The Mirror

I’ve come up against a challenge of age lately. It’s not a BIG deal, definitely qualifies as a “first world problem,” but it got me thinking about some stuff that I thought maybe a few of you could relate to. I have reached the point where in order to do something to my face that requires specificity of location (plucking hairs, putting on eye makeup, applying ointment to something that needs healing), I need my specs. I just can’t see the details that close without them. Problem is the specs get in the way of a majority of the procedures I would need to use the mirror for in the first place. “Ahhhh. THAT’s why those mirrors are around,” you know those magnification mirrors. Sometimes they light up so you can have some kind of notion of how sunlight or club light will affect whatever look you’re working on, but let’s face it, it’s mostly about the magnification. And those mirrors aren’t just sold to people my age (or my ocular age which is a bit higher) and older; all kinds of people are okay with looking up real close at imperfections on their faces so they can do whatever they need to do to feel good about how they present themselves.

Slide1It got me to wondering how we can be SO okay with looking with such great scrutiny and intensity at our faces and then refuse to look at the rest of us in the mirror at all. And notice I say “we” here, because this is something I totally used to do, avoid eye to body contact. The objection here is: “But you look great,” and that objection has absolutely nothing to do with what goes on in MY head. For years I did not actually look at myself in a mirror that showed more than my face while undressed because the critic in my head was OUT OF CONTROL. What other people saw was of little interest to me. It was what SHE saw, that mean girl in my head, that had worn me down over time. Better to avoid her altogether by not looking and getting dressed early in the shower to rest of world progression. Continue reading

Is Satisfactory Enough?

This morning my singing partner and I did a scary thing. We took a tough song, with cutting and horrifying lyrics, added a dissonant and haunting harmony and performed it a cappella for our congregation, twice. We had a total of 5 songs to perform, 2 others that were new for us and new to to them, but only the one had me nervous. I knew we had really pushed some boundaries on what was comfortable for people to hear, certainly on what was easy for us to learn and perform, and on what we would do with the information of executing it poorly or being poorly received.

The song fell in the middle of the service. She was shaking before that song. I started shaking after and shook so hard that my hold torso was trembling a bit. All that fear and all that adrenaline sorting itself out after nailing that song, which was still impossibly difficult to perform and to hear. We sang Strange Fruit, made famous by Billie Holliday. While a musical masterpiece, it is not pleasing to listen to in the way that most music is. The song lyrics are a metaphorical description of a lynching, written by a white Jewish man from the Bronx, after seeing a photograph in the newspaper. My partner and I decided to sing the song facing one another to maintain our concentration and keep our emotions at bay. It was haunting. It was powerful. It was profound in exactly the way that we hoped. And we shook with the effort of getting past the fear and doubt and concern that we brought to the microphone with us.

Let me be clear, we didn’t have to sing that song. We chose it, really against our better judgment in many ways. We knew it was risky. We could easily have found something else, either that we already knew or that would have served and been easy to learn. We could have satisficed. Do you know this word? I LOVE it. Satisficing is “accepting an available option as satisfactory.” Satsificing is doing what you know so it will be okay – and believe me there is a time for satisficing. My husband is preparing to leave town for two weeks, and while I single-handedly wrangle our domestic zoo, I imagine there will be plenty of satificing. Continue reading

Why Are You Doing It All?

Slide1It’s been an interesting couple of days. I’ve been posting some questions and essays on Facebook to promote my Build Better Boundaries class and what I’ve found out is that there are an awful lot of you who are doing an awful lot. Let me rephrase that: there are an awful lot of you doing an awful lot for a household of individuals who are capable of doing more than they are. There are many of you who are doing a whole lot for people, grown and growing, who would do well to learn that they, too, can help care for themselves and for the sacred space that you all call home. There are some of you who are doing everything for everybody.

Is this you? Is this your tribe? Are these your people, the people who are doing it all? I have to ask you why you are doing it. And really, to be fair, I shouldn’t ask because I used to be in that tribe, and sometimes I become a temporary resident. I dip in and out of tribal membership (in when I’m not paying attention and out when I am). So, if you prefer, rather than asking you why you do it, I can provide you with a list of possible answers that you can choose from (see how I did that, taking your job and making it mine – it’s like an onion people, layers). Continue reading

Surrender in a Phone Booth

Dear Dad,

I thought of you today; well, I think of you most every day, but I thought about you longer today. I was walking the dog, a time I would often reach for the phone to catch up with you because I knew I would be largely uninterrupted for at least half an hour. Instead of calling anyone, I was listening to a podcast of This American Life. The episode was an old one that I’d had on my phone since right before some plane flight.

