early and often to see if you share those intentions.
  2. He budgets accordingly. There is no worse feeling than being with a guy who acts like you’ve taken him to the vet for neutering every time the check comes. A grown ass man sets his cash aside to accommodate his plans. That doesn’t mean he has to be rich to be grown but he does have to plan a date he can manage. If it needs to be a split check he tells you in advance so you can act like a grown ass woman and bring your money.
  3. He likes you. Grown ass men don’t treat their partners like a chore or some add-on to their fabulous lives. He will enjoy your company, like talking to you, share your interests and care about your people. He will be interested in you even when you have a headache.
  4. He will do what he says he’s going to do. A grown ass man has no trouble telling you when he will call and then call at that time. The same holds true for getting together, making plans and ultimately creating a life.
  5. Grown ass men don’t need to lie. He will tell the truth because he has nothing to hide. He’s made mistakes and moved on. He’ll tell you about the good and the bad without hesitation because he is confident in his ability to persevere. He does not do things he is ashamed of as a rule, but if he makes a mistake, he’ll tell you.
  6. He will listen to advice and seek counsel. Grown ass men are smart enough to trust collective wisdom. They don’t have all the answers nor do they have the need to know everything. They have learned that’s not realistic.
  7. Grown ass men are emotionally available. He will cry when it hurts, he will laugh when it tickles him and he will draw pictures of little hearts and flowers on a card if he is so moved. A grown ass man has no need to prove who he is and no need for credentials that make him seem more like a robot. He will respect your emotions as well, knowing that our emotions actually drive our actions, not just yours, but his too.
  8. Grown ass men enjoy sex–with you. They also enjoy talking, cuddling, going to movies and doing other things. Grown ass men are people who have many interests and enjoy exploring them. They are not out for a conquest and they don’t think it’s your job to worry about their sex drive.
  9. He will support you for who you are. Because he knows himself, he knows what sort of  characteristics he values. If you hold those characteristics and he’s decided to be with you then he won’t be out to change you or your priorities. In fact, a grown ass man is more likely to help you achieve your goals and deepen your other relationships.
  10. Finally, a grown ass man is seeking a grown ass partner. He is looking for someone who has done the work to be clear on what is important, who is not insecure, needy, clings or otherwise hoping to find a partner to complete them. A grown ass man wants a partner who is respectful to him and to themselves and does not look to see anyone subjugated or treated as a lesser partner.

I can’t speak for anyone else but I was enculturated to think the nice guy wasn’t as cool as the guy who thought he was too good for me and also to believe that the guy who made me feel insecure was exciting. When I finally moved past that, I couldn’t believe I ever thought that way.

Being loved by a grown ass man makes life better, easier and more meaningful. Being kept off balance makes life more difficult. Achieving your goals is like pushing that rock up a hill everyday and getting nowhere when you’re dealing with a boy who sucks your mental and emotional bank dry. We all need support. If your partner isn’t grown then chances are he’s throwing barriers in your path.

It’s better to be single than trying to make it work with someone who is not grown enough to know how or simply doesn’t want to. Be good to you. Cut them loose. Be who you are and your grown ass man will show up, or not. But either way you don’t have someone pulling you down. Either way you’re better off.

Oh and one final thought–a grown ass man is sexier and more attractive in every way. He has no need to prove anything so he is confident and loving. He is fun and also thoughtful.

Maybe, just maybe, if nice guys finish first and grown ass men are the ones in relationships these boys will figure out it’s time to grow up. It won’t help you, but it might help the next person who comes along.

 

 

 

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Portrait of a Homeless Man

I just heard a guy talking about something I do; a thing I didn’t think anyone else did. He walks around looking for places he could sleep in case he becomes homeless…again.

He photographs these places and how he might sleep there. All his pictures have divisions and fractures. It’s the way he felt when he was homeless, terrified, ashamed and alone.

