Something green

This morning I took a bit of time to putter outside, and it was so nice to focus on green growing things.

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I am a renter, and for years I just let the gardening service take care of the (very basic) landscaping outside our house.  I figured it wasn’t “our” house, so I shouldn’t change anything or put any of my own money into plantings.  Well, over a decade later we are still in this house.  We love living here, and along the way I finally began to carve out a space of our own.

It began with a couple of tiny succulents.  I work at an archive with a large botanical garden, and the biannual plant sales became more than I could resist.  A couple tiny ones could live in a pot, I reasoned, and come with me if we moved.  Something about extra-tiny things makes them irresistible, no?  With each plant sale I added one or two more, until I had a nice little stoop  garden outside on our patio.  Then the camellia sale came around and a pair of those came home with me, plus one for my mom.  She had a glorious oasis of a garden at the time, and always loved a new plant addition.  I got a large pair of pots for the camellias, excited for the blooms that their slender stems promised.  Also one summer my mom house-sat for us and cared for the dogs while we went on vacation, and to surprise me for my birthday she got me a beautiful plumeria and refinished our hand-me-down patio chairs while we were gone.  It was such a sweet surprise, and it got me that much more excited to actually use our little outdoor space.  A few years later when she moved, I inherited some beautiful staghorn ferns, aloes, and her little camellia is reunited with her sisters.

Fast forward to now, and my little patio is full of green, growing things.  I hauled a weathered pallet left on a curb back home and have it propped up against one end of the fence, where it makes a lovely spot to hang planters.  We acquired a hammock as a lounging solution that takes up surprisingly little real estate, and it has become my older pup’s favorite spot to curl up with us and watch the world go by.  A petite pink bistro set makes me smile every time I see it, topped with my collection of little succulents and pots.  And even though life is usually hectic, every so often I’ll get to have a morning like today, where an hour can be spent re-potting, watering, puttering, tidying, and nurturing something green.  Something living.  Something thriving.  Something content with only the most basic of needs, and flowering all the same.  Somewhere in there is a lesson about stillness and contentment — but for now, I am grateful for a few moments to breathe.

Optimized?

At this point I think it is safe to say I have become a total Jia Tolentino fangirl.  (Jia, you’re amazing!)  Her articles are thought-provoking and so on-point, I can’t help but share another.

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A couple weeks ago her essay Athleisure, barre and kale: the tyranny of the ideal woman was published in The Guardian, and I have been thinking about it ever since.  I highly recommend taking a few minutes out of your day to read and ruminate.

“Figuring out how to “get better” at being a woman is a ridiculous and often amoral project – a subset of the larger, equally ridiculous, equally amoral project of learning to get better at life under accelerated capitalism. In these pursuits, most pleasures end up being traps, and every public-facing demand escalates in perpetuity. Satisfaction remains, under the terms of the system, necessarily out of reach.”

–Jia Tolentino

With the expectations of womanhood becoming more insane at every turn, in this era of Instagram and curated feeds and “lifestyle” branding, have we optimized ourselves out of the possibility for genuine contentment?  I myself find it very difficult to feel satisfied and contented, but perhaps it has less to do with any personal failings to “choose happiness” and much more to do with the insidious all-encompassing hamster wheel society has convinced us is necessary.  And at the particularly insidious intersection of capitalism and patriarchy, it becomes even harder.

If capitalism didn’t ingrain in us that we always need more, better, pricier things to signify success, or if the patriarchy didn’t force us to gauge our worth by our attractiveness, youthfulness, and willingness to accommodate, aka our “fuckability”… what then?  Tolentino is correct, I think, that the ultimate question is to ask what we ourselves really want, whether within or despite the systems we live in.  What will make us content?  What will let us feel whole and happy?  Perhaps that becomes the most difficult thing of all —  to find out what our own real desires are, rather than simply wanting to be desired, admired, and optimized.

 

 

So proud

green ribbon border isolated on white backgroundAs Mental Health Month draws to a close, I want to talk about something often overlooked: personal pride.  A lot of press goes to self-help and self-care in the form of therapy, outdoor walks, or medication, all of which are excellent and good and necessary.  I’d also propose that something as small as a little bit of pride can be wonderful, too.

As someone with anxiety and depression, I am rarely proud of myself.  In my head it is always more about getting better at something, looking better, feeling better, or at least trying keep up a facade of being “good enough,” whatever that means.  So when a rare shiny moment of pride comes up, I’m learning to sit up and listen, and bask in it for all it’s worth.

Last month I attended a conference for work.  I am introverted, so I always walk into events like these thinking how draining they will be, and how nervous I’ll be.  Over the course of those few days, though, I was struck by how much easier networking has become for me over the last several years.  I had colleagues to greet, a committee meeting to run, opinions to share, and expertise to pass on.  I was doing it!  And I wasn’t scared.

