Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

A Walk Through Flames

Despite some fantastically amazing people and things going on in my life and the fact that I am extremely happy at the moment, I seem to have been in my own head a lot over the last week or so and particularly so today. This post has slowly been clawing its way out of my brain for several weeks and today’s introspection crystallized it to the point where I could finish it.
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Always, my path is through fire. How shall I avoid being consumed by the flames?

That thought has been resonating in my head for two decades. It encapsulates my adult life experience so precisely, yet is a constant enigma. What it means shifts from day to day, moment to moment. But, at bottom, the fact remains that my personal life narrative is punctuated by serial baptisms by fire, each one leaving me charred to varying degrees.

In the last two+ years, since I awoke to the dissonance in my life and began this journey of self discovery (the last several months of which are chronicled here in this blog), I have leapt through more figurative flames than I knew it was possible to survive. Yet I did.

And now I feel the next ring of fire looming ahead, searing me with the heat of fear, uncertainty, doubt, and dread.

I’ve acknowledged in earlier posts that discovery or coming out (or both) is inevitable. This truth presses on my heart and brain with the weight of a mountain.

Unavoidable. Inevitable. Uncontrollable. This unholy trinity is a misery to share head-space with.

The obvious solution: take my power back from the unknown, grit my teeth and take the plunge by coming out to those in my daily life.

Come out. Obvious, but not easy. (Yes, I am aware no one ever promised that life would be easy.)

To bring these deep thoughts more into focus in practical terms, I will admit that I have used my family, particularly my brothers and their wives, as substitutes for all other relationships that would have been more fulfilling and assisted me in my journey to authenticity. But I denied myself those connections out of fear and stubborn refusal to see myself for who and what I am: a queer butch woman. So, in absence of friends and lovers who knew and accepted this truth of my identity, I have concentrated all my support structure, care and love on which I rely into my siblings.

This is not wrong and I’m not ashamed to reveal my close relationship with them. But if not wrong, it seems nevertheless to put me at a tactical disadvantage by creating a single point of failure in the emotional scaffold I’ve relied on my entire adult life.

Mine is a military-and fundamentalist-based family structure built on a foundation of Southern conservative Christian upbringing. Again, neither wrong nor bad in itself. But it creates an atmosphere rife with risk when it suddenly dawns on you that you are everything that they are not, and everything that they detest.

By coming out to them (or having them discover my truth in other ways), I put the people in my most significant IRL relationships in the untenable position of having to compromise one of two deeply held core beliefs that now conflict: (1) gay is wrong; and (2) family is paramount to everything. Their choice and my fear, then, comes down to this: When what you love is everything that is wrong, how can you go on loving that thing/person?

That’s the ring of fire I sense looming in my path. A choice between the freedom of authenticity and the comfort of a peaceful, loving family life.

Always my path is through fire. How can I not be consumed by the flames?

Sorry, Not Sorry

I’m proud and a little awed to be able to say that there are cool, exciting, fun things going on in my life right now and that, overall, I’m one happy, lucky butch. Not surprising, then, that I’ve been a bit more smiley, a bit more easy-going lately. And people around me notice. It’s all good.

Until someone tries to turn my happy into guilt.

Here’s what happened: I get to the conference room five minutes before a long, tedious meeting so I can get a good seat by the door. I’m sitting hunched over my iPhone grinning like an idiot at some Tweet or comment or other from one of my online pals. The silence is abruptly broken by a loud, irritated “what the hell is there to smile about?” Looking up, I continued to smile and tried to pass it off as a joke with a light-hearted “oh, I’m just feeling good today.” But my accuser (that’s how it felt) scowled and muttered darkly “those of us who pay attention to the world know there’s nothing to feel good about.”

The implication was clear: my happy was inappropriate and offensive. I was immediately sorry for my flip comment and felt a stab of guilt for being happy in the face of his gloom.

Guilt is my go-to, conditioned response to anything that feels wrong in my little world. My non-clinical opinion is that a lifetime of “raisin’ ‘n learnin'” from a bevy of fierce Southern women (Steele Magnolias ain’t got nothing on my mamma, granny and aunts) has instilled in me a fundamental conviction that if its wrong and in my general vicinity, it is (a) my fault, and (2) my job to fix it.