The pictures are beautiful. They show how light comes in and they show how light does not. They show decay and the beauty of decay. Life is fractured and we are dying a minute at a time while we are living. If that were not true, if life was not so fragile it could not contain such depth of beauty.

His pictures feel like life and death. Being homeless feels like that too. I still have not broken the habit of peering at empty houses and checking to see if the fence to the back yard is open. I look at window ledges differently-if I slept there would the rain hit me should it fall?

He didn’t think he’d be homeless until he was. Now its always in his mind like breaking a bone riding a bike. You still ride but sometimes you remember that fall and you start thinking about how to avoid it. He has a home now, but the habits from homelessness don’t go away.

When you know it’s possible, that’s always true for you.

He said until it happened to him he thought homeless people were drug addicts or crazy. When he was homeless he knew he was none of those things–just desperate.

Desperation creates a different way of thinking, you need to keep dignity and pride. It’s all you’ve got. If you lose pride, hope is the next thing to go.  Then it’s over. You may never get out.

Getting out is everything.

I never said I was homeless, I just said I was rebuilding my life. That rebuilding phase involved the back of my car, window ledges and sometimes sleeping where I wasn’t allowed. It involved baths in bathroom stalls.

To this day I can walk through a hotel lobby to the nearest restroom and take a washcloth bath and change my clothes like a boss. If you look clean even Starbucks will give you the bathroom code. If you seem confident, you can pull it off.

You cannot lose confidence.

There is no face of homelessness. We are all that face. One miscalculation can tip us over the edge and on to that window ledge. A few right choices and the incredible currency of hope and friendship can also bring us back.

Homelessness is a trauma. It is also an education. Once you know how it feels to be that afraid, you also know why people sometimes do what they do.

 

You will learn to see the beauty in the weirdest things like the first light coming through a discarded bottle or the proud back of a woman as she pulls a suitcase to nowhere or the glint of a clean sink in the early morning before anyone wakes except the crickets.

Once you have been homeless nothing truly feels disposable. All things can have a second life and be of value when you learn to see them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Best Plan that Didn’t Happen–Letting Go

 

The crow could not decide which way to cross. She paced and fluffed her wings. She was annoyed. It radiated like the fading sunlight across her back as it tightened in her small body. She nodded her head, the light hit her eyes and she shook her head.

The crow was having a bad patch. It happens to everybody.

Sometimes our plans are mucked up and we’re stuck up to our ankles in their debris not knowing how to make a new plan. We are immobilized. Sometimes we are flat out hurt. Disappointed. Even pissed off.

We pace and struggle We try to get back on track but it will not be. Life does not always act like clay–it will not be molded.

Now what?

Acceptance. Before you can do anything else you have to accept this is where you are: your plans are shot, you’re sad and nothing will save you or your desires. I get to that path of acceptance by taking to my cushion and sitting for however long it takes in total silence. I breathe and with each breath, somehow, I let go a bit more. It’s the metaphor. If you hold your breath you will eventually die. You must take breath in and let go of it. The same with everything.

In the end we lose everything. Life is training for death.

The practice is in the taking in and letting go, gracefully. When we release the plan and its desire we release fear as well. We become supple and fluid. We roll on like the river.

This is also true of deep ache and desire. Letting them go a breath at a time makes us more alive and aware. More awake and willing. We become better at life and its purpose–love.

So when your best plans fall apart do not forget, hold anger or make any assumptions about what it means. All you have to do is breathe out and for the time- let go. Become weightless and fly off that median to your new location.

Sometimes the thing that didn’t happen is the gift.

 

 

 

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The Rant of an Enraged Professor

Relax, chill, calm down.

I will pray for you.

Mantras of the past several decades that have virtually no meaning except to say we should not get angry or buck that status quo which has brought our nation to the point of being among the worst places for children to grow up. It’s astonishing that we have the child poverty rates and imprisoning rates we do when there is plenty of space and money to go around–if only it actually went around.

Time to stop chillin’ and start getting pissed. Really pissed. Never, ever pray for me. Do something. If you believe in God, then believe you have the ability to act. Praying alone does nothing.

