Courage

I am at that point in my family life when my children are starting to wander farther, stretch their wings, and take on more responsibilities and adventures of their own. As I send them out into the world, I often think about advice I would like to give them. What I wish for them is the same thing I wish for everyone: the courage to take on the challenges they will face. And so, as you head out into the world, this week and in the weeks to come…

I wish you the courage to pursue your passions with persistence. Now, pursing one’s passion doesn’t mean being irresponsible. It’s important to go after what you want in life, especially if it matters to you. If your passion doesn’t [yet] allow for financial stability, you can still pursue it around the work that does bring the paycheck. Or better yet, you might work to figure out a way to weave your passion into your gainful employment.

I wish you the courage to be true to yourself. But in order to be true to yourself, you need to know who you are. That knowledge requires connecting with your very core. If you can connect to who you are on the core level, you will be able to connect with others in the most authentic way. And if you connect with people who know who you are on the deepest level and are okay with your core identity, the rest will fall into place.

I wish you the courage to stand up for the causes you believe in. I wish you the courage to step in when needed and step up when challenged. The causes you truly believe in will connect with your core identity and help to strengthen it. And hopefully, they will promote justice and freedom and peace—maybe on a personal level, but maybe on a global level. Either way, if you stand up for the causes you believe in, you will promote your authenticity and make way for a better, brighter world.

And finally, I wish you the courage to stay in the present. In this day and age, it is so difficult not to focus on the future at the expense of the present. And it is also difficult not to get caught up in electronics and devices and social media, so much so that you don’t enjoy the here and now and the experiences that are right in front of you. But if you don’t focus on the present, you may miss out on a valuable moment with those who mean the most.

As you head out to start a new week, don’t forget your courage!

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Painfully Obvious

Yesterday morning, I awoke from an odd and somewhat unsettling dream. At first, I wasn’t really aware of what was unsettling, only that something wasn’t right. The dream was one in which I was interacting with people—one, a friend from childhood who I hadn’t seen recently, and the other, a woman I knew of but had never met.

I was sitting between the two of them. The woman to my right was wearing a bright sweater—striped in bold blues, yellow, and teal—and I noted that it was knit from the same yarn I had used to make a scarf. This fact intrigued me, and I got stuck on the bold colors and the coincidence. I listened as she talked, and I responded, but through our conversation, I never looked directly at her. Somehow, I just knew who she was.

As I looked back on the dream, I realized that I was unable to look at either of these two people, unable to see their faces. It wasn’t that they didn’t have faces in my dream. It was that I couldn’t look at their faces. This one small but important fact made the dream very unsettling.

As I moved through my day trying to process this strange dream, I came across an article in the New York Times that discussed Smartphone addiction and its effects on us and on our children. Sherry Turkle, a social scientist, “found that children now compete with their parents’ devices for attention, resulting in a generation afraid of the spontaneity of a phone call or face-to-face interaction. Eye contact now seems to be optional” (Popescu). If we are not making eye contact, if we are not looking at the people we are interacting with, we are not fully experiencing the moment, the conversation, the relationship.

And this article brought me back to my dream. No doubt, the dream emerged from the stress of adjusting to the hectic schedule of a new teaching assignment added to my other responsibilities. The need to juggle so many different pieces often takes away from my ability to be in the moment, experiencing interactions and relationships as fully as I might. This juggling ties me to my computer and keeps me connected to technology.

If we pay attention, our dreams can tell us things we didn’t already know, but sometimes they hit us over the head with the painfully obvious. The other night, I had one of those dreams and I woke up confused, but as the day wore on, I began to see how this dream fit into my life and the message I needed to gain from it.

I am a creature of habit. I do things because they work in some important way. Or maybe because they have worked at some point in the past, in some other iteration of my life. Perhaps, if I were to really examine what I have been doing, these things might not be addressing my current needs. They might not be feeding my soul. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate and restructure in important ways that will permit me to grow with the changes in my life.

And maybe it’s time we all recognize that by not interacting with others—over dinner, over the phone, standing in line, etc.—we are doing our children a disservice. It is up to us to teach them how to interact with us, with each other, and with the strangers they will encounter on a daily basis. Perhaps it’s time we recognize that technological connection is minimal and human connection… it’s everything.