However messed up that is, it’s my reality and I’ve learned to deal with it. So, after the obligatory, knee-jerk guilt, my reasoning brain turned back on and I began to think.

As I sat through that boring meeting that had almost nothing to do with me or my department, the reasoning part of my brain picked at that encounter, cataloging each element. When the meeting was finally over and I could consciously pay attention to it again, my guilt was replaced by irritation and resolve.

I was irritated at the guy who’d tackled me, yes. Because, seriously, how rude! But I was also irritated at the underlying principle: if anyone is unhappy, you must be, too.

How idiotic! While I believe myself to be a compassionate, empathetic person, I learned in the hard way in law school family law clinic practice that absorbing the sadness of others is the worst way to relate to someone. Making their pain yours paralyzes you both and you, as the advocate, become worse than useless. You become complicit in that person’s pain going unresolved. The trick is finding a way to convey sympathy and understanding without internalizing their horror. In an attorney-client relationship, I’ve honed that skill. But it’s still easier said than done in my personal life.

Yes, over the last week or so the world has witnessed a lot of terror, loss, violence. I do not trivialize any of it, nor do I judge any individual’s reaction to it as too acute or unwarranted. Every person deals with grief in her own way.

Still, I was blessed to be spared any deeply personal impact of these events by not losing any loved ones or being the target of any these acts of terror. If nothing else, that fact alone is worthy of praise and a smile. And feeling blessed in this way does not in any way negate any other person’s experience or feelings.

Thus, I rose from that conference table resolved to continue feeling good about all the good things in my life and the world in general. I will not allow anyone else to dictate my feelings or do my thinking for me. And I will not feel guilty for being happy when I have reason to be, regardless of sorrows that exist in the world at large.

So, Angry Coworker, I’m sorry I’m not sorry. That’s as close to a guilt trip as I’m willing to bear for my non-crime of happiness.

And…I’m still grinning like an idiot every chance I get. 😉

Urgent vs. Important

I kicked butt today at work, in part, due to this concept. So, I thought I’d share.

Last week I spent three days in management skills training. My company actually values its employees and does a great job of providing development opportunities. Last week’s sessions were the middle three of a 9-class set designed to develop leaders out of managers. Great concept and, overall, great experience. (Practicing intentional positivity, I’m skipping over the antics of the insufferable loudmouth in my class.)

One of the key takeaways from last week was the concept of urgent vs. important. The theory goes that highly effective leaders only spend energy on those issues that are both urgent & important and know how to appropriately identify those issues and assign them to the right personnel to resolve.

A tool we used in class was a 2 x 2 matrix, with urgent/not urgent as column heads and important/not important as row heads. The tool urged immediate action for items that are both urgent and important, and to punt and run from the items that are both non-urgent and non-important. (For non-urgent/important, schedule the item to be dealt with later. For urgent/non-important, delegate to the person for whom it is both urgent and important.)

This quadrant graph was a good at-a-glance key to help prioritize tasks for a busy corporate leader.

I think it also lends itself to application in personal life issues.

How often have you found yourself in the middle of something and wondered, “Why am I doing this, again? Oh, yeah, because _____ asked me to.” Or found yourself spending time with someone you don’t really like or can’t relate to, just because?

Don’t get me wrong, please. I’m not advocating a clinical analysis of every person, relationship, activity and responsibility in your life. But, for me, time is a precious and rare commodity. Maximizing the hours I have for personal enjoyment is a must for me (both urgent and important).

I’ve wasted years of my youth and adulthood not understanding my own fundamental nature and not following my heart and soul to happiness. I can’t afford to waste any more of my days to apathy, fear, guilt, boredom, or unearned/unwanted obligation.

One way to sift the chaff, excise the unnecessary, is to define what “urgent” and “important” mean for my life and then spend the rest of my time focused on those people, things, emotions and events that fit both definitions simultaneously. Everything else is noise.

