Consider the Source.

For the majority of my life, I’ve taken people, places, and things at face value. Taken what was told to me as truth, until shown otherwise. And sometimes even then, it took a LOT of evidence to the contrary to come around and admit to myself what I thought I knew (or what I wanted to believe) was wrong; what I thought was true was false; who I thought I could trust or believe was, in fact, not trustworthy at all. Once you believe something, it can be really damn hard to change your mind, to be open to the idea of being wrong. Or, at the very least, open to the possibility of a different way of thinking/seeing something.

I started reading “A People’s History of the United States” by Howard Zinn, and something in the first pages stuck out:

Thus, in that inevitable taking of sides which comes from selection and emphasis in history, I prefer to try to tell the story of the discovery of America from the viewpoint of the Arawaks, of the Constitution from the standpoint of the slaves, of Andrew Jackson as seen by the Cherokees, of the Civil War as seen by the New York Irish, of the Mexican war as seen by the deserting soldiers of the Scott’s army, […] And so on, to the limited extent that any one person, however he or she strains, can “see” history from the standpoint of others.

We are pretty much always given/fed/taught information in a way that benefits someone. Think about our history books, all told from the white majority’s perspective, and spinning a narrative of conquest, of superiority; it certainly enables us to continue thinking and believing we are on the right side of history and have no cause for regret or concern over how others have been impacted, or that we might need to work hard to correct what’s wrong. We’d have to admit something is wrong first. Right? I mean, as just one example: we might be regaled with humanizing stories of slave owners, but I guarantee the stories from the slaves’ perspectives are going to be a whole lot different. Where are those in the history books?

And I’m not just talking history, either.  For example, the pathological liar/cheater/gas-lighter I dated a few years back: every word that came out of his mouth was designed specifically to benefit himself and the life he wanted to lead, with no regard for the truth or the people around him. I still occasionally marvel over the depths of his depravity, how manipulative everything was, and how it served to further his agenda. Everything he said about the other people in his life, the reasons he gave for breaking up with past girlfriends, the stories he told about himself; it all had little glimmers of truth but a whole lot of twist, all to give a totally different impression of what was actually going on and what actually happened.

But that’s a pretty extreme example, thankfully; most people are not that mental or messy. They are, however, impacted by what’s taught and told to them, what aligns with the values instilled growing up, affected by their culture, their teachers, their families… we are all the sum of our experiences. And whether or not we choose to challenge that, to question what we’ve been taught… that’s where critical thought comes in.

Side note: It’s telling that we have to TEACH critical thought in school… and I’d imagine not everyone gets that lesson, whether due to substandard education, or the school system’s decision to not include it as a class or subject – and THEN you have to question why they don’t value critical thought, right? Who benefits from people not thinking critically? (Hint: It’s likely those who prefer the status quo.) But really, if we’re not innately programmed to question, to be skeptical, to consider the various sides, to take others into account instead of simply charging forward with whatever it is we have chosen to believe and accept as the best truth as human beings, then it becomes apparent there is some work that needs to be done. Some effort needs to be expended in order to open up to the perspectives of others. We are, as a general rule, selfish and self-centered beings. Why wouldn’t we want to challenge that?

Do you ever ponder how a person (or a book, or a corporation, or a news station, or an elected official) might benefit from the information they’re presenting to you? Do you ever think about how everything in their lives might have led up to them being who and where they are, and so what they’re telling you is directly influenced by that? When you’re reading historical accounts, do you ever stop to consider the perspective of the teller? Nothing happens in a vacuum. Nothing in our past – as a country, as a planet, as the human race, as individuals – happens without something or someone else being affected. Right? Or, very little, anyway. We can engage in mental, emotional, or physical self-harm that appears injurious to only ourselves. But even then, if you have someone else in your life bearing witness to these injuries, they’re going to be affected, and they’re going to have their own perspective on the situation.

It reminds me of that old adage: There are three sides to every story – yours, mine, and the truth.

I write all of this to say, I’ve started questioning more of what I hear, what I read, what gets posted on the internet or is reported… I’ve tried to expand my circle to include the perspectives of others, those whose lives and experiences are different than mine, so I can learn, so I can take other perspectives into account. It’s necessary, but it can be exhausting, too; at some point you have to determine which appear to be the most straightforward, the least slanted, the most inclusive. And not because it’s what we WANT to believe, although I suppose that’s always an option. Really, I just want to be sure I’m not falling into the trap of taking things at face value and not challenging myself.

