Saturday, November 30, 2013

Yesterday's post, part 2

I probably shouldn't write this -- particularly not right now -- because I'm frustrated and emotional.  However, I've been told that some of my best writing comes out of times when I am frustrated and emotional, so here goes anyway.

I'm thinking more about #4 from yesterdays post.  In particular,I'm thinking about this idea of how I (as a woman) am supposed to embody a specific definition of "success."  I'm thinking about the measuring stick others are using versus the one I typically use.  I'm thinking about how it is that I -- and other women, too -- can feel like a failure, or a disappointment, or an anomaly, or just feel broken because of those arbitrary yardsticks and the ways we measure up (or don't).  I'm thinking about the fact that I am generally happy...happier than I have been in several years, and have been moving forward in my happiness and confidence by leaps and bounds these past few months.  I'm thinking about the fact that I seem to have a Perceived Happiness Value by which others assess my situation.  I'm thinking about the fact that this Perceived Happiness Value is not necessarily accurate, and about the fact that, because my happiness comes from other sources, I have been and can be judged as unhappy, or unsuccessful, or not normal.  Mostly, though I'm thinking about the fact that this judgment can affect my ACTUAL happiness and my ACTUAL confidence and my ACTUAL sense of self-worth.

That is not how I want it to be.

I really wish I could say "meh.  Ya know" and blow it all off like it's no big deal.  I really wish I could just say, "I'm cool with who I am and how things are going.  I know that when things aren't cool, I can handle it and change things so that I feel like things are cool again.  But right now...I'm actually pretty cool, thanks."  I wish that I could say in actual live conversation, "you know, I understand that what you are telling me is right/was right for you and your happiness...but right now, my happiness and I are okay, thanks.  Right now, I'm happy with the decisions I am making."

And, in fact, that is what it all comes down to: choice.  The freedom to choose your own path and make your own decisions, and the ability to have those choices respected and honored as a valuable path.  Honestly, isn't that what we all want?  Isn't that how we should live and be with one another?

Given, things happen that are out of our control that are not what we would have chosen.  There are times we have to make decisions when we don't have a good choice, or the option that we would like is simply not available.  Sometimes, really shitty things happen, and there's not a damn thing you can do about it.

But we do have choices.  After the shit happens, you have choices.  Even if they aren't good choices.  Even if they aren't choices you would like to have to make.  Even when it seems like you don't have choices.  Even then you have a choice.  

My decision to date right now -- or not -- is my business, and mine alone, end of story.  My decision to get married and have children right now -- or ever -- is my business, and mine alone.  It does not have to do with whether or not I am meeting these socially imposed milestones.  It does not have to do with whether I am objectively whole, or broken, or healthy, or unhealthy, or mature, or immature, or emotionally scarred or stable.  It does not have to do with how attractive I am, or how unattractive I am.  It does not have to do with my weight or lack of it.  It does not have to do with my fashion sense (or lack of it), or how well (or poorly) I flirt, or how well (or poorly) I can play the games society insists we should play when we date.  And yes, each of these things has been mentioned as a potential factor in my lack of partner situation.

It feels, though, like I am failing.  Like it's wrong for me to be happy without these other things in my life.  Like I am wrong for being happy without these things in my life.  "It's just not normal," I've been told.  There are pressures from people and communities around me that make me feel like a failure for not wanting and starting a family in which I stay at home and take care of a handful of kids.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with that -- absolutely nothing!  In fact, I think it is a wonderful and honorable choice for any man or woman to make, and I respect each person who makes that decision.  I respect them, however, exactly for that -- their decision.  It is not my decision right now.  Choices change, of course, and my position on this could very well change.  However, for me, now, at 28 with a recently completed doctoral degree and a job I am privileged to have and love with all of my being, it is not my choice.  Because it is not my choice, it makes the rest of my choices seem wrong, unimportant, and inconsequential.  Because it is not my choice right now, it feels like I am messing up the rest of my life and letting others down.  And, more than anything, I just hate feeling like a disappointment.  

Choices change!  Decisions change.  Circumstances change, opinions change, and there is nothing I can see that I am doing now that would negate the changing of my choices in the future.  In fact, I foresee my choices as definitely shifting in the future.  But does that mean that I am a failure now?  Does that mean that me, as I am, with my choices in this moment...does that mean that I am somehow failing at this big, hard thing called life?

The answer is "no," but there are parts of me that feel like the answer is most definitely "yes."

Final Friday

It's Friday again, and I seem to be making a ritual out of lists on here is our Final Friday list for November:

(1) Family is a wonderful thing for which we should all express gratitude and thanksgiving.  And then we should go home, before that feeling of gratitude and thanksgiving passes.  Sometimes, that window can be very, very small.

(2) Hanging out downtown in the town you grew up in is an interesting experience.  My sister and I went downtown today, because all the little shops were open and doing fun activities for "Frosty Friday."  It was a little chaotic and crowded, but it's fun.  It's also crazy to walk around and see the same people I've seen since I was a kid.  I can't decide if I like this or not.  Sometimes I do: I like the familiarity and the fact that things don't change, and the fact that people know my name and my family.  Sometimes, though, I just don't like it.  I know I would never be able to be seen as my own person, and this bothers me.  Space and my own community is a very good thing.

(3) I had a long conversation today with a family member who does not know I blog about this person's perception that blogs are self-centered, and that only self-centered people have blogs.  It made me think and made me quite uncomfortable, because it's true.  It really is.  Not that only self-centered people have blogs, I don't think you can say that, but that blogging is rather self-centered.  There is no reason why people should want to read my (or others') ramblings about my/their mundane thoughts and/or existence.  And I am.  I need to think about this more.

(4) I hate that people in my life hold the idea that a woman is not truly successful until she has found a partner/married/had children.  I hate the fact that I know I will not be seen as truly successful until I have accomplished this.  I completely understand that this is a developmental milestone I am supposed to have reached by now.  I also completely understand that, sometimes, people don't know how to handle it when certain expected developmental milestones have not been reached.  And, actually, it's NOT really a developmental milestone, so I take that back.  It's a socially expected milestone.  There is a difference.  Just because I'm not married/don't have a partner/have not had children at 28 does not mean that I am developmentally behind.  It feels that way right now, I won't lie to you.  It feels like people must think there is something flat-out wrong with me.  BUT...the rational part of me knows and understands that this is merely an arbitrary social expectation based on patterns of other people in our current culture.  Regardless, it pisses me off, perhaps unnecessarily.

