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Stand Up and Beside: Seeing Women as People

November 16, 2017 Leave a comment

 

 

With all of the appalling sexual assault being finally dragged into the light—the abuse of power, the harassment, the general douche-ery of it all—hearing people speak up has been impressive. First and foremost, the victims who had been courageous enough to speak out have blown me away. In particular, a couple of nights ago, this included Hilarie Burton, Bethany Joy Lenz, and Sophia Bush. Chyler Leigh, Emily Bett Richards, Caity Lotz, and Melissa Benoist have stood in solidarity with those speaking out, as have Grant Gustin, Chris Wood, and Stephen Amell. The women are inspiring. The men are thoughtful and articulate.

 

Those three men , although I don’t know them personally, are good people. They’re good allies. There’s nothing disingenuous or performative. Their outrage is grounded is disgust and a seething kind of fury. There’s no cushioned words or soft statements. There’s sharp denouncements and well-worded promises. It fills my heart with hope. It does me good to be reminded that there are men out there who hold authority and choose to stand by and behind women. No excuses and no misdirection. No denials or wishy-washy promises.

 

Although sexual assault and abuse is not relegated to Hollywood, it’s easy to focus there are a clear example of wrongdoings. It has, lately, been an avalanche of gross revelations—but as any woman (or abused man) can tell you, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. Like cockroaches, if you see one, there are many. And, like cockroaches, the problem only gets worse if left untreated and unaddressed.

 

This is no witch hunt. Because witches (women) were the persecuted during the Salem Witch Trials. Women were not in a position of power, then, and they were the victims. The onslaught of accusations, right now, are coming from women. That’s not to say that men are not also mistreated and are victims of sexual assault. But I can only speak to being a woman in this world, where I have a practiced polite smile for uncomfortable situations. It never reaches my eyes. It’s an attempt, always, to diffuse a situation until I can extricate myself. Until I can get somewhere I am safe.

 

Here’s the thing, though. A few days ago, I read a statement of outrage from a man who was appalled that another man sexually assaulted an 11 year old girl. We can all agree that’s vile, unacceptable, and criminal. But the genesis of this person’s horror was that he has a daughter. I understand that because of that, his outrage hit close to home. But a woman should be need to be related to you for her to matter.

 

I am a daughter. But that does not define me. If I only matter because I’m someone’s something, it’s dehumanizing. It makes me tantamount to someone’s belonging, not my own person. I matter, because I’m me—not because of how I’m related to somebody. I understand that an issue can become personal, because of personal feelings and relationships. You have a child, and you’re worried for that child. Because the world is, all too often, a raging dumpster fire surrounded by rabid wolves.

 

Don’t get me wrong: outrage over things like this is GOOD. It is necessary. Realizing that something could, or has, affected a woman you love/care about is huge. But that is a starting place. It’s a step in the direction, not the whole journey. There’s more work to be done. In order to fully tackle the root problem, we need to do something revolutionary: see women as people, not associations.

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you find yourself in a forest

April 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Life can be so unexpected, sometimes. We often try so hard to keep it neat, clean, within the lines. Only walk in a straight line, stick to the plan. And I get this. I’ve been there. The unexpected can be scary, because it’s almost always a hell of a question mark. Even when presented with a choice, you then have to be brave enough to choose. Left or right. Leap or stay. You either hold your heart within your chest or offer it in the palm of your hand. You walk down a new street, into an unknown alleyway and see what happens—or you take the same route you’ve always taken.

These seem like clear cut decisions: you either do or you don’t. But that’s hardly the whole story, as much as we may want it to be. Because when making a choice, you find yourself in a forest. The forest is kissed by fog and soft light. There’s one path before you, and you know where it leads. It is a path you’ve walked before. It is safe, steady. Destination certain. There’s no guesswork. You can easily just keep walking, put one foot in front of the other.

But off to your left, you hear a noise. The snap of a twig, perhaps. The crunch of leaves. You turn and look. You lock eyes with a white stag. And for a moment, you hold your breath. For a moment, you don’t even remember where you are. All you can see is the gleaming white fur and kind eyes. You can feel your heartbeat thrumming in your chest, breathe leaning against your ribs. And you wonder at the beauty there, a thing you’ve not seen before.