Kindness

We all have stories we tell ourselves. I have stories that I’ve woven into my reality that have been created to serve some purpose or other. Sometimes, the stories allow me to stay in my comfort zone. For example, lately I have been telling myself that once it warms up outside, I’ll start walking. If I tell myself this story, I don’t have to push myself to step out into the cold. In the winter, I like being warm, and even though I should go out and walk each day, it’s cold. And icy. And the wind will cut through even the heaviest of winter jackets. Winter is not the time to exercise outside, even though I used to do it all the time back when I was younger and more tolerant of the extremes in weather.

Sometimes, the stories I tell myself are designed for self-protection—i.e. so I am not disappointed about something that isn’t likely to happen. I might tell myself that a story won’t be published or that I am not good enough to be included in a group or accepted into a coveted program or opportunity. These stories are woven specifically to protect me from disappointment. Because after all, if I don’t get my hopes up, I won’t be let down, will I?

But the worst thing is the constant self-talk in my head. I can be brutal—constantly chastising myself for the things I say, the things I do, the things I don’t do. I have a whole series of conversations and monologues that I run through my head that focus on the worst about myself. I don’t think I am an anomaly in this respect. I think it is something that women, especially, do on a regular basis. Why do we do this? Why do we convince ourselves that we will never be enough?

Recently, I saw this video by TruthBomb Mom on Facebook in which she spoke with other women about their self talk. They admitted that they are harder on themselves than they should be. When the host then produced a picture of the woman as a little girl, she asked if the woman would say the same things to this child. And so, I took out a picture of myself as a child. Would I tell her the things I tell myself? Perhaps what we all need to do is be a bit more gentle on ourselves.

The next time I am tempted to criticize myself for every little thing I do, I am going to think of this girl. If I think of her, I have an inkling I am going to be just a bit more gentle, more patient, and more kind with myself. Because I am a work in progress, and deep inside my soul, this little girl is still a big part of who I am.

Happy New You

If you are looking for resolutions for 2018, if you are thinking about a way to improve yourself as we rush headlong into a new year, take a moment to think about the conversations you play and repeat in your head.

What do you tell yourself about who you are? What societal influences have you allowed to slip into your sub-conscious and become a part of who you are? In what ways have you lost touch with your true, authentic self?

Flush out all of the negative thoughts that make you feel you are not good enough. Move away from the constant pressure of social media and the “friends” you maintain there. Take some time away from the Internet to meditate and reflect on who you are and who you want to be. Do what’s necessary to find your true, authentic self.

That is where you will find your happiness and your best self this year and in the years to come. Happy New Year!

Me Too

As the #metoo posts began to populate my Facebook timeline last weekend, I grew deeply disturbed at how widespread the problems of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, gender discrimination, etc. have been. How has our society continued to perpetuate the objectification of women without question? Yet, despite the fact that every one of my woman friends was posting #metoo, I couldn’t bring myself to post on my status, and it took me some time to figure out why not.

Even many years later, in each case without exception, I can still tell you exactly why I was at fault—for one reason or other—for the times I was a victim of abuse or harassment. If I had done something differently, if I had been more careful… these situations would not have happened. It seems that when the lines of appropriate and inappropriate are blurred from the time a girl is young, that girl accepts blurred lines as the manner in which the world is set up.

When I was 17, I was walking through the town square in a country far away. It was early afternoon—siesta time—and the square was nearly deserted. I should have been back to my host home earlier, and I was trying to get back as quickly as I could. I was walking quickly on a path that ran diagonally through the center of the square. As I passed an older man, he grabbed my thigh as if he had a right to touch me however he wanted. My heart and pace quickened, and I did not look back. I was young, alone, and scared, walking the fence between two cultures, unable to speak the local language. I should not have been out during siesta when the streets were quiet and everyone else was settling in at home. I had been out with a friend and time slipped away from us. It was a risky move, and the unwanted advance—it clearly could have been prevented if I had been returned earlier.

In my early 20s, one of my student charges was popping popcorn and tripped a breaker in the dorm where I served as hall parent. It was after evening study hall, and I had to request help from a campus security guard to fix it. I followed him to the breaker box—in a dark room—where he lit our path with a flashlight. Until he had other ideas and switched off the flashlight. It was my fault for following him into a dark room and trusting him to light the way.

Again in my 20s, I was told that an entire office of male workers would discuss my backside as they watched me in the parking lot from a nearby window. First of all, do men not have anything better to do? Second, what did one man expect when he came to me to tell me that—with a creepy smile on his face? And third, why were there no self-checking men in the group who were willing to step forward and stop the others from objectifying a young woman? Was I not supposed to venture into the parking lot where they could see me?

