Archive for the ‘Identity’ Tag

The Tyranny of “should”

It’s amazing to me how much meaning, import, weight, significance and worth can be bound up in a single word. What’s more, it’s at least doubly deep because all that meaning and worth has at least equal proportions of negative import and anti-meaning and measures of antithetical worth. And when all that density and mass of meaning is contrasted with the brevity and ordinariness of a small word, the impact of this recognition can be devastating.

Words like “family” and “love” and “happiness” can have this heaviness and can even be wielded as weapons. But for the most part, at least in my experience, the majority of the unnatural weight of these words comes from within the person who feels that weight as it is applied to them. Internal criticism and insecurity can lend this extraordinary significance to simple words.

But it’s the words with in-built judgement that have the greatest density and gravity and danger. Words like “normal” and “too” and “must” and “enough” and “should”. The culture and society in which any of these words are used have a lot to do with how sharp and powerful their density is. It is true that these words can be just a susceptible to the voice of individual insecurity. But these words, by passing society’s sentence over the object of these words, take on a monstrous degree of weight and power disproportionate to their size and ordinary linguistic importance.

Speaking from my own experience, “should” is the worst offender. Though it is a lowly auxiliary word, a verb form used to modify a main or dominant verb, it has no independent purpose, is always beholden to the main action word to have meaning and value. But cultural and social context synergizes it with secondary meaning and characteristics, magnifying its power. And when that magnified weight is used in anger or other ill intent, it becomes a destructive force that even brutally blunt adjectives can only inadequately describe.

“You should not be…”, “You should just…”, “You should have…”, “You should [do/think/believe/feel]…”, and countless other predicate phrases can be annoying, even rage-inducing when used to impose the speaker’s will on the recipient without regard to the recipient’s agency. Person to person, this can be anything from a mildly negative to a truly horrific experience. But these imperatives become tyrannical when wielded by a system of power to oppress marginalized people under the crushing weight of their unreasonable expectations.

Some examples, all taken from conversations I’ve either witnessed or been a part of in the last few weeks, may help clarify what I’m going on about:

  • “Women should look like women. They should make an effort to look good, feminine.”
  • “People should be required to take better care of themselves, be healthier, lose weight and exercise. Fat people put a greater strain on social systems and should be made to do something about it.”
  • “You should stop worrying about what other people think. You shouldn’t let anyone else tell you how to feel.”
  • “People with money shouldn’t get to whine and play the stress or anxiety card. They should be happy with what they’ve got. What could they have to be depressed about?”
  • “You should be happier, smile more.”
  • “You shouldn’t have any trouble sleeping and shouldn’t be sad. You have a lot to be thankful for, more than most people do.”
  • “You should just shrug it off, let it go. You shouldn’t care so much.”

See what I mean? Even though these dictates were imposed in private conversations, they also appear in the world at large as part of a number of systemic power structures. These same sentiments form the basis of expectations underlying some of the most erosive, caustic social constructs, from misogyny and patriarchy to racism and xenophobia.

When “should” becomes the driver, the metric, and the adjudicator, the power dynamic of that word no longer reflects a reality of free will. Instead, conformity and rebellion alike become matters of safety and survival, not mere choice. And when a person can’t live up to the “should”, the guilt, shame and disappointment are not just overly-dramatic emotional responses, but are catalytic forces with unpredictable potency.

I don’t know where I am going with this post. I have no orderly resolution or inspirational message to impart. It’s just been weighing on my mind and heart and I wanted to put it out in the ether in hopes of feeling some relief from the sharing.

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List…again

I’m having a bit of a writing challenge and can’t think of a substantive, let alone creative, topic to write about. Also, honestly… I’m having a bit of a hard time with negativity and motivation lately, too. But I am committed to keeping my posting streak alive. So I’m calling on the old stand-by: a list of a few positives to refocus away from the negatives. Here are a few good things:

1. It’s snowing. The light, airy kind of snow that looks pretty and doesn’t make too much of a mess. I like it.

2. My custom suits are finally finished and I picked them up yesterday. They feel amazing. Having something made to fit both my body and my identity is exhilarating. I can’t wait for an event to wear them!