The deer turns and walks the other way. You then have a choice: step off the path and see if you can catch the deer—or keep going the way you were. Resituate yourself in the familiar and keep to the path. There’s no guarantee you’ll even catch the stag. You might wander after it and never grasp it. You can try and still not succeed. That’s the catch. There are no certainties here, but there is always merit in the journey. It might not go the way you think. It might even be better than you had hoped. But you have to suss out, often in too short a time span, what you want. If you’re brave enough to do the unexpected thing—to say, “to hell with it,” and walk in a direction, knowing that you probably won’t ever see that path again. Knowing that to step off of it means an entirely new world. And it is, of course, terrifying and thrilling, the spark that lights the flame inside your heart.

You have to be willing to fail. You have to be willing to fall. You have to be willing to explore a part of the unknown. You could lose sight of that stag and never catch it. But what if—what if you did? There’s a crazy amount of joy in that. There is courage in stopping to think you might get what you want. A lot of things in life come down to how brave you are, how brave you’re willing to pretend to be. There’s no absence of fear, only telling it to shut up. Fear doesn’t get to run the show.

I have been that girl in the forest. I have looked at the easy path. I have seen the white hot flash of possibility. When given the choice, when my heart starts to race a certain way, the path stops existing for me. There’s just the curving beauty of a question mark, the stark pull of maybe, what-if clamoring for acknowledgement.

Today, what would you do, if you found yourself on that path? Are you brave enough to follow that deer?

Love That Feels Like Art

February 2, 2017 2 comments

Darlings, I am going to give you some advice. Now, I know you didn’t ask for this, but after a conversation I had yesterday—I think it’s needed. And with Valentine’s Day coming up, I figure it can’t hurt.

 

If you’re single, it’s okay. Bad failed first dates—dates that lead nowhere? That’s okay. That’s not a reflection of you. If someone doesn’t appreciate you for who you are (not funnier, not taller, not prettier), then that person is not right for you. Period. You are not unworthy or less, if someone cannot see all the wonderful things about you. If you have to change yourself (physically or personality-wise) to fit into someone’s life/heart? Well, that’s not real love.

 

And let me tell you something about real love: it will blow you away, once you find it. It will lift you up, not keep you down and never keep you small. Crazy Muppet hair will be appreciated. All your humor will be endearing. Because finding someone who cares for you just the way you are? Man, it’s magic. And it will do your soul more good than a thousand empty, shallow relationships.

 

Because you are not a vague ideal of a person. You are not a silhouette. You are blood and flesh. You are years of gathered wisdom and experience. You are a person, not a human-shaped checklists of requirements. Life is too short to be with someone just to be with them. It’s too short to settle. It’s too short to be anything less than 100% bloody you. Because you are excellent, just as you are—rambling and nonsense included.

 

Find someone who loves your weird. Find someone who loves your flaws (spoiler alert: that person won’t see all the bad crap you see about yourself). Find someone who sets your soul on fire. Find someone who thinks your taste in books (or comics or movies) is fantastic. Who can match you Princess Bride quote for Princess Bride quote. Someone who encourages and supports you without hesitation or question. Because that’s what you deserve.

 

And me? I’m single. I may be single for the rest of my life, and that’s fine. I know what I deserve, and I won’t take any less. Sure, I’ve been on my share of bad first dates. And it’s rare than anyone gets a second. Does that make me a snob? No. I just know what I want. And I know what it’s like to be understood and appreciated. Anything less is…well, bullshit.

 

If someone wants you to be thinner or younger, blonder or more poised, or somehow more easy/manageable? That person is not right for you. That person is not worthy of you. Because real love can find you in the most unexpected place and the most unexpected time. And the secret is, even if it seems insane, it’s worth it. It’s worth all the crazy. It doesn’t mean you don’t have to put in time and effort. It doesn’t mean love isn’t work. But it’s the good kind, like pursuing a passion you love. Like doing something you can’t live without. For me, real love is like writing. I can’t breathe without putting words down on paper. If I don’t write for a while, I feel so off-kilter. So…un-me. Love is like that too. Not a need or a want—but somehow both. Easy, like second nature, an instinct.

 

Find the person who feels like art. Who thinks of you when they’re falling asleep. Who meets you for coffee and remembers how you take yours. Find the person who lets you in and asks you to redecorate, not the one who expects you to slide into what’s already that. Because love changes you, on both sides. And it should. But always, always for the better. It’s not that you aren’t whole to begin with. You are. It’s finding someone who matches you, step for step, without ever thinking twice.

 

Believe me, darlings, you deserve that kind of love. Nothing less will do.