Slide1The story they were sharing took place in Japan, near where the tsunami and earthquake did so much damage a few years ago. In response to his grief at losing a family member, one man had put a phone booth, an old British style one, in his garden. It wasn’t hooked up to anything, and had an old rotary phone inside. He would use it as a space to reach out to his loved one, a space to share developments big and small, a space to grieve completely, to surrender to the loss. The interesting part of the story is that word got out about the phone booth and soon people started coming to use the phone booth to call their own loved ones, people who’d died in the tragedy or have never been found and are presumed dead at this point. People began making pilgrimages with their entire family so everyone, even those who had never expressed any grief at all, had a chance to use the phone booth, to connect with their loved one, to surrender completely to their grief in a space designated just for that, a safe and small space away from everything else. Continue reading

A Letter to My Body

Dear Body,

I want to write you a love letter, but I know what you need first is an apology or my compliments will sound shallow and empty. So, there we are. I’m not good at saying it, but I really am sorry.

Slide1I’m so sorry for all of the times I had unkind thoughts about you. I’m so sorry for all of the times I blamed you for the way my clothes fit. I’m so sorry for all of the times I wouldn’t even look at you in the mirror. I’m more sorry for only seeing flaws when I did look. I’m so sorry for treating you like a traitor, an enemy, something to fight and work against. I’m so sorry for not loving you. I’m sorry for the times I decided to eat next to nothing. I’m sorry for the times I decided to eat mostly junk. I’m sorry for deciding that you weren’t worthy of better treatment than both. I’m sorry for not using you better, for either neglecting or deciding to run marathons starting now. Continue reading

Marines United With Us

As usual this week has been chock full of news and things I could choose to get outraged about. I’m trying a new thing where I try to limit and focus my outrage like a laser beam rather than just letting it splatter all over the place ineffectually… So for me there are two big stories this week, that ended up being a little too similar for my liking. The two stories? Marines United and International Women’s Day.

HOW can they be the same at all, you might wonder, a story about men in uniform sexually harassing and humiliating their female counterparts online and the day of a general strike for women’s labor? Pretty much seem like polar opposites, don’t they, that is until we all get to comment on them, until we get to participate with the news, until we become part of the story. Continue reading

Who’s Pushing Your Buttons?

I have a confession. When I was working through my life coach training, there was on teacher who kind of irritated me. When I saw her name on the roster, I rolled my eyes and sighed and figured it was going to be a waste of my time. I still attended those classes, but it was with a sense of duty and obligation, rather than curiosity or joy. I listened with maybe 60% of myself and got through it. I checked the box. Why did I react that way to her?

I think there were a few reasons, so I’ll give you the surface ones first. First of all, I just wasn’t ready for the part of the course she was teaching. I was still working on some things that made it hard to hear what she had to say. Secondly, the material she was teaching was stuff I didn’t feel as naturally drawn to – had already decided it was not my strong suit, so I probably wouldn’t enjoy it or benefit from it. Now with just those two surface reasons, there’s plenty of room to talk about how I was limiting myself and how I got in the way of my own experience. Yes, yes, yes, all true, but I think the bigger issue for me with this amazing master coach and teacher was that the way she presented and held herself in the world was immediately off-putting to me. You say: “Wait, that’s not the surface reason?”

Yeah, that’s what I’m saying. And I’m saying that because my reaction to her and the way she walks through the world had zip zero to do with her and EVERYTHING to do with me. What you may not know is that I’ve changed. For a long time, I was keeping an awful lot to myself. It was easier to just go unnoticed than to jump into the fray and risk failing or looking stupid, or just having some kind of negative attention come my way. It felt safer to just muddle through, get done what I needed to get done. I was okay after all, and that’s good enough, right? Right? right? right…

Slide1Not for that coach it wasn’t. Just okay was definitely not good enough. She was so out front with herself that she was like a bullhorn for strength, power, and joy. I didn’t realize the bullhorn she was toting (metaphorically, she’s not THAT out there) had a message just for me. And that message said: “Where ARE you? Why are you hiding? Why are you playing small? What happened? Where’d you go? You didn’t always do this. What’s changed? Won’t you come out and play? Won’t you come out and BE YOU?” So, I ignored her. Yep, I did. I admit it. Just decided she wasn’t my cup of tea, played myself some soothing music, made sure I was calm and moved forward with my day.

Yes, it’s true, I have from time to time ignored messages that I would benefit from, but I wasn’t ready. I just wasn’t ready. And that’s okay. The thing is, I began to change anyway. I began taking risks. I began being more assertive with my opinions (rather than forgoing or taking a passive aggressive stance – “Why don’t you guess what I’m thinking?”) I began moving forward on silly domestic projects that had been stalled for weeks, months, some even for years. I began sharing more of the hard stuff. I began asking for help when I needed it. And as I did these things, a whole lot of other stuff changed too.