3. Some of the tools/methods of dealing with anxiety that I learned in my coaching group have been helpful in recognizing my anxiety and in helping to tamp it down. I’m not always…or even mostly…successful at that, but it’s a start.

4. I succeeded in completely disconnecting from my job for an entire week — no emails, no phone calls, not even checking my calendar. While the week off was not nearly the restful restorative that I and everyone else had hoped it would be, I am at least proud of accomplishing the disconnect.

5. One of my internal clients, the head of our global sales organization, gave me a really nice bow tie as a thank you gift for my help over the very rough year last year. The gesture was a welcome show of support, not just for my work, but also an identity-affirming acknowledgement of who I am.

I’m clinging to the conviction that this focus on the positive and effort to reframe negatives to positives actually has practical benefits. It’s hard to remain convinced when the black sludge in my head seems more abundant than the light, but I’m not willing to give up on the program just yet. My hope for you is that the pros always outnumber the cons and that there is always a portal, even just a pinhole, for the light to shine in. Be well, friends.

Finally, a fit

My custom suits came in and I went for the first finish fitting today. I’m so incredibly excited for these! And they fit really well – only a few adjustments required. Who knew my left arm was half an inch shorter than my right? With a dart at center back to make the jackets sit better on my shoulders and taking in the waist and hemming the trousers, they will fit my body exactly right.

But more important is that even in this not-yet-finished state, these suits fit me, my self and identity, even better than they fit my body.

I surprised myself with a spontaneous admission to a friend on another platform to that effect. I said that this is what I have looked like in my most vivid imagination of my truest self since I was 10 years old. That’s precisely true. I’ve envisioned this identity for longer than I’ve had words to describe it and money to manifest it.

This outward presentation of the inner self is more critically important than I ever imagined. It’s silly to feel so emotional about clothes. But, really, it’s more than the clothes. It’s the freedom and agency to display this elemental aspect of myself. It’s the courage to be exactly myself and occupy this space and identity in exactly the way that makes me feel most genuine. It’s the feeling of completion and rightness. It’s the way my head comes up and shoulders square and my eyes meet everyone else’s. It’s the confidence that I’m exactly myself and everyone is seeing me exactly how I want them to see me.

Crazy how a change of clothes can make such a difference.

For those who have been privileged to occupy that authentic feeling in everything they’ve ever put on, this gushing excitement will seem insane. But for my fellow butches, tomboys, enbys, and others who have ever fought for the ability to wear the outward markers of their inner truth, it rings true.

Those fellow gender warriors will understand what I mean when I say that slipping into that suit, feeling it settle well on shoulders and hips, brought an immediate, blissful rest in my deepest self. With that on, I had no more work to do to make myself, the me that has been forever shrouded in the not-quite-right trappings of everyone else’s expectations, apparent to the world at large.

I can hardly wait to get the finished product and wear it out into the world!

A Fitting Experience

While I’m taking a few days off work this week, I’m taking the opportunity to take care of some personal errands. As you do. It’s not a glamorous use of vacation time, but it’s necessary. But today was a majorly cool experience.

My big gift for Christmas this year was a gift certificate for a custom made suit. My brother and sister-in-law gave me this gift for a couple of reasons. First they know that I don’t like shopping and don’t often spend a lot of money on myself, but would do both if given a nudge like this. Second, it’s something I’ve been talking about doing in preparation for the Alaska cruise our family is taking this summer. So my SIL went with me to be measured and have an initial fitting today.

I’m a bit of a nervous nelly when it comes to clothes shopping. The task has been fraught with stress and anxiety for me for my entire life. As a child, it was almost a war between me and my mother over what was “appropriate” for me to wear. I rebelled against anything “girlie”, which she felt was the only look fitting for my gender. As I got older, the experience became even more excruciating when size stigma was piled on top of gender discomfort, as well as being constrained by cost.

