Memories of Asheville

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I’m sitting in a local coffee shop drinking local coffee. I recently moved to a millennial neighborhood which is considered the trendiest neighborhood in Indianapolis.

Wouldn’t say I’m proud of this.

The coffee is okay, I guess. It’s the sort of coffee I’m willing to pay for not because it tastes good but because the atmosphere here is lively. It smells nice. There’s always nice people and the music evokes a comforting nostalgia.

It sort of reminds me of High Five Coffee in Asheville, a cafe just a few doors down from my hostel. The guy behind the counter didn’t seem to mind when I came up short with my change one morning. “I got you,” he said with one of those knowing looks, that either means, I think you’re cute, or ugh, another penniless student.

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The window of the shop looks out into the streets of Asheville where the most interesting people pass by. They are artists or hobos, or a little bit of both. But not the type of street sleepers you see in Indianapolis. Mostly white twenty-somethings, they are the type you might see living under a bridge by choice rather than because of an addiction.

My time in Asheville was brief but incredibly rich. I still recall the day our internship supervisor sent us out into the city to report on how the public was responding to HB2 (better known as the North Carolina Bathroom Bill). Only now that I work in state government do I even know what HB stands for. True confessions of an unqualified journalist.

I was surprised how many people opposed the bathroom bill, a law that enforced that individuals use the bathroom of their birth gender.  After interviewing some blue-collar workers, I went on a quest to find a new demographic only to find myself all too nervous to approach the upper class. When I circled back I came upon an old white man smoking a cigarette outside a restaurant.

He blew smoke in my face as I began the interview. We talked for a while and he said it was ridiculous that there was so much fuss.

“What we need is a separate bathroom entirely,” he said in a slow Carolina accent, allowing the cigarette to dangle from his lower lip. “One for the girls, one for the boys, and one for the transgenders.”

“Do you think it will cause tension like it did before the civil rights movement when separate bathrooms were enforced?” I asked. He laughed and said, “No that was about the blacks. Well back then we called them niggers.” He chuckled to himself as the words left his mouth, causing me to wonder if he used this insult conventionally back when racism in America was more of a rising crisis than a looming issue.

Then, my legs took me through the streets for a little longer until I passed a man who asked where I was from.

“I promise I’m not hitting on you, I just want to know your ethnicity,” he stammered when I turned to look at him.

“I’ll tell you what,” I said. “I’m a student reporter. If you give me an interview I’ll tell you what my ethnicity is.” He agreed and I suddenly noticed we had a few onlookers. The man appeared to be mentally handicapped and I realized we were sort of standing near where the crazy people resided.

Brilliant.

He said he had a daughter who resembled me and I forced a smile. The interview went on for some time, consisting of him deeming the House Bill a decent piece of legislation and that he didn’t want perverts entering a bathroom to harm someone like his little girl.

Cars zoomed by on the busy street and the onlookers sort of drifted away until we were done. I told him I was half white and half black, and he had this sort of dazed look people get when they hear something amazing, but hard to fathom. He summed up his feelings by saying, “Wow, that’s so cool,” and I left him, making my way down the street until I heard shouts from behind me.

He was a shirtless man with a body that looked like it was once very muscular but had begun to sag with the aging of time.  I stood my ground as he ran towards me even though everything in me said run from this half naked man. But he just wanted to have an interview as well.

“Just so you know,” he said after explaining why he supported the bill, “People in Asheville are cr-a-zy. I’m from New York and people are not as crazy there as they are here.” I stifled a laugh thinking yes people here are crazy, like you. To my dismay his language was so filthy I didn’t incorporate him into any of my quotes.

Most of my time in Asheville found me in the walls of the World Magazine headquarters. But in the evening, after lectures, we would go out and practice street photography.

I love street photography. Taking candid photos, unplanned and unadulterated. One night my fellow reporters and I went out into the warm streets and snapped photos in the lamp light.

We came across this guy sitting on the doorstep of a furniture shop with star lamps hanging in the windows. He was reading a book with his back pressed against a fading brick wall. I asked if we could photograph him and he said yes. Then we tested our interview skills and asked where he was from. Apparently he was from nowhere, really. He’d been wandering the country after college and lived on the streets. His gentle face seemed like it hadn’t a care in the world. “I like sitting here because the stars above me are nice to look at,” he murmured.

“What’s your favorite memory in Asheville?” I asked.

“One time, about two years ago, I was sitting on these steps with my friends. We were playing music and people came around to listen, and we play on into the night. It was pretty amazing.”

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Encounters like this were ones I never expect to have again. Asheville was a time of being the Julia who was a curious journalist. When I returned home and eventually got a job, I lost this element of me, the desire to be a news reporter. Now I work a desk job and drink local coffee on the weekends, writing blog posts when inspiration hits, all the while wondering if a career in journalism will find me later in life.

 

Friday Frustrations

Man at Starbucks: Are you from Eritrea?
Me: Where?
Man: Eritrea?
Me: no
Man: Are you sure?
Me: Yes I’m from here.
Man: But you look like you’re from Eritrea.
Me: No I’m not. My father is from East Africa.
Man: Eritrea?
Me: sigh . . . Maybe I should have just said yes.

How to survive an anxiety attack

I’m sipping a coke through a red straw in the outside corridor of my office building. It’s quiet out here. I listen to the roar of cars on West Street and the bubbling fountain down by the canal. I remember three things I’ve done today: Meeting with IT, emailing our Marketing Vendor, finding a coke in the break room.  I count the bushes in front of me: One . . Two . . Three . . Four . . Five. I smell the corn chips from my lunch box and the cigarette smoke from somewhere else.

Inhale.

Exhale.

It’s a new technique my aunt showed me to get through an anxiety attack. Count something you can see. Count something you can smell. Remember something that has happened today.

Anxiety is exhausting. At first it’s scary. But days of feeling this fight or flight sensation simply drain me. Trying to focus my eyes and keep fear from blurring my vision. Trying to calm my heightened senses that distract me. Trying to steady my breath when my heart begins to race.

Eventually I just want to shut down. My eyes droop, my mind goes blank, and I feel nothing.

Scripture is what really works against anxiety. Truth conquers fear. The other night I slept at my parents home, beneath the covers of my old bed. My sister slept in her bed across from me, the box fan blowing loudly. I felt the release of a panicking chemical in my brain making me feel like I should run out of the room and find safety.

It’s the feeling you get when you’ve woken from a nightmare and cannot go back to sleep. Even though I wanted to run and find safety, in reality I was in the safest place I could be. So I told myself this very truth and then I began to rehearse truth through scripture.

“Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8

“‘For I know the plans  I have for you,’ declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 29

“Don’t worry about anything, instead, pray about everything.”  Philippians 4:6

I suddenly remembered something my friend Esther told me to do when I feel afraid. She said to speak these words out loud: “Jesus Christ is Lord of my life.” I rehearsed this truth three times and as the words slipped from my lips I suddenly smiled. This was real, my fears were just imagination. Fear had no power over me.

As I thought about all of my fears from experiencing death to facing life I considered the sovereignty of God and how Jesus Christ is really Lord of all these things. I’m facing a lot right now, starting graduate school, moving to a new place. Realizing that God is in control allowed me to feel more than the nothing that usually hits me after a panic attack. I felt peace in the midst of my circumstances.

Peace is not the absence of fear but the presence of faith.