(5) I have a lot to say, maybe tomorrow, on food, and body shaming, and how hard it is to be body-positive and to stand up to body shaming in all of its sneaky forms.  I will have to write about that tomorrow.

(6) I have some super exciting things coming up for me the next few weeks, and I am extraordinarily excited and full of amazement and gratitude for each of them.  I will hopefully have some exciting things to write about soon.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

Happy Thanksgivukkah!

To all my friends: Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Hanukkah!  I hope you all had a wonderful day full of family and love.

Let's all remember to express gratitude tomorrow (and other days) too!

Thanksgiving Eve and culinary mishaps

Happy Thanksgiving Eve.  Or Thanksgivukkah Eve.  Or, you know, Happy Wednesday.  Happy November 27th.  Whatever works for you this evening.

It's been a long ass day.  So long, in fact, that the curse words have been flowing freely all night simply because...well just because.  It's been a long day.  At 2PM I was ready for the day to be over, but I wasn't done at work until 6.  Ten after six, actually, because the family I was working with wanted to show me pictures of the Christmas lights on their house.  This was great, and it was a sweet little house, and normally I would be very patient and enjoy such an interaction because it's indicative of what wonderful rapport with them and how much they consider me part of their life that they want me to partake in the joy of Dad's handiwork with the Christmas lights.  Tonight?  I kind of wanted to throw my hands in the air and say "for the love of all that is holy, I don't care about your freaking Christmas lights!"

I didn't.  I wanted to.  But I didn't.

Anyway, after I finally got home and got dinner, I cleaned up the house and then drove out to my parents house, which is where I am now.  It's been a long ass day.

So, briefly, I will share the family story about Autodidact at Thanksgiving that is told every year and will live down in infamy forever and ever.

I was 11.  A newly turned 11, mind you, and we had 19 people coming to our house for Thanksgiving.  My job in all of this was to make the pumpkin pie.  I was a pretty sharp little 11 year old, and I knew my way
around a kitchen pretty well.  There was nothing too special about this pumpkin pie...just the simple recipe from Joy of Cooking.  I was going along, doing really well, super independent and feeling important amidst my parents and grandmother in the kitchen.  I was going to make the best pumpkin pie ever.  Everyone would be so impressed, right?  I felt I was pretty much something special.  Isn't if funny how important those things become to us, especially when we're young?

Well, in feeling like Something Special, I failed to realize that the recipe spread onto a second page.  I saw the directions on page two, but failed to see that the last ingredients on the ingredient list were on that second page.  I mixed and measured and poured it all into the pie crust, and I popped that beautiful pie in the oven.  "I'm done!" I told my mother.  Several minutes later, she came to check: Did you put in the pumpkin?  The evaporated milk?  The sugar?  We went down the list -- yep, yep, yep.

"Did you put in the eggs?" she asked.

"Eggs?" I questioned.  "There aren't any eggs in the pumpkin pie."

"Yes, there are," she said, panic rising in her voice.  "Did you put in the eggs?"

I looked at page two of the recipe.  There, at the top of the page, were the two eggs.  The two eggs I had NOT put in the pumpkin pie that was now in the oven.

Of course, just then, the door bell rang with the first load of relatives.

"Get out the eggs!" my mother said sharply.  I retrieved them from the fridge.  My mom pulled the pie out of the oven just as the relatives came in the door.

"What are you doing?" they asked.

"We're a little breathless," she said.  "Autodidact forgot the eggs in the pumpkin pie.  So I'm fixing it."  She dumped the filling out of the pie and back into the bowl, whisked in the eggs, dumped it back into the crust, and put it back in the oven.

I was humiliated.  No one was going to be impressed.  No one would think it was the best pumpkin pie ever.  It wasn't even mine anymore, I felt.  I left out the eggs.  It was the talk of the entire day -- how clever my mother was for thinking of dumping out the filling and putting in the eggs; how lucky we were my mother caught it; how I would do better next year.

The year after that, I was again given the task of making the pumpkin pie.  "Remember last year?" everybody asked.  "Did you remember the eggs?" everyone repeated.  I did remember the eggs.  However, that year I reached for the glass jar of brown sugar on the top shelf and dropped it, into the glass bowl underneath, and somehow managed to shatter them both.

I am-- somehow -- still the one who typically makes the pumpkin pie...and everyone still asks about the eggs.  Interestingly, I don't even like pumpkin pie.  Something about the consistency.  Maybe it would be better if I left out the eggs?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

I am the keeper of the Transformers

This poem is not what I intended to write tonight.  I started a post yesterday that I thought of the day before that I want to finish...but this poem suddenly wanted to be written.  This is exactly how it fell onto the page, attempt one, little to no editing...but here it is anyway.  

I wrote an "I Am" poem about two years ago when I did a poetry service at church with my friend Reticula.  I shared that poem here.  Here is an updated "I Am" poem, two years later.  

I am the keeper of the Transformers

I am the keeper of the Transformers.
The gateway to Thomas the Tank Engine, Spiderman, and Captain America,
I am the helper of badass kids who want what they want when they want it
but learn to get what they get when they earn it.
I am floating bubbles bringing open-mouthed belly laughs,
quiet praise and jubilant exclamations for cleaned up blocks,
bottoms in chairs, fingers on noses, and hands not used for hitting.
I am "that lady with the stickers and chips"
the talking doctor, the worry doctor, the un-cross doctor,   
and the M&M dispenser.
I am a Swamp Monster, a Potato Head, a Poo-poo Face, and
a doctor who doesn't even know the names of all the Pokemons.

I can certainly be a disappointment.