On a personal and less political note, not a day goes by when I don’t feel a sense of gratitude and relief that I’m in a relationship with someone I trust. Someone I don’t feel the need to question motives, question the words, question anything, unless it’s apparent there’s something going on that warrants further discussion. And I think that’s any relationship, right? When you can tell something’s going on so you ask questions to get to the bottom of it because you care. He does that for me, too; we challenge each other to get real, get honest, and we offer up a mutually respectful, safe, and loving environment in which to do just that. It’s huge.

Now, if we could all just do that for each other.

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Whole30 Observations, Revelations, and Other Stuff.

CW: Some weight, scale, and body image discussion ahead…

I’m writing this tonight, the last night of our Whole30 adventure, for a few reasons. Mostly because I have the time while my sweetheart is on his way back from his 4th work trip in as many weeks. Have I mentioned how impressed I am with his brand of stubborn, sticking with this thing while traveling for work? I mean, if I were in Vegas, I’m not sure I would have been able to resist going ALL THE WAY OFF plan. In fact, while he was gone, I was *this close* to calling it quits (mostly because of the intestinal distress), but I couldn’t justify it when he was having to find a grocery store, rent a refrigerator for his hotel room, and eat the same damn things every day while I could make all kinds of yummy stuff.

Anyway. The other reason I’m writing about it tonight is because I want this to be about everything but the weight I’ve lost. More about that in a bit.

Before we started this thing, we were eating relatively well, but our habits were devolving pretty rapidly. Like, instead of going to Baskin Robbins once in a while, we’d go several nights a week. Anytime he traveled for work, I’d go to Panera for dinner and get the French Onion Soup (with all that cheese and bread) and a large mac & cheese. And then stop for ice cream on the way home. There was always at least one glass of wine with dinner. I’d start foraging for chocolate or candy at work around 2pm. And don’t even get me started on the reduced-fat Cheez-It binges…

Yeah. I mean, it certainly could have been worse; we were having smoothies for breakfast, salads for lunch, and more often than not, a relatively healthy dinner. But those were getting interspersed with taco and margarita nights, Panera nights, eating anywhere but home nights…

So, a few of my favorite things about Whole30 is that it was like hitting the big reset button on my bad food habits. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t had cravings pretty much this entire time, but my behaviors have changed around food. For the most part, we’ve cooked healthy breakfast meals and sat down to enjoy them, instead of running out the door with a smoothie. (I say “for the most part” because today for breakfast I had an apple & almond butter.) Lunches have stayed healthy, either chicken &  broccoli with lemon, or some form of protein and veggies, leftovers, etc. Dinners were the best part, getting creative or not, making good use of the recipes in the book and being blown away by the flavors… and all the while, getting to spend that quality time cooking together.

Real Talk
Yes, there was a lot more planning and prep work involved. No, I didn’t always feel like doing it, especially when he was on the road. Yes, I ate a lot of eggs for breakfast and got tired of them halfway through, but am back to enjoying them again. No, I never did get the “tiger blood” they talk about in the book, but that could be due to any number of extenuating circumstances not related to diet. The bowel movements have been… exciting. I haven’t had the energy or interest in the gym since we started.

Random Observations

  • There is sugar in damn near everything
  • If it’s not sugar, it’s corn or soy. Did you know that most cans of “tuna in water” in the regular grocery stores are actually “tuna in vegetable broth that probably has soy in it”?
  • I’m pretty sure I heard angels sing when I found the sugar-free, nitrite free, whatever whatever free bacon at Whole Paycheck
  • This can get expensive, real quick, if you let it
  • Some of those sauces lasted more than a week, or close to two, and they were worth every ounce of effort
  • I like making our own almond milk, and will probably keep that up

Weights and Measures
My initial inspiration for wanting to do this was, admittedly, weight-related. I could feel my already-upsized clothes getting tighter, I was carrying more fat than I’d ever had on my frame before, and with the wedding coming up, I started to panic a little. Going to the gym and eating relatively healthy wasn’t making a dent, and I could tell the food consumption was going to get worse before it got better, unless we did something “drastic.”

For about 3 of the 4.2 weeks of this program, I obsessed about getting on the scale. Like, I thought about it more than I ever had when I was allowed to weigh myself. As soon as I could tell I’d lost a few pounds, I wanted to know how many, and I wasn’t going to rest or relax until I knew. I managed to overcome those urges, just like the urge to shove a Twix in my face, but man. Those sucked.

They sucked mostly because more than anything I know this: my weight does not equal my value as a human being. My size is not my soul. I would never be as harsh a critic on others as I am on myself when it comes to the condition of my body, and the last 30 days put a huge spotlight on that internalized obsession/unkindness. Yes, I want to be healthy, and yes, I want to feel good about myself, but focusing on the scale is sure as hell not the way to do that.

