Glimmer of Positivity 

Because my last few posts, like my life and general reality, have been decidedly on the grim side, I have determined that I will be positive and hopeful in this post. And, harking back to the method I used earlier this year, I’m going to allow myself to define positivity expansively. (For example, I think it’s entirely positive that I have successfully avoided strangling a most annoying salesperson for over a month!) Even the small victories over gloom and defeat are to be celebrated, because any victory fuels the fire that will consume this era of hate. 

And so…a list of some good, positive things:

  1. I have done, and done well, some seriously deep and meaningful executive lawyering over the last few weeks. From dealing with emergent conflicts, to guiding senior executives in strategic decisions, to managing multiple outside law firms on concurrent litigation matters, my skill as a legal professional and a business leader has been tested and met every challenge. I’m proud of my contribution to my company’s success and proud of my team’s achievements. 
  2. I got an early start on holiday gifts for my team this year. I try to give hand-made gifts that are fun, or useful, or meaningful. I’m happy with my choice this year and glad I started early. 
  3. My skill at diplomatically delegating, whether to members of my own team or to other departments, is increasing. I have struggled with the feeling of failure at having to say no to some things. But I’ve learned that exhausting myself not only compromises me as a resource and leader, but it withholds growth opportunities from others. It’s still a challenge, but I’m doing better and my team and my company are benefitting. 
  4. The weather has been beautiful and I’ve seen some spectacular sunrises and sunsets. The sky is always a source of joy and energy for me. I like its infinite variety and find peace in the loveliness and simplicity of a sunrise. A collage of a sunrise from earlier this week (with the super moon!) is attached below for your enjoyment. 
  5. It may get cold enough to freeze here in the next few days and my eyes and nose are rejoicing the possibility. Can’t wait. Not only will it finally feel like it should for the holidays, but my allergies will abate until Spring and that’s a very good thing. 

Mangled Lyrics 

I have always had a challenge with “ear worms”, songs that get stuck in your head and repeat incessantly. As a kid, I shared the joy of them with everyone by singing them loudly until I exhausted whatever malicious energy feeds them. But as an adult I have to be conscious of the fact that that extremely annoying habit might induce aggression or get me committed as insane. 

So I learned a long time ago that I can usually kill an ear worm by replacing it with a go-to song that my brain finds comforting and non-invasive. I let that song play in my head, a little louder than the other, and let its rhythm overtake the other. Something about that process flips the off switch and I can generally get on with my day or relax enough to sleep. 

I say this usually works, because sometimes it doesn’t. When I’m particularly stressed, for example, and the insidious song is somehow connected by my brain to the stressor, even that trick is unreliable. 

And now, to accompany the extreme stress and anxiety I’m experiencing from the elections, comes the fresh hell of ear worms of mangled lyrics that tie the songs and stress even closer together. 

No peace within, no peace without. Joy. 

For a week now (at least since the election), I’ve had a soundtrack of alternating song snippets punctuating my every waking moment. First up is my brain’s twisted version of the refrain from “Everything is Awesome” by Tegan & Sara from the LEGO Movie, only its “Everything is Awful” over and over again. Followed closely by a version of Fun’s “All Alright”, in which my brain supplies slightly modified and completely accurate lyrics of “It’s not alright, no it’s not alright, it’s such a mess inside of my head and I’m not alright. No it’s not alright, no it’s not alright, I’ve got nothing left inside of my chest and I’m not alright.”

So that’s fun. 

I can’t decide if my brain is trying to help me or kill me. Maybe it’s an affirmation of my feelings, a biochemical validation that’s supposed to help me through until I am alright? Or maybe it’s just one more layer of stress and awfulness designed to make my head explode. I don’t know. 

But my go-to, ear worm-killing, comfort song* isn’t helping. And the peaceful moments alone that I desperately need to still the screeching static in my head are infiltrated with these ceaseless songs.   

I need a new trick to turn off the unwanted music.   

*I can’t say what it is or its power will fade, like Samson and his locks of hair…or something. 

The Tally

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

—–

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. 

This is the Hard Part

So this is where it gets hard being the boss. For the most part, I have a productive, highly respected, engaged and contented staff. Even though there are a few rough interpersonal communication spots among some of the team on occasion, engagement scores are high and productivity is meeting or beating every KPI metric. Yet there’s that one bad apple who screws up the curve.  

Despite nearly two years of coaching and counseling, even rewarding good behaviors despite the risk of reinforcing the bad, this one person refuses to meet the very basic expectations for their role. They are clear, measurable, achievable, and reasonable expectations for their experience level and role, basic competencies that every person in this role is expected to master. Yet this person defiantly has refused to do the basic things required. Even their local HR is exhausted with this person’s insubordination.  

But I’m not allowed to terminate their employment.  

This is the hard part. Acquiescing to the directive from higher up, being the good team player, subrogating my managerial prerogative for “the greater good of the organization”. Dealing with the continuing problem and swallowing any indignation about it is part and parcel of being the executive leader of this team. Or so I’m lead to believe. And I can deal with it for now. But it’s still hard.   

I’m concerned about the effect that this person continuing with the team will have on other members of the organization. By this person appearing to get away with repeated failure to meet expectations, I’m afraid the rest of the team will be demotivated. Also, I’d be lying if I didn’t acknowledge that being rendered powerless in this respect is demotivating for me. And, not for nothing, this person won’t learn or grow if there is no practical consequences for their failure.   

What’s hard, also, is that I was made to hire this person against my wishes for similar “greater good” reasons. So I feel like this is a double punch to the gut: to be proven right about a bad decision and then prevented from getting rid of the problem. Yet, because I’m a good corporate soldier and an excellent team player, I’ll endure. For now. 

But I make no promises that I won’t be insufferably, jubilantly smug and say “I told you so” a bunch of times when I do finally get to fire this festering blister of recalcitrant disrespect. I can wait for that, I guess. 

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. 
——

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?

Back to Blogging 

So…hello again. It’s been a really long time since I posted. Sorry about that. Life, you know. Been slowly going insane with work and life and all the horribleness going on in the world. With one thing and another, I haven’t had the heart to blog.  

But I miss it a lot. And NaNoWriMo is upon us. A friend on Twitter encouraged me, Obi Wan-style, to start again, perhaps commit to a set number of posts. It’s a good idea. I know I haven’t the energy to post every day. But I can do at least one per week. And if I muster the energy to do more than that, then bonus. 

So, I’m committing to post at least once a week in November. No clue what I’ll write about. I have some half-started posts, so maybe it won’t be that hard. It probably will be, though. Either way, I’ll at least be back to writing a little. Watch this space. The first one comes tomorrow. 

If you’re doing #NaNoWriMo, best of luck. If you’re reading this blog still, despite my laxness, thanks & wish me luck!

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. 🙏💙🙏

Making an Effort 

Lately it seems that I have more grumbling, discontented thoughts than I like. And I don’t want to veer off into a habit of posting snark and complaints. So I’m making another conscious effort to be positive and find the good, at least one good thing, in each day

Today I’m going to a continuing legal education seminar on intellectual property law developments. Could be boring, but I’m betting it won’t be. Because it starts later than my usual time to get to my office, I’m taking the opportunity to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. A real, sit-down breakfast with plates and forks and everything. A big change from the sandwich or wrap I usually snarf in the truck on the way to work. 

This little restaurant in my neighborhood is usually packed for breakfast on the weekends, but I got right in this morning. A lovely glass of pineapple juice and a tasty meal with no wait for a table…a very good start to the day. 

  

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