I am words on a page hiding a face,
longing for connection behind the plain-face type.
I am gentle and fierce; fiercely gentle and tough --
I will stand up while sitting down with words that give me
a presence I don't understand. 
I am a fighter of injustice, I am
finding, using, discovering, uncovering
my voice; I am
scared of, trying to find, racing towards, running from
my power; I am

I am quick to smile,
the familiar face that reminds people of Sarah, or Elizabeth, or someone I'm not --
but could be, if the tables were turned.
I am hiding in a crowd
overwhelmed by its energy, I am the one who is swallowed by extraversion. 
I am skirts and scarves, boots, and wool sweaters.
I am a nose-ring and a secretly desired tattoo -- covertly funky
while fitting just barely inside the constraints of professionalism.
I am dog kisses and long walks at the park, 
the saver of stinkbugs and earthworms,
I am the prayer that is whispered for road kill on the highway
and the first to smash a cricket.

I am full of contradictions and always far from perfect.

I am sleepless nights.
The birther and fighter of worry bullies.
I am long emails and handwritten notes in the mail,
I am a vaguely familiar melody. 
I am too much, too intense, too emotional, too nice:
I am an out-of-bounds, free-form soul
expanding the edges of my existence.

I am inviting you to join me.

I am not enough for all I want to create,
but always searching for all I can be.  I am bearing my soul because
it's the only way I know to change the world.
I am loving this world with all I have to give. 

I am the keeper of the Transformers.
I am one gateway of hope in a world that needs transforming
so I open myself to being

Monday, November 25, 2013

An old poem, made new

A slight re-write of an older poem, because writing something for real just ain't happening tonight.  Still, I don't know that I've ever shared this one and I just found it again...and it kinda fits where I'm at today anyway.  It's like it was meant to happen.


There are moments.

The moment between sleeping and waking when I,
tiptoeing cautiously back from a dreamless night
feel Sun’s beams stretching across my bed.
Like the hope I’ve been waiting for,
she warms my body before I can attempt to
shame it into non-existence.
It’s as if the Goddess herself crawls into my veins and
holds me from the inside.
She breathes life into my limbs,
pulls my body back from the exile of denial
and instills my heart with innocence
my sleep-filled being
doesn’t remember losing.

In that moment between sleeping and waking,
I let her love me
in the ways I dare not love myself.

I feel her open the secured places,
let her slip inside and
infuse them with denied truth, rendering them sacred.
I suspend my thoughts in her arms,
let her bless my sunshine filled body, and
spend the rest of the day aching
to live wholly into this half-realized dream
of me, as I am.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What would you do: Diversity discussions at work

I keep thinking I want to write this post, and then I keep telling myself that I shouldn't...and then I keep wanting to write it...and then I stop myself again...

So I'm going to write it, but I'm going to write it carefully because I don't want it to be misconstrued.  If I say something that doesn't sit right with you, or something that doesn't seem like me...ask me in the comments and we'll talk.  Chances are that it just didn't come out right, in spite of my being careful.

There is this one particular colleague that challenges me for several reasons, but mostly, I think, because we are just very (very) different people.  She is not a bad person, and I don't want to come across as saying that she is.  She has very different values than I do, sure, but she's not a bad person.  I think her intentions are mostly good.

This person, who I'll call Emma, challenges me most of all on two topics: (1) completely unchecked privilege that she has no intention of recognizing and (2) complete lack of awareness on issues surrounding diversity. 

Allow me to set the scene for the following conversation.  Emma, another colleague I'll call K, and myself were sitting in our cubicles.  I was writing progress notes, and Emma and K were talking.

Emma is a Caucasian, cisgender, Christian female in her early 30s, born and raised in a (self-described) wealthy, religious family in a Midwestern state. 

K is an Indian, cisgender, Hindu female in her late 20s, born and raised in Delhi, India, in a (self-described) "well-off" family.  She has been in the US for 5 years.  It should be noted that K has a traditional Indian name.

K asked Emma for assistance with pronouncing an unusual name for a client she would be seeing later that day.  Emma provided as much assistance as she could, and laughed at the name.

"You know," K said, "I always thought I wanted to give my children traditional Indian names because they have so much meaning, and I just have always thought they are beautiful.  But after working with kids and knowing how much I mess up their names all the time, I don't know if I want to do that to my kid.  I'll probably name him John or something," she laughed.

Me, as I was pretending to write notes
"Oh my gosh," said Emma.  "I can't stand know...interesting names.  You know how I told you that I did foster care when I was living in [Midwestern state]?  Yeah, well, did I ever tell you the kids' names?"

"No," said K.  "I don't think so."

I continued typing my notes, but my fingers were turning into claws on my keyboard.  This was not going to end well, I could tell.

"Well," said Emma, "the first child I had...a little boy...his name when I got him was [insert traditional Native American name here].  Well, let me tell you, I called the foster care agency and told them "there is no way I'm calling a child this name.  We're going to have to give him a new name instead."

K laughed, sort of.  "So wait, his name was [traditional Native American name]?  And they changed it?"

"Oh yeah," said Emma.  "There was no way I was going to call a child that.  So we changed the name to [insert common, European sounding name here].  And then my SECOND foster child...I couldn't even figure out how to pronounce his name.  His name was [insert traditional Native American name here].  And I just told them, "no, I'm calling him [insert similar sounding name that is a relatively uncommon, but clearly European, name]."  She laughed.  "I mean, come on.  How was I going to call a child [traditional Native American name]?"

K laughed again, sort of.  "So you just changed the children's names?  You can do that?"

"Oh yeah," said Emma.  "The foster care agency didn't have an issue with it.  I think they probably understood."

There was an awkward moment while I weighed the anger that was coming out of my ears, the likelihood that I would be able to respond in a calm and rational manner, and the fact that I need to work with her for at least another 10 months.  I couldn't stay quiet.  I took a breath and turned around.

"Growing up in Midwestern state, there must have been a large Native American population," I said, hoping to give her a way to introduce this fact, or recant her prior judgment, or change her story, or offer a redeeming piece of information, or something.  None of that happened. 

Also me, waiting for the smoke to start coming out of my ears.
"Oh yeah," she said instead.  "They're everywhere."

I'm pretty sure flames came out of my ears.  I took another deep breath.

"Well, given that, and given the children's names, it sounds like they were probably from families with Native American heritage.  Right?"

"Well, yes," she said.