And that’s where my last post about comparison came in. I compare my body against those of other people, and have allowed that to determine my worth in my own mind. It’s insane, it’s dangerous, and it’s completely unfounded and unnecessary. If I’m going to judge anyone – including and especially myself – may it always and only be on the content of character.

Will I weigh myself tomorrow? Probably. Am I going to allow that obsession to guide my behaviors, moving forward? Not if I can help it. There are much better benchmarks of success, if what I want is to be stronger, healthier, smarter, happier…

So… yeah. That’s my Whole30 experience in a nutshell. I’d absolutely do it again, even after 2+ weeks of a tender butt and near-desperate need for a bathroom every morning. In fact, I intend to eat like this as much as possible, moving forward. If I find that we’re deviating too far from the new norm, we’ll hop back on the wagon for another round.

In the meantime… tomorrow morning, you better believe I am putting some damn coconut palm sugar in my coffee, and there’s a lovely glass of wine out there with my name on it.

The Joy Thief Club

There have been a few “motivational” quotes rolling around in my head lately. I call them that for lack of a better word, but they’re certainly quotes that – fairly succinctly – serve as reminders of the way I like to live life (when I remember).

The first, I’ve written about before: “How we spend our days is, in fact, how we spend our lives.” by Annie Dillard. It reminds me to choose wisely in how I spend my moments, and to evaluate how I’m engaging with the world. When I look back on my life, I don’t ever want to feel as though I wasted precious time.

The second, also one I’ve written about but that keeps cropping up: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” This is attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, but after some googling, it appears there is some disagreement about that. Whatever the case and whatever the source… it couldn’t be more pertinent for me right now.

We think about it a lot in the negative sense… you know, comparing yourself to others and falling short? I compare myself against my siblings sometimes, and can feel like a failure because of it. I don’t make nearly as much money as they do. I haven’t found/chosen a lifelong career and don’t even know that I’ve got much in the way of direction. They’re more mature and… I don’t know, polished? They’re all healthier/thinner than I am (which, that whole “thinner” thing is a crock; your worth has no connection to your size – more to come on that ongoing revelation)… you get the idea. And then there’s the rest of the world. Anywhere you look, it’s possible to compare yourself against others and fall short.

Then there’s the comparison against self piece… like, I get why comparing yourself today against the person you were a month ago might be beneficial if you’re trying to measure progress in something, like health & wellness, fitness, or even educational pursuits. But even that can take a negative turn, if you focus too long on comparing yourself to a previous you, maybe one where you were more successful, in better shape, younger, actually able to conceive/bare children. Or even comparing yourself against a non-existent you, the version of you that you envisioned for yourself, the one that never came to fruition… instead of just being present with (and loving) yourself today, as you are.

And then, there’s the opposite side of the comparison against others coin: being BETTER than. You know, feeling like you’re better than someone else, for whatever reason. You’re smarter, you’re better looking, you’re funnier, you’re more successful, you’re more willing to be part of a team, better at learning things, you work harder than others to open your mind and be a better person…

The funny part is, as I sit here and write this, there’s a voice in the back of my head saying, “Well yeah, but…” and it feels like “not all white people!” when what I should really be doing is listening and learning. Yeah, some people ARE terrible, sure. I could say I’m better than a child abuser because I don’t abuse children, and I think pretty much everyone would agree.  But anytime my brain tries to argue with me and gets defensive, I know I’m striking a chord worth digging into.

My recent struggle with this “better than” comparison is feeling like I’m a better person than someone who, say, supported Donald Trump for president. And what “better” looks like is anything from kinder, to more empathetic, to better educated, to more capable of critical thought, to a better grasp on reality…

It sounds pretty terrible when I say that out loud. But how can we ever change if we aren’t willing to get honest about it? Kind of like white privilege and supremacy; if I’m not willing and able to accept hard truths and own stuff, unpack and inspect my own crap, I’m sure as hell never going to be able or willing to hear anything else, much less effect some change. It’s why I follow a lot of POC on Twitter; so I can learn, and do the work to hear, see, and understand as best I can.

But yeah. As soon as I start thinking I’m better than someone else – for any reason – it puts us on an uneven playing field in my own mind, rendering the possibility for civil discourse highly unlikely. And chances are, that person is going to pick up on the judgement I’ve already conjured, especially since I’m not very good at hiding how I feel (like, I’m REAL terrible with it). That judgement is going to come off as condescension, and I don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing that will shut me down to someone else, it’s them being condescending. (Passive-aggressive is a very close second.)