Being “calm and carrying on” has brought us precisely to this point. If we’re honest, we all know that’s true. None of us wanted to be the person who spoke out and looked unpleasant or wasn’t liked. But now we’re beyond that. Let’s hope we aren’t too late.

I work at Southern Oregon University. I teach a newspaper class and a broadcast news class. After 90 consecutive years of operating a paper, the school has withdrawn all support. Now they like to say it’s not like that, but it is exactly like that. The student fee committee defunded it, the university is no longer offering it as a for credit class and did not give enough notice for the students to raise money to keep it going.

A former writer for the newspaper who is now nationally recognized put it this way, what kind of half assed school doesn’t have a newspaper? What parent sends their kid to a school like that?

We started a gofundme [https://www.gofundme.com/vcxzcz8k] and the university finds this so humiliating they can’t bear it. We’ve been told in a polite, educated way that it is not appropriate fundraising. I agree. But what way is there but to draw public attention to the fact that a public university is pulling financial support from its student newspaper therefore causing it to be silenced?

We did the gofundme and we wrote stories about it. Still are. We also went to other news outlets. Still are.

We’re journalists. How can we not cover our own story? How can we not point out the value of transparency and real reporting on a university campus? How can we not value journalism as a cornerstone of a free society and an informed electorate? How can we chill and watch Netflix when the world is burning, literally?

We’ve raised a thousand bucks but need about 5 to keep going. It costs roughly 20,000.00 annually for the newspaper to be effective. But 5,000 can keep it running through fall term. I’m not going to be paid. I’ll volunteer if the students will have me.

Some things transcend personal interests. We’ve lost our way on that as a country. The so called “greatest generation” left a shit show for these young people to clean up. The jumble of nonsense that is the “system” of university funding is a big part of that shit show. It’s not the professors. These folks work hard to engage students and make small salaries despite huge debt themselves for their education. It’s not them. It is however the administration at a state level of universities. It is, in Oregon, the greed of the University of Oregon often called Nike U which wants to hoard its money and choke out smaller schools like mine.

It is also the refusal of educated people to get pissed about this.

Do university’s understand that raising tuition and cancelling classes while paying administrators six figure salaries is counter intuitive? If no one can afford school and there is not support for things like a student newspaper which is a basic indicator of a school’s seriousness then there is nothing to administer.

Are we this short sighted?

Do we not understand that educating young people is more important than a retiree having enough change to play golf every day? Do we get that if we suck up all the world’s resources today, there will be no golf courses or cars or life because that steak dinner and cheap clothes and golf course cost someone, somewhere everything and one day it will cost us all?

The greatest thing my dad ever said to me is that there is no free lunch. Everything costs something. The cost of ignoring our children’s education is a nation of unsustainable ignorance. The cost of greed is national poverty of the 99%. The cost of buying cheap stuff is the entire life of a political prisoner in China or a child dying in a factory fire in Bangladesh, the cost of eating that cheap burger is low wages, gallons and gallons of water and monoculture of corn as well as more co2 emissions than any car on the road could ever produce and the cost of not being informed is all of the above.

The value of rage is real. We are programmed to be angry when we are in jeopardy. That time is now. Do not “Keep calm and carry on” but demand change to policies that are killing our planet, you and our children. Fight for what you believe in. Raise your voice. Not your fists, not ignorance but your voice in an informed and real way. Be the Bernie you want to see in the world. (sorry I couldn’t resist) or more to the point be the you the world has been waiting for. Be the you that knows what’s fair and right and says so.

For me in this moment that is the me who teaches journalism to a hungry but small class of students who know the pen is mightier than the sword, who believe that education matters and that telling the verifiable truth is still a high calling and essential to a free nation.

Right now I stand with them and stand for The Siskiyou, The Voice of SOU Students to never be quiet! Stand with us.

When someone tells you to chill, tell them in no uncertain terms to get out of your way, off their couch and do something with themselves that matters.

 

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