"Hmmmm," I paused.  Everything paused for a moment, as both Emma and K waited for what I was going to say next.  "You know," I said, thoughtfully and calmly, "I don't know that I agree with you on this.  Given, they weren't children that I was caring for, but it concerns me that children who are being taken not only away from their family, but also away from their culture,  would also have their names that link them to that culture taken from them.  From what I understand, names and the naming process are extremely important in some cultures...not to mention that there is an identity with that name, even with very young children.  To take that away so that I could feel more comfortable, or so that the people around me could feel more comfortable, is not something I think I could condone."

"Oh, they were really young...I mean, the oldest was 3.  And this is something that the foster care agency has to do all the time."

"Hmmm," I said, pausing again.  "You know," I said, continuing to breathe and attempt to sound thoughtful and calm, "I think this also bothers me due to the fact that this fees like a perpetuation of what Caucasian people have done to Native Americans and their culture for generations.  I just think that I would really hate for a child to lose their traditional name and their link to their heritage because someone isn't comfortable with calling them by their given name."

"Yeah..." Emma paused.  " was really no big deal.  The foster care agency was cool with it."  She laughed and made a joke, and then her pager went off, calling her into session. 

K and I turned back to our computers and started typing after she left.  My heart was pounding because...dude, standing up is hard.  There wasn't a reason to stand up to this particular issue, necessarily.  It was all over and done.  But I had to do it anyway.  I just had to.  I couldn't have let myself just sit there and listen to it.  Why?

(1) Because I don't know how this conversation might have affected K, as a Indian woman living, at least for now, in the US.  As an Indian woman expressing -- albeit tongue-in-cheek -- her hesitance to name her future children with names that are culturally important and significant to her. 

(2) Because we work together in a helping profession with children from all walks of life, from every possible background and history, and because the sort of ignorance and judgment she was displaying is not okay with me if she is going to continue to work in this profession.  I mean, if you change your own foster children's names, what might you say to a family or client with whom you are working?  (Keep in mind, we have lots of prior history, too.  I'm not basing this on a one-time interaction, even if it was a whopper).

(3) Because this just was not okay.  Changing others' culture to make you more comfortable is not okay.  Laughing about others' heritage to make you more comfortable is not okay. 

(4) Because, it seems, that this had been told and retold as a "funny story" for years, and had always gone unchecked.  I couldn't let it go unchecked.

It was hard.  But I had to say something.  I don't think it changes anything.  I also don't think this will be the last conversation of this nature that we have. 

Also me.  I'm the dude offering the drink.
(I do know that she did not come to the didactic I did on cultural spite of supervisors directives to go.  This was a serious bummer, as I did the didactic because I saw a need - from her and others  - and asked to be able to help to fill that need.  I expressed this disappointment to my supervisor later, and her response was, essentially "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink."  This is true, but hard to sit with.  I kinda want to shake her and say "LEARN, DAMMIT!"  This, however, is generally regarded as unprofessional).

How would you have handled this situation?  Would you have had a conversation?  Or would you have let it be?


Now, I'm not really a Katie Perry fan.  She's fine and all, but I don't generally stop and listen when her songs come on the radio.  This video, however, is amazing, and now I'm singing "Roar" in my head, and will picture this video every time I hear that song.

I have to admit: I watch her, and I am so fucking envious.  It's not her talent I'm after, or her flexibility (though I wouldn't argue with either one of those).  I took ballet lessons from the time I was 5 or 6 until I was in college.  From middle school through when I graduated high school, I danced 6 days a week.  I went through periods of also taking Irish dance, and in college I also took classes and performed historical dances from the 17th century to present day.  I took ballroom for a year or so, and I still love dancing.  It's been years since I have danced anywhere, and I still have "dance dreams" sometimes.  But still, while she's clearly much more talented than I, I'm not after her talent.

I'm after her "fuck it" attitude, and her ability and willingness to just put it all out there.  She's making a point, obviously, and she writes in her blog about her struggle with body image in the entertainment industry.  We are all (men and women) affected by internal and external pressures and stressors....some of us more than others.

I also grew up with a family that became increasingly weight conscious, body-sensitive, and disordered in the ways we thought about, talked about, and didn't talk about our bodies, weight, clothing, food, etc.  Don't forget about those ballet classes starting at that young age, and don't ask me to pull out my journals from age 10 onward.  It's awful to see the stress that little me felt, and the embarrassment and shame I came to feel about my body.  We all do to some extent, don't we?

I know she's putting on a show, but good lord, what I wouldn't give to just even be able to pretend to have that attitude of "THIS IS ME" and "fuck the bullshit 'beauty' standards" and the overwhelming message of "YES!  I DO love my body!!!"

I'm so far from that, I don't even know which direction to point my body in to start moving there.  I can say it beautifully with words...but to actually embody that concept?  I've got a long (long) way to go.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday's list, one week later

I find myself once again at a brain-dead Friday.  I've been staring at the darn little blinking cursor for longer than I care to admit, and...I got nothin'.  So here's a list, because I always have something semi-interesting to say in list form.

1) I currently have a bruise on my forehead.  It's mighty sexy.  I was sitting on the floor, working with a kiddo today, and he got excited and spit/sneezed/threw blocks, seemingly all at the same time.  I ducked my head and turned away to avoid getting spit/snot/blocks in the face, and plowed my forehead into the edge of the kid-sized table next to me.  For what it's worth, I missed the spit, the snot, AND the blocks.  I'm thinking that's still a win.

2) I found a stinkbug in my underwear drawer, and now all of the contents of said drawer smell like stinkbug.  Looks like I'm re-washing them tomorrow morning.  If I smell weird next time you see me, just don't ask.

3) Learning who to trust and who not to trust, and who to trust with what information, and how to trust people, and how not to trust people, is the hardest lesson for me to learn.  I mess it up all the time and figure I must completely suck at it.  I don't think I'm ever going to learn, and wonder if it might just be better to live with the fact that I'm not good at this at all and learn to better deal with the consequences.  That hardly seems logical, but I'm not sure what else to do.

4) I love going outside when it's windy before and/or after a rain.  I love the way it smells and the way the world reeks of intrigue.

5) My dog is amazing.  Seriously.  I don't know where I would be without him.

6) No offense to anybody following the NaNoBloPo month prompts through BlogHer, but seriously?  The prompt for yesterday was this:  Describe an outfit that makes you feel good. (It can be from any period of your life.) Double points if you post a picture of yourself in the outfit. 

