Archive for the ‘Identity and Discovery’ Category

The Tally

Sometimes I can’t talk about what’s hurting me, but I can write. 

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For two days I’ve been battling to control my emotions. Tears come without warning at the slightest provocation. And a heavy, burning, acrid lump of shame and fear is stuck in my throat preventing me from gaining any calm or comfort by talking through the awfulness. 

Ambush emotions suck. Hard. And the shame and stress of having them come while I’m at work is doubly awful. Being busy will stem the flow for a time. But focusing on work or on anything outside of my head is a daunting task. I’ve been trying, but I’m failing more than succeeding. 

One of the emotionally fraught conversations I had with coworkers today (in which I was mostly silent and tearful) centered on the breathtaking variety of people who will be negatively affected by this new regime. We decided that really only one demographic isn’t immediately and directly harmed by it: straight, white, male, Christians. All others are less than, second-class, and targets for every kind of discrimination and hate. People of color, people of size, people who are LGBTQI, people with physical or mental or emotional challenges, people of any faith other than Christian and people of no faith, and all women are less safe today than we were on Tuesday (to the extent some of these groups were safe at all).

That led to us discussing in how many dimensions each of us is viewed as less than, as undesirable, as unworthy and unwanted. It was a grim discussion and it was repeated with a different set of people later, spontaneously. Because everyone is conscious of the danger that this ungoverned hate represents. And because talking seems to be the only way some have to cope…or not cope but try to commiserate. 

I know its not healthy or helpful to pursue these dark thoughts. But it’s difficult to avoid them when it’s still so raw. It’s akin to the obsessive prodding of a sore tooth, or the scratching of a scab: it hurts and is not productive, but it keeps you conscious of the injury and is, in a way, comforting to feel something even if it’s pain. 

So here’s my tally of factors of un-safety: 8.  I’m a fat, Hispanic, gay, gender non-conforming, woman with mobility issues and unpopular opinions, who holds a position of corporate power over men. 

These are among the most prominent defining characteristics of who I am. They are important to me. And, under this administration of horrors, they number the ways in which I am wrong, misfit, rejected, and reviled. 

I’m sure that tally will increase over the course of the next four years. Because there’s no chance that any of these factors will diminish, but every chance that these hate mongers will find new reasons to hate the hated even more. 

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The Importance of Being Seen

Oh lookit, a bonus post already in this limited #NaNoWriMo effort. Wish I could say it’s a joyful one. 
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I’ve had a rough couple of days at work. I received some feedback that I find very upsetting and have felt rather let down and discouraged by it. After a private pity party and a little whinge in a journal, I’ve spent some time trying to dissect exactly what’s hurting me about it. I actively seek out feedback, frequently ask how I can improve. Personal and professional growth is important to me. So why this feeling of being utterly crushed by this particular feedback?

I think the core of it is that I’ve already spent a lot of time and energy and emotion on this very thing and believe I’ve improved a lot, eliminating the biggest part of this perceived flaw. Yet…it’s apparently not good enough. 

Criticism is hard for all of us, I think. But I find it especially difficult to take onboard as constructive feedback in situations where I feel my efforts in the area at issue have been ignored or overlooked. That’s where I’m at right now…feeling invisible, not seen, un-acknowledged. Or at least my work on a particularly challenging aspect of personal growth feels dismissed and ignored by people I respect and admire. 

I’m familiar with the concept of “being seen” in the context of personal identity. Telling someone “I see you” is a sacred act of validation, an invaluable gift to those whose identity has been erased, ignored, vilified, criminalized. Being seen has weight and meaning far surpassing the surface affect of recognition. Especially for those in marginalized identities, being seen can mean the difference between a life of freedom and a life of struggling to exist. 

But the concept applies equally well to situations beyond identity politics. Being seen and heard is a fundamental need in all types of relationships and interactions. When we feel acknowledged, validated, valued, our relationships and interactions thrive. When we feel invisible, ignored, erased, they fail. That is a binary I do acknowledge. 