During and afterwards, I discovered an immense sense of pride in myself.  I was proud of how much I’ve learned and grown professionally.  I was proud to see myself as a confident professional — a stark contrast to the shy grad student that first attended these conferences almost 10 years ago.   It was kind of novel, actually, how good it felt to be proud of myself.  To pause for a moment or two, and just glow.

I’m trying now to realize pride doesn’t necessarily have to come from something as grandiose as professional growth.  I can simply be proud because I got out of bed this morning.  Proud that I made it through another day.  Proud that I made a good choice for myself.  Acknowledging ourselves is so, so important.  And I’m learning.

On men, power, and a yearning for something better

small_woman_symbolI wrote this all in a rush of words about a year and a half ago, just to get it out of my system for myself.  I think perhaps it’s time I shared it, as it remains as pertinent as ever.  #metoo

  –C.M.D

I’ve got this very particular kind of yearning going on.  Expansive.  A yearning in just about every area of my life, small and large and in-between.  I had an unpleasant epiphany that I am not sure I have the energy to write out, about men and power and women.  I realized that even though I consider myself lucky to have never been assaulted, some of my most embarrassing moments as a young girl were because of men and their behavior — and I finally realized they were not my fault.  Because they were not overtly sexual or “abuse” it never occurred to me to frame these encounters this way, but a great blog post on Cup of Jo and an excellent piece by Jia Tolentino in the New Yorker on how men implicate their victims in their acts made me rethink things.

“…one of the cruellest things about these acts is the way that they entangle, and attempt to contaminate, all of the best things about you. If you’re sweet and friendly, you’ll think that it’s your fault for accommodating the situation. If you’re tough, well, you might as well decide that it’s no big deal. If you’re a gentle person, then he knew you were weak. If you’re talented, he thought of you as an equal. If you’re ambitious, you wanted it. If you’re savvy, you knew it was coming. If you’re affectionate, you seemed like you were asking for it all along. If you make dirty jokes or have a good time at parties, then why get moralistic? If you’re smart, there’s got to be some way to rationalize this.”

–Jia Tolentino

Joanna Goddard mentioned that every woman has these kinds of moments, and that we all seem to consider them “nothing” because they are so pervasive in our daily lives.  Her account of being a harassed and kissed by her boss at only 14 years old made me cast farther back in my memory than I ever have when thinking about whether I have had issues with men being inappropriate (until now I have only considered my life as an adult).  I was so surprised to realize that yes, I have, and that they are some of the most embarrassing moments of my childhood.  That I was sweet and shy was not my fault — what kind of man thinks it is appropriate to tease a 5 year old about having hair on her legs?  Are they already supposed to be hairless, the better to attract?  To be sexy?  I was mortified, petrified, and so, so ashamed of my body, for reasons I did not understand. And I hated every moment that I had to sit in that truck next to that man.  Why is the ability of a man to say whatever comes into his head so much more valuable, more legitimate a need, than the comfort and perception of safety of the woman (or girl) he feels the need to speak to?  Likewise I was uncomfortable and embarrassed to be asked about Morro Bay by a man in Home Depot.  I had never been to Morro Bay — the jaunty hat I was wearing was a souvenir I was given, and I liked that it was a sailor hat.  I hated being approached by a stranger, and hated being put on the spot.  He felt large and loud and looming.  I don’t think I ever wore that hat again.  Typing it out or trying to describe that encounter… it seems relatively innocuous.  But I think there is something to gut feelings, and in hindsight… well, he was certainly not offering to help me find my parents.  And that is not including all the microaggressions that are just “nothing” to us.  The older men who have called me diminutive names.  The harassment I got from boys my age in school.  The boy in 2nd grade who would chase me around the playground, for example, so instead of playing I spent my recesses hanging around the yard duty (who did nothing to stop him from hassling me).  The boy in 5th and 6th grade who would taunt me with ”monkey legs” during P.E., who left me, again, mortified about my body.  But insults and harassment mean a boy “likes you.”  If you complain, you’re told “boys will be boys,” and what’s the harm?  Is it any surprise that we grow into women who don’t speak up?

It is somehow terrible to realize and freeing to consider — that these embarrassments were not because I was too shy, or to naive to get the joke, or too sensitive, or overreacting.  The women I was so sad for in the Weinstein bombshell — those articles that made me feel ill — they are all of us.  I am part of that.  I am a women that blames myself.  It is so insidious and cruel, to turn the best things in us into liabilities, into faults, into reasons why we deserved what we got, what we get. And in a twisted way, it almost makes me feel more helpless.  To know that, albeit in comparatively small ways, men have successfully made me feel small.  And they have made me feel responsible for that smallness.