Who wants to read about an outfit that makes me feel good?  I'd MUCH rather tell you about the outfit that I hated.  Doesn't that make a better story? really want to hear about the outfit that I hated?  Okay.  The outfit I most hated was an outfit my grandmother gave me when I was around 9.  My sister had a matching outfit, and she was 7, and my youngest sister had a matching outfit, and she was 2.  She ALSO bought my mother a matching turtleneck.   The outfits were mustard colored turtlenecks with fuzzy, striped jeans that were muted shades of purple, blue, deep red, and green.  They were, in a word, hideous.  

The issue was that my grandmother was of the mindset that you "buy big" such that clothes will fit for a nice long time.  The onesie for my youngest sister could have fit a baby sumo wrestler but, fortunately, was too small for anyone else to fit into.  My middle sister's outfit was a little big on me, my outfit practically fit my mother, and my mom's turtleneck could have fit all 3 of us girls inside.  

My mom was of the mindset that you wear and enjoy what people give you.  So we kept those clothes...and we kept them...and we kept them...and I wore the shirt and the stupid fuzzy jeans for so many years, there was no longer any fuzz left in the crotch or the knees by the time I outgrew them.  As far as the turtlenecks go, I drew the line when I was packing for college and flat out refused the mustard turtlenecks (yes, plural...the one given to my mom and the one that was supposed to fit 9 year old me were both in my drawer when I was 17).  

Funny story: As I was typing the above paragraph, I remembered that I had cut a piece out and glued it into a journal at some point.  I took a break from writing and went and searched through old journals.  I found it, with this passage next to it...I swear to god, 12 years later, I wrote almost exactly the same thing I had written when I was 16.   By the time the pants bit the dust, they were such a legacy that I cut out a square from them and glued it in my journal.  I had forgotten that my mom cut out the back pocket and gave it to my sister as a bed for the very small stuffed animal bear that was her favorite at the time.  Here is photographic evidence of the awfulness that was those pants.  Imagine this with a mustard turtleneck (and my sweet, sexy, HUGE glasses, and, for a while, bangs.  Did I ever mention that I was not popular?) :

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Blossoming (Anxiously)

I'll be honest: this week has been ROUGH on the anxiety front.  The past two days in particular have just been bad, for no real reason I can name.  It happens sometimes.  I'm working on just accepting it.  I'm not labeling it, or judging it as "good" or "bad" just is.  In this moment, right now, I am anxious.  This has nothing to do with how I may or may not be feeling in the next moment.  It simply is what is right now.

This is not an easy practice, particularly with anxiety.  The nature of anxiety is that you are not necessarily rational, and your thoughts aren't typically peaceful and accepting.  In fact, the conversation chatter in my brain tends to go something like this:

Rational Me: In this moment, my heart feels like it is beating fast and my brain is busy with many different thoughts at once.

Anxious Me: Well aren't you a regular Sherlock Holmes?  Of course you're anxious.  Don't you realize that (insert worry of the moment here).

Rational Me: Wow, when I call my attention to the fact that my brain is busy, it really turns up the heat.  It makes my experience of anxiety in that moment more intense.  It's okay that I'm anxious.  It is simply my experience in this moment, and nothing more.

Anxious Me: Oh. My. God.  Come on now.  Seriously.  We're worrying over here, and you're trying to pull some Thich Nhat Hanh crap.  Come worry with us!  It'll make you feel better!  Let's find something new to be anxious about!

Rational Me: Hmmm...I continue to experience a...barely...nonjudgmental attitude towards my anxiety in this moment.


And then I do.  Because Rational Me is still working on beefing up her muscles a bit and still has to kinda step up her game.  I tried listening to a meditation tape last night, and I literally argued with it.  Out loud.  The person on the CD told me to...I dunno...empty my mind or take a deep breath and allow my thoughts to float away, and I literally said out loud, "hah.  You tell me how and I'll do it, buddy."

I listened for a few more minutes and then turned the darn thing off.  We'll try again another day.

In all honesty, though, I think there is always anxiety when you're at a crossroads, and I think that's where I am.  Remember my all time favorite quote I posted a week or so ago (the one I want to be part of my tattoo I'll get one day?)

"And the day came when the risk it took to remain tight inside the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."  -- Anais Nin

I'm at that crossroads in some ways.  I've been here before in other ways, and it's always an anxious time.  I think growth does that to you, right?  It's worth the risk, though.  It always is.  You go through a little pain, but it's worth it to blossom.  You can't stay a bud forever, even if you've been a damn good bud.

In the past several months, I've had a number of times where I kind of step back and look at myself and think, "who ARE you, and what are you doing!?!?"  The thing is, though, it's been all good things.  Really good things.  Times when I am stepping up and stepping out and taking initiative and getting stuff done.  I am acting more empowered and less inhibited, which is making me feel more empowered and less inhibited...or perhaps its the other way around.  Regardless, I am moving into taking that risk to blossom.  I don't know what that means, entirely, but that bud is just a little too small.

It's not just a one time process though, that's for sure.  You're in the bud, and you're out of the bud, and then you're half out of the bud, then you're stuck in the bud...or you think you're out and you're in...this blossoming business is hard work.  It's a conscious process, mostly, but with a weird unidentifiable driving force behind it.  Part of me wants to call it hope.  Part of me wants to call it love.  I think it's probably both.  After all, isn't that essentially what makes the flowers bloom?

Is there an area of your life where you need to/want to blossom?  How can you allow yourself to open to allow that to happen?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Poopoo Face

You should know better than to trust me at this point.  I like to promise exciting blog posts about awesome things...and then back off...and then forget about them.  I AM going to write an updated This I Believe essay, but not tonight.  Honestly, it probably won't be tomorrow night either.  I should learn not to promise such things.

I scheduled entirely too many clients today -- which is no one's fault but my own -- and I'm just completely exhausted.  I didn't get home until around 8PM, which means that now, at 9:30, I've just started to settle in.  When I've been in session for so many hours (I had 7 hours of direct, face-to-face therapy hours today, 6 of which were back-to-back), I start to get a little funny.  By "a little funny," I mean that I get weirdly talkative about inane things when I get out of session.  I'm that weird exhausted/hyper/tired thing where you're just...I don't know.  Weird.  Am I the only one that gets this way?

