Archive for November, 2013|Monthly archive page

Thankful for…the joy of gifting

As you prob’ly know by know from some of my grumbling on Twitter, I don’t like to shop. In fact, I hate it and avoid it as much as possible, save for the online variety and a trip to Walgreens every few weeks. But the problem is that shopping is a necessary evil when it comes to giving gifts to the people I care about. Even the hand-made gifts I try to give require shopping for supplies. I just hate dealing with crowds and noise and sensory overload, all endemic to retail shopping. But I do it, because I really love giving gifts.

There’s a part of me that feels a tiny bit guilty that giving presents to people makes me feel so good. It’s as if the act of giving and the joy the receiver feels is somehow diminished or re-directed to me, instead of staying on the gift’s recipient. But that’s just a micro-fraction of the overall sensation of giddiness and fun that I get from choosing just the right thing for someone I love.

So today, I butched-up and went shopping. I joined in on Small Business Saturday, a movement all around the US to focus holiday shopping dollars on local small businesses. It’s a commendable goal. Keeping small businesses alive helps keep entrepreneurism alive. And so many small businesses focus on the uniqueness of hand crafted items, which makes giving even more special.

I can’t say what I purchased, or even the genre, because that would spoil the surprise for a few folks. But I can say that I’m excited for the holiday season and the joy of giving thoughtful, fun gifts customized to the recipient. The anticipation is already building. And with each gift wrapped, each package sent, the reflected joy of giving builds up in my soul and makes my enjoyment of the holidays fly high.

I’m thankful for the people in my life and the joy they bring to me and I’m happy and thankful for the blessing of joy I receive from giving a tiny bit back to each dear one in the form of small gifts selected with care just for them.

I’ve enjoyed this 30 Days of Thankfulness writing challenge and the insights into my own happiness that the self-examination has wrought. I’m thankful that you’ve shared it with me, too.

Thankful for…bookstores

Don’t get me wrong, in many noble and community-minded ways, libraries trump bookstores by a long way. But specifically today, when madness of crowds seems to be the rule everywhere we go, I’m thankful for the bookstore.

Despite the occasional screaming kid in the kids section, the bookstore is a welcome harbor of relative peace in the midst of the throngs of people. I don’t do well with crowds and I really despise shopping at the best of times. But I’m out today to support my sister-in-law who does so very much for me. She loves this shopping madness and wanted to dive into it, but wouldn’t go alone. I couldn’t let her miss her fun, after all she does for me.

But I’m so thankful for the welcome break of relative quiet the bookstore offers. While she braves the genuine madness of ToysRUs (I just am not that brave!) on Black Friday, I’m ensconced in a quiet corner of the coffee shop inside B&N, typing this post, having a cool drink, and resting from the sensory overload after the mall.

Though I feel mildly guilty for experiencing a rush of relief at getting to hunker in this corner, I’m hugely grateful that the book shop is here and they offer this oasis of rest.

Good things to drink, nice smells from the coffee & pastries, and a table and high-backed booth to offer a welcome separation from the press of shoppers–all are part of the blessing I find in having a bookstore at the shopping center.

I suppose I should have butched-up and offered to run the toy-gauntlet with her. But since I didn’t, I’m going to enjoy this short season of reprieve and read a book, sip my craft soda or maybe a latte, and stay out of the way of the power-shoppers.

Happy Friday to all.

Thankful for…tradition

Today, Thanksgiving Day in the US, is a day of traditions. Throughout the US, family’s of all shapes and sizes will engage in a lot of holiday-esque activities, eating, making merry, giving thanks in myriad ways, and keeping a dizzying array of traditions alive.

This day is a big day of small traditions for my family. My family is small and we’ve always been more focused on Christmas and New Year’s Day, over Thanksgiving. But we do still have a few traditions that we try to keep alive.

My favorite is the actual giving of thanks. We have a practice of starting the Thanksgiving meal with a prayer of gratitude, followed by a recitation of the one thing each person gathered there is most thankful for. Holding the hand of the person next to you during prayer connects us all together. Focusing, at least for that few minutes of solemn gratitude, on the gifts in our lives is a powerful means of bringing perspective to lives that sometimes get so routine that the blessings get lost in the stress. And letting each person speak uninterrupted, listening to each person’s confession of blessedness, is often quite moving.

