How far will you go?

To avoid having a difficult conversation, I mean? To what lengths will you go, just so you don’t have to speak up for yourself, draw lines in the sand, enforce your boundaries… to request (nay, demand) what is your due?

What will you put up with? What behaviors will you tolerate? What will you justify, in the form of another person’s poor choices or actions, just so you don’t have to have that difficult conversation with them? Or, maybe, just so you don’t have to admit to yourself that you’re settling? That you’re compromising yourself for the sake of “going along to get along?”

Will you quit a job, rather than calling out workplace toxicity or abuse? Rather than confronting an unfair pay structure? Will you move, rather than having a conversation with that neighbor who plays their music too loud, without ever giving them the opportunity to make it right? Would you stay in a relationship with someone damaging, rather than standing up for – HONORING – your needs, because it’s easier than the devastating loneliness you imagine on the other side? Do you downplay those deep-down voices as silly daydreams, rather than the gut instinct you were never taught to trust?

Do you listen to the people who say you’re too demanding? Your expectations are too high? You’re a traitor to the cause if you expect compensation commensurate with your worth? Do you trust the partner who tries to keep you still by telling you you’ll never do better? Do you believe the lies they tell you, because it’s easier than challenging all you’ve ever known from the world, even though there’s a bluebird in your heart that sings sometimes, that knows better?

Do you stay in undesirable situations – work, play, love, home – out of fear of being viewed as flighty? Unreliable? Unstable? Do you place the value of outside perspective higher than that of your own intuition? Or do you run, instead of staying in those situations and doing the work to make them right? Is it worth the work? Where do you draw the line between standing up for yourself and giving in? When does it turn from mutual compromise, to compromise of self?

Have you decided it’s easier to struggle to make ends meet, instead of having the scary conversation with a boss about a raise? Do people who know you guilt you into getting what they want? And do you let them, because it’s easier than having the fight? Do you let fear get in the way of saying no?

Were you ever taught to lobby on your own behalf? Did you grow up with people acting as your champions, or are you having to learn it on your own? Does it feel like work, and does that sometimes inform how you engage with the world? Does it exhaust and upset you sometimes, feeling like you need a megaphone and a sandwich board sign to announce to the world what you will (and will not) tolerate, what you do (and don’t) deserve? And does that exhausted upset lower your defenses to where you put up with more than you know you should?

At some point in life, did someone instill in you the belief that you should just take what you’re offered, that to ask for anything else is a selfish insult? Did someone teach you that it’s better to let others have what they want, that it’ll always turn out okay in the end? That you have to suffer for your art? Or suffer for truth? Or just… suffer?

How far will you bend over backwards to please other people? Until your back breaks? At the first sign of discomfort? Or somewhere in between?

How far will you go to avoid standing up for yourself? How far, to avoid acknowledging your own value and demanding you be treated accordingly? How long will you let other people tell you who you are, and what you’re worth?

And then I guess my next question is… are you okay with that?

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.

Strike that! Reverse it. Thank you.

My family has a few Thanksgiving traditions, one of which is that we go around the table and name one thing for which we’re grateful. The catch: it can’t be anything easy or obvious, so no saying things like family, friends, or health. This year, everyone had great things to say, but my personal favorite was this: my niece expressed her gratitude for having it in her to recognize drama and toxic behavior, and then having the accompanying willingness (and wisdom!) to simply detach and remove herself from the toxic/dramatic person or situation.

Honestly. She’s 15, and already way smarter that a lot of adults I know (myself included).

Along with being in constant awe of that kid, her gratitude item got me thinking. And if you know me at all, then you know, 1) I pretty much exist on brain/thinking overdrive, and 2) anything pertaining to gratitude is my jam. If there’s a way to find the bright/positive side, I’ll find it; if there’s a way to view things from a grateful perspective, I’ll get there. Uh, eventually. It’s what keeps me (mostly) sane, tolerable to others, and living a much fuller, happier life than in years past.

Anyway. I realized that while there are plenty of obvious things for which to be grateful, there are also a whole lot of ways I’ve been finding the bright side lately. The good to counteract the bad, I suppose. Although… “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” per our dear old William Shakespeare. Whatever the case, here’s a partial list of specifics:

  • I’m grateful to be so busy at the new job that I hardly have time to eat lunch; I still get out of there by 4pm, and actually feel like I’ve been useful;
  • Related: I’m grateful to be so revved by the new gig that I’m having crazy dreams and restless nights, because that tells me all the overload is getting processed and that I’m being challenged;
  • Also related: I’m grateful for making mistakes, because it means I’m doing and trying and failing but getting right back up and trying again – also, learning how to forgive myself my fallibility (that’s a tough one) and being okay with getting right-sized;
  • Making mistakes also means I can offer up understanding and compassion when other people are going through the new person struggle, too;
  • I’m grateful for all the terrible messages on dating sites, because they make the good ones stand out all the more, and also help bring my interests and intentions into way sharper focus;
  • I’m grateful for the folks who don’t reach out or make an effort, because in the midst of feeling lonely or “apart from,” it helps me prioritize the ones who do reach out, and who DO make an effort – and it reminds me to make that effort, too;
  • I’m grateful for not having cable, because it means I end up watching Criminal Minds reruns and hearing new songs that hit just the right spot (like this one, which is a longtime favorite, or this new one from tonight – his voice reminds me a little bit of Antony & the Johnsons, so here’s one of my favorites there, too); and
  • I’m grateful for not being able to do everything myself, because it means asking for help, and that means letting people in.