Wishes for the New Year

December 30, 2016 1 comment

Every New Year’s Eve in recent memory, Neil Gaiman writes his advice/wishes for the new year. Spoiler alert: I am not, in fact, Neil Gaiman. I’m not even British. We both do have unruly hair, though. But if I ever start drinking tea regularly instead of coffee, well…assume I’ve been kidnapped and am trying to signal you for help. Same goes for drinking decaf.

Where was I? Right. Neil’s advice. It’s sage stuff. Like all his writing leans toward, it’s perfectly phrased, deceptively simple, and sure to resonate somewhere deep within your heart. That fantastic bastard is pretty damn talented. (I don’t know him well enough to call him a fantastic bastard, but just go with it.)

In the same tradition of the Crazy Hair’d Gaiman, here are my wishes for you, for this coming new year.

  • Be yourself as brilliantly as wildly as you can.
  • Write the thing that scares you to the depths of your self-conscious heart. Make the art that you’re not quite sure you can, because the truth is – you won’t know until you try.
  • Find someone and encourage them in their pursuits, because we are meant to lift others up, not keep them down.
  • Let go of what doesn’t (sometimes, who doesn’t) light you up. Life is too short for tepid, okay, and painfully familiar.
  • Go on adventures, even if it simply means taking a different route home from work.
  • Don’t try and get something right the first go around. No one does that. Even da Vinci had first drafts. You can always fix what you’ve created, but not what’s still stuck in your head.
  • Stop explaining your choices to anyone who does not support you.
  • Read books outside of your comfort zone/genre. Read diversely.
  • Don’t accept less than what you deserve. Compromise, but do not compromise yourself.
  • Love as deeply and as honestly as you can. Whenever you can.
  • Kiss, hug, and cuddle whenever you get the opportunity, because touch is a language that needs no translation. Kiss someone who thinks you’re magic and real, all in the same breath.
  • Speak out and speak up – for yourself and in defense of others. We weren’t put on this earth to be cowards or to bow to anyone or anything that is unworthy of respect.
  • Figure out what Carrie Fisher would do, ready your middle finger, and sharpen your tongue. Same goes for Bowie and Prince. Sparkle. Wear funky clothes. Don’t conform.
  • At the end of the day, tomorrow is not promised. The next choice you make could turn your life into magic. So, open your heart and go shine your light into this world. It needs your light. And that’s the only way to chase out the dark, darlings: share the light.

 

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”
Neil Gaiman, Coraline

Snap Out of It: On Bravery

June 10, 2016 2 comments

It’s funny, sometimes, how often we put up with something, because we think we have to. For whatever reason, it’s good. It’s deserved. It’s honest. It’s justified. It’s necessary. It’s the only way. Ad nauseum. We go along to get along, because in a strange way, it’s almost easier. A familiar cage, regardless of the damage it does, is at least a known difficulty. Otherwise, what’s next? Otherwise, what’s out there? Otherwise, what might happen?

The dangerous, wonderful thing is that everything might happen. And that can be scary, because there are always too many variables to account for. So, you stay stuck in the mud. Smile pretty. Pretend that you like it. But really, when it comes down to it, you’re just hanging around in wet dirt. There’s nothing pretty or honest about it.

People are often dead scared of the loss of control that comes with making changes. Of following your heart. Of honor what inspires passion in you. But to quote my wise, badass, brilliant friend Deanna Raybourn, “But this is a thing that I know–to live with fear is not to live at all. A man will die every moment he is afraid.”

Fear is the worst kind of bully. It lives in your head. It pulls out all your biggest worries. It hurls what-ifs and regrets at you from the inside, when you’re at your weakness. It reminds you of the look n your mother’s face when you’ve disappointed her. It offers you the low, disapproving whistle of friends and colleagues. It hands you a sharp blade made of everything bad that you carry with you, past sins and those that don’t even belong to you. Things that simply hang over your head and maybe always have. Fear holds that blade to your throat and tells you to stay put. To stay within the lines. To bleed if you have to, but don’t you dare or be different. Don’t blink. Don’t breathe. Just stay.

Darlings, if I may offer some wisdom: screw that. There’s nothing noble or worthy of suffering. There’s nothing beautiful about pain. There’s nothing glorious about allowing yourself to stay small, just to keep other people happy. There’s nothing charming or wise about rooting yourself to a rotted foundation, moment, or idea. It’s the opposite, really. It’s cowardly. It’s knowing there’s possibility out there, and eating the same bag of shit, day in and day out. Because, hey, at least you have that bag of shit. Some people don’t even have that.

