Archive for the ‘introspection’ Tag

A few things 

Here we are, more than two weeks after my last post, and I’m copping out with another listy post. Truth is that I want to write more, better, and more frequently, but I am in my own way. My inner critic and the demands of my daily life sometimes overwhelm my creative urge to express. The simple goal of one post per week for the remainder of the year seemed so reasonable and achievable when I set it a few months ago. But it has proved much more challenging than it should be. 

Still, I want to write, so I’m writing. Even if it’s just that paragraph and the following list, it’s something. I set the goal for myself, so any progress is also for me and I’m counting this as some (small) progress. 

So here goes, a few things I want to share:

  • Wil Wheaton, actor and author and Internet personality, is someone whose work I admire. Truthfully, on the basis of only his public persona and online commentary, he himself is someone whom I admire, in addition to his creative works. I’ve followed his blog for a couple of years and almost always find in it something to think about, laugh at, or learn from. I love the wit and intelligence I perceive in his writing. This week he posted, as he does not infrequently, about his struggle with mental illness. I so admire his honesty and willingness to be vulnerable about his condition for the sake of helping others. Read his post, please. Even if you don’t struggle with depression, this is a message on self care and realness with yourself that everyone needs to hear. I got a lot out of it and I hope you will too. 
  • Summer time is awesome. I don’t do as much outside as I should, but I still appreciate gorgeous blue skies, warm breezes and sunshine. 😎☀️👍🏻
  • As my work responsibilities have increased over the years, I have grown to deeply appreciate the exceptional benefit that is the work of a good executive assistant. The amount of burden and bother an EA lifts off the shoulders of anyone they serve is enormous! I’m so so lucky that my boss’s EA does so much for me. She’s just volunteered to do a job for me next week that is absolutely not her responsibility, but will save me a half a day of lost productivity, the value of which far surpasses the dollar value of my time and hers. It sounds overly effusive to the point of being fake, but I am genuinely overwhelmed with gratitude that she’s taking that off my hands. Perhaps that speaks somewhat to the level of stress I’m working with right now. Probably. But it also says a lot about how valuable a good assistant is. 

I hope you have a wonderful weekend, full of sunshine and things to feel grateful for. 

Trapped

Ever have that feeling where someone you care about has given you a gift and is so excited for your reaction, because they *just know* you’ll love it and be so trilled to have it. Only you don’t really like it. You stopped liking that thing years ago and haven’t even spoken about it in so long you don’t remember the last time. And now this person you care for is looking at you with glowing eyes, a huge smile and sitting on the edge of their seat waiting for you to explode with joy and gratitude. Ever have that feeling?

It feels like being trapped.

You don’t want to hurt or disappoint them. After all, they love you and went out of their way for you, perhaps spent money on you, and are excited to make you happy.

Only you aren’t happy with that gift, or thought, or gesture, or whatever it is they’re physically or mentally or emotionally holding out to you so hopefully. It doesn’t fit you, your life, your personality, your identity. It is dissonant, awkward, out if joint. Broken.

If you said any of that to this loving hopeful, it would no doubt hurt them. Maybe even crush them, depending on the subject of the ‘gift’. And because you love them, you avoid doing hurtful, crushing things.

Of course, when its a cow print pin cushion, or a Brittany Spears CD, you can pretty easily smile and say thank you for their thoughtfulness and find a new home for it as quick as you can. With something relatively trivial, you might even risk letting them know, tactfully, that its not to your taste.

But what about when its something more significant? What about when the ‘gift’ of this person is more fundamental, esoteric, yet deeply important? What about when their constant companionship and care becomes a burden, rather than a boon? When that presence, which you’ve relied on as a fortress of belonging, suddenly feels like a prison?

What a miserable choice: (a) continue as is, swallowing your own preferences, wants and needs; (b) live a double life and risk hurting them all the more when it inevitably is discovered; or (c) let them know how you feel and risk destroying the beautiful, loving relationship you still value.

I’ve heard it said, and witnessed myself, that all change is disruptive to one degree or another. That’s its fundamental nature. People learn to adapt to the change or they don’t. I get that. What I’m struggling with is the piercing pain of knowing that the change I intentionally bring about, this disruption that I cause, is the source of intense pain and discomfort to the people I love the most.

Again, if its something that can be compromised, discussed, negotiated, approached logically or formulaically, I can handle it. This restaurant or that one? No problem. Spend thousands of dollars to replace windows in the house, or wait until next year? Easy discussion. Sell the house and move to Bosnia? Sure, lets chat.