But since I attained a level of comfort (financial as well as gender identity), choosing masculine clothing exclusively, I’ve felt better about myself and the shopping experience. Yet even with that relative ease, shopping for clothes has still been a tense experience. So I anticipated that today’s activity would be as well.

I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong. Today’s experience was the most comfortable, gender-affirming, fun shopping experience I’ve ever had. My sister-in-law had prepared the way by talking to the stylist ahead of time, warning him that I am easily embarrassed and don’t like to shop.

It worked, because he greeted me by name and with a smile and firm handshake. He treated me with dignity and attention to detail, careful to discuss with me how he needed to touch me, asking my consent first. And he was carefully discreet with my measurements, which was so important to me. He even joked with me when I said I needed to be sure they wouldn’t add girl darts to the jacket that would give me cone boobs. 😜

It was so positive that I ended up ordering two suits and will likely add at least one custom dress shirt, as well. I’m surprised at how excited I am to have clothes made specifically for my non-standard body. Makes me feel pretty good, I have to admit. And that I’m going to have them in time for my 50th birthday is also really cool. I can’t wait to sport some custom fashion!

A Case for Vulnerability

If you’ve read much of my substantive posts on this blog you’ll already know that vulnerability – specifically risking personal mental/emotional/social/physical safety for the sake of frank, open, transparent disclosure – is a huge struggle for me. While I always try to be honest and authentic, I don’t always have the courage to be as open and vulnerable in IRL discourse as I have been in some of my posts on this blog. Sometimes that’s intentional self-care, protecting myself from known risk. But often it’s habit, reticence borne of fear and practiced over years; an automatic response instead of a consciously reasoned decision.

Still, that habit was formed with a certain amount of logic, as a response to real-world circumstances and events, not merely the irrational response of the primal mind. I’ve experienced a fair bit of trolling, baiting, gaslighting, and other intentionally humiliating behavior in my life. Fear and a reticence to be exposed to that kind of abuse again is a logical, rational, healthy reaction to being called on to make oneself vulnerable. But that reaction, to be most effective, should be actively managed and consciously controlled so that opportunities for growth aren’t missed due to the automatic dismissal caused by fear.

For me, that’s much easier said than done.

However, being a thinker, I have thought a lot about how to make my experience in various circumstances better, more comfortable, more likely to meet my needs and desires than the current situation in any given scenario. In most cases, changing things for the better means a certain amount of (hopefully) short-term disruption, discomfort, and, yes, vulnerability. I don’t like that that’s the case, but it certainly seems to be the truth for my life.

So, what’s a logical, rational, risk-averse, sensitive thinker to do to reconcile the dissonance? For me, it’s just a matter of resigning myself to the necessary evil of risk in order to benefit from it. “Bite the bullet”, “grin and bear it”, and “just do it” are the hackneyed, yet apropos, expressions that spring to mind.

That’s exactly what I did earlier this week and – spoiler alert – it worked out fairly well. I admit I’m surprised at the outcome, which isn’t a great commentary on the state of my faith in this “just do it” philosophy, or in the generosity and compassion of the people I work with. But I’m counting it a win, anyway.

Here’s what happened:

As I’ve said a lot over the last few months, I’m struggling with stress- and anxiety-induced sleep deprivation. It’s been particularly bad over the last week, impacting my focus and precision at work. Wednesday was an especially rough day, with a ton of project work that required me to be ‘on’ and participate actively in substantive debates on the merits of our case, concentrate for prolonged periods of time and analyze lots of data and synthesize cogent legal arguments from that analysis – all on less than 4 hours sleep.

It was brutal. I yawned my head off, was slow speaking to particularly complex ideas, and generally felt slow-witted and sluggish all morning. By 2:30 in the afternoon I was running on fumes and about as stressed as I’ve been in ages. Making it through the afternoon without collapsing and without committing homicide was all I could hope for.

Then, about 6:30, my boss stopped into my office to chat on his way home for the evening. What I expected to be a momentary check-in, a “good job, have a great evening ” kind of thing, turned into a deeply supportive, substantive conversation in which my boss acknowledged not only that he recognized the burden and stress I’ve been bearing, but also that he’s been contributing to it by his venting to me his frustrations and his sudden changes in direction with the strategy on some of our matters that adds a lot of work for me.