In an age when employee engagement and talent retention are actual corporate priorities and not just buzz-words, I can’t help but think that acknowledging someone’s response to coaching, validating their efforts and progress, is critical to those goals. I’m not interested in flattery or asking to be praised and petted. I merely think that if criticism is acknowledged and responded to with genuine effort to improve, heaping on further criticism without any acknowledgement of those efforts is dispiriting and demoralizing. It’s the difference between fine-tuning with judicious editing, and bludgeoning with a hammer. 

That all sounds like a load of self pity and whining. An adult professional should be able to receive criticism without crying about it. 

Yes. 

But at some point, even responsible adults get a gut full of being picked-on. And when the criticism comes without any direction or guidance on what to change or what constitutes success, the unacknowledged efforts seem futile and will eventually stop. That is the very definition of disengagement. 

So, yeah, that’s a grim way to end the day. Perhaps the gloom and chill outside my window has seeped into my thoughts and leaked out into this blog. Sorry. 

I hope you’re feeling seen and valid and valued today and every day. 

Troubling Thought

Here’s the first of my #NaNoWriMo posts…

Last month, I attended a CLE seminar on diversity in the legal profession. During a panel discussion with five representatives of various marginalized demographics, a question asked the panelists to tell of a time when they experienced trouble in their job because of their minority’s identity. Several of the women of color described being assumed to be secretaries, prostitutes, or mothers of their clients by judges and court personnel. The discussion turned to their coping strategies and what things they did to avoid those assumptions. All of the women on the panel, including the gay white woman, talked about making great efforts to present a professional appearance, especially having a good hairstyle and always wearing a suit jacket to court and meetings. These were acknowledged by the panel as the most direct measures to avoid negative assumptions by people who “naturally” rely on prevailing stereotypes about women’s roles. 
Then a self-acknowledged straight white man who spent 20+ years in the US armed forces, commented that his experience in uniform taught him that “dressing the part” was often the best way to achieve a goal and earn the respect of those involved. 

I was stunned by the level of agreement this remark drew from the audience. 

Perhaps I look at the thing with undue prejudice, given that presentation, gender identity, authenticity, and validation are all closely, inextricably linked in my head. But even so, I cannot help but think that telling people who are marginalized in large part by their appearance that the only way for them to succeed or advance is to assimilate the appearance of those who marginalize them, is dangerous and damaging. 

“Fake it ’til you make it “, “dress the part”, “grin and bear it”, “pay your dues”, and lots of other pithy, glib, over-simplified adages all tell the same story: you’re not (yet) enough and you’ll only ever be enough if you become (or appear to be) something else. 

In a room full of lawyers voluntarily learning about the vital role diversity plays in making our profession, our justice system, our society, and our world better for us and future generations, I judge that man’s comment, and the sentiment and connotations it carries, to be wholly unworthy, erasing whole swaths of identities, and undoing any positive messages that the seminar did impart to the non-marginalized attendees. 

But what other advice could he have given that would be more helpful? 

If looking mainstream provides the relief necessary to get you to a position that allows a more authentic presentation, how is that a bad thing? Conforming for safety, personal and professional security, or as a step among a progression…isn’t this the definition of maturity, of growth? Is it possible to balance authenticity and conformity?

Lots of questions and few answers. 

What do you think?

Wounded 

Friends, I’m really struggling. It’s difficult to fully articulate the trouble I’m having. In a way, it boils down to a tension, a tug-o-war between what I’m feeling and what I hear from the community I should be feeling. I feel stretched, pulled in opposing directions, pushed into an emotional corner, and I don’t know how to react or deal with it all. 

Here’s the nut of it: All the rallying cries to not be afraid, not be cowed, not be intimidated, and all the righteously indignant declarations of fortitude and perseverance are stirring, glorious examples of the best possible mindset, the reactions to aspire to. But I am afraid. I am sad. I am outraged and angry. 

