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.

Rest, wander, live…

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“The most valuable thing we can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of room, not try to be or do anything whatever.”

May Sarton

My cold still hasn’t quite let up, so I’m especially grateful for a long weekend on this fine Friday.  Wishing you all a restful Labor Day weekend!

 

Feeling beautiful

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Apologies for my absence this week, but I have had a terrible cold.  I’m hoping to be back in action fully next week, but in the meantime, I wanted to share a resonant piece about beauty that I stumbled across this morning:

“… Here are some activities where I feel intuitively beautiful and feminine – Walking through the Minneapolis Institute of Art alone. Writing and creating in an afternoon coffee shop. Talking with my girlfriends late at night, long after the persuasion of sleep has crept in. I feel most beautiful when interacting with this life that surrounds us. So I’m trying to do more of that. Because the image I keep hoping to see in the mirror? She’s never going to show up. But still, without fail, I greet her within me every single day – she is the way I respond to art and humanity. She is the rare and precious awareness that comes only when studying something that is distinctly outside of myself. I want to learn more of her. And it’s not going to happen while looking into the empty reflection of my bathroom mirror. So why would I bother to look there at all?”

–Anna Jeter via Wit & Delight

It made me think about how I feel vs. how I look, and how important it is to feel good in my body.  Here’s to a weekend full of feeling beautiful in and of ourselves.

 

On goals…

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Me and my scuffed sneakers on a gorgeous tile floor — Barcelona, Spain.

A chat with a friend last month got me thinking long and hard about goals.  Goals — those things we had all throughout our growing-up years, shimmering ahead to work towards, keeping us moving ever-forward.  A week or so prior to our talk, I realized that hovering here in my mid-thirties, goals are conspicuously absent.  I mean, I have the vague desire to travel as much as possible, to succeed at work, to surround myself with people I love and trust… but those big goals I had outlining my paths over the last three+ decades?  Conspicuously.  Absent.

This worried me.  My school years were full of both immediate and longer-term goals.  Learn to ride my bike.  Get straight A’s.  Become section leader in band.  Pass that year’s Advanced Placement exams.  Get into a good college.  Graduate with honors.  Get into a good grad school.  Get an advanced degree.  Get married after getting my degree.  Find a job.  Find a job in my field.  Find a full-time job in my field that would allow me to do the very adult thing of saving for retirement.  The realization that I didn’t have an immediate goal hovering out there… bothered me.  I wondered if I had gotten less ambitious.  If perhaps I was less driven than I had been.  That possibility rattled me as much as the lack of a goal, to be honest.  Being smart and driven were things I felt were part of my identity.  If I wasn’t, then what was I?

(To be clear, I do have some “goals” in the back of my mind, but they are the kind that are on autopilot.  Pay off my student loans in X number of years.  Keep saving for retirement, that pie-in-the-sky happening that may not ever materialize for my generation.)

As my friend and I chatted, she reminded me of the plethora of things I am doing right now that I should be proud of, and I am so immensely grateful for her reminders.  It helped me find a little perspective, but it also made me wonder: are we focusing so hard on setting goals that we are missing the joys of those we have successfully achieved?  To be honest, I am not sure I ever have stopped to enjoy mine.  What a sobering realization.

This past weekend I had very little desire to do much of anything.  I felt guilty napping the hours away, but a small part of me did realize that there is a season for everything, and there is an ebb and flow to life.  We need idle times to give productive ones their verve and satisfaction, just like we need seasons of striving and seasons of reaping what we’ve sown.  That seems to be my big lesson recently in terms of goals: that I can be a person rather than a perpetual motion machine, and that I can (and should!) enjoy the fruits of my labors from time to time.  Otherwise, what is the point?

Lighter

Yesterday, inspired by all those brave souls who have KonMari’ed their way to organized bliss, I decided to tackle my closet and really declutter.  Every so often I will do a cursory purge of worn or ill-fitting items, but this time, I was determined to embrace the “spark joy” mantra and really go at it.  While I didn’t physically pull everything out of my closet and drawers the way Marie Kondo advises, I did review everything in my closet, drawers, and storage — all of my clothes, shoes, and (perhaps most overwhelmingly) handbags.  I was much more ruthless discerning than in the past, and a lot more items wound up on the bed as a result.  The leather jacket I wore not-quite-often-enough that is a little too snug now?  Out.  The dress that proved to be way too fiddle-y to wear a bra under?  Out.  The bag(s) I bought because they were pretty and on sale even though they were a little too small for everyday?  Out.  The cute shoes that I figured would “break in nicely” that hurt my feet all whopping two times I wore them?  Out!  I realized that many items I was holding onto were things I wouldn’t use much, if ever, but that I couldn’t get my mind around being a sunk cost.  And I had no idea how much lighter I’d feel until I got into bed last night!  Freshly laundered sheets, a no-longer-crammed closet, a successful drop off to charity, and many tiny psychological weights lifted?  Yes to all of the above.

img_6864I’m hoping I’ll get more use out of the things I do love now that I can find them easier.  This also reaffirmed the concerted effort I’ve been making to only buy things I love rather than getting an item because it is a good deal (and boy, do I love a good deal — just ask my mom!).  Plus, it feels good to know that some things will be going to friends and family who will get use and enjoyment out of them — certainly more I would having them take up space in our little house.  Perhaps I was a little late to the gate on spring cleaning, but it sure feels good to start my summer with a clean(er) slate.

Sources: green lamps, black shades, and gold pillow from Target; Klimt canvas from Ikea, upholstered bed frame from Cost Plus World Market, patterned pillow from Cupcakes and Cashmere Home, linens from Matteo LA

Links to ponder

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It has been a difficult couple weeks for a variety of reasons, perhaps most especially because we lost some amazing and luminous figures to suicide just days apart from each other.  Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, you will be missed.  As we hold ourselves gently, gingerly, and move forward, here are some important/poignant/touching/thoughtful reads for you to ponder:

The kind of “bad boy” we need more of…

Why “you are loved” is not enough.

Anxious and unashamed.

An important read on size appropriation.

Quick, curious, playful, & strong.

 

Are we there yet?

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Last week I had the pleasure of attending a book signing with the delightful Mari Andrew for her first book, Am I There Yet?: The Loop-de-loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood.  I’ve enjoyed Mari’s insights on her Instagram and on the blog Cup of Jo for some time, but fell for her even more after hearing her speak at Vroman’s Bookstore on Thursday night.  She’s been a real inspiration for me: not only did she transition to illustrating full time only a couple of years ago (and already has a book that made the New York Times bestseller list? Amazing!), but she manages to say the things we all are thinking but afraid to articulate in a way that is fresh, disarming, candid, and compassionate — often all at the same time.

In her talk, Andrew held forth on things she thinks are valuable “wastes of time,” including making your own happiness reliable, working towards the person you want to be, pursuing fun, and sometimes having no goal at all.  “I am a person who is loved.  And I am a person who loves.”  These words resonated with me long after I walked out of the bookstore, signed book in hand.  In a culture that seems to privilege self-sacrifice to an impossible degree, sometimes these small reminders that fun is a good thing, and that prioritizing your own happiness is an even better thing, are exactly what is needed — especially when they are offered with a smile as genuine as Mari Andrew’s.