On days like this, I've been known to call my sister and say something like "I NEED TO TALK ABOUT ME RIGHT NOW DON'T SAY ANYTHING!" or "I need to talk to somebody about something other than poop right now.  Can you talk to me about something other than poop, toileting, bathroom habits, fecal smearing, and nocturnal enuresis?  You can?  THANK GOD!" or "I'm going to talk to you on the condition that you don't bite me, spit on me, yell at me, curse me out, or pee on the floor.  Can you agree to these terms?  Yes?  Okay.  Proceed."

I actually didn't talk about poop, vomit, or urine at all today, which is unusual.  I also did not get bitten, spit on, yelled at, or peed on, which is also a bit unusual.  It's more of an I NEED TO TALK ABOUT ME RIGHT NOW sort of evening, except I don't have anything to talk about.  I am all talked out.  Luckily, Mo-Man is being extra cuddly this evening.  He's always generous with his hugs, but I think he knows when I have long days.

The only thing I could talk about is headaches and, quite frankly, I'm so tired of thinking about headaches that I don't even want to write about it.  I've been entirely unsuccessful thus far in finding headache answers.  I take that back...I've not been unsuccessful, I'm just being inpatient.  It seems like a head transplant is the only answer left to consider, and I'm really not sure how well that one's been tested yet.  Also, the problem with working with kids with behavior concerns, is you need to work in rooms with no windows, because windows can break.  The problem with rooms with no windows is that they have awful fluorescent lighting.  The problem with fluorescent lighting is that it leads to headaches.  The problem with 7 hours of therapy is a lot of time in the rooms with the fluorescent lights, which leads to headaches.  The other issue with working with children with behavior concerns is that there is generally a lot of screaming and vocalizing.  The OTHER issue with 7 hours of therapy is that there isn't much time for lunch/to eat.  The problem with headaches is that you eventually cave and want to swallow something to give you relief to keep going, and the problem with this is that, if you haven't eaten, the meds will eat you.

So, basically, I was eaten by meds today in a room with fluorescent lights and vocalizing children with no food and a headache.  It wasn't a bad day.  It's just a day like any other day, really.

But I take it back.  I totally talked about poop today.  In fact, I spent probably 40 minutes working on bathroom issues with a kid, and I got called Poo-poo Face in the process.  I knew it was too weird to have gone the ENTIRE day without this topic.  I'm not an MD, but I have gotten incredibly comfortable talking about others' bodily functions.  In fact, I probably made everybody uncomfortable just now talking about fecal smearing and such, didn't I?  Dammit, my sense of "normal" conversations people typically have throughout the day is so skewed, I don't even know what's offensive/uncomfortable anymore.  I mean, if this is on the most normal side of normal, can you imagine what a bad conversation sounds like?

OKAY!  Okay.  I'm done with the poop talk.

Let's talk instead about...oh forget it.  I was going to introduce a new, serious topic that could be a really good post, but I think I've ruined any chance of anyone taking me seriously tonight.  This Poo-poo Face is done for the night.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

This I Believe

You know the "This I Believe" series on NPR?  Basically, people write a short essay on what they believe, and they share it.

Several years ago, one of my really amazing professors in grad school had us all write a "This I Believe" essay, which we shared with the class in an extremely profound and emotional day.  We had class at the Ben and Jerry's ice cream shop and had the entire place to ourselves.  We bought (and ate) a lot of ice cream, and each took a turn standing up next to the Ben and Jerry's wooden cow and reading our belief statements.  It is probably my favorite moment from graduate school.

A year or so after that, I had the youth group I was working with at my church write their own belief statement, and I wrote one as well.  I had written a belief statement when I was in 8th grade that I read in front of my congregation, and I think it's a wonderful and important experience for everyone to have.  

And thus, I birthed a tradition of intermittently writing This I Believe essays.  

It's Tuesday, which is not my prime writing day, so instead, I'll post the This I Believe essay that I wrote a couple years ago.  This is the one I shared in graduate school, and it's still extremely meaningful for several reasons.  While I will write a different essay, this one still absolutely expresses something I believe.

This I Believe

Seeing as it would be impossible for me to even begin trying to explain what I believe, I am going to instead tell a story of a woman who changed what I believe.  This woman served as one of the catalysts in my quest to learn how to truly see, be with, and learn from others.

I was 18 when this woman, who I will call "Jasmine," came into my life for a brief two week period.  At 26 years old, Jasmine was affected by profound intellectual disability, significant medical concerns, and significant physical impairments.  More prominently and importantly, however, Jasmine was a victim of neglect.  She looked no more than 8 years old and was emaciated, completely immobile, and unable to swallow enough to eat or take the medications she was prescribed.  She sat, eyes closed, head on her wheelchair tray, and nothing I did elicited any sort of response.  

One day, I sat down with Jasmine and stared at her for a moment, wondering how society could have failed a person so thoroughly and completely.  Wondering how the medical field could have failed her so completely.  Wondering how I could have failed her so completely.  I had never known it could hurt, almost unbearably, just to look at a person so clearly unable to get what she needed from anything or anyone.  

Feeling completely hopeless, I carefully unhooked the belt on Jasmine's wheelchair.  I put one hand around her body, and another under her legs such that I was cradling this 26 year old woman like an infant.  Gently, I sat her in my lap, brushing the hair from her face and soothing her -- or more likely myself -- with quiet murmurs.  I sat for nearly an hour holding her, singing, and talking to her quietly.  None of this elicited any response.  When I began to move to put Jasmine back in her chair, I noticed her eyelids fluttering until, slowly, her eyes opened, and for a long moment, her beautiful brown doe-like eyes stared into me, searching.  In that instant, her eyes communicated a deep and innocent wonder, intense pain, incredulous curiosity, and immeasurable depth.  Her mouth twitched and then spread wide into a grin with a deep gurgle of laughter that came up deep from her belly.  Her smile filled both of our souls.

"Hey pretty girl," I murmured.  "I see you.  Look at your smile.  I see you now, Jasmine."  And I did see her then, for the first time.  She was still there, after all those years.  And she was beautiful.