If there’s someone out there I love who supports Trump and happens to think his being in office is good for the country and everyone in it, me deciding I’m obviously a better human and a more evolved a thinker than they are is not going to solve or change anything. Right?  I don’t pretend to believe for one second that I could change anyone’s mind or force them to believe anything other than whatever conclusions and life views at which they’ve already arrived. But that doesn’t mean I can’t support and participate in the work being done towards what I believe to be right, and just, and true.Or, you know, just work to combat the damage that I believe is being done, without judging the people who are actively supporting it.

So why make that comparison in the first place? Why put yourself up against someone else at all, whether to be better or worse? Why not try to take the judgement and comparison out of all of this, on the off chance it opens up some space for dialogue?

Like, if I remove the self-inflicted comparisons between myself and my siblings, suddenly I have a lot more joy in being who I am, as well as celebrating who they are – their successes, their drive, their lives.

And if I stop comparing myself against who I thought I’d be at this age, or who I was 10, 20, or 30 years ago, or even who I was a month ago, then there’s a lot of room not only for joy, but for acceptance, and growth – inside and out. You limit yourself when you’ve already defined and confined yourself with comparisons.

While I struggle with comparisons of self, and negative comparisons against others, I think it’s the “better than” comparisons I am working to be most wary of. Otherwise it’s a surefire way to thieve the joy right out of life.

Good at goodbyes.

My parents divorced when I was six. I was the youngest of three kids, and at the time, I felt like everyone’s favorite. Certainly my father’s, and I was doted on – as much as one can be – by my older siblings.  When the separation occurred, I was given over to my mother, and my dad took the two older kids with him to another state and then, for a time, another country.

At that young of an age, I had to get good at goodbye. It was too painful, otherwise, and what I learned was to just shut people out so it didn’t hurt as much.

My mom and I moved a lot when I was growing up. I changed schools several times. My siblings came to visit now and then. My dad remarried and had another kid so I was no longer the youngest or the focus. I occasionally went to see them, but the trips were few and far between.

All of these things kept me good at goodbyes. I got good at moving and not getting attached to any one location. At last count, I’ve lived in over 32 homes in 44 years. I can pack like no one’s business. I got good at disconnecting from friendships, or just not having any real close ones to begin with. I went to two elementary schools, one middle, and four high schools (two in GA, two in TN), so I got good at saying goodbye to familiarity, to the potential for building relationships, to stability.

Aside from two notable exceptions in Portland and Minneapolis, I – perhaps subconsciously/intentionally – dated a lot of less than stellar men (UNDERSTATEMENT), because it was easier when it (inevitably) ended, regardless of who did the ending.

As an adult, I continued to move from apartment to apartment, city to city, state to state, because I either didn’t know how to stay put or I didn’t want to, out of fear of getting too close. Easier to just say goodbye and go before the stakes got too high. The vast majority of my closest friends live in other states; it’s not by design, necessarily, but it makes it a whole lot easier to chalk up the lack of close contact to distance, rather than anything I might have going on inside, you know?

Every year or so into a new job, I start getting the itch to move on to something else. A minor frustration, an irritant of some kind, spurring me on til I have myself convinced that there must be better somewhere else, something MORE: more money, more responsibility, more challenge… I don’t ever really know, but it’s always been easy to just pack up and go, because “screw this place anyway.”

All of these things, all of this life, helped make me who I am: someone good at goodbyes.

Until now, that is.

Over the last year and a month, I’ve had to say goodbye (or, “so long for now”) to C. a lot, because he travels for work. At first, it was a bit of a relief, because I’d gotten so damn good at being alone, I wasn’t sure how to handle someone else’s steady presence. But that changed. Somewhere along the way I let him all the way in, and now, when he leaves, I’m a little out of sorts for a time, not really sure what to do, a little awkward in my movements to stay busy and keep living while he’s gone. I think that means I miss him; it’s a new thing, to let myself miss someone and to be affected by their absence. To admit that I miss him and like life a whole lot better when he’s home. All the more reason I’m so excited to call this man my husband, come September.

For the last year and a half, I’ve worked at a place where I’m fully connected to the people with whom I work. They’re good people, doing good work, and it’s a great opportunity to build my own knowledge and experience. I’ve been given a lot of leeway, grace, and room to grow, I basically wrote my own job description, and I get to take that in some pretty great directions. So when presented with a really difficult financial situation, one in which I’ve had to consider finding a different job in the for-profit sector in order to comfortably pay the bills without C. having to stay out on the road… it’s not an easy task. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I don’t actually want to leave. I want to figure out how to make it work so I can stay.