Learning To Be Cared For

Recently (30 March 2013, “Silencing the Critic”) I blogged about how difficult it is to graciously accept a compliment, due mainly to social conditioning. The small point I made in that post is how easily this self criticism can become destructive and habitual. Mine was just one of several posts on that topic in the days before and just after I published my blog entry. It seems that a lot of women in the blogosphere, including FemmeOutLoud on the Melange blog, struggle with this for a variety of reasons, including social conditioning and a belief that we somehow don’t deserve praise. In my experience, among women in general and, (anecdotally, subjectively, and completely un-scientifically) butch or masculine women in particular, there seems to be a pervasive compulsion to suppress the desire for, and reaction to, praise.

In dealing with a couple of personal matters over the weekend, it occurred to me that this reflexive self-deprecation has an insidious corollary in an inability to graciously accept the related, and far more vital, expressions of caring and love: empathy and sympathy.

Whether or not social conditioning plays a role in this aspect of the problem is unclear to me. But I do know that, in my own personal experience, reasons include that same “I don’t deserve” belief as was tied to the deflection of praise, as well as a tendency to interpret empathy as pity. I don’t think anyone wants to be thought pitiful or weak, nor does anyone want to burden others with baggage that engenders pity; I know I can’t abide pity directed toward me.

But in addition to these obvious issues, this weekend’s events also made it clear to me that there is something even more fundamental in my seeming compulsion to deflect expressions of love and care. Accepting these expressions of caring from the people who are most important to me is a form of vulnerability.

While caring and love generally flow naturally in close relationships, without need of a specific prompt, expressions of empathy and sympathy arise from the revelation of need: I have to open myself up to examination for others to see where it hurts, or I have to admit to myself that I have a need that I can’t fulfill on my own. That kind of exposure comes with the inherent risk of fresh hurt from the one to whom I give access to my open heart.

Compound this vulnerability with the implication of weakness intrinsic to admitting a need for help, comfort, support, (dare I say it?) love, and you have the perfect storm for creating a reticent, uncommunicative, stoic butch who doesn’t trust and unnecessarily carries a burden of guilt and shame, pushing away the very ones who can and want to help.

What a mess!

Luckily, the important people in my life are just as stubborn as I am and will not be pushed away so easily. And, luckily, I am not so stupid as to ignore a miraculous gift of unconditional acceptance and willing support when it lands in my lap. So it was that I learned an epic lesson in the healing power of friendship this Sunday. When faced with a situation fraught with emotion, when choking on the accumulated detritus of past hurts, friends (some of whom don’t even know they contributed to the solution) swooped in and rescued me. Although the healing is only just begun, I did learn this: asking for help isn’t weakness and empathy and sympathy aren’t pity.

To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite bloggers (ButchOnTap), “it’s butch to” accept the loving care of your friends.

Saturday Quick Hit

So, I’ve been belly-aching about working too hard and long days. And I’m a believer of not complaining if you aren’t gonna do something about it. For me, a good solution to over-work is a little play time. Today seemed a good time for that mental break.

I spent some time with my sister-in-law and a few of our art friends, having a creativity day. What a great time! Good conversation, lots of laughs and good-natured ribbing. But no drama, no negativity, and tons of creative sharing. Lots of variety, too. A couple people worked on torches creating lampworked glass beads. I worked with wire. Another did clean-up/finish work on some fused glass projects she had started previously. Lots of really amazing talent among my friends and family. I’m blessed to get to watch them in action.

My projects for today were two wire-wrapped pendants. One is a moss agate stone wrapped in copper wire. The other is picture jasper wrapped in silver wire. I had a lot of fun making them. And the best part was the seven hours of down-time with fun people and not a single thought about my job. 😉

Here’s hoping your Saturday was a blast!

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Catching Up

So I haven’t posted in almost three weeks. That’s insane. My life has been almost as nuts in that time. Most of it crazy good, some of it ridiculously, exhaustingly, frustrating. I can’t (won’t) do a play-by-play recap. But I will fall back on the ol’ bullet list to give you an idea of the highlights. Then I want to share with you some interesting insights that I’ve received from a couple of good friends in recent weeks.

– My last post was on the day after the end of the first quarter. The quarter really kicked my butt. An entire month of 12-15 hour days with only a couple of weekend days off. Burnt the candle at both ends, worked myself into a physical slump. Flu germ laid me low immediately after that last post. I’m really only now back to full steam.