Right. But at the end of the day, you’re still shoveling crap into your face and calling it necessary. It’s not. One of the most important things in this life is to surround yourself with people who encourage, love, and support you. Who might tell you when you’re being stupid, but in a nice way. Those handful of folks who always have your back and who always cheer you on, near or far. No matter the distance or how much time has passed. Because, yes, you need to be brave to start with. You need to make the choice to be brave.

But, sometimes, you always need a Moonstruck Cher to slap you across the face and tell you to snap out of it. Because life is finite. And love isn’t. Because the days all contain the same 24 hours, but our hearts contain whole universes. Because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, but this breath—right now—is.

I was talking about bravery, yesterday. It’s not an absence of fear. It’s never that. It’s often not even actually feeling competent at all. It’s taking a deep breath and doing the thing anyway, even if you feel like throwing up. I don’t know anyone who is truly fearless. That’s a word we use when someone is terrified, but is also hell-bent on being a badass. Me? I’m scared all the time. I’m scared about a lot of things. I’m a chronic overthinker, who worries and fusses like a champ. I run through conversations, real and possible, in my head. I examine things from a ridiculous number of angles. I am not good at letting things lie, and I don’t know how to calm down sometimes. So, yeah, even if I look collected and at ease, chances are, my emotions are dialed up to 11—and my brain’s on hyperdrive.

However, scared or not, I’m still here. Which means I owe it to myself to be scared, but not let the fear own me. It means that I still have a chance to accomplish something, to change, to achieve, to the thing—to alter my fate, if you want to look at it like that.

I’m a girl who believes in singing along to the radio at the top of her lungs. I believe that hanging out with your best friend may not solve all problems, but it sure dulls them. I believe in laughter at 3am, tequila, and pasta. If I love you, I’ll feed you. It’s not up for debate. You’re eating. I believe in T-shirts and photographs. Feeling the grass between your toes in the summer, because shoes are optional. Cartwheels and hammocks are equally fun. The beach is a balm to the soul, and there’s nothing a glass of wine and a good joke can’t help. I believe in the power of words and the way your name can sound safe in someone’s mouth. I believe in doing the impossible, because someone says it can’t be done. (Yeah, screw that asshole. He ain’t seen nothing yet.) I believe in getting up every time you fall, because pain doesn’t mean you quit. And screwing up never means giving up on what matters. And what matters to you? Deep down in your bones and heart? What sets you on fire and brings an unbidden smile to your face? You fight like hell to keep that stuff in your life. No matter how difficult, you throw down. Tape up your hands and take a swing. Because you give for what you love, darlings. Always.

At the end of the day, I know how to walk through fire. I know how to hold still in a hurricane. I know how to get knocked down and haul myself back on my feet. It’s not because I’m a paragon of virtue or awesomeness. I can’t perform an actual miracle. I’m the furthest thing from perfect you’ll find in the tri-state area. But my momma taught me not to cower to bullies, not even those in my own head. She taught me that you fight for what you believe in—and to always believe in myself.

So, maybe you’re sitting there looking at your life, terrified, wondering what-if. Maybe you’re trying to do the impossible. Maybe you’re surrounded by naysayers and assholes. Maybe you’re trying to find out how big your brave is, because you want something. Maybe you’re in love, but you don’t know how to say it—or those words just plain old scare you.

If you are, hear me right now: you are capable. You are worthy. You are a badass, and don’t let anyone make you think you don’t deserve what makes your heart race. You weren’t made to apologize or beg. You weren’t made to spend your life stooped and stuffed into a box. You were made to shine like a goddamn supernova.

Go out and do just that.

You do not have to be good*

March 28, 2016 Leave a comment

Make a mess.

No, I mean it. If you’re not making a mess, if your pulse doesn’t race and your breath doesn’t catch it your throat, you’re only half alive. That’s cliché, I know. It’s something people say. But it’s also true. You get one life. You get one now. You get to live. That’s a privilege.

So, live. So, love. Stop conjuring up all the reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t. Stop caging yourself by way of other people’s expectations. It is your life. This is your story. Stop letting other people tell it.

Forget the script, forget all the reasons why not, push aside every pretense.

Make a mess. Go out dancing. Have margaritas on the porch and talk until 3 am. Kiss until you can’t feel anything beyond the way your lips have swelled. Make someone laugh until both your sides hurt. You weren’t born to take the easy way, to live or love timidly. You weren’t created, a miracle of bone and passion, just to take one breath after another. Tape up your hands, if you have to. Throw the first punch. Speak your truth. Don’t flinch. Square your shoulders. Wait for the reaction.