Given his genuine contrition and sincerity, I chose to respond in kind, though it cost me a lot of vulnerability. I confessed to a high level of anxiety and the fear that I would let him and the company down because my ability to cope with the effects of the anxiety and stress is beginning to falter. I also shared with him that I am taking the matter seriously and have sought help to get the anxiety under control so that I can sleep again, including my unsuccessful attempt at counseling and my so-far successful engagement with an anti-anxiety coaching group.

His response was overwhelmingly supportive. He praised my efforts with the coaching group, calling it both smart and brave. Then he turned practical, saying that we needed to take action to fix it. He offered some good suggestions for things he and the company can do to relieve some of the stress that’s beyond the ordinary pressure that just comes with my role. We settled on getting me some administrative/process-oriented help – a gatekeeper, he called it – to give me some relief from so many operational and sales personnel having direct access to me and my brain.

And when I expressed what is, perhaps, my greatest fear of asking for help (no longer having value for the company because someone else has to do some of my work), he was quick to reassure that not only would he not feel that way about me, but that he has plenty of substantive, high-value lawyering work for me to do once some of the stressful, lower-value procedural work is handed off to someone else. He then committed to do whatever is necessary to get me that help, including lobbying with the CEO and board for the necessary exception to add headcount and finding the budget to pay for it.

It’s not a silver-bullet solution to my sleep problem and it will take time to implement. But just hearing him admit to, and apologize for, the extraordinary stress and offer to help fix it was a huge relief. It validates what I’ve been experiencing and lets me know that I’m not crazy for feeling as I do.

And all it took was the courage to be vulnerable about an aspect of my professional identity that I’ve always held internally out of fear it would be derided or exploited: fear of being useless. It’s good to know my contribution is seen and my value as an employee is secure. It’s also nice to think that soon I’ll get some relief and have new and different responsibilities with opportunities to add value in new ways. That’s a really great thing.

Happy holidays, friends! I hope you all receive validation, support and opportunities to shine in your every endeavor.

Joyous, Vulnerable, and Deeply Thoughtful

It’s holiday time and almost the end of the year. That often gets me into a contemplative mood, reviewing the year and thinking about people I haven’t seen in a while. So I’ve made arrangements with several of my favorite people to meet before Christmas and share some time and joy together.

Last night I was blessed to have have dinner with one of my all-time favorite colleague-turned-friends. She’s effervescent, positive, kind, whip-smart and funny as heck. Because she’s supportive, welcoming and inclusive, she’s also one of the first people I ever came out to. In short, she’s an awesome friend and I really looked forward to seeing her and spending quality time catching up. I wasn’t disappointed.

We went to a trendy new restaurant with a hip, foodie vibe. Sharing some incredible charcuterie and all kinds of personal news, we laughed and cheered and commiserated. She told me of her triumphant negotiation for a promotion and raise, demonstrating her badass, smarty-pants self confidence. I told boring lawyer war stories. It was an all-around wonderful evening.

At some point over the risotto and salad, conversation somehow turned to my gender identity and presentation. She asked incisive, sensitive and smart questions and was so kind and respectful throughout. In the midst of this discussion she described a theory she has that she hopes one day to form part of her research for her PhD. I have no doubt she’ll complete that research and be a noted voice in her field. I found the premise fascinating and our discussion, far ranging and lively, was full of vulnerability and challenge and intellectual curiosity.

My friend’s “Refrigerator Theory” posits that, like the internal compartments in a refrigerator, the boundaries, labels, categories that humans create and impose on every aspect of human experience have no purpose separate from the primary purpose of the thing on which it is imposed (i.e. cooling of food for the fridge, or defining the self for identity labels). Instead, she theorizes, these compartments or labels or boundaries exist only to soothe the human need for order – we create boundaries to provide context to avoid the disquiet of chaos or disorder, but the boundary isn’t necessary to the essential function of the object it applies to. Her devastatingly pointed example (at least if you’re an appliance manufacturer) is the infamous, useless and dysfunctional crisper drawer. It doesn’t crisp or even cool to a significant degree more or less efficiently than the main compartment, but we like that it’s a special place to put the veggies.