I don’t know what the answers are. I want so desperately to believe we have come a long way, that things are better than they were, but then I see the way these courageous women are belittled when they speak up.  “Why did she wait so long to say something?” “Why did she accept a settlement?” “She must have been in it for the money.” “She was asking for it.” “Welcome to Hollywood.” I am left with such melancholy, that there is so little regard for half the world’s population.  That I am a part of that half.  I should be respected as a person, regardless of whose daughter or sister or friend or wife I am.  I should not only matter in the context of the men I am related to.  Add this yearning to the rest of the pile.  I am a pile of aching yearnings, big and small.  I am yearning for something better.

A new year

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Happy new year, and welcome to 2019!  It seems we all have resolutions at the beginning of January, and one by one we let them fall by the wayside, with varying levels of guilt.  In the past few years I’ve decided to forego resolutions for that very reason.  Inevitably I find myself in a contemplative and reflective mood as the year closes, though, so instead of resolutions, I like to think about intentions for the year ahead.

This year, self-love is (again) on my mind.  I’m still mulling over how I can best take care of myself this year, but on New Year’s Eve I had the not-groundbreaking but also personally startling realization that maybe, just maybe, it is less about “fixing” and more about acceptance.  I tend to wonder what is wrong with me, and then set about trying to fix it.  Perhaps the key is not to fix, but to be still, accept, sit with, and be.  Rather than railing against my restless spirit and striving for an ever-elusive contentment, perhaps I can acknowledge that as part of my nature.  Perhaps contentment is less a state of being to be achieved, and more about enjoying snippets of joy and happiness as they are found, and made, and stumbled upon.

Wishing you joy in this new year, in whatever form it takes!

Going with it

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Tide pool, Crystal Cove State Park, December 2018

Sometimes, you need to just go with the flow.  Take it one day at a time.  Good with the bad, highs with the lows, just go with it.  The last month or so has been full of challenges and difficulties, but delightful moments have also popped up to warm me in the shadows.  I’m going to have a few days off from work at the end of the month that I hope will be a time to recharge and reset for the coming new year, but in the meantime, I’m trying to float along.  I’m just going with it.

the challenges of feeling empty

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Depression is a difficult thing to talk about.  I know, because I suffer from it.  Lock, stock, and barrel, I deal with depression and anxiety both.  I do think the stigmas around mental illness are slowly beginning to change, but preconceptions and judgements still linger.  Even when people mean well, it can still be a challenging topic to deal with.  Especially since these disorders are largely invisible.

In some ways, I think some of the difficulties surrounding depression (and anxiety) can be attributed to the language we use.

“I’m so anxious about my meeting today!  I can’t wait until it’s over.”

“Ugh, I’m so depressed they got rid of the pumpkin spice latte already.  It’s my favorite!”

Sound familiar?  The fact that we use the same verbiage to describe both fleeting emotions AND majorly debilitating illnesses often makes it difficult to be taken seriously, no matter how well-meaning someone might be.  No, a walk around the block will not make me less depressed.  Unfortunately, encouragement to look on the bright side will not make my anxiety any better.  But someone listening, just being there, or simply acknowledging how difficult things may be can sometimes make a world of difference.  And if you aren’t sure what might help?  Ask.  It’s that easy.  A very dear friend recently asked me what helps when I am feeling bad, and I felt so seen.  His kindness in that moment made me so grateful.  Similarly, I almost cried when my doctor described panic attacks as one of the most terrifying experiences out there.  Up until that point, the episodes I had experienced were described to me as “only” panic attacks (as opposed to a cardiovascular issue).  The validation and relief that came with that simple shift was staggering to me.  I felt seen.  And I felt understood.

Perhaps the most difficult thing to explain is when people say you can “just ask” for help:  “Just reach out — I’m here anytime!”  Unfortunately, depression is insidious in that way.  It isn’t simply feeling sad. To me it feels more like emptiness.  Like inertia.  All the color drains from the world, I can’t appreciate any of the good things in my life, and I want nothing more than to curl up into myself and cease to be, for fear of being a bother to anyone.  As much as I try to “logic” myself out of negative self-talk, on the bad days, you can’t convince me I am anything other than lazy, weak, a downer, a failure, and a burden to everyone I care about.  It takes an immense amount of willpower to even get out of bed some days, much less send someone a text that I’m feeling a little down.  (I won’t ever say more than that, for fear of being a burden.  Or a downer.  You see?  Insidious!)  That being said, if I can get there, if I can send that little text, I am forever grateful if someone says, “Hey, you’re not a bother.  I know it’s hard, but you’re strong.  I believe in you.”

I had a rough day recently, which made me think I should put some of this out there, in the hopes that maybe someone sees this and feels a little bit less alone.  Sometimes, that can make all the difference.