Another tradition my family kept all through my childhood is the delivery of meals to the less fortunate in our church and neighborhood. Often, we found ourselves at a nursing home or hospital, shaking hands, giving meals and singing to those who had no family to bring them holiday cheer. I’ve let that slip away in recent years, I’m ashamed to say. I need to get back into that habit. That tradition has a purpose beyond the giver’s blessing and it’s a great boon to those who receive.

The holiday meal itself, is a tradition. The turkey or ham, potatoes or stuffing, green bean casserole or salad, and pies or cakes…all of it has a special significance for each family. Growing up, my family rarely had turkey on Thanksgiving. Instead we either had a ham and all the side dishes, if my mom prepared the meal, or a steak and potato meal from my dad. Today, we’re having a turkey cooked in a rotisserie, stuffing and gravy, and cranberry sauce–very American traditional.

Then there’s the entertainment. Watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, playing cards and board games and, most important, the football! Friendly (or not so friendly?) competition between siblings and cousins in the silliest imaginable games has always been a part of my family’s holiday tradition. The flag football, an American staple, isn’t such a big deal for my clan. But cribbage? That’s a hotly contested event for us. And watch out for sneak canasta tournament take-overs!!

All in, this holiday has always been about family. These traditions get perpetuated and expanded or contracted, depending on the year’s attendance. But always, there is a familiar atmosphere of festivity, excitement and gratefulness to be together.

I’m thankful today for all the countless blessings in my life, including the tradition of giving thanks, recounting blessedness, and gathering with loved ones.

May your Thanksgiving Day bring you blessings.

Thankful for…my crew

I don’t talk about my job all that much, other than the occasional grumble about bone-headed sales guys and the odd mention of the stress I feel sometimes. But I have mentioned that I’m an in-house attorney for a software company and that I really love my job.

One of the things that makes it great is the fact that I work with great people. I’ve been blessed with a wonderful staff of skilled, smart, hard-working lawyers, paralegals and administrators. They are an amazing team. Together, the ten of us handle all customer-facing legal matters for the company’s operations in the Western Hemisphere. Mine is a billion dollar plus company, so that’s a LOT of business!

Without the hard work and dedication of my team, neither I nor my company could survive for long in this business. They do all manner of small miracles and favors and magic tricks to get the work of multitudes done by just a handful of folks and in a time-frame that is mind-boggling in the context of the amount of work performed.

The cool thing is that they all have a positive attitude and a get-it-done mentality. Though they definitely feel the pressure and occasionally snap at a sales guy or three, they like their jobs and do them well. They like each other, work hard and look out for the company’s interests. They are a cohesive unit and are engaged, enjoying (mostly) what they do. As a manager, I can’t ask for more than that. They inspire my admiration and respect every day.

I’m grateful today for the help and camaraderie of a fabulous team of great people.

Thankful for…catharsis

I’ll try to keep it a short one today, because I’ll follow it with a much longer post of a different sort. I’ve been working through a lot of stuff this year, pulling my mental and emotional s&@t together and examining who I am. For the most part it’s been a positive, uplifting experience. But there are times when it really all gets to be too much.

The last couple of days, and several days sporadically over the last couple of weeks, have been fraught with emotion and high tension. Sunday night was full to bursting with roiling, powerful, stressful emotion. But it was a tipping point. The discussion that stretched late into the night and the painful yet necessary examination of a lot of different feelings (eeeew!) seems to have been the key that unlocked the blockage in my head.

I’ve had a set of thoughts weighing heavily on my heart and mind for weeks now. But they just wouldn’t gel into a coherent post. But the release of the last couple of days, together with the patience and compassion of my beloved, has loosened the binding and allowed my thoughts to coalesce.

Make no mistake, the result is raw and the release doesn’t solve the underlying issue. But siphoning off some of the boiling angst into a semi-cogent essay and setting it free into the universe lifts my spirits immensely. It frees me to deal with the core issue, rather than the distracting feelings.

So, today I’m thankful for the catharsis of unburdening my spirit and the love of my Lulu, who provided a safe, supportive, non-judgmental space for me to do so.

Thankful for…forgiveness

Everyone knows that sick, sinking feeling when you discover you’ve messed up and hurt someone you care for deeply. That remorse can be sharp and long-lasting, regardless the size of your blunder, if the pain you caused your loved one is acute or aggravated by emotion. No one likes to be a screw-up, to be the cause of anguish to a loved one. And no one likes to be the one who gets hurt.

That’s why forgiveness is such a miraculous gift. It’s not an obligation for the person who is hurt to forgive. No one is entitled to it by right.