I found myself craving new music. The well-known soothing soundtrack that I’d arranged around me for years grew tiresome. As I reconnected with myself I felt moved to reconnect with music that inspired action, that expressed anger, frustration, and motion. I reconnected with dreams and desires I’d long put out to pasture as unrealistic and therefore not worthy. I got out in front. I even put myself first (whoa!) and decided not to apologize about that (double whoa!). I established my practice to help other women start to do the same, to reconnect with their core, to wake up to their own capacity, and to get out in front.

Slide2And then one day, a little video showed up in my Facebook feed. It was her, that coach and teacher who I’d written off before. I clicked on the video and was delighted to find she was speaking to me, and I was hearing it. I no longer found her anything but helpful, inspiring, quite amazing really. All that lukewarm negativity I’d felt before (but kept to myself, BTW) had nothing to do with her. It had EVERYTHING to do with me and the part of myself I saw in her, the fear I felt at the idea of being more like her, the lengths I’d gone to to stuff my own amazing because I’d tried and failed, or I was too tired, or I couldn’t possibly do all that, or “that doesn’t work for people like me.”  So much of what I thought was a reaction to her was just an old, tired conversation I’d been having with myself for far too long. Seeing her, and knowing she was fabulous whether I admitted it or not, pushed my little light-hiding buttons. But I don’t need those buttons anymore. I imagine I’ve sewed on some new ones, but THOSE buttons are gone. Game on.

Who pushes your buttons? How much of your reaction has nothing at all to do with that person? How much of your reaction has everything to do with some story you’ve told yourself about who YOU are? What could you learn by listening to the button pusher? What could you learn by really seeing the button pusher in you?

“Girls Like Us”

I can remember the shame washing over me like a hot blanket, but not the yummy kind you want when you’re cold – more like the warm blanket when you’ve wet the bed and you know the heat will soon give way to cold, stark, lonely humiliation: perfect for a 15 year old on a large stage in front of several classmates.

It was sophomore year. I had scored my first big part in a school play, Rosie in Bye, Bye, Birdie. I quickly discovered, much to my delight, that I not only got to sing a solo number, but that it required a solo dance as well. Yay! I asked if I could choreograph it; at least that’s how I remember all that happening through the mists of time. So I went to work at it. And over some amount of time that I can no longer recall, but feel comfortable guessing was not insignificant, put together a dance to show to our director, who was on loan from a prestigious local theater.

slide1The time came in rehearsal and I did my dance number for the director’s approval. I was really proud; proud to have the part, proud to have been allowed to handle the dance myself, and proud of having done it and performed it the way I wanted to. When I finished, as I caught my breath, I realized that it was pretty quiet. I looked up at the director, who was sitting on a folding chair at the front of the stage. She looked at me with obvious discomfort and said a few words that I don’t remember and then she said the thing I will always remember: “Girls like us can’t leap.” There was then some elaboration about my size, a vague reference to bustiness, and the way all of that looks in the air to other people. She even demonstrated how she looked leaping so I would really understand, made fun of herself, drew parallels to large animals. And there I stood. Not so proud anymore. Continue reading

“You Could Be Nicer”

So, I’ve been on a little bit of a social media diet. It probably doesn’t look like it to folks who follow and interact with me because I’ve gotten real strategic about it. I still hop on several times a day, I just don’t stay because, frankly, I have a lot to do and for me personally, there are SO many rabbit holes. I’ve found that my self-imposed limitations have really served to keep me from re-reading stories and news and to prevent me from seeing 7 different versions of the day’s outrage instead of just 1. So, it’s working and yet…

slide2The heightened political and social tensions have brought so much stuff to the forefront. I don’t think anybody would deny that. One of the pieces of stuff that I’ve noticed is a whole lot of attempts to disarm pissed-off women. Now, I know this will come as no surprise to those of you who are married to or live with a woman, or who grew up with sisters, but disarming a pissed-off woman is as tricky as disarming a pissed-off man. Our society has not  seemed terribly interested in disarming men, but we’ve gotten real good at disarming women. Yep, we’ve gotten so good at disarming women that now women will do it to each other. Here are some examples of the ways I’ve seen people attempting to disarm pissed-off women. People tell them to:  1) get the “real” facts or simply state that the disagreement is because of her lack of smarts, 2) let all of that anger go and find some gratitude, 3) focus on herself and her family (you know, because that’s less stressful), and 4) find a nicer way to say what she’s trying to say. “You can say all that in a nicer way, you know without the anger (or the cursing, heaven forbid there be cursing). You can fix it without anger (been there, tried that).” When I see these kinds of responses on social media, I can just hear somebody saying: “You can win more flies with honey you know.” Continue reading