I love the intellectual exercise of challenging a premise, debating points dispassionately and pushing each other to consider new and different points of view. This is especially true when the person I’m talking with is smart and as into the verbal and mental gymnastics as I am. That was definitely the case last night.

I challenged by proposing that the need exists apart from the order, that perhaps the order rises as a consequence of fulfilling the need. My premise was that where more than one option or condition exists simultaneously, there is a natural need for boundaries or compartments or labels, else there is only ever trial and error. My example is a sink with a tap and two handles; without a n ‘H’ or ‘C’ to distinguish hot from cold, you have to try each one, possibly risking the pain of being burned or chilled if you guess wrong. In other words, it’s not a need for context to generate meaning, but an existence of multitudes of meaning and a need for order to allow each meaning to be evident.

We didn’t get to any conclusions, of course. But it was an incredibly fun conversation, trying each theory out on various aspects of life – corporate communication, change management, gender identity and expression, to name a few. My friend’s passion for learning and unbridled joy in the process of learning and communicating her knowledge is so fun to witness. I can hardly wait to see the work she produces when she embarks on that research.

My hope for all of you, as the year winds down and you think about that one to come, is that you will find occasion and loved ones with whom to experience the joy and challenge and vulnerability of great conversation.

Lyrics of Me

I seem to be in a weird, contemplative head space lately. I see patterns and make connections between things that probably aren’t truly connected, just coincidental. And I seem to be fairly nostalgic, reminiscing more and spontaneously remembering random experiences from my past much more frequently than I recall doing previously. So, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised at the connection that struck me as I drove to work this morning.

I don’t like to listen to talking on the radio – not commercials, not DJ commentary, not even most news reports – so I change stations frequently and listen to a variety of music genres. I also usually just concentrate on the music, the melody and instrumentation and harmony, without focusing on the lyrics. But for whatever reason, today the words were at the front of everything. As I surfed the frequencies on my 20 minute drive early this morning, I heard a bit of everything, from pop to rock to country. And on each station I heard at least one section of lyrics that seemed to speak directly from my life.

Getting glimpses of my own struggles in the words of popular music can be so validating and freeing. It makes the insecurities fade a bit, makes me feel less cut-off from whatever my brain is defining as “normal” at the moment. Sometimes that spark of recognition in the lyrics of a song burrows under my skin and occupies my subconscious for days until I’m able to internalize the message it holds for me. It’s a relief and a comfort when that happens. One of those from my past, one that helped me through the tough times of coming out to myself and others, recurred today:

I’m not a woman

I’m not a man

I am something that you’ll never understand

~ “I Would Die 4 U”, Prince and The Revolution

Yet that glimpse of me in song can also feel foreign, in a way, when the words in the context of the song speak of someone so different from me. It’s hard in those moments to understand how a sentiment that exactly summarizes some aspect of me can be speaking the truth about someone who is nearly opposite of everything that I am. I’m challenged to contemplate that issues I’ve associated with the various marginalized demographics I have occupied in my life can also be challenging for those I’ve mentally categorized as mainstream, often privileged, in those very dimensions. I’m certainly not a rock star on the road, but this is one I’ve struggled with for years:

And you feel the eyes upon you as you’re shaking off the cold

You pretend it doesn’t bother you but you just want to explode

Most times you can’t hear ’em talk, other times you can

All the same old clichés: “Is that a woman or a man?”

