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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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Hitting Rewind on the Heart

August 7, 2017 6 comments

 

Today, it’s been five years since my mom died. The strange thing is that it feels like yesterday and, somehow, a lifetime ago. I suppose that there’s some truth to that last part. There’s no way I could be the same person I was, before. And while there is no rewind button on the human heart, it sometimes hurls itself, unbidden, backward. This is one of those times.

 

It’s funny, but no one warns you that it will be like this. No one tells you that your memory will be sharp and full of things you’d rather forget. No one lets you in on this damned little secret: you will wonder what if I had…, even though it’s cruel and pointless. The smallest detail will float to the surface, all quiet and claws. The smell of a hallway. The face of a stranger. What someone was wearing. The grief and fear and panic that swirled in a moment that hangs, before everything suddenly stops.

 

I think about what happened that day. And then I think about the days that followed. The people I spoke to. The people who reached out. The early morning phone call. The genuine care and love. It’s those things that got me through. It’s those things that made me stronger. And no matter what, I’ll always be grateful.

 

Because when everything is horrible and the world feels like quicksand, what matters is who shows up—however that is. What matters is those who can sit with you at your worst and not run. It’s easy to be around someone when things are great. But that’s not the measure of a person, relationship, or heart.

 

While I miss her every day, sometimes in expected ways, I’m grateful for that lesson. I pay more attention now to how people behave, how they step up, how fiercely they love when it is difficult or inconvenient. And yes, I pay attention to who stays and who vanishes. Who slips out of sight when there’s a lull or a hurricane.

 

I’m a different person, now, but I am still my mother’s daughter. If you come to my house, I will feed you. This is not a question. You will eat. There will be coffee. I will absolutely burst into song at some point. If it has four legs and a tail, I will hug it. I recite poems and nursery rhymes from memory. I do not suffer fools or meanness. I will get between you and your worst trouble. I show up when everything is a wreck of stupid. I love beyond all reason. And while I will hold a vehement grudge against someone who has wronged someone I love, if I love you—I will forgive you.

 

This day is always hard, but the way it’s hard is always different. There’s not set expectation or rule for getting through it. But it’s definitely something to get through. People call things like this an anniversary, but that’s too happy a word. This day was the last day of Before. That’s it. That’s all there is too it.

 

Sometimes, I can’t help but think about what my mom would say about certain things, if she were here. How would she react? What crazy face would she make? She was never one to be able to disguise how she really felt, ever. When I do something she taught me, I imagine she’d do it better, either effortless or with her trademark calamity. I mean, it was never Halloween if she didn’t burn herself at least twice. And forget a neat and tidy kitchen on a holiday. Inevitably, there would be food on the dog’s head and a mess on the stove.

 

But that’s the beating heart of life: the mess. Not the pristine way in which we straighten the house for company or purge a closet of its clutter. The madness, the chaos, the detours, the chances, the changes, the raw and unexpected moments. This I know as surely as I’m breathing. Too often, I think, we try to live inside the lines. Try to behave a certain way. Try to keep things orderly, neat. But I think, perhaps, that’s only good and healthy for pretenses, not a soul.

 

So, starting now, take more chances. Don’t tidy up your heart. Don’t take the easy way. Don’t be smaller just to fit yourself into someone else’s puzzle. Miss someone? Call. Have a dream? Take a single step after it. Love someone? Say it. See someone do something cool? Tell them. Make art. Kiss passionately. Sing along to a song at the grocery store. Dance in a parking lot. Let go of things you shouldn’t be carrying around anymore.

 

If you do one thing with this life, live. The pieces will fall into place. And the next moment is always uncertain, so don’t waste it.

 

XOXO

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.

A Stitch in Time

May 8, 2016 7 comments

Within a certain realm, my mother could fix anything. A ripped seam. A tangled necklace. My unruly hair. And, on numerous occasions, me. There, her tools were a kind of magic that doesn’t fall easily into words. Often, it was simply a look different from any other and either a raised eyebrow or a simple question.

Then, she would listen. Sometimes, she would shake her head. Sometimes, she would tell me I was an idiot. Other times, still, she would rage at whomever or whatever had caused her baby girl a headache. Over the years, the list of offenders grew long, as lists do, but they’re all just ghosts in this story. What matters – what mattered – was the listening. The being present and invested in the kind of way that, maybe, only a mother can be – one who has seen and loved since the beginning.

Last year, I taught myself how to hem, so that I could remove the sleeves of a T-shirt that are too constricting to be anything but annoying. My stiches, though small, were uneven and somewhat veering. This, like all skills, is something that comes with time. Like a number of things, it’s something I’ve had to reacquaint myself with in the wake of my mother’s death.

It’s been nearly four years, and it hasn’t gotten any easier. People, well-meaning, will lie directly to your face with the shiniest kindness. They will say it gets better, but it doesn’t. It just gets different. It is, as best as I can tell, the emotional equivalent of losing a limb. Something essential that was there all your life is gone. And nothing can replace what’s missing. You just learn to live, to cope, without it.