Yet, I am so weary. 

It feels as if I, in my safe Midwestern town and with my good fortune in job and home and family, have no right to be weary and hurt and afraid. It feels as if I, being so recently out and so remote from the cultural experience of those whose journey to authenticity included finding sanctuary and solace in the bars and clubs and associations of IRL LGBTQ community, am not permitted to feel grief at the hate constantly flung at this community, that I’m somehow an interloper to this communal outpouring of grief. It feels as if my grief and hurt and sadness and anger are regarded as false, as not counting, as a burden to an already burdened community. It feels as if my emotional reactions are a betrayal of the fight that went before me and a weakness in the face of the fight that lies ahead. 

Mind you, no one has said these exact words to me. But every “we will fight”, every “rise up and march”, every “we will not be silenced ” pierces my heart, indicting my feelings as cowardice. Because I currently cannot muster the courage and energy to raise my fist and voice in protest. I’m bruised, wounded. It feels like too much. It feels never ending. The hate and danger burn like fire. The fear and paralysis burn like ice. 

Yet I am, today, safe and whole. There are people in my daily life that love me. I have a home with comforts and necessities. I have an income that supports me and those I love. So how — I hear screamed at me by my inner saboteur and the faceless media — can you feel this overwhelm, this acute injury? 

I can say only that I feel it. Yes from the horror at the Orlando tragedy, but also from the constant, ubiquitous negativity that floods every media feed and story. The stress of political and social strife, of brutality and hate, of unkindness and inequality pervading the news and social interaction is at a peak. It seems hardly possible to go to any public place (physical or virtual) and not encounter some form of aggression, hate, unkindness, or discrimination. What you wear, who you love, where you come from, who you do/don’t worship, what you do for a living, what you think about issues trivial and momentous…all are reasons today for someone to hate, injure, or murder you. I wear at least six of those targets as a Hispanic fat gay non-binary FAAB lawyer every day. 

That kind of insecurity and instability naturally inspire fear and dread in my heart. My instincts scream for me to make myself safe from it all, to withdraw, be still and quiet, to avoid attention. Yet the community demands we risk those dangers and assert ourselves, put ourselves in the line of fire to preserve the future from these tragedies. 

This is right and good and noble. I cannot speak against that call to action. I would be a part of it. Yet, I still am afraid and isolated from the stronghold of the movement. What good is a fearful, timid soldier? How can a weak tool complete a task?

Only in the strength of many can the fearful become bold, the weak become strong. Room must be made for people to feel what they feel without derision, without guilt. In our rallying for tangible action, let’s not trample those who aren’t able to run at the same pace, or at all. 

Peace & love & light to you all. May you find strength, validation, support, and love in your community both physical and virtual. 🙏

Pingback to Daily Prompt – Struggle

A thought on grief

A friend posted a poem on Facebook tonight about how her heart feels shattered, like a broken vase, after the deaths of her beloved brother this month, and sister barely a year ago. Her pain is laid bare in the imagery of a shattered vessel with missing pieces. 

Many of her friends commented with love and support, though some feared her poem was too despairing. 

I have felt the same pain after the loss of my father, grandmother, and mother. Each were dear to me in unique ways, but that shattering was the same each time. It lingers, latent and receding, but present and real. Her moving, plaintive cry in this post spoke to my heart. My brief comment on her post is the lesson I learned from each of those losses. I gave it to her, hoping it would provide a degree of hope and bring a brief respite from the despair. 

Grieve. Heal. Remember. Cry. Laugh. Continue to love. And when the time is right…pick up the shards and fit them, together with your memories and love of them both, into a beautiful mosaic heart full of life and light and the wisdom of your experience.

What we all know, each to their own degree and according to their own experience, is that life goes on inexorably. We either live it or it passes us by while also dragging us with it. Grieving makes mindful, intentional living a daunting, bleak task. It’s so hard not to drown in the tide of tears. 