Rather, forgiveness is an act of charity of the heart, a gift freely given in spite of cause to the contrary. In my view, it is evidence of that unseen, intangible, undefinable force that shapes lives: love. I honestly believe that forgiveness of any significant wrong is impossible without some level of love, in one of its myriad forms, between the forgiver and the forgiven. Which, in turn, makes the gift of forgiveness even more significant, rare and beautiful.

Whenever I find that I have hurt someone, no matter how slight the offense, I feel the sick regret and the rebuke of my conscience sharply. I hate causing pain and disappointment. So I also feel each gift of forgiveness as deeply. The blessing is profound.

I am so grateful that the ones who love me in this world have gifted me their forgiveness.

Thankful for…family time

Though mine is quite small, I do love my family. We’re spread out across the country and don’t see each other as often as we’d like. I see one of my brothers about once a year, his kids even less frequently and my aunt and cousins just sporadically.

But I’m really fortunate that my other brother and his wife live where I do. Since we moved to the same place years ago, we’ve become very close. It’s a huge blessing to me that we get to see each other and do fun things together.

Today, we started the day with brunch at a great new restaurant in my neighborhood. Chatting and joking, the meal was good, but the togetherness was priceless. Then we separated. My brother went to his shop to hang with the guys, while my sister-in-law and I headed off on a marathon shopping trip (ugh!).

Spending the day with my sister-in-law is always fun. She’s easy going, fun and energetic. She chatters and jokes and makes even shopping enjoyable. We’re a lot less staid when it’s just us. And she doesn’t mind that I’m not interested in girly, frilly stuff. Time spent with her is as close as I’ve ever come, short of my time with Special Femme, to being my truest self.

Having so close to me a pair of people who know me and all my quirks since I was a child, and who love me anyway, is a blessing beyond words. I’m grateful whenever I get to have quality time with any members of my family, but especially for the frequent time I have with these two special people.

Claiming My Place

Author’s note: fair warning that this post has been rattling around in my head for a couple of months, banging off the walls of my skull, chipping off the smooth edge of my politesse and reserve, leaving sharp, jagged edges of emotion that come out in some of the imagery and language I use. This post is full of big feelings and is odiferous of fear and anger. Feel free to skip this one if its raw, unpolished nature is intimidating.
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Part of the reason I struggle with coming out in my family has to do with “place”–as in the phrases “it’s not my place to”, or “put her in her place”. Also part of it is the concept of selflessness. I’ve touched on them in earlier posts. But these two ideological forces are converging with my practical reality now, as they never have before. The result is a huge pressure front building inside my head and chest, threatening to overwhelm me.

“Place” is a hard concept to articulate. For me, the idea is that each person in a given group has a place, a specific role to play relative to the others, and stepping beyond that role is seen as presumptive or transgressive. This rigid role dynamic can be the source of great stability and comfort, relieving the uncertainty that comes when boundaries are undefined or non-existent. But more often in my experience, it is the source of significant friction and discontent when the parameters of one’s role become dated or out of alignment with one’s personal identity.

Then there’s selflessness, specifically, “having a servant’s heart” (as in Christlike service) and being of service to others. These precepts formed the basis of my upbringing. My siblings and I were taught and were expected to seek what was best for others, to think of others first before ourselves. It was a blending of traditional Southern ideas of ‘elders and ladies first’ and fundamentalist Christian ‘Christ washing the apostles’ feet. And the resulting family ideology yields a social programming powerful beyond the sum of its parts. The fact that I recognize this as ideology and programming does not dissipate it’s effects.

Mine was a home steeped in guilt. Christians and members of our family clan knew our place and served others (particularly the family), eschewing anything that smacked of selfishness. Any time one of us stepped beyond our designated role or acted in our own self interests, the guilt was a rising tide that swamped the lot of us, so that we all learned the lesson of the guilty one. Guilt on steroids.

So, here I am, nearing the end of my 44th year, struggling with the necessary step of coming out to my family. I struggle because doing so means both stepping outside the role designated for me by the expectation of the others in the family, as well as taking what is an essentially self-centered action to claim a new place of my choosing, of my own definition.

Identifying and taking up the space I want to occupy in the world (both literally and metaphorically) without apology, as if by right, is an exercise of supreme selfishness. And it flies in the face of my family’s expectations and desires for my role in our family unit.