One of the many things she taught me, though, was the importance of listening. Not just hearing the words and waiting to get your say in. But attending to the sentences and the feelings behind them, being present in that moment, and really communicating. So many people are simply there, but not there. So many people hear, but do not hear. You can blame all kinds of things for affecting the way we do, and do not, communicate: the internet, cellphones, texting. In a world where communication is often instant, words are sometimes consumed as fast food. And it really is all too easy to stop putting in the effort, to stop being fully present, and to stop paying attention to what’s being said – and, perhaps, what’s not being said. It takes effort, and in this everything-on-demand world, people have often grown lazy – careless with our attention and reckless with our inattention.

But I am, thanks to my mother, an excellent listener. I am a better listener than I am a talker, unless I trust you without hesitation. Or there’s tequila involved. Even then, I can still be guarded. Most people do not realize this. Most people are fooled by a wide smile and a well-timed joke. But that’s another thing my mom taught me: people see what they want to see. People believe what they want to believe. And like creating an amazing Halloween costume, it is the details that matter, that fill out the picture. (My mother, it should be noted, once handstitched a Batgirl costume for me, complete with utility belt. Unfortunately, this was the summer I first moved south, and the particular town we lived in didn’t trick-or-treat. That was only discovered after knocking on several houses and the occupants giving seven-year-old me quizzical looks, as if I was a strangely dressed beggar. All I succeeded in getting that evening was…an apple. I’m still mad.)

There is a long-running joke in my family that I cannot sew to save my life. As a kid, I was fascinating by sewing. I would often steal an old shirt of my father’s to practice on, stitching on a pocket (I don’t know why I thought a pocket would be cool; kids are weird). I am certain it never quite resembled a pocket at all. But I like the idea of patching up, of creating, of somehow taking something and making it better.

As you might already suspect, I get that from my mother. If she could fix it, she would. If she could make it better, she did. If she could help, she helped. And that is a gift she gave me that, perhaps until recently, I didn’t quite understand. I am not one to sit idly by when someone is hurting or having a hard time. I am not a sidelines person. I’m in the game. I jump in, full-hearted, arms open. I will always hug you. And I don’t know how to love in small measures, because love is not a small thing. It’s a miracle made of starlight and bone, blood and madness, skin and madness. She taught me, by example, that it is something you fight for, no matter what. And on days where I need reminding of that, on days where I need more strength that I can find within myself, I wear her opal ring (borrowing it only). Because it reminds me of everything she was, everything she went through and strove for, never letting life make her jaded and bitter. Never letting her doubt herself or her own heart, even when it would’ve been all too easy to.

I suppose, in a way, my mother is still working her magic. It isn’t just in the things she left behind or the skills she taught me. It’s the way in which she lives in my memory, woven like thread into each moment. She showed me how to listen, how to love, and how to take a stand.

I can’t hear her voice, anymore, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still listening.

 

The Magic of Authenticity: On Prince and Mourning

April 21, 2016 Leave a comment

We live in a world that is constantly trying to keep us small. We’re supposed to be and do this. We’re supposed to like this, not that. We’re supposed to stay inside the lines, not rock the boat. Don’t be too weird. Don’t stick out too much.

 

We’re often told that to be a certain thing (woman, man, writer, father, husband, wife, etc.) that we must do x, y, and z. Otherwise, it’s wrong. Otherwise, you won’t fit in (whatever that means).

 

But I never wanted any of that. I never wanted to fit in. Good or bad, weird or not, I always just wanted to be me. I’m not saying that is always an easy thing. It’s not. I remember, in middle school, being criticized for the clothes I wore. I liked a shirt, so I wore it. A girl in class said to me, “Why do you dress like that? You should get some overalls, like [redacted].”

 

Yes, darlings, there was a point in time in which overalls were all the rage. And they were just…not my thing. I remember looking this girl in the eye and saying, “But I don’t like them. I like what I have on.” From that moment on, that girl hated me. Actively and with gusto. Why? Who knows. Kids are weird and often cruel.

 

But maybe it was because I wouldn’t conform. Maybe it was because I didn’t bend to her expectations. Maybe she was insecure. It doesn’t matter. All throughout life, people will insist with a crazed, righteous fervor that you need to be a predetermined way. That you need to present yourself within these lines and walk in these parameters.

 

Those people are wrong. Don’t let them in your head. And if they sneak in, kick them out. Because there’s only one you, and you’ve only got one life. Don’t spend it trying to please the world. Don’t spend it trying to be someone else. Or someone version of yourself. Dress up if you feel like it, but never to hide who you are.

 

Today, Prince died. A mad musical talent. A force a nature. A brilliant everything. Prince, a man who was once a symbol, never uttered a false note in his life—musically and personally. Whenever he went, there he was. Effortlessly cool, infinitely sexy, and remarkably wonderful. His talent is too far-reaching and brilliant to comprehend, sometimes. He pushed boundaries and made stunning art.