People ask me why I want to work with individuals with disabilities, and I tell them, "I just feel drawn to that community."  But that's not it.  I work with people with disabilities because I believe they are people who are waiting, just as we all are, to show ourselves to a world that is inadequate in communicating with our true selves.  I believe every person is whole, beautiful, and full of life and potential and lessons to teach, if only we knew how to speak each others' language.  I see it as my duty as a human being to look to that deeper place until I find the person who is longing for connection in an incomprehensible world that makes no attempt to comprehend.  

Undoubtedly, eventually, we will meet, even if only for a second.  When our souls meet in the uncommon ground between us, how could that not be beautiful?

Monday, November 18, 2013

But I want to change the world!!!

I couldn't sleep last night.  I started out sleeping, as I usually do...and then I startled awake at 2AM out of some weird dream, and I laid there until 3:30 or 4, attempting to meditate/relax myself back to sleep, but mostly trying to get myself out of my very, very busy mind.  See, 2-4AM has always been my time to try to plan out my life, or make any other big decisions that need to be made.  In grad school, most of my best writing happened between 1 and 3 AM.  All the a-ha moments on my dissertation struck around 12:30AM and I would be on a roll until around 2:00, when I would finally crash.  Most of my best poems were written after the witching hour.  Even as a kid, after hours was my time to think and when my mind would get most busy.  When I was 6 or 7, I stared at a poster with the months of the year on it for so long every night, that I memorized them backwards, and developed a way of saying it that started out going forward and ended up with the entire thing backwards.  This was impressive to me at the time, but when I told my mom what I was doing up when she walked by my bedroom hours after I went to bed, I seem to remember her not being pleased.

At 11, I wrote about 3 books in my mind about a girl who goes to the library, and the lion on the steps comes to life.  At first she was afraid, but then the lion took her on a journey through all of the classic children's literature I had read.  I not only imagined what would happen in these stories, but I generated the key phrases, chapter titles, and book covers.  I had no idea what publishing a book was like, but I was pretty sure I had it all set in stone such that I would have all 3 books published AT LEAST by the time I was 12 and a half.  

Now, sometimes I worry when I'm awake at night.  I've always been good at worrying, but I'm something of an expert at this point.  Not to brag or anything, but I'm pretty sure I got my doctorate in worrying alongside my doctorate in psychology.  That makes me pretty much a pro.  

Sometimes I write in my mind.  I come up with lots of great ideas for blog posts.  I write poems.  I write letters.  I generate ideas for books I want to write one day.  I come up with research ideas I'll probably never execute, and I write sermons on the off-chance that I ever one day fulfill that distant dream of being a minister.

Sometimes I come up with treatment interventions.  I come up with REALLY great treatment ideas in the middle of the night.  They're always my most creative.  I write social stories for kids in the middle of the night, too, including a good one about "inside" vs. "outside" thoughts, and one about how some kids have parents who are in prison, and that's okay.  

I've always been a pretty big dreamer.  I'm not talking about dreams while I'm asleep - although I have really vivid sleeping dreams, too -- I'm talking about my waking dreams.  The dreams I have surrounding where I'm going, what I'm doing, what I want to do, the things I want to change, the mark I want to leave on the world.   In a journal somewhere, I have a plan for an autism center drawn out with everything from the clientele, to the building we're going to be in, to who is going to be on staff, to the color of the walls in the different rooms and the types of sensory toys and equipment will be where.  I don't have anything written about how I'm going to fund such a place, but the rest of it?  It's all written out.

However, I also have plans for at least three other nonprofit organizations I want to start.  One is an organization for parents who have developmental disabilities that offers parenting classes, a lending toy library with educational and developmentally appropriate toys for young children, behavior therapy services for children, assessment services, nutrition classes, assistance with accessing resources, and support groups for parents.  One day, it will even have a half-day preschool/ECI class attached to it where the parents of infants and young children attend with their little ones to learn through the modeling of the teachers in the classroom.  I dream of big, comfortable, home-like atmospheres for treatment with interdisciplinary teams of caring professionals that respect the autonomy of all people and families and work together to create interdisciplinary treatments and support plans.

And I've been dreaming about things like this since I was 16.  

So in spite of the fact that I know that I have the opportunity to make a direct impact on multiple lives every day, and in spite of the fact that I can't even count how many families and individuals I have had the opportunity to work with over the past several years, I still always feel "you're not doing enough."

You're not changing the world enough.

You are so're not using it to do enough good.

You aren't tackling all the issues you should be challenging.  You're not having all the conversations you should be having.  You're not making enough of a difference.  Is the world really a better place because you're in it?  You have all these dreams...when are you going to actually do something with them?

It feels so futile sometimes, and so overwhelming.  Not in a depressed or depressing way, and not in a "I might as well just give up" sort of way.  Just in a "the world is so big, and there is so much I care about and want to change, and there is so much that I want to run out and touch that my whole body feels its going to explode with passion, and hope, and ideas, and love for this whole freaking messed up world" sort of way.  It feels hopeless, but hopeless in the sense that all we have left is hope and one another, and I don't know what to do with that but desperately want to find out.  

So I lie awake at 3AM and plan crowdsourcing research projects on teaching compassion and empathy to children, and I write antibullying bystander intervention compassionate communication curriculums for elementary and middle schoolers.  

And then I go to work, and I meet with one child, and then another, and I pray that -- somehow -- my presence makes a change that ripples out to touch the world.  

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Reproductive Justice

The back story: the service at church today was about reproductive justice.  I am sitting now at a coffee shop with a cup of really bad coffee, and I'm going to try to sort out my thoughts.  To be honest, though, I'm overwhelmed.  I was hoping the coffee would help, but I'm going to be lucky if I can swallow this sorry excuse for something that slightly resembles coffee.  If this rambles, blame the bad coffee.

What do I have to do with reproductive justice? The immediate story is this: I feel a great deal of pressure to get married and have children.  In the eyes of many people close to me, it seems that this is how I will prove myself to be successful.  In spite of being a licensed, doctoral level psychologist at just-turned 28, it always feels as though I am somehow letting others down.  Like I'm not quite fulfilling my potential and duty as a woman.  I quite regularly have parents of my clients tell me that "it's time" for me to start having children.   I was told by a person close to me when I started graduate school that, if I met a potential spouse in grad school, I could not make him "wait for me."  It would be my "job" to drop out of school and start a family.

