Saturday, April 30, 2016

Don't Wait Until They're Gone

Celebrity deaths have been plentiful these past four months.

David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Prince and other notables have left their fans and admirers behind. Each death results in an outpouring of sad tweets and tribute statuses on social media. Other people in the limelight devote a few minutes to remembering their life and legacy.

I've been a part of this reaction a few times in the last few years. I was particularly struck when Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams passed away in quick succession.

Yet recently, as I saw my newsfeed fill up with tributes for Prince I started to wonder about this familiar cycle of mourning that we the public engage in and what it says about us.

I don't doubt the sincerity of many people who share mournful statuses about how much a notable artist touched their lives. As I said, I've done that myself (most recently with Alan Rickman)

There is a part of me though that wonders why we people wait until this person we cared for so much is gone before expressing how much they meant to us.   

Wouldn't they have appreciated this outpouring of love and gratitude while they were still around to enjoy it?

I think this can be applied not just to celebrities but to our loved ones in general. We all have people who have touched us and who we have touched in return. Once more, we live in an age where technology allows us to reach out and communicate with these people in just a few moments. It's never been easier to send a loving message to an old friend, send an appreciative text or make a call.

For all the idealistic images floating around Instagram and Facebook expressing how important it is to value people over status or possessions, I wonder if most of us practice what we share as well as we could.

All too often, the praise and love we shower on another person comes after they can no longer see it, feel it or read it.

There are a million reasons (some better than others) for why we don't tell others what they mean to us. Maybe we fear being vulnerable, maybe we think we're too busy or consumed by our own problems. Maybe it's too easy to ignore that email or text. Maybe you think that your actions convey your true feelings and that's enough.

I understand all of that. I've given myself these reasons as well. Yet somehow I don't think any of them can truly hold up.

At the end of the day, we can vanish from life at any point. No matter how young or healthy we might be, we could be gone. That's the truth. We should take anyone we know and love for granted. So tell those precious to you just how amazing they are. It may be the last chance you get.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Love Letter to the Rejected

Dear You, 


That's the you reading these words. Whoever you are I wish you love; whether I know you are not. 


I didn't have the easiest weekend. If you're reading this there's a strong chance you've been having a harder time too. I don't know who rejected you or in what circumstances. Maybe a boyfriend? A girlfriend? Your dream job? Your friends?

I was rejected. I thought I had a dream job in the bag. The people at the other end of my interview thought otherwise. I traveled several thousand miles and spent money and time all to be told. 'Unfortunately, we can't offer you a position.'

That's an easy thing to type out.

There's nothing easy about absorbing a rejection though. You've experienced it too. You know. And I just want to say to you and me. Don't hate yourself for it.


Often times you see it coming or at the very least, you know it's a real possibility. You know things don't always turn out how you expect them. You know things can go south and that you shouldn't take that personally.

You've heard all the platitudes: 'You only fail if you don't try.' 'Who said life was fair?' Maybe you've heard them from well-meaning loved ones. Often, it comes from the voice in your head trying to reassure you.

You know rejection is to be expected. You know it. You've seen it and chances are, you've felt it before.

Here's the thing though. Rejection is painful, no matter what. And when it attacks, you absorb it and feel all its claw marks. It will inflict pain, no matter how thick your armor. There's no way around it. You shouldn't expect yourself to be immune to it. No one is. It will hurt you and sometimes your spirit will be slashed to strips.

When a lover rebuffs us. When a dream job slips from our grasp. When the school, person, application or career we invested so much of ourselves in vanishes between our fingers and winds up shattered on the floor.

When we try, try and try to be the people we want to be yet despite all our efforts we still get our souls trampled into the muck. 

When all that happens. Remember, that's ok. You're human. You fail. You feel shitty because you fail. That's ok.

You're not perfect. I'm not. Neither are the people you imagine to have lives free of the struggles you do. 

To be human is to have yourself ravaged by rejection more often than not.

And yet I also want to say, you don't have to let your demon say: 'I was right! I was right all along! You were worthless! You are nothing! I own you! I was right!'

At some point, you will have the strength to reach out grab it's rotting arm and say:

'You are only right if I allow you to be!'

Your wounds can heal. You can clean them. You can sew them up. You can shake until you become unshakable. You can put yourself out there again. You can keep going.

Much Love,
A Fellow Reject 

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Badass Women of History- Marina Yurlova

Marina Yurlova

The Soldier


Though she never gained the fame or notoriety of some of history's other 'warrior women', Yurlova has a unique story. Her memoir 'Cossack Girl' provides an interesting account of her time serving as a solider in the Russian army during WWI.

Joining the war at just fourteen she would spend her formative years living the life of a soldier and enduring the hardships of life at the front.