My thoughts keep returning back to friendships, and I have to admit that I’ve just never been very good at them. At least, I don’t feel like I have. A life of goodbyes and disconnections keeping everyone at arm’s length. There’s something inside that gnaws at me, though; some sort of preconceived notion of what friendship is supposed to look like, telling me I fail on the regular. I suck at reaching out, suck at making plans, suck at making myself vulnerable enough to risk… whatever it is I think I risk by reaching out. Sometimes I think I want it too much, and sometimes I think I’m just fine. I sit at home in my pajamas instead of making plans; I keep myself entertained and sure it’s good enough. I think about people a lot and wonder how they are, but then forget to actually ASK them. I’m so happy spending time with C. when he’s home that it’s sometimes a challenge to force myself to reach out and hang with other people… but I’m always really happy when we do. I don’t actually know that I’m as terrible at it as I think I am; certainly, I compare my insides to other peoples’ outsides, and assume they’re all doing things together all the time and I’m not. But it feels like one of the last hurdles of this whole deal, and I guess it’s gonna roll around in my brain a while until I figure out what’s next.

It’s a nice realization, though, that I’m no longer all that good at goodbyes. Connection is a hell of a complicated, important, wonderful thing.

Weddings are weird.

This entire post promises to be at least a little bit painful for me to even admit, much less dig into, but if I’ve learned nothing else in life, it’s that I fare much better when I dump all my proverbial junk out on the carpet, inspect it, figure it out, and move along with a newfound understanding of self. So with that caveat emptor…

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’d never been one to sit around and daydream about the day I got married. The only thing I’d decided at some point was that I’d wear a red wedding dress, but other than that, I had no clue about any of it. At some point, I even gave up that it might ever happen, and I was okay with that. Couldn’t picture it, didn’t matter.

But then real love happened, and with it, a desire to spend the rest of my life with him. Yay! And this is important, because it’s the ultimate desirable outcome of this whole thing. Right? The goal isn’t to see how big, fancy, elaborate, or whatever of a wedding you can throw, although to some it might be, and otherwise it may come a close second. But ideally, the goal is for two people who love each other to get/be married. That’s it.

One weird part is that marriage is a government-managed process. (Other weird parts: all of the traditions involved, and I get that it’s a cultural thing, but questioning WHY certain things are considered integral to a wedding has led me down some strange paths… but I digress.) Somehow, we’ve found ourselves in a place… or shall I say we PUT ourselves in a place where the US Government gets to decide which unions are legal/valid and which aren’t. Don’t even get me started about separation of church and state, which is what it SHOULD come down to, but I digress. Anyway, government with a side of religion, if you’re into that sort of thing; these are what mandate an official marriage in the US.

Seems simple enough. You sign papers, you say some words, you invite friends and family and maybe the church into your union, and off you go. Right?

ENTER EXPECTATIONS, DAYDREAMS, ADVERTISING, AND THE WEDDING INDUSTRY.

Did you know that the average Nashville wedding costs $40,000? FORTY THOUSAND DOLLARS. That’s what I make in a year. Spending $40K for one day out of your life is just completely unreasonable for someone in my financial bracket (can you really call it a bracket? It’s more like a puddle, or a smear or something.). Why in the hell are people okay with spending that much money for a few hours of their life, when the outcome is what matters most? It’s also really, really easy to do, apparently:

VENUES
I started looking at venues around town for a wedding and reception. I kinda wanted something rustic (oh god, there’s that buzz word that these days means EXPENSIVE, which is the complete opposite of actual rustic). Or something dark and dramatic. Or something with amazing nightscape views. I wanted exposed brick, wood beams, hardwood or concrete floors, flowing sheers, candle light ceremony… seems simple enough, right? Something like one of these (or any of these: http://www.brideswithoutborders.com/inspiration/2014-destination-wedding-trend-4-lanterns-lights):

candlelight candlelight2 candlelight3 unionhill unionhill2

DRESSES
And I started looking at dresses. I found a few pretty good options that were kind of close to what I wanted, although not 100%:

reddress1 reddress2

I did eventually find this one, which is damn near exactly what I was after, except 1) it’s not available anymore, and 2) when it was available, it was $15,000 (thanks a lot, Marchesa). I won’t even pretend that it’s viable, but it sure is pretty. *sigh* So I landed on the idea that I might commission a dress from someone somewhere to get as close to it as possible. Maybe start with one of the above and alter it accordingly to resemble the one below.

reddress3

FOOD and DRINK
And then I started thinking about food. I love food. A LOT. And while I’m a huge fan of things like tacos, BBQ, or other “less expensive” foods, I want fancy foods and drinks. If the day is supposed to be memorable, I want the details to include things that are important to me/us. Right? Quality food is one of those things. I mean things like Korean short ribs, charcuterie plates, lovely wines and champagnes and beer and cocktails… The most extravagant dinner you’ve ever had, with unparalleled wine pairings and perfect confections: I wanted THAT.