When I was in 3rd grade, I was the only child whose parent did not approve for her to take the "personal body safety " curriculum that is offered in Maryland.  I remember asking why, and I remember being told that it was inappropriate material that would scare me, and told me it was something I would never have to worry about.  Fast forward to eighth grade.  My homeschool "health/sex education" course consisted of being handed a copy of "What's Happening To My Body Book for Girls," with certain chapters -- the ones on sex, sexual assault and birth control, namely -- marked as "Do Not Read."  I was so embarrassed to read this book that I did it only in my bedroom, with the door closed, and I hid it under my mattress in between.  I did, of course, read the chapters marked "do not read," but because I really had no basic understanding of anything, none of the chapters really made much sense to me at all.  I didn't ask questions.  It was clear that this topic was not to be discussed.

And that is it.  Literally.  That was the extent of my sex education.  We never talked about dating.  I asked one time what abortion was when I saw it on a bumper sticker, and I got an answer equivalent to "it's an issue that a lot of people have a strong opinion about."  We never talked about our bodies, except for when my sister developed an eating disorder -- and even then, it was mostly in the context of disordered eating.  The idea of a comprehensive sex education...or even one that covered much beyond the bare bones basics...was completely foreign to me.  The concept of discussing reproductive rights and sexual health was so far outside of my reality, I don't think it was even on my radar.

Grad school, though, was a complete game changer.  When I was sexually assaulted in my third year of grad school, my perspective and awareness and everything changed.  Sexual assault was no longer something that just happened to others.  Issues surrounding women's rights, sexual health, reproductive rights, and sexual assault were no longer just abstract causes I cared about when I read something upsetting in the news.  Not caring and not acting is a luxury and a privilege few people realize they are afforded.

Each of these points has everything to do with reproductive justice.  In my mind, it should not be radical for a person to hear: "You have worth.  Your body is yours.  The choices you make are yours.  Your stories are yours and they are part of you and part of us.  You are whole as you are.  You are a person, and for this fact alone, you are whole and you are worthy."  In today's world, every person should know that they have the right to be with the person they love.  It should be a well-established fact that it is a person's individual decision to have children or not.  Each person should be able to make medical decisions for their own body.  Every person has the right to choose -- to choose to have children.  To choose to have an abortion.  To choose to never get pregnant.  To choose who can touch them, and when, and how, and where.  To choose when and how they will be educated on their choices.  To choose who they love.  These are fundamental rights.  This is justice.  And we aren't there yet. 

I can't understand why it is so hard to see that, when a person's right to choose is taken away by legislators,  or by doctors, or by husbands or boyfriends or strangers, the ripple impacts all of us.  I don't understand why it is so hard to see that, when one right to a choice is taken away, no matter who imposes it, every other choice is affected.  If male legislators believe they can tell me what I can do with my body, then is it a stretch to believe that some men will believe they can take away other choices as well?  Everyone is impacted by these injustices.  Every time.  Injustice is never just a single act -- its tentacles are long and mighty.  We are, indeed, part of an interdependent web. What touches one of us does, for better or worse, touch us all.

In spite of the fact that I know better, and in spite of the fact that I wrestle with this regularly, there is still shame felt in conversations about sexual assault.  There is still shame behind the words I write about this topic, and there is a tremendous amount of fear.  I know that, more often than not, when I talk or write or address this topic in any way, people say "me too.  I have a story about that, too.  That is also part of my lived experience."  When you make it even more broad and talk not only about sexual assault, but about people not being able to truly own and make choices regarding their own bodies, then the numbers go up even further.  And still that shame and fear is there.  It doesn't come from nowhere.  It's there because it is what we have been taught, or shown, or conditioned to remember.  It's there because it has to be: its function is to keep us safe.

So I try to fight the good fight.  I stand up when I can.  I write when I am able.  I make points in conversation and to others.  But I'll be honest: I get tired.  This fight occurs on multiple levels all at once.  You fight personal shame and fear.  You fight societal shame and fear.  In spite of hearing "me too" from so many others, you feel alone.  You feel alone in your fear, and alone in your shame, and you feel like you're the only one fighting.  You want the world to know your story -- whether your story be that of rape, or miscarriage, or abortion, or infertilityWe are not made to carry those stories alone, but you do, because it is what you have to do.

The point that hit me straight in my heart today was this: this issue of my rights, and my body, and my choices is important enough that my church would devote an entire Sunday to discussing it.  The fact that my body is a good body, and that my body is mine, and that my choices are mine, and that I am whole is something that is believed not just by a few friends in the congregation, not just by my minister, but by my faith community as an entity.  

What a beautiful, overwhelming realization that is, and what a beautiful, overwhelming privilege.  In a world where religion has shamed, blamed, silenced, and tried to change people's expressions of sexuality, gender, and self, my faith community chooses to stand on the side of love.  In a world where religion has taken away, restricted and inhibited women's choices and has shamed, abandoned and hurt so many in the process, my faith community chooses to stand of the side of wholeness and justice.  My faith community chooses to stand on the belief that reproductive rights are human rights, women's rights are human rights, and human rights are for all humans.

I didn't stick around to talk to people after the service today, and really didn't talk to many people at all while I was there, but I left feeling profoundly seen and whole.  I felt not-alone in a different, existential sense of the word.  It feels a bit like I've been hanging onto the high beam until all my muscles are shaking and achy, and my fingers are slipping and sweaty, and I'm barely hanging on...and then someone taps me on the shoulder and tells me to look down.  When I do, I see that there are people -- real, honest-to-goodness beautiful people, standing under me with a net and waiting to catch me.  They're there to remind me: this is not a war you need to fight alone.  "You can be tired," they say.  "We will keep on fighting." 

These conversations are essential.  These are the conversations that change the world.  These are the radical ways we fill one another and emphasize our wholeness.  These are the ways we grow in community, and we need all of our good bodies together to make that happen.  We need all of our stories, our pain, our resilience, our strength, courage, choices, and power together.  We are worth it. 
Our stories are worth it.  Our histories are worth it.  Our futures and our future generations are all just so worth it. 

So may it be.