That’s the moment when you need a reminder that when the piercing pain subsides, the heart once shattered is still strong and whole enough to hold the love and memories of our beloved. And if there are still some cracks and missing pieces, just know that they serve a purpose: the light gets in through the cracks and shines brightest out the windows left in the shape of the loves gone on.  

Love and light and peace and healing to all of us. May we all build our beautiful mosaic hearts from the shards of our grief. 🙏💙🙏

Musing on Weariness (Not ‘Just Getting Old’)

I have been so busy, so focused on getting to a certain point in professional advancement, in being thought a success, in self improvement, that I may have missed a few important milestones on the way. I think my career tunnel vision has blinded me to an achievement that must’ve come years ago but I am noticing for the first time now. I have mixed feelings about it. I seem to have reached a stage of maturity in which I am reconciled to things I’ll never do or be, and am content to focus on what I am doing and being. Does that mean I’ve given up dreaming? Have I capitulated to inevitability? Have I quit on myself?

I read a snippet of something on the internet recently, a fragment of creative writing full of angst and grit and pretension. It’s the kind of thing written by someone with more depth of vocabulary than depth of experience. A piece of well-written prose that paints a picture entirely different from what the writer intended, because the writer can’t possibly imagine, in his utter lack of practical knowledge, the experience and emotion living in the words he chose. It’s as if he saw in his mind’s eye a grimy, sad, dusty, Mad Max landscape of dramatic and violent change, when the real view out the window of those words is the weathered, age-worn, tattered, remains of real lives exhausted during the slow decay of existence. Both views are full of sadness and regret, but the poignancy of the latter is lost in the clangorous note of unreality in the author’s description. 

The author describes a person who sees a problem in the world, who knows it’s cause, and after cursory attempt to rectify the evil in the world, decides that mankind is doomed and so we all may as well be resigned to our fate and lay down to die. That overly dramatic, angst-ridden capitulation screams of immaturity, of inexperience with actual defeat after laborious effort against strong opposition. 

Yet, does that criticism, which I admit smacks heavily of cynicism and world-weariness, brand me as the jaded voice of someone worn-out and devoid of vision, of dreams for the future? If I say the author doesn’t know what weariness after labor really is, I imply that I do know and am weary. Does that mean I’m advocating the very capitulation that I criticize the author for imagining?  

Don’t write this off as my feeling old. I don’t feel old. 

I feel compacted, pushed-in, dented, bruised. Yet, I continue my labors, both personal and professional. I keep going. Am I continuing my labor only out of habit and rote repetition, having lost the ideological fire that started my journey? If so, is it something I can reclaim? Do I want to reclaim it? 

This uncertainty is unsettling and I can’t even fully explain why it is so troubling. 

There is no quick answer, no comforting platitude that will soothe this ache. Only great effort of mind and deep search of the soul will yield any insight. That’s why the weariness of labor of any sort is so dangerous. It robs the energy for enlightenment. 

Noisy, Painful, and Dark

Faltering in my positivity streak…

— — — — —

Noisy, painful, and dark – that’s what the world feels like right now. 

  • Brussels
  • Gomeshi 
  • North Carolina, Georgia, Kansas- legislated hatred & bigotry 
  • Suicide Bombings
  • Burning children 
  • Dead trans* women
  • Police violence against POC
  • Refugees ignored, targeted, vilified 

My heart is exhausted and my mind is numb. 

Hatred, indifference, misogyny, discrimination, unkindness, reactionary politics, bombastic rhetoric, and invective spewed indiscriminately at anyone, anything, and any idea or ethos that doesn’t fit in a predetermined “normal” box. All difference, diversity, and authenticity reviled. Threats of violence, ostracism, even imprisonment or internment being bandied about like poker chips by not just internet trolls, but also by men (and some women) in positions of power…just for existing as women or queer or trans* or black or Muslim… 

The world is looking pretty dark. The noise, the cacophony of hate is physically painful. I’m having trouble finding the good things that have meaning in order to celebrate them. 