GUESTS
I wanted everyone I care about, anyone I’ve ever been close to, to attend. I wanted a huge party filled with laughter, love, dancing, and celebration. The invite list would have easily been over 300 people, and even if just 100 of them came, it would be worth it. Our love is worthy of celebration with everyone we know; we’d revel for hours on end, and everyone would feel like they were part of the greatest love story they’ve ever known.

ET CETERAS
And then there’s all the rest. Photographer. Hair. Makeup. Decorations. Flowers. Music/entertainment. A personalized website, replete with awesome photos and skilled web design. I daydreamed about our first dance and all the music I’d want as a backdrop. I wanted sheers and candles and fire and bare trees and incense. I’d want oversized floral decorations everywhere, the smell intoxicating to anyone within a 50 foot radius. I wanted a movie short to commemorate the event and our adventures. I imagined me in my red dress, C in his suit, doing a dramatic and dark styled photo shoot somewhere on the Oregon coast for our wedding photos. Made up like Dovima, 3 sizes smaller and in the best shape of my life, I’d be the Little Red Riding Hood to his Big Bad Wolf, and the images would be AMAZING…

ENTER: Reality.

And with it… shame, guilt, confusion, insecurity, and a whole host of other weird feelings that have absolutely nothing to do with getting married to your favorite person in the whole world. 

When we had the very important and necessary conversation about budget and what we can reasonably afford, it essentially meant I could choose one of the above options, if I went full boar with it the way I’d envisioned. Otherwise, some things were going to have to adjust or give, and we’d need to determine what it is that truly matters and warrants spending the money.

So I started thinking about it. Who should I invite? Whose feelings would be hurt if I didn’t invite them? Who, in other words, is expendable on this important day? Who should I ask to be in the wedding party? Should I even have a wedding party? Isn’t it too stressful for people to do that, and who would I ask between my good friends and my family?  And that turned into: who would actually want to come in the first place? How good of a friend have I been to anyone, much less these folks? I mean, my family is obligated to show up, but what friends would want to be there? Maybe we should just elope, but then, I want the people I care about to be there, so we should probably have it local. Certainly if I ask people to travel, then I have to make it worth their while, so the venue HAS to be cool, and the food HAS to be good, and there HAS to be plenty of entertainment other than the primary purpose. The photos have to be good, the honeymoon has to be memorable, and I have to lose weight and get in shape so I can be as pretty as I imagine myself to be on my wedding day.

And all of THAT turned into me feeling like a failure because I don’t make enough money to have all the things I want. I can’t afford a top quality photographer ($1,000 with photos) or a makeup artist and hair designer (another $1,000), I can’t afford a venue that costs $5,000 just to rent before you start thinking about food and beverages and decor and entertainment (add another $5-10K), and I can’t afford the dream honeymoon trip. I don’t make enough money to be able to just throw money at the “problem” of getting the wedding and reception I want without having to expend a ton of my own effort (which I’m also not super keen on because I want it to be stress-free for anyone and everyone who isn’t getting paid to stress it), and I’m not willing to put us in debt for it, either. I resent that things cost as much as they do when a wedding is involved, I hate that I got sucked into the belief that any of this needs to happen for me to be happy or enjoy the day, and, most importantly, I hate that I have such weird money issues, wanting things that I can’t afford and feeling some kind of weird entitlement to them, so much so that I get bummed when I can’t have them.

The big thing here, and what appears to be the bottom line, is that for some reason I feel like I’m not ENOUGH. Not good enough without losing weight, not important enough to make people want to travel to attend a huge event in my life without bribing them with the promise of a good time, not a good enough friend to anyone to feel safe that an invite would be accepted, not a good enough partner and not confident enough with my place in C’s life to not feel threatened by the ghosts of his marriage past… this shit is complicated.

At least, I let it get that way.

The truth is, it’s incredibly simple. There is nothing wrong with wanting the experience to be memorable, and I need to quit judging myself for wanting that. There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel special; I just need to readjust my expectations around where that feeling legitimately comes from. It doesn’t come from people loving the food, or thinking the space is neat and the decorations are lovely. What really matters is bringing together the people who matter to me/us, all of us celebrating the fact that two pretty great humans found each other and have a love as big and bright as the sun.

Gratitude and giving thanks, by way of a life’s perspective.

2016… man. I don’t think anyone I know would disagree that this has been a really hard year, for a lot of people, and a lot of reasons. I’m tempted to use much stronger language and get real specific, but I think John Oliver and his team pretty well covered it. And it’s not over yet. I had another post in the works as a continuation of that last one about trust and truth, but I realized this morning that I needed to interrupt the cycle of fear and despair about the state of our nation and humanity, and instead just take a moment to find some gratitude. Shine a positive light on things, even for just a moment, so as not to get completely lost in the morass.