I have faced unwanted advances, harassment, and discrimination from peers, coworkers, teachers, doctors, bosses, and strangers on the street, and thanks to #metoo, I know I am not alone. It is a process that begins when girls are young and continues through adulthood. We become so accustomed to this behavior from the other half of the population that we begin to accept it without question, often blaming ourselves for not being strong enough, for wearing the wrong clothes, for being in the wrong place, or for trusting when we shouldn’t.

What I find disturbing is not only that we allow this harassment—this clear display of man’s power over woman—to perpetuate, but we make women feel responsible for the abuse. You shouldn’t have dressed that way. How many of us have heard those words? You shouldn’t have walked that way or You shouldn’t have been in that place.

No, I am not to blame in these situations. Men are to blame. Men who feel it is their right to objectify women and treat them as pieces and parts rather than as whole, intelligent, amazing, complicated, and competent human beings. And the silent men are to blame. Men who sit by listening to other men talk about women this way and watching other men treat women this way. Because if you sit idly by and say nothing, you are part of the problem.

It is time that women gather together, draw on our collective power, and release it out into the society as a loud and resounding NO! It is time that men stand up to other men and stop tolerating the “locker room talk” simply because it was once an accepted part of male culture. These people you are discussing…? These are mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts. What if it was your mother or your daughter that was being discussed? These people—these women—they should be your people.

We have tolerated this behavior for far too long. It’s time we create a different world, a better world, for our daughters and their daughters, and all the daughters to come. It’s time expect better and end the cycle of #metoo.

{Image credit: Unsplash.com/Mihai Surdu}

Healing

 

I am happy to say that I have found a solution to my mug problem. I now have new mug from which to drink my coffee and reminisce in the mornings.

As the weather grew warmer and spring was definitely arriving, the Christmas mug—despite the sentiments it held for me—was starting to feel a bit wrong. There was snow and a Christmas wreath on the mug, but outside, the weather was reflecting an altogether different season. So on my last, rather timely trip to visit Mom, I acquired a new old mug.

This mug was Dad’s and is one that I made back when my children were little. That Christmas, I made several similar but unique mugs to give as gifts. I painted faces (which barely resembled) my three children, and I included names of the grandparents. This mug—the Grampa mug—is now mine.

I thought it would be the perfect replacement for my Christmas mug. My sister questioned whether I would actually use a mug that says “Grampa” on it, and admittedly, it might seem a bit odd. Here I am, a woman of a medium age, using a mug made for a Grampa.

Do I care? Not at all. I use it every day! I think it might just help in my healing process.

 

The Things that are Missing…

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At that university where I work, I meet with student writers from all walks and backgrounds. I mainly meet with undergraduate writers, but I also work with students who are professionals in the midst of careers—returning to school for professional development or to get a degree. And then there are the graduate students who range in age from 22 to 92.

Recently, I met with a woman who was an acquaintance of mine in a former iteration of my life—years ago when I was single and worked a different job. She is in a demanding graduate program, she works full time, and she deals with the every day stresses and curve-balls of life that we all deal with.

She was struggling. Her professor had told her that her final essay could end her participation in the program; she was under more pressure than usual, and she was taking it out on herself. Briefly, she let me in on the frustrations she had with the class—the only class in which she had struggled in the program thus far. Now, she felt the need to put exactly the right words on the page, which is never good for the writing process; she was over-editing because she felt under-confident.

I asked her how many classes she had completed in the program. Seven. And then I reminded her that she had seen me two years earlier—when she had first started her program—feeling almost exactly the same way. And I reminded her that she hadn’t seen me since. “What is it about these two classes that stripped you of your confidence?” I asked her.

Her response had nothing to do with school. She mentioned the loss of a loved one several years earlier; the holiday season without that person; the stresses of her work; a birthday celebration that needed to happen in the midst of everything else. And the pressure to finish this one last paper.

Often at this time of the year, we are too able to focus on what’s missing. The longing for what is missing blurs the present and what we have. And sometimes, we don’t even consciously recognize that we are struggling with loss or stress or the need to be everything to everyone.

And so I say this: be gentle with yourself, not just at this time of year, but always. You are not alone. We are all in this together. Chances are, if you are willing to say, “You know what? I am struggling today,” someone will step in to offer support and to lift you up.