This is why I don’t watch the news or listen to the radio. This level of poison in the atmosphere, the seething hatred making the air and sea and earth burn…it is too much.  

My heart and mind recoil. But where is there any solace, any refuge?  

29 days, a day early 

So here goes with the positivity reboot.  I’m starting a day early because I have a really easy and totally awesome ‘one good thing’ (OGT). 

I’ve been on a business trip since Thursday, working with a big group of leaders from my company on a strategic planning exercise. It’s been a stretch for me, as I’m a fact-based, legal-minded, linear thinker and this has been more of an ideation, thought experiment exercise. Very interesting and challenging and nerve wracking. The presentation of our results to the CEO and entire executive leadership team had me on edge. But it all went well and our work was well received. 

Then last night we had a dinner with the executives as a wrap-up to the planning event (and for some of us, a segue into our annual global sales conference). Fancy restaurant, lots of networking and some nice food. Then, before dessert, the CEO turned it into a ceremony for those being promoted into the senior and executive leadership teams. 

I was one of them. The Senior Vice President promotion I’ve been working so hard for is finally official. I can’t even describe how validating and wonderful it is to be recognized in this way by my boss in front of all the senior executives of my company. It’s a huge ego boost. 

I’m walking quite a bit taller today! And that is definitely OGT for more than just today. 

Selflessness: Broken Paradigm 

First, I’m not against the concept of selflessness, of putting others’ needs above your own to serve the greatest good. 
Second, this is not a rant on anything or anyone, not my parents, my church, my friends, or my employer, not on any of the communities to which I claim to belong, and not on any creed or ethos. 

Third, this is not a humble (or not-so-humble) brag or attempt to elicit compliments. Indeed, I think the very fact that I’m struggling with this may be evidence that I’m not actually selfless to any measurable degree, despite my upbringing. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment. 

This is just a note of some thoughts I’ve been mulling over for a long time. I’ve decided to put them out into the universe and see if I can’t glean some peace from the sharing. You are welcome to comment. In fact, I’ll be keenly interested in your thoughts. But I may not respond…it may be too hard. We’ll see. 

Here goes, my first post in months…raw and inadequately edited. 

— — — —

I was raised in a conservative, fundamentalist Christian home. From the beginning, lessons of Christ’s sacrifice and my duty to be modest and selfless (in gratitude and emulation of that sacrifice), were instilled rigorously. Being thought selfish or greedy or envious was, in my family, as serious and egregious as being thought a quitter. And quitting itself was regarded as the height of selfishness. Putting others before yourself and family before all (except God), was in my family a kind of natural law, a fundamental understanding not to be challenged or transgressed. 

From the small courtesies — “May I get you anything while I’m up?”, “Please, take my seat ma’am.”, “Would you like the last piece of cake?” — to major life decisions — Does this house/school/career let me be available to help my family? Does this choice [X] bring honor or discredit to my family or friends? Will I embarrass/hurt/exclude anyone if I do [X]?– I was raised to think of myself last and everyone else first. 

As a general guiding principle, I believe this social tenet is a fine, noble principle that promotes harmony and a benevolent, kind, loving world. But it can’t stand on its own. To have these desired results, it has to be bolstered by a common understanding of the limits of courtesy and hospitality, as well as a clear definition of what constitutes abuse of that courtesy. Too, the principal must not be divorced from an equally strong emphasis on the rightness, acceptability and, indeed, the expectation of self care, the principle that even the giver must also receive. 

Otherwise, you end up with everyone falling all over themselves to be considerate of the other and then neither receiving anything in a grand comedy of the absurd. Or, more likely, you end up with a bunch of individuals who do nothing but consume the generosity and energy of the smaller bunch of individuals who burn themselves out on the pyre of selflessness. 