Then, ignore it.

Make a mess. Cross a line. Change your life. Do worry about polish or neat. Do not pay any mind to what other people are going to think. You are not a coward. And you are not simply the sum of all your past mistakes. The human heart is a miracle, not a math problem. It wants you to smile, dance in the rain, sing karaoke (possibly badly), make out in a car alongside the highway. Honor the holiness of your passions, the way your heart leans. It heart is a wild thing, all instinct and affections.

Let it out. Let it lead. Let it show you what might be, not what has been and not what is. Imagine it. Entertain the idea that everything can change for the better—but only if you’re brave enough.

Only if you let yourself get messy.

Be you. Not the you who pays the bills and goes to work. Forget that you for a moment. That you gets to take the lead too often. Be the you who says fuck the rules, and goes after what you want. Be the you who cuts class or plays hooky and spend the day with a person you love. Allow yourself the space to make absolute chaos, because without chaos, nothing changes.

This universe was nothing more than dust, once. You were nothing more than dust, too.

You only get one life, darlings.

Dare to make a mess of it.

 

*Title taken from a Mary Oliver poem, “Wild Geese.”

What If I Never See You Again?

March 17, 2016 Leave a comment

The other week, a friend I haven’t seen in a while wanted to hang out. The friend in question was supposed to get back to me, and then did not. The lack of response, for whatever reason, was deliberate. There was no tragic accident. It wasn’t even an incident of ghosting. It was basically, “Oops, something better came along.”

You know this kind of person. The one who—when you make plans—always gives you a tentative, “Maybe.” He or she waits for something better to come along or decides to take a nap instead. But then just…says nothing.

Remember Lucy with the football in Charlie Brown? Well, instead of pulling the football away at the last minute (Lucy, you suck; Charlie probably needs therapy for his trust issues now), Lucy vanishes—football and all. And there you are wondering what, exactly, happened.

I never make plans unless I can keep them. I think one of the most important things you can give someone is your time. That’s it: you show up. You call. You write a letter. You make room for someone.

This incident with my friend left me wondering if I’d ever see them again. This happens a lot in life, doesn’t it? Too much time passes and it seems like things are weird. Or whatever. There are a million excuses why not. There always are. (Notice I did not say reasons. Reasons are excuses are not the same thing.)

I started thinking about my mom after this. The day she died, I didn’t wake up thinking that it was the last time I was going to see her. I mean, on some level, you know that it’s soon—but not down to the minute. There’s a part that always hopes, always leans toward the only thing it can: delay.

But she’s gone. And sick or not, people are die. I could choke on a pretzel (ice cream, I will point out, would never threaten my life…just my waistline). I could trip on the stairs. This next breath might be my last. So, old or not, sick or not—nothing is certain. I learned that in the hardest way imaginable, once my mom got since. And again, when she died.

Nothing is certain.

Scary, right? Good. It should be. Because we walk through life too brazenly, sometimes, too wrapped up in a tomorrow that might not show up. We operate under the premise that we’ll wake up tomorrow, because it’s easier, safer. It’s more manageable to assume.

But what if I never see you again? What if you never see me again? What if…

You get the point.

Point is, I’ve been thinking about this pretty hard, lately. The incident with the friend made me think about another friend—someone I haven’t seen or spoken to in entirely too long. Someone who I pick up the phone to call or text, but just…don’t. There are reasons. You don’t get to know them. Hell, some days when I am thinking like this, even I don’t know them. Because what if…

I hate the idea of never seeing someone again. I mean, sure there are certain people I hope I never see ever. But we’re not talking about those. (And sweet fancy Moses, I always seem to run into them. Everywhere. Like an awful game of Where’s Waldo?)

What keeps us from reaching out to someone most often? It’s fear. Fear that they’ll be cold. Fear that they won’t answer. Fear that they will. It’s always an act of courage, reaching out after a long time. Or reaching out after an argument. Or whatever.

But think about it. Think about who that person is for you, and ask yourself: what if I never see you again?

What do you feel? How do you feel? Be honest. Really honest, too—nothing superficial. Life’s too short for that.

Now, take those feelings and put them into action. Because you really never know, darlings. And I’ll tell you a secret, okay? Calling, text, Facebook-ing? It might be scary. But it’s alright to be scared. That’s how you know you’re being brave.