Born in a village in the Caucasus Mountains in 1901, Yurlova was a member of the Kuban Cossacks, one of the many Cossack groups that inhabited southern Russia.

Historically, Cossacks were primarily known for two things- A strong sense of independence and their military prowess.

The word Cossack literally means free-man and adventurer.

Descended from Mongol Tatars, Russian peasants, and immigrants from Poland and other Eastern European countries, the Cossacks coalesced into small self-governing military communities.

These communities stayed independent for over a century before being recruited by the Russian monarchy in the sixteen and seventeen hundreds. In exchange for certain privileges the Cossacks were the vanguard for many of Imperial Russia's campaigns of expansion. Serving as scouts, shock troops and bodyguards, the Cossacks earned a reputation for being fierce fighters and steadfast servants of the Czars.

Cossack soldiers in WWI

It was no surprise that when Europe descended into the hellish chaos of the First World War, the Cossacks were called into action. Marina's father, a colonel, set off for the front in 1914. Marina, swept up as so many young people in Europe were by nationalism and patriotic fervor, decided to follow in his footsteps. 

At fourteen years old, she slipped away from her village and climbed aboard a military train in the hopes of uniting with her father. Attached to a group of a Cossack women following their men to the front, Marina eventually found herself in a Russian military camp on the Russian-Turkish front.

Despite her age and gender, Marina was accepted quickly by the men of the camp. Taken under the wing of a soldier named Kosloff, she was given a uniform and was assigned to the stables where she looked after the horses. Though she still looked for her father, her life became consumed by her new regiment.

Marina Yurlova as portrayed by Natalia Witmer in the series '14- Diaries of the Great War'

In time, Marina was also trained as an automechanic and was taught how to shoot by her mentor. Still only fourteen when she tasted combat for the first time, Marina joined her company for an assault to blow up bridges controlled by the Turks.

The attack ended in disaster. Shot in the leg early in the battle, Marina was helpless as her entire company was mowed down by Turkish gunfire. Among the dead was her friend Kosloff. Crawling her way back to her lines, Marina was taken to a hospital where her leg was nearly amputated.

Fortunately, she recovered. The only survivor of the attack, she was awarded a medal and was assigned to a new company. She received a much cooler welcome from her new comrades who regarded her as a child and a camp-follower. She was frequently left behind on missions. One night, while her company was on a dangerous night attack, Marina took a horse from the stables and rode to the front lines.

She found her unit and her courage in the battle cemented her status with the other soldiers.

Marina would continue to serve at the front for three more years, working as a stable-hand, automechanic, truck driver, scout and soldier.

She would survive many battles and close calls, including a night attack where she was knocked unconscious during an artillery barrage in no man's land. She awoke to find herself buried almost up to her face with dirt dispersed by the shells and had to be dug out by other Russian soldiers.

Marina remained at the front until 1917 when the Czar was overthrown. With supply shortages and a lack of morale in the Russian army, desertions and talks of mutiny grew. When Bolshevik soldiers in her unit slew the commanding officers and took control of the regiment, Marina's Cossack heritage made her a target. 


Bolshevik Recruiting Poster During the Russian Civil War

Because of her people's staunch loyalty to the Czar (and because many Cossacks were joining anti-Communist armies) she was detained and sent to a Bolshevik prison. She spent several months in a cell by herself. Then, as Russia descended into civil war between pro and anti Communist forces, Marina heard gunshots in her wing of the prison.

A White Russian army just a few days away, the Bolsheviks in charge of the prison had decided to execute their remaining prisoners before fleeing. With her cell all the way at the end of the hall, Marina listened as the Reds shot down the captives inside each room. Expecting her time to come, she stood in the center of her cell waiting for the door to open. However, the Bolsheviks forgot she was there and left after killing the man in the room next to her.

Marina spent several days without food or water in her cell before the White Army arrived and freed her. She joined the anti-Communists for a while before suffering severe shell shock and being hospitalized in Moscow.

Marina was still recovering when she decided that she had endured enough hardship. Seeing no future for herself, she left the hospital with the help of a sympathetic doctor and began an arduous journey across the vast expanse of Russia to Vladivostok. There, she hoped to reach someone at an American run mission and find passage on a ship to the US.


Route of the Trans-Siberian Railway which Marina Yurlova used on her journey

Taking a train across the vast expanse of Siberia in 1919, Marina joined a group of Royalists and Cossacks who jumped off in the Siberian wilderness and continued their journey on foot.

A month later, after hiking through wilderness and dodging Bolshevik patrols, the now nineteen year old Marina reached the American mission in Valdivostok, where she secured passage to Japan and then America.

Marina spent the rest of her life living quietly in the US, performing as a dancer before marrying an American filmmaker and becoming a US citizen in 1926. 

Marina Yurlova in 1919.