All of those things affect not just me, but also those I live with or who are otherwise part of the discussion. When the decision is about balancing risks, weighing the competing interests of multiple players and finding a reasonable compromise is right in my wheel house. I put the ol’ lawyer hat on and go to town sorting the problem.

But when the change is all about me, my feelings, my preferences, my needs, its much harder to deal with. That guilt I’ve written about in prior posts rears its head again. When I begin to think about making changes that are really all about me, the guilt jumps up and does a happy dance in my head. That’s when my inner saboteur starts shouting: “How selfish!” “It’s always all about you, isn’t it?” “What makes you think you deserve that?” “How dare you put yourself, your selfish desires, over everyone else.”

I fight this inner battle between being the selfless, responsible, conscientious person I was raised to be and the selfish, hedonistic, lazy person I was raised to believe myself to be if I walked any path other than the narrow, binary, societally-defined path set before me at an early age.

The weird thing is that I can easily refute the charges of hedonistic and lazy. I have no delusions that my work ethic and sense of solemn responsibility are in tact and functioning well. The saboteur’s tricks in that regard are wasted.

But selfishness, in all it’s myriad forms, is a stab to my heart. I have worked so hard all my life to live up to a standard of excellence defined, in large part, by how well I serve others’ needs. Love measured in service is a core tenet of the faith in which I was raised. And loving, honoring family above all others was at the heart of my parents’ every lesson. So, I have grown to equate selfishness as a sin above nearly all other possible sins.

So, on days when this journey of self discovery and the path out of the closet lead me to the brink of a decision or choice between my personal preferences, wants and needs, and those of my family and close friends, the dissonance spikes and I tend to retreat into my head a bit. I can find every reason under the sun (some reasonable and based in logic and fact, some wildly speculative) for not carrying on with this process, every argument that leads me away from the direction I’ve chosen. But the white noise of fear, uncertainty, doubt and dread in my brain seems to screen out the reasons, the arguments that support my chosen direction.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a nice, neat bow to wrap this post up in, leaving me and all of you with a warm, fuzzy feeling of happy ever after. Instead, I’m left feeling stuck, mired in doubt and hemmed in by the demands and expectations of my family and closest friends.

Trapped.

A Walk Through Flames

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Urgent vs. Important

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning To Be Cared For

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a mess!

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

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

Boundaries

“You set the boundaries, and I’ll respect them.” Rueing making that statement. Not because I want to hurt or disrespect your choice, but because it is in me to push against every boundary I meet. My very nature rebels at constraint.

I’ve never been a believer in “it’s best for you”, or “you’ll understand later”. I know that growth takes time and too much too soon isn’t good. But, just as with every horizon, beyond which a peek at beauty is visible, the urge to rush forward is palpable and hard to check. But, to respect the boundary set, I must go slowly, carefully.

So, this is me, being good, respecting boundaries, being a graceful loser.

Yeah, right! Inside, I’m sticking out my tongue and yellin’ “nanny, nanny boo boo!” at all the lines I just crossed in my head. I am fully aware how childish that is. I’m a little ashamed at that reaction. But it remains, nevertheless.

In real life, in interactions with people, I follow the rules. So, lines drawn push me to reflect internally, instead. I build the world where that line doesn’t exist, inside my head.

I have a vivid imagination. I see every detail of the stories I weave. My scenes are rich, plush, dressed to the nines and the action is rapid and explosive.

The thing about a floodgate is it’s hard to close until after the torrent is passed. That’s how my creativity goes–in rushing waves of bright, colorful sparks. Then a lull, a calm before the next storm.

My creativity gate has been open for a while now. So the rush is still on. I can’t stop it. I don’t want to.

But I respect your boundaries, your process, and will not cross them

…except in the safety of my own mind.

Hearing My Positives

Listening and hearing, ideally, go together. But they are two different things. Hearing implies understanding, a degree of ownership and internalization of the idea you’re listening to. Hearing is active, while listening is most often passive.

Really hearing life’s lessons takes work. You have to face daemons, confront flaws, and generally do some seriously scary things. Hearing your own personal truth is the hardest of all.

But merely opening your figurative, emotional ears, taking that first step is huge progress. Letting yourself be ready to hear, making the conscious choice to be still long enough to let the message in, sets you apart from most of the rest of the world at any given moment.

I know that I didn’t want to hear for a very long time. Filling every waking moment with activity, concentrating all my mind on doing things to drown out the sounds of lessons I didn’t want to learn. But when I chose to begin looking at my life, improve the quality of my living, I had to learn to be still and hear.

Now, at the beginning of this new journey, I’m beginning to appreciate some of the things I’m beginning to hear. This week’s effort toward intentional positivity, for instance, has given me loads to think about.