And you always seem outnumbered, you don’t dare make a stand

~ “Turn the Page”, by Bob Seger

Then there are those surprising lyrics from songs you’ve heard but never really listened to before. Those can be fun sometimes, like when you realize for the first time that Led Zeppelin dropped Tolkien references into “Ramble On”. But those surprising lyrics can sneak up on you, hitting hard with words that seem to reveal a truth that you’ve missed or refuse to acknowledge. Those sneak attack lyrics can suck big time, especially when they’re the last song just as you pull into the parking lot and the message dawns on your way into a work day full of stress and challenge that won’t give you a moment to sit quietly and work through the shock. Words in this category today from a singer with a name that’s particularly apropos:

We’ve just been lonely too long

Nothing’s wrong that can’t be cured

With a new love

All you need is someone like me to

Be sure of, to be your love

~ “Lonely Too Long”, by Patty Loveless

Today has been a mixed bag of lyrics of me. I’m still trying to wrap my head around it all, to eke out whatever lesson is to be learned. So this post feels a bit unfinished because I have no profound conclusions to impart. But I hope that sharing this little bit of my mental landscape gives you something to ponder.

Even Less Context

  1. Physical exhaustion and emotional exhaustion are equal in severity and neither should be the source of secret pride. Corollary: long hours aren’t the badge of honor you believe them to be.
  2. Something is broken, possibly irrevocably, when the primary and immediate response to an inspirational quote and would-be heartwarming image is overwhelming sadness coupled with equal parts shame and despair.
  3. My success doesn’t diminish your achievement, so stop belittling my accomplishments.
  4. It’s hard not to feel hurt when someone forgets to acknowledge how hard you worked (without a personal motive) to help them achieve something they really wanted.
  5. Even the most conspicuous person in a given group needs to feel seen and validated. Those who seem to have it all together may suffer most from unintentional invisibility caused by presumptions of the people they’re around the most.
  6. How can a reasonably intelligent, well educated, functioning adult with over 40 years of life experience not possess the basic skill of finding and making genuine friends?

No Context

Sometimes you just have to vent, even when you’re still committed to positivity. Sometimes it’s just too hard, takes too much energy and effort to excavate the silver lining from the cruddy day. Sometimes the thing that relieves the pressure, lets off the steam, and brings even a small measure of pain relief is a good ol’ fashioned gripe…or cry.

But even then, sometimes indulging that impulse to let it all out can be alarming, even hurtful, to those around you. That’s especially true when you spend so much time being deliberately, intentionally, carefully positive, avoiding this very type of stormy, emotional release of frustration. When you are known for calm, measured, controlled, authoritative responses, blowing off steam can be doubly jarring to witnesses unaccustomed to seeing you in an unguarded state.

Sometimes that extra burden, on top of the drive to remain positive, is too much to bear. A thing I do when this happens is to vent without revealing context or rationale for the thoughts or feelings expressed. That way I can get it out of my head and heart with the best chance of sparing others’ feelings and without having to do a lot of educating others to put it all into an easy frame of reference.

This week has had its highs and lows, but I’m feeling more of the lows than highs and have a need to shake off the darkness. Even wearing my Jedi socks and a daring bow tie/shirt combination didn’t take the edge off today. So here’s my vent, without context and in no particular order. (Don’t take it personally – this post is really just about me.)

  • Gender policing, particularly around use of public bathrooms, is exhausting B.S. Yes, I know how to read. Yes, I know it’s the “ladies room”. No, I’m not in the wrong place. No, it doesn’t hurt you for me to pee in my own stall in the same bathroom as you and your precious little girl. And no, I’m not a predator for needing to pee in peace. Get over yourself!
  • My level of tolerance for just about everything decreases in proportion to your level of ignorance and entitlement. Don’t expect me to indulge your stupidity at the expense of my personal integrity or mental and emotional security.
  • Pain sucks. It drains all my energy and makes me an emotional wreck and intellectually deficient. I’m so over it!
  • Feeling pathetic and without value, especially when I can’t identify what’s causing that irrational emotion to surge and persist, is debilitatingly irritating. Sometimes I wish I had an emotion chip like Commander Data that I could turn off and never turn back on.
  • Despite the evidence of a rough week, I am not broken and I don’t need to be pitied. Just because I am injured and moving more slowly and gingerly doesn’t give you license to touch my body without my consent. Stop with all the hands on my already aching back and limbs. Thanks, but I can walk and stand without you yanking on me! And, yes, if that sounds gruff and ungracious, then I’ll own that. But you need to own the irrationality and privilege of being offended at someone defending their agency and body sovereignty.