This time last year, I left a job that, for many reasons, was not a good fit and was wearing me down and out. My first day at my current job was the week of Thanksgiving, and there isn’t a day that goes by where I’m not reminded of what it used to be like, and how fortunate I feel to work where I do. To have made that change, to brave the unknown for a chance at real fulfillment. There are hard days, certainly, but the level of support and encouragement and challenge I feel there is really special.

This time last year, I’d severed all ties to the pathological liar I’d dated, and had settled into something of a peaceful surrender to the very real possibility I might never find a real partner to spend life with. I was busy with school, had started a new job, and my life was full enough that it didn’t scare or sadden me that much; it seemed like a logical conclusion, based on past experience… and then, on February 9th of this year, everything changed when C. showed up for our first date. I think I knew, that night, but certainly after having four dates in three days, it became readily apparent there was something special to – and with – him. And now, to finally be living what I always thought love looked like but never really knew… my heart is full to overflowing, every day. He makes partnership easy; I never feel unheard, unseen, or unloved, never doubt my place in his life, and never feel like the “work” of being in a relationship is anything other than easy and worth it, because it means we’ll be closer because of it.

This time 18 years ago, I was sleeping in the parks and on the streets of San Francisco: strung out, full of shame, and tired. I remember one morning, waking up to the sound of a father and daughter walking through Buena Vista park where I’d been sleeping. I heard the daughter ask her dad why there were people sleeping in the park, and the father making some disparaging remark about us being losers and needing to get jobs, and that maybe they should bring us some coffee or something so we’d have the motivation to get up and work. They laughed and kept walking, leaving their lack of empathy and laughter at my expense behind for me to pile on top of my own already suffocating self-loathing.

A few days later, on Thanksgiving day that year, I knew my sister, her (now) husband, and several family friends were just across the Bay having dinner, and there was a place at the table for me if I wanted it. I was too ashamed, though, and felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. In all honesty, I don’t know that I was completely done with drugs, either, and going to their house would have meant giving everything up. “Everything” = no home, no money, no job, no self worth… but the escape from feeling that drugs provided was enough to convince me it was better, somehow.

So that day, instead of humbling myself to be with family, my junkie pride took me to the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park. There was a Mexican family there, serving Thanksgiving dinner to the homeless. They made the food themselves, and made enough of it to serve maybe 50 to 100 people. They didn’t speak English, but they didn’t need to; their kind faces and their actions told the story of their hearts. I remember sitting there, eating in the rain, and something about that day finally drove home the point that I could – and should – do better. That there was so much more to life, and there was a whole lot more I wanted for mine. And that it might actually be possible.

I can’t help but equate the kindness shown by that family to the light that finally started to flicker in my own heart, shining just bright enough to light the way out. And, in comparison, the denigration shown by that father and daughter serving only to drive me further into the hole I was already in. The former was in keeping with who and where I wanted to be, and it’s a torch I’ve carried with me ever since. So, every year at Thanksgiving, I’m reminded of where I’ve been, and what a gift it is to be where I am now. Especially today.

I’ve been given the gift of home, which is what I’d been looking for all along.

Trust and truth.

Who do you trust to tell you the truth? Assuming you want to know and hear the truth, I mean. How do you know the truth when you hear it? What is “truth,” anyway? I guess that’s a better place to start. You kind of have to agree on what truth is before you can have a conversation about it… so I looked it up. According to Merriam-Webster

Simple Definition of TRUTH
the truth : the real facts about something : the things that are true
: the quality or state of being true
: a statement or idea that is true or accepted as true

And then to take it one step further… one of the definitions of TRUE:

a (1) :  being in accordance with the actual state of affairs <true description> (2) :  conformable to an essential reality (3) :  fully realized or fulfilled <dreams come true>b :  ideal, essential c :  being that which is the case rather than what is manifest or assumed <the truedimension of the problem>d :  consistent <true to character>

So, for the sake of this post, when I say “the truth,” what I mean is a factual account, whether of an occurrence, that person’s feelings for you… you get the idea. What really happened, how they really think or feel about you (at that moment, since those things change and are way more fluid than an event or occurrence), stuff like that.

Oh, and (what I think is) an important reminder/clarification: Opinions are not facts, and feelings are not evidence. 

Back to the original questions. Those people you trust… why do you trust them to tell you the truth? Why do you trust them at all?

