dusting off ye ol’ blog

so it’s been about a year since I last posted, and really the only clicks I get on this webpage anymore are a sweaty-handed troll or the occasional bot looking to break into my code to plant some advertising. And yet, she persists.

News on me: Still working. Still mama-ing. Yesterday I submitted the first part of my application to get into a PhD program. Still persisting.

Today is Election Day back home — it’s the midterms, and for most of the day I’ll be obsessing over the direction that my home country is heading in. Tonight, I’ll watch John King play with all his fancy graphics and crush over Van Jones’ commentary (and tie choice).

Two years ago on Election Day I was so confident that a certain reality TV star had NO CHANCE of getting elected, and was devastated when he did. This time around, I’m not nearly as confident in the voting masses.

walking with a limp

I finished Brené Brown’s latest, and not surprisingly, I loved it. With each of her books, I find that her writing voice and arguments are getting stronger. She’s the only author whose books I want in all forms — audio, electronic, and hard copy. I love listening to her read, because her Texas accent and expression makes it sound like she’s in the middle of a conversation.

There are SO MANY parts of the book that stood out, but here’s a favourite passage that’s mean a lot to me, especially lately. This segment comes from an interview she did with a minister who went against church doctrine, and stood up and supported the LGBTQ community:

I suspect the wilderness is a permanent home for me, which is both happy and hard. A dear friend sent me a text during those harsh first steps out, having broken party lines irreversibly after publicly wrestling through a fragile doctrinal interpretation.

There is this wonderful and strange story in Genesis 32 about Jacob physically wrestling with God all night in the literal wilderness, and upon realizing that Jacob was positively not giving up and in fact hollered, “I will not let you go unless you bless me!,” he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of socket, a permanent reminder of the struggle of a determined, stubborn, dogged man with God; an absurd and ballsy move, as outrageous as it was impressive.

My friend texted me: “You are like Jacob. You refused to let go of God until He blessed you in this space. And He will. You will indeed find new land. But you’ll always walk with a limp.”

So I’ve chosen the wilderness, because it is where I can tell the truth and lead with the most courage and gather with my fellow outsiders, but this limp will remind me of the cost, what lies behind me, what will always feel a little sad and a little bruised.

Was it worth it? Unquestionably. And I hope the limp shows my fellow wilderness dwellers that I’m acquainted with pain and didn’t make it out here unscathed either. Outliers, I suspect it won’t hinder our wilderness dance party in the slightest.

I love this passage, so much. I know exactly what it feels like to metaphorically “walk with a limp.” My body and heart are indelibly marked with these wounding occasions, and I won’t ever be the same because of them. But — I don’t regret the times I’ve had to wrestle, and I don’t resent the injuries that have resulted. And yet, I do feel a little sad about them.

Lately I’ve had some really difficult days where I’ve felt like I’m in “the wilderness,” and I’ve added a couple more bruises to my heart.  It can be a lonely place when you stand up for yourself, and you’re not understood. It feels especially heartbreaking when you’re not understood by people who you love.

I like reclaiming the story of Jacob and his wrestling angel, in terms of my own struggles. I’m no longer going to think about difficult experiences as a means to build up my internal calluses and “get tougher” when it comes to numbing my wounds.

Instead, I want to have that “strong back, soft front, wise heart” and recognize that having a limp won’t stop me from moving forward. Or from occasionally dancing.

reclaiming my time

One of the more recent books I’ve read was the autobiography of Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West. I’ve followed her work, off and on, for a number of years and I’ve long appreciated her voice and (often hilarious) candor. It was interesting to read her book right after reading Roxane Gay’s memoir — both of them strong women, yet both having very different approaches when talking about body image.

Here are some of the parts of Lindy’s work that stood out to me, and that I want to remember/mull over, going forward.

On relationships:

“Mike made me feel lonely and being alone with another person is much worse than being alone by yourself.”

Gah, I know this feeling, maybe more than I’d like to admit. Lindy talks about many relationships she found herself in where the person she was with wasn’t able (or willing) to accept her for herself. It wasn’t until she was able to find a secure place of self-acceptance that she was able to find the connection she was looking for. (which, yes, sounds incredibly cliche — but there’s some lessons there that I’m still working on, cliche or no)

Lately I’ve been really embracing the quiet alone moments that I can find for myself. I haven’t always been in a place where I enjoyed being alone — but now I can honestly say that there are many times when I wish I had MORE time to enjoy some solitude.

On privilege:

“All I had to do [to get an abortion] was wait two weeks, or have an awkward conversation I did not want to have with my supportive, liberal, well-to-do mother. Privilege means that it’s easy for white women to do each other favours. Privilege means that those of us who need it the least often get the most help.”

When it comes to discussions of privilege, I struggle and wrestle and feel guilty and angry and then want to go out and address societal change. And then I start the process all over again. I worry that I’m being too much of “a Becky,” and then at the same time get angry that I’m identified with such a label.