Aside from lessons, being still and listening can also reveal opportunities. It’s so easy, when looking so closely into ourselves to improve what we feel is lacking, to forget that others around us are on the same journey. If we listen to each other, we might hear a call for help that only we can fulfill.

In addition to all the positivity I’ve blogged about this week, even the back-handed positivity of getting pissed off for the right reasons, my week’s experiment yielded unexpected opportunity to hear a part of someone else’s story. By making my work on being positive known, many kind people reached out in support. In responding to that hand of friendship, I was gifted with the chance to give in return.

Sorry to be cryptic, but I need to honor my friend’s gift with privacy. But I can say that listening to their story, hearing their healing process, has been a uniquely beautiful experience.

My heartfelt thanks to all of you who have joined me this week, reading, liking and commenting on my posts. Special thanks to that special friend who shared the gift of hearing life’s wisdom with me over the last few days.

I’m going to move on to blogging on other things besides exclusively positive things. But I’m going to continue to make positivity a conscious part of my daily life. I hope you will, too.

You say it’s your birthday…

Yep, I’m owning my 44 and lovin’ it! After all, getting older beats the heck out of the alternative.

I took today off from work, as is my custom. I slept a tiny bit later than normal and have spent a lazy morning getting ready for the day, in between reading blogs and messin’ around on Twitter. My plans for the weekend are mild and low-key, rather like myself. I’m not a big partier and will likely spend most of my time alone, barring a dinner date with my brother and his wife. But I did give myself a birthday gift last night.

For my 44th birthday I fully came out to myself. I referred to myself in online comments and chats variously as gay or butch, consciously & intentionally, for the first time. I know now, with no doubts, that I am both.

So, internally at least, I’ve taken the step up to authenticity. No hiding from myself anymore. That’s huge and awesome and scary and all the things at one time. It’s got me amped and saying things (anonymously on line) that I’ve never said before, doing things I’ve never done, thinking things that both thrill and terrify me.

I don’t know when or if I’ll take the same steps in my external life, come out to anyone I know in person. That’s so much more complicated. I’ve been kicking the thoughts around for a long time. I even asked some bloggers I respect for an opinion. My thoughts haven’t finished filtering, but I’m working on a post that’ll help bring some order to the chaos, if no concrete answers. The outside life is still a big messy question, then.

But the inside is lining up, for once. It feels good.

Annoyed

I was tweeting about this earlier and wanted to explore it just a bit. I’ve been in management training this week. Now, I admit that being unable to keep up with my regular work load, on top of having to listen to the touchy–feely consultant-speak all week, predisposes me to crankiness. Add to that the bone tiredness I talked about in yesterday’s post, and I’m a little on the prickly side. I acknowledge this. So perhaps my story today is slightly colored by this pre-existing grumpiness.

Still, I was hella annoyed during class today.

A dozen professionals from different organizations within my company, all trying to lift up managerial skill. We’re all veterans of the company and experienced pros. So you’d think we could all sit through the seminars, participate appropriately and do everything we can to get to the end as quickly as we can.

But no, there’s always one who has to stink up the works. Today’s gem is a self-satisfied, middle-aged middle manager. He has been increasingly talkative all week, but today was an order of magnitude worse. Dude would NOT shut up! And no one else could say or do anything that was correct to him. He was right about everything and everyone else needed to benefit from his expertise. Healthy debate is great, but this guy argued just to hear the sound of his own voice.

I’m not proud that by 3pm I had given up all pretense of civility and just let the snark flow. I wasn’t alone. Still, his annoying existence isn’t an excuse for my rudeness. I know this. I’m disappointed that I fell to his level. Yet, I’m still tweaked about the whole thing.

What I’m struggling to parse out is why. It’s normal to be pissed off when someone is rude. But you get over it after grinding your teeth for a minute and move on. That’s my normal pattern. In this case, though, hours have passed and his condescending, sneering voice is still in my head.

What bugs me the most is that he’s succeeded after the fact in what he was unable to do during class: silence my response. In class, I refused to let him stifle me; even if mine wasn’t the last word, I always made my point despite his obstructionism. But now, his arrogant and ignorant assertions are rattling around inside my head, where I can’t refute or silence them with informed disagreement. Ugh, it’s frustrating! Even worse is that I know that only I can let someone get under my skin–no one can ‘make’ me feel a certain way. So, not only has he poisoned my peace of mind, he’s co-opted my own inner voice to do it. Geez!

Ah well, I’ll get over it, eventually. It just irks me that a jerk can get inside my head and affect my mood, even though he’s not even in my presence. Grrr!

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