I started thinking about this after the events of the last week and a few days (ahemELECTIONahem). Temperatures are running so high, everyone is so sure they’re espousing truths and condemning the liars – you know, basically anyone who disagrees – that I had to stop and evaluate some things. Like, why do people believe what they believe?

 

I just watched a really good video about how we decide what to believe. He talks about the four things that go into testing/examining a claim being made: intuition (gut feeling); authority (relying on credibility of source); logic (systematic reasoning); and evidence (verifiable information). What’s interesting to me is that only one of those four things involves actual facts; the other three are basically dependent upon you, your brain, your feelings, and your own past experiences.

How reliable are your gut feelings? Where do they come from, and what life experience colors your perception there? Are you aware of the emotional and mental lenses in place when you’re evaluating a claim?

Why are certain sources more credible to you than others? Why does one person trust Fox News implicitly, while another person places their confidence in PBS?

Is logic inherent in human beings, or is it learned? Is what’s logical to you, also logical to everyone else? Or is that a personal thing based on experience again? I mean, I know there have been many times when something I did – a project I developed, a route I took to get somewhere, the order instilled in my closet by hanging things in a certain way – seemed completely logical to me, but it may very well make no sense to anyone else.

So, then we’re left with evidence. Verifiable information. On the surface, this seems straightforward (ZOMG FACTS), but then, I guess we have to lend credence to the fact that if there are two witnesses to the same event, what they’d each report back could very well be completely opposite from the other depending on their personal spin. So, then, does evidence mean what we see with our own eyes? How can we be sure we’re witnessing something and evaluating it without prejudice or bias?

I’m not getting too far into that here, though, because what I think happens is that most people are relying on gut feelings and what they deem to be credible sources in order to decide what they believe. Whether it’s due to information overload, a lack of time for conducting their own research, a lack of interest, a lack of ability (or desire) to do the work themselves, and instead rely on their feelings, and they rely on people who strike them as trustworthy to tell them what’s true and what’s real. People are reposting things online without verifying validity, and it’s all because of that bastard called confirmation bias. There is SO MUCH OUT THERE… how in the hell do wade through it all to find what’s real, and what’s true?

You see the problem here. And this isn’t a partisan statement, either; everyone is guilty of it, myself included. I have decided which side I’m on, I’ve decided what’s right and wrong, I’ve decided what and who I believe. And not because I’ve done a ton of research and have deemed these sources the most credible, either. I’ve decided what to believe based on my own gut feelings, based on who I’ve deemed credible sources, and based on my own logical conclusions resulting from mild to moderate critical thinking skills.

Which, by the way, isn’t a skill we’re born with; it’s something that has to be taught, and encouraged, and nurtured, and maintained. Critical thought allows you to evaluate effectively, and ideally, get your feelings out of the way to land in a justifiable and reasonable place.

I’ve been trying to make sense of the huge disparity in beliefs in our country. The division is palpable, and the difference between someone like me and someone who heartily embraces DJT and his proposed band of merry bigots feels enormous and overwhelming. I would even go so far as to say, insurmountable (and I am totally okay with that).

Everyone has ideas about why we’re divided and what would fix it, but in my opinion, there’s no fixing it. There’s managing it, there’s overcoming it, there’s governing people into acting right whether they want to or not… but the division, to me, reveals some distinct groups: people who only care about themselves; people who care about others; and people who just don’t care at all. There are people who approach life from a place of love, community, and equity; and there are people who approach life from a place of hatred, fear, and division.

These qualities, these temperaments, these personality types… they drive how you engage with the world. Who knows how we would turn out, what personality traits and world beliefs would come about without the influence of those around us? Are humans born good? Or are we born hating and then hopefully have it loved/nurtured out of us? Or, conversely, are we born loving, and have that abused out of us emotionally, mentally, physically?

I think most of this is taught. Human beings are blank slates when they’re born.  We teach them to love, to respect, to embrace the world and everyone in it… or we teach them to fear, to fight, to find fault in those around them, to compare and to be “better than” instead of “equal.” Or, to deem anyone different as an “other” and certainly “less than.”

And so I guess I’m coming out of this long, rambling train of thought with two things:

  1. A reminder to do better with my own fact-finding and evidence collection with respect to my own beliefs. I’ve got a pretty solid gut reaction, my logic could use a little work, I’m sure, and those credible sources? More of those, please.
  2. A reminder that there’s a lot that goes into what a person believes, and why they believe it, and I would do well to remember that.

It doesn’t mean I’ll ever understand, nor does it mean I won’t challenge what I believe to be wrong, but I guess I’m hoping this will help ME from inserting some of that “better than/worse than/less than” language in my head. Or, at least, keep from inserting it into conversation.

Remember, kids: If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.