As I’ve alluded to in other posts, my family have a fairly narrowly-defined idea of who I am as a person, and that viewpoint is not entirely flattering or confidence-inspiring. As the youngest in the family, a female, overweight and unattractive, I’m a burden to them in many respects, from their perspective. But also, this makes me very low-ranking in terms of perceived influence. Ultimately, this place means that, to them, I really have no right to claim a place of privilege, of self care, of my desire over others’. Instead, I should submit to my elders (especially the men of the bunch) in their estimation of what’s best for me and for the rest of the family. Their expectations and wishes should decide my path.

Now don’t get me wrong. It’s never as overt and black-and-white as I’ve stated it here. It’s a much more insidious campaign of peer pressure. Akin to a wolf pack or other collective organization, it’s a matter of molding each other to the will of the rest of the pack by negative reinforcements and passive-aggressive communication in the form of growls and snarls and nips. Despite this patriarchy, this binary system of privilege, I have a deep bond of love and gratitude to my family. But I’m no longer willing to squeeze myself inside the box they’ve built around my identity.

Hence the struggle.

As I’ve said before, I’m scared to lose them, scared of being shunned and disavowed. As imperfect as we are, we’re still a family and the love between us is 100% real. It’s just not 100% in harmony with my internal picture of myself.

My fear is of being shunned for being who I am. It’s fear of loneliness and trepidation at laying claim to the right to be free from their judgment. A rising sense of panic tightens my throat when I think of the choice I must make: conform to a false identity and resign myself to personal misery, or risk being outside the gates of my family’s community by claiming a place of my choosing.

And so, I’ve succumbed to silence. I feel like I’m living that line from Sarah McLauchlan’s song, I Will Remember You: “It’s funny how we feel so much but we cannot say a word; We are screaming inside, but we can’t be heard”.

I continually ask myself why it matters so much what they think, why is their comfort more important than my happiness? What if I want to think of myself first, for once? Does that selfishness make me a bad person, fundamentally? Can I survive the hurt that will come if my fear proves well founded?

I don’t have a neat, tidy ending. Just a raw, ragged tear in the fabric of my courage and resolve. But I’m not a quitter. I will accomplish this at some point. It’s just a matter of time…else the passage of time will do the job for me when one of the people who do know reveal the truth to them before I can muster the guts to do so. That would be a fitting capper to my cowardice, I guess.

Thankful for…quiet

Silence can be intimidating sometimes. But for me, quiet is nearly the most valuable commodity on the planet.

Although I like and am thankful for music and other forms of entertainment, the amount of sound in my daily world can become overwhelming. And too much loud noise makes me nervous and stressed. I can’t adequately explain why, but it does. So, I value quiet. It feels like a warm blanket soothing jangling nerves.

Quiet also is a huge benefit to my productivity. When I just have to get stuff done, it helps to turn everything off and shut my office door and knock it out. Like today, I hate working in Saturday, but the empty office, quiet phone and dearth if emails made it so much easier to get a couple of very important tasks done in very little time.

Even when Special Femme and I connect via Skype, there are moments of welcome quiet, when we get the joy of just being together in companionable silence while seeing the other’s smile. I’ve learned to value this comfort and ease between us. The physical distance between us could easily become a barrier to the development of our relationship. But our mutual comfort in quiet moments between the long talks and jokes shows that we can connect on a level beyond the distance and technology.

So today I’m thankful for quiet that soothes, motivates and comforts, without awkwardness or burden.

Thankful for…the information superhighway

Let’s face it. There are a lot of things about the Internet to loathe or be disgusted with. But there’s so much good to be had here, too. For me, our online world is a huge blessing.

The Internet offers easy access to information that’s difficult, time consuming, and in some cases, impossible to find by traditional means. And, just as with traditional information sources, there are varying degrees of information quality and fidelity. But the speed at which you can access solid information and the breadth and depth of topics on which info is available, is astounding!

Then there’s the entertainment factor. Games, discussion groups, videos, music, literature…you name it and it’s likely available within a few clicks. News of the weird, silky games, fun and quirky home movies, a pass-time for practically everyone can be found in nearly every corner of the ‘net.

And, where would I be personally without the social media options available online? I certainly wouldn’t have found the love of my life or the amazing community that has welcomed me this year. And I wouldn’t have this amazing outlet for stress, fear and uncertainty that this blog has become. Not without the Internet and blogs and Twitter and Facebook. And without Skype, with which I have a love-hate relationship, I’d still be one sad and lonely butch!

Today I’m thankful for the communication technology and devices which make connecting to each other possible and easy. I’m grateful for the social media gods who put me in the path of my love. And, I’m thankful for the relationships that the Internet and it’s related communication technology makes possible.

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