– Work is crazy. Unreasonably heavy work loads because some of the product teams didn’t do their jobs effectively leaving me and my team no time to do our part efficiently. So that translated to high pressure, longer days and even working weekends. Waaaa! But, the good thing is that my team stepped up & knocked the work out of the park. I’m so blessed to have such good people working for me.

– I’ve been thinking a lot, continuing my introspection and self discovery. For the most part, this is good. But, as I was telling one of my Twitter peeps the other day, a sizable chunk of what’s swirling around in my head in recent weeks is more dark and ragged than I’ve ever shared here. I’m not sure I want this space to be sullied by that stuff. That has contributed to my posting hiatus. It’s a self-censorship that I’m uneasy with. At the same time, I am also clinging to it, in order to preserve the peace of this blog space. I’m in limbo, dithering, and gotta get that together.

– I’ve been so blessed to develop some really important, incredibly supportive friendships with two funny, generous, insightful women who have given me an amazing gift of unstinting acceptance. Though these friends are in countries far away from me and our interactions all online, they are no less real as true friends, mentors, advisors, cheer leaders, and accomplices in mischief. It’s impossible to fully describe the blessing this has been to me. While I strive & struggle to find an in real life community, these friends have brought a level of connection that I’ve deeply needed. It may be a silly cliché, but these friendships have made me feel less alone. I’m one lucky butch!

Which leads me to some sage insights these two fierce femmes have provided to me in recent weeks:

– First: acceptance & insight on feeling disingenuous

I’m pretty successful at hiding my thoughts & strategies in a professional context. But personally, emotionally, I’m a fairly open book. I try always to be and act as I really am, without artifice. That’s why this journey of discovery and the coming out process is such a struggle. I’m not only fighting the fear of change, hurt, rejection, but I’m also fighting my own nature to be open, honest about everything.

I feel like a gigantic fraud. Everyone in my IRL circle knows me as & believes me to be something I’m not, but I’m too much of a coward to change that. But at the same time, the online people I care about accept my assertions of what I believe I am, but I’m still too much a coward to turn that into reality. And when people say they respect and are proud of me, I feel so guilty for not being that genuine, unafraid, out & proud butch I should be.

My friend’s unconditional acceptance took the form of a reminder that I’m walking a difficult path of self discovery, trying to find ways to integrate complicated issues into a pre-existing idea of myself that has been static for half my life. But, (1) I made a promise to myself to find a way to live authentically despite it being hard; (2) all anyone expects of me is that I be myself, confused, unsure and human; and (3) though parts of me are confident and parts are insecure, that conflict doesnt invalidate the good in me. What a miraculous gift! In her words, never: underestimate the power of unconditional acceptance from just one person when the whole world seems to be waiting with bated breath for you to screw up.

– Second, sage advice on being tired

As I alluded to above, I’ve been working really hard and am feeling a little tired, a bit flat. One of my friends has a theory that the tired feeling isn’t necessarily purely physical exhaustion, but also a result of the changing perspective brought about by this self-discovery work I’ve been doing.

The theory goes something like this: I have used my work as a substitute for other activities that would have been fulfilling in other ways. In other words, I have been resigned to my life the way that it has been for years. But in the last couple of months the compromise is no longer valid. My universe has expanded and my attention is being drawn away from the job as the be-all-end-all of my waking hours.

So, aside from practical advice to work more efficiently, take a holiday, and learn to delegate, they both (each in their own idiosyncratic way) suggested that one way to deal with the fatigue is to have an outlet for my stress. In other words, get a hobby. As I said in a recent post, I love glass blowing & really need to get back to it. The interesting thing about this suggestion, however, is not the particular activity, but the notion that if I ground myself in a stress-reducing outlet I set myself up to be more efficient and relaxed in all other areas of my life. This despite the seeming paradox of spending less time at work and more time in the studio.

Well, that’s it. That’s all the catching up I can do. Next posts, when they come, will be looking forward, because if I’ve learned anything in the last six weeks, it’s that looking back makes it really hard to see where you’re going. And my horizon is a beautiful sunrise of possibilities.

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