But when Lindy put privilege in such terms as she did above, I got it. There are times when I feel disadvantaged, but then when I have a gut-reality-check, I realize there’s so much that I have access to. How I choose to use and acknowledge those privileges is what I need to be more aware of.

On self-acceptance:

“I always thought that if I just never, every acknowledged [that I was fat] — never wore a bathing suit, never objected to a fat joke on TV, stuck to ‘flattering’ clothes, never said ‘fat’ out loud — then maybe people wouldn’t notice. Maybe I could pass as thin, or at least obedient. But, I was slowly learning, you can’t advocate for yourself if you won’t admit what you are.”

This is one quote that really resonated with me — especially the last sentence. Lately I’ve been working through lots of self-issues, and I’m working on understanding what it means to like who I am, and not to be ashamed or feel guilt over what I’ve done (that has, in part, made me who I am).

Maybe a big part of that process is being able to admit some of the parts of me that could be perceived as weakness — and instead of letting others tell me how I should view myself, I can instead claim that label for myself.

Something I really admire about Lindy is how she’s able to embrace who she is, often unabashedly so. I want to have some of that same confidence when it comes to how I see (and advocate for) myself.

On standing up to injustices (“How to make a Rape Joke“):

One of the best parts of her book was when she describes what happened when she decided to speak out against Daniel Tosh’s idiotic rape joke(s) a number of years ago. She writes:

My point was that what we say affects the world we live in, that words are both a reflection of and a catalyst for the way our society operates. Comedy, in particular, is a tremendously powerful lever of social change. […] When you talk about rape, I said, you get to decide where you aim: Are you making fun of rapists? Or their victims? Are you making the world better? Or worse? It’s not about censorship, it’s not about obligation, it’s not about forcibly limiting anyone’s speech — it’s about choice. Who are you? Choose.”

Of course, as soon as she vocalized her objection, many male comedians started circling the wagons and crying censorship. Lindy then quotes part of an essay by Molly Knefel, and what she quotes really gets to the crux of the issue. Knefel was addressing the fact that many of the male objectors to Lindy’s argument (“nothing is sacred and everything can be joked about”) were the same ones who also said that some subjects were “too soon” to be jokes (ex:/ the Boston Marathon bombing and Aurora theatre shooting).

Knefel writes:

The suffering in Boston, as horrifying as it is, is largely abstract to a nation that has, for the most part, never experienced such a thing. On the other hand, in every room Oswalt performs comedy in, there will be a rape survivor. Statistically speaking, there will be many. There will be even more if he is performing at a university. If exceptional violence illuminates our human capacity for empathy, then structural violence shows the darkness of indifference.

Again, the last sentence!

I keep thinking back to the public outcry for the victims in the recent Las Vegas shooting — how horrific and evocative the media coverage has been for this story. And then, I think about the statistical reality that anywhere from 1 in 4 (or 1 in 5) women will have been sexually assaulted in their lifetime — and somehow, this is a stat that isn’t getting the public (or media) just as horrified and empathic for the women who have experienced that kind of abuse. It’s stunning.

On love:

And finally, I really liked what Lindy had to say about what it means to “love with an open hand.” She quotes her sister, who says to her:

“Dude”, she said, like it was the most obvious thing in the world, “don’t you know you have to love with an open hand?” […]

“If you have a bird that you love, and you want the bird to stay and hang out with you and sing for you, you don’t clutch it in your fist so it can’t get away. You hold your hand out, open, and wait for it to perch there. If you’re holding it there, it’s not your friend — it’s your prisoner. Love with an open hand. DUH.”

So yeah. The analogy of setting what you love free does sound like something so simple (and cliche) to do, but it’s a lesson that I’m also still working on.

I like the idea of what it means to love (and be loved) with an open hand. I don’t think I can be loved in any other way.

living in the transition

Our inner lives, William James announced, are fluid, restless, mercurial, always in transition. The transitions, he speculated, are the reality, and concluded that our experience ‘lives in the transitions.’ This is a piece of information difficult to absorb, much less accept, yet it is transparently persuasive. How else account for the mysterious shift in emotional sympathies that, at any hour of the ordinary day, brings a marriage, a friendship, a professional connection that has repeatedly threatened dissolution, to a ‘sudden’ actual end?

The withdrawal of feeling in romantic love is a drama most of us are familiar with and therefore feel equipped to explain. In thrall to the intensity generated by passion, we invest love with transformative powers; imagine ourselves about to be made new, even whole, under its influence. When the expected transformation fails to materialize, the hopes interwoven with the infatuation do a desperate dissolve. The adventure of having felt known in the presence of the lover now bleeds out into the anxiety of being exposed.

In both friendship and love, the expectation that one’s expressive (if not best) self will flower in the presence of the beloved other is key. Upon that flowering all is posited. But what if the restless, the fluid, the mercurial, within each of us is steadily undermining the very thing we think we most want? What, in fact, if the assumption of a self in need of expressiveness is an illusion? What if the urge toward stable intimacy is perpetually threatened by an equally great, if not greater, urge toward destabilization? What then?

from The Odd Woman and the City

by Vivian Gornick