And I’m not even talking about “Mother Teresa” level selflessness. No, it’s the ordinary, small-scale selflessness that somehow becomes a gargantuan burden by the slow erosion of the entire sense of me and my and mine that comes from constant outward focus. It’s years and decades of accumulated yielding of the floor in tiny daily doses that destroys the ability to consciously choose “I want” over “No, please, after you”. It’s always having that pang of shame and urge to justify after the simplest choice that puts you first, like going first into an elevator, or taking the first helping of a dish at dinner, or choosing the movie you want to watch instead of deferring to the group. It’s the compulsion to volunteer to work the weekend or holiday or overtime because someone else’s family life, love life, personal issues are always more important than your own. 

Is all of that a caricature of extremes? Yes. Wildly inaccurate? No. At least not in my lived experience or in my observation of the lives of my siblings and many others whom I hold dear. I’m willing to bet that anyone reading this also knows at least one person who has taken the lesson of selflessness at least as far as neglecting their own comfort and rest because “there’s just so much to be done and not enough time”. When in actuality, if that person had help attending to the necessaries of all the others, that person would have more time and energy to spend on themselves. 

But that’s the central point: that person wouldn’t think first to spend that extra time and energy on themselves, because that would be selfish, self-indulgent, self-centered and greedy. 

So, at what point is it okay to think of you and your needs or wants first, without guilt or remorse?

That’s the enduring question of anyone who has lived a lifetime under the relentless drumbeat of the selflessness mantra. To be sure, everyone, even the truly selfless, serves themselves from time to time. It’s the “without guilt or remorse” part that’s the trouble. 

Because, unscientifically–and yes, from my own experience–there seems to be an extraordinarily strong correlation between a selflessness upbringing and deeply internalized shame, persistent guilt, and the unyielding conviction of unworthiness. I posit that these last, especially guilt, are the scaffolding that support the selflessness mindset, allowing it to become a self-sustaining paradigm. Without guilt, shame and the person’s belief in their unworthiness in comparison to whomever else comes before them, wouldn’t self-care naturally assert itself as the dominant practice? If seeking self first were not stigmatized, how would the collective good, the community interest, the societal need ever become a priority?

My point after all that rambling is that half-theories taught as full-gospel, propped up with destructive negative reinforcement, are an unstable foundation for social structure. Sooner or later the structure implodes from the pressure differential between inward need and external demand. What’s left is a twisted wreck of a once strong and beautiful framework. 

When the drive to be selfless supplants the instinct to nurture the self as much as the other, and sometimes before the other, the nobility of this ethos is corrupted into oppression. 

How much of that corruption and imbalance is the teacher and how much the student? Who can say? It’s different for every person, I imagine. But when someone who has always tried to put others first and struggled with guilt over acts of self-care begins to question the fundamental principle and to push back against the knee-jerk shame, I think it’s safe to assume that something fundamental is amiss. And when questioning turns to bitterness, all the best parts of the principle are lost. 

I don’t want to be that bitter cynic. I want to find balance. I want to serve others and the greatest good AND I want to be able to rest and be served myself on occasion, without feeling small and petty and shamefully selfish for the wanting. But having others give me a figurative pat on the head and tell me “it’s ok to take care of yourself”, feels patronizing, false and not OK. It feels like a back-handed reminder that I’m not worthy of counting first. Insidious doubt about the motive behind the message, suspicion of some sneering sarcasm painting me as a loser in this person’s mind because I want someone for myself, destroys any ability to accept what is kindly offered. That mistrust of the simple exhortation to rest and look after myself just reinforces all the negative thoughts I already harbor. 

So, if I can’t convince myself that self-care isn’t self indulgence, and I don’t believe it from others, what else is there? It feels like a hopeless loop. I don’t know if there is an answer. At least not yet. 

Guess I’ll just have to keep working on it. 

2015 in review

Wow, so…it’s been a while since I posted. Months. Geez, I didn’t realize how neglectful of my blog I’ve been while out living a very busy life.  Thanks for reading, viewing & referring this blog. Check out what the WP stat machine has to say about it…

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,700 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 28 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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