Okay, that’s enough venting for a good long while. Thanks for the indulgence, friends. I hope you’re having a pain- and frustration-free week and look forward to a weekend of positivity and relaxation.

Long Weekend Spectacular

Oh, my! I just had the best holiday weekend I’ve had in recent memory. And though I’m facing a particularly stressful few weeks at work, beginning tomorrow, I’m happy, replete with relaxation and fun memories.

Here are some highlights, all of which count high on the “good thing” index:

1. Hours of meaningful conversation with a good friend. We’ve known each other for several years and share similar identities and some life experiences and I never cease to be amazed by her positivity and friendly kindness. This weekend allowed us to catch up on some big life events happening for her and share some moments of real connection that I’ve desperately needed of late.

2. New acquaintances. New friends include a delightful family and the most adorable couple, all friends of my friend. We had lovely meals and incredible conversations with each of them, covering a spectrum of topics that included faith, acceptance, identity, gender, and everything in between. Laughing with these new friends was pure joy and I’m so glad I had that opportunity.

3. Food adventures galore! My friend has a lot of experience living outside of the US, so has an appreciation for a broad array of cuisines. Mediterranean and Persian top the list and I’ve enjoyed trying shawarma, falafel, kubideh, knafeh (a creamy confection topped with something like crispy shredded wheat), and something I believe is called shouiebieh (a sweet, filled pancake-like pastry). We also had amazing, authentic Italian food, and a superb charcuterie board at an amazing art museum. But perhaps the most out-there food experience and the one I enjoyed the most for the fun, relaxed atmosphere, was at the most amazing coffee shop I’ve ever visited. Not only did I get a huge caffeine buzz from something called pembertino, a drink consisting of a Mexican Coke mixed with cold espresso and vanilla – sublime – but I also had gourmet toast with amazing hand-crafted cream cheese with a Hungarian red pepper spread, and another with pimento cheese spread unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. All of that amazing goodness was served with the warmest smiles from some of the friendliest baristas I’ve ever encountered.

4. Life-affirming and identity-validating attention from a community of people that welcomed me immediately and treated me so well it was hard to leave. The experience was beyond my vocabulary to describe, but warm, caring, fun, frivolous, deep, meaningful, compassionate, and flattering to the point of embarrassment at times, feature prominently among the words I’d use if I tried to recreate what I felt. And despite my deep and immediate embarrassment, I cannot deny that the singular and most flattering experience of being called a silver fox by a beautiful femme who was, innocently, trying (successfully) to make me blush, was an instant ego-boost.

5. A reconnection with faith. Although I was skeptical, I agreed to be open-minded and went with my friend to church on Sunday. It was a non-sectarian denomination I’d never heard of before, but was assured was bible-based and inclusive. Their message and mission, as stated on their website, was encouraging and I’ve been wanting to get back to faith for a long time. The sermon, together with the warm welcome and the obvious love that the preacher and congregation had for God and for each other, went a long way toward helping me find the courage to explore that part of my heart again. I’m not going to put any pressure or expectations on myself about this. But I’m going to think about what I heard this Sunday and keep an open mind about doing more work in this area.

6. Bonus: Table top games & Chewbacca and the Droids I Was Looking For! I love games so much and we played a couple that I’d never tried before. And, wonder of wonders, I actually won a couple!! Woot! And, also, plus! We went to this amazing exhibit of Star Wars costumes at the Detroit Institute of the Arts. Incredible experience! Costumes from most of the movies and many of the most interesting characters, including R2D2, C3PO, BB-8 and Chewbacca, my faves!

It’s back to work tomorrow and I’ll no-doubt be under the gun almost immediately. But this last few days was a bucket-load of blessing that has recharged my spirit so much that I’m confident I can float through the rest of the week on the emotional energy…and caffeine…that this holiday weekend provided.

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