 

Like Bowie, he was one of those rare people who made it cool to be weird. There was a magic in his authenticity, in his quiet coolness. He was sexy, and he wrote about sex in a way that was appealing—and dirty as hell—but it was never offensive, never alarming. Each song was a seduction, and we were all very much here for it.

 

It takes courage to be who you are. Today, we lost a musician whose equal we may never see. But with his death, we also lost that symbol of fearlessness. Prince was the epitome of not giving a fuck. He was exactly who he was, and it was beneath him to even consider apologizing for it. He made art his way. He brought spectacle and dancing. He brought glitter. He lived his life on his terms, and the world bent around him in awe. There was no expecting him to tone it down or change.

 

He was simply Prince. Period. End of story. Full stop. And man, there’s something infinitely appealing, magical, and sexy about that. About a person whose Give a Damn is not broken, but absent.

 

It’s important, in this fast food society, to have remembers that it’s okay to be exactly who we are. Not just okay, but wonderful. And when someone like Prince (and Bowie) die, there’s an obvious loss. He won’t have a new song. We won’t get to see him in concert. Hell, we won’t get to make out with him. Or borrow his shoes.

 

And we lose the person we sometimes look to, who reminds us, “Just be yourself. Screw the world. Don’t pay any mind to what other people think.” It’s a hard loss, because of the way society strives to keep us small and reasonable.

 

But today, for me, a curious thing happened when I heard about Prince. Yes, I was shocked. I was sad. (I mean, he and Bowie always seemed so Other in the best way, immortal and untouchable.) But what I also felt was a curious sense of defiance. That rebel streak that crops up just often enough to remind me to be myself, even when people don’t always get it. Even when there’s side eye and whispers.

 

This surge of defiance caught me by surprise, because it was exceptionally fierce.

 

I am always myself, but sometimes quietly so. And you know what? No more of that. Quiet is for church and funerals, and since I’m not holy and I’m not dead, enough of that. I’ve always lived my life by my own compass, but what if that goes a step further? Live it out loud just a little more?

 

I don’t belong in a box. And I refuse to live in one. I’m a geek who curses. A lady who loves tequila and rum. A writer who thinks like a poet first, always. A woman who loves without question or concern. A friend who does not waver. A person so full of hope that it’s almost absurd.

 

But you’ll never catch me apologizing for who I am. So, do me a favor? Don’t you apologize for who you are, either. Don’t apologize for what you want in life. Don’t apologize for what you enjoy. (There is no guilty pleasure. Pleasure is pleasure. Enjoy it. This goes for all things.) Don’t apologize for who you love. Don’t apologize for loving, period. Don’t apologize for the way you dress, how loud you laugh, or talking about the things that you are passionate about.

 

Light up, darlings. No one else can stand where you’ve been, where you are, and where you will be. And you owe it to yourself to show yourself to the world, to be freely you.

 

Tomorrow, I will be wearing purple. It’s my favorite color. As a child, I claimed to be from the Planet Purple. While I can neither confirm nor deny that possibility, I choose to honor Prince. I choose to honor a man who could seduce the world without a word, in just a look. A man who played every instrument flawlessly, as if it was like breathing. A man who commanded every room he walked into just by being in it.

 

To quote my dear friend Heather: stay weird, be kind. ❤

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.

the blindsiding moments

November 4, 2015 4 comments

I don’t believe in coincidences. There’s too much that goes into a moment—too many factors—to pretend that something means nothing. It’s not random. It’s not happenstance. There are a handful of things, at the very least, that aligned, which results in a Thing Happening.

Yesterday, on my way home from work, I drove past—literally—someone I haven’t spoken to in a while, someone I have been thinking about. Someone who I miss, for a million reasons. The person was in the lane next to me, and there was this shock of recognition, as I leaned forward, “Is that…? It is.” But then, I drove through the intersection, and that was that.

This person isn’t someone I ordinarily run across. But things like this have happened in the past, in instances where it should’ve been impossible. Or, at the very least, highly unlikely. And yet. And still.

That happened. This small moment, literally at a crossroads. And it really got me thinking, more so than usual. Because so much has happened lately, and some of it isn’t mine to tell, but they’re the blindsiding moments that take your breath away. Sucker punches to the soul, the kind of things that make you stop, force you to stop and think about your life.

Are you doing what you want? Are you doing what you love? Are you with the person you love? Are you allowing yourself to be loved? Are you open to it? Are you open, period? (If the answer to any of these is “no,” then that’s something to think about.)

There are no guarantees. There is right now. And right now, whether or not we know or acknowledge it, we’re all at a crossroads. Every moment is a choice point. Every second is an opportunity. Seize it.

Because everyone has that person, right? That person you can’t stop thinking about. Maybe your reminders are less literal, less in-your-face than mine. But when it’s quiet, when the world stops demanding things of you, when it’s just you and your thoughts: what’s occupying them? Who’s occupying them? That thing your heart and your head on settle on?

Make the choice to bring it into your life. Because there’s just this moment, there’s only right now.