I’m currently working on being grateful for that stupid B+ I got in one of my classes because I misunderstood the grading scale, overestimated the power of the extra credit, and despite having good reason, skipped two assignments that were only worth 5 points each but were 10% of my grade. Lesson learned, and this here’s fuel for the A-only fire for next semester.

In the meantime… I’m grateful for a month off. And aaaaaaalllllllll this perspective I’ve got. ❤

Sunday Randoms.

It’s the last day of the SNAP/food stamp challenge for school, and while I am grateful for that for a lot of reasons, I am also reminded that for most people living below the poverty line, or anyone receiving assistance, there is no actual end in sight. I mean, not really. It’s just a different reality, one to which people grow accustomed, or it may also be that they don’t know any different, so there’s no “adjustment” necessary. All I know is, it makes me feel like a privileged a-hole to be so relieved over the temporary nature of this experience. I guess there’s nothing wrong with that, and it should instead be more of an impetus to do whatever I can to help those who find themselves hungry on a regular basis, struggling to afford even the worst kinds of cheap food just to survive.

I was certain I’d have a huge list of foods I was craving, making for a lengthy Saturday Sampler post this week, but instead I found myself having little or no interest in food at all. Mixed blessing, I suppose. That said, for three days straight I thought about these. A lot: Pão de Queijo (Brazilian Cheese Bread).

Many years ago when I was visiting family in Puerto Rico, I remember eating something like this, and fell in love. I mean, how do you not love cheese and bread? A recent visit to a Brazilian steakhouse reignited the love, and here we are. Don’t know if I’ll make them or not, but I’ll sure as heck think about them. Often.

I keep pondering the question, “Who do you want to be?” Not “who do you think you should be” or “who do you think other people want you to be”, but who/what kind of person do I want to be. When I imagine myself interacting with others and the world around me, what is my ideal? Am I kind? Honest? Forthcoming? Brave? Loving? What I’m realizing is that when I am not being the person I want to be, if I’m not being a “good” person, it causes me to worry that other people are thinking the same thing. But when I live in keeping with what’s important to me, what other people think doesn’t seem to matter as much.

For instance… imagine you’re having a conversation with someone, and you’re venting or speaking ill or even just talking about someone else who isn’t in the room. It’s a mutual conversation, both people partaking. I find myself in that situation once in a while (although, not so much lately, thankfully), and even if it’s good-natured or not intended as a slight, I still walk away feeling as though I’ve somehow betrayed the person not in the room, and I find myself worrying that it’s going to get back to them that I said something. That I’ll be portrayed as the bad guy, even if I wasn’t the one to initiate the conversation, and even if it was just an expression of frustration, not character assassination.

So what that tells me is, I would do well to just never engage in conversations like that. Right? Integrity is a hell of a thing. I want to feel good about facing the people in my life and if what I’m saying or doing isn’t something I’d feel okay saying or doing to someone’s face, then I either need to change my behavior, or rethink that person’s presence in my life. It’s unfair and unkind to give someone the false impression of being a trusted, loving friend or lover or family member or whatever if that’s not how you’re actually feeling or behaving.

I’ve also been thinking on anxiety and depression, and how those express themselves in my life. Depression usually looks like not being able to get out of bed or leave the house, the phone weighing 500lbs, and preferring to just hide instead of engaging with the outside world. Anxiety shows up to try and counteract the depression sometimes (SO helpful), and that means constant butterflies and amygdala activation which renders me unable to focus because I’m in fight-flight-freeze mode and can’t break through it (and all the ruminating thoughts that go along with it).

There are things – and people – who trigger it, and I’m still learning how to manage it all, still making judgement calls over what I can reasonably take on vs. what I can’t. I wind up spending a fair amount of time at home doing my own thing as a result, and anything out of the ordinary (like house and kid-sitting this week) can, and usually does, throw me for a loop. Adding graduate school onto the pile and the constant worry about not having enough time, not doing well, etc., keeps me a little bit stuck.

But I don’t want to get stuck and trapped in that. I know that diet and exercise help a lot, as does talking to kind and trusted friends, family, and others. So, there will be more of that, especially as we head into winter and hibernation time.

Also, eleven days back into being on Facebook has me working on figuring out how to get away from it again. I appreciate being able to easily stay connected to friends in other cities and states, and appreciate how it’s used for invitations to local events and festivities. But there’s something that feels not-genuine about it, and I guess part of that is, it’s not reality. Reality is the people you spend time with, or the people you have active relationships with in some way. I suppose FB helps provide a forum for those interactions, and it’s just another tool, but… I don’t know. It doesn’t feel good. And I would do well to pay attention to that. In all areas of life, really.

Final thought: my brother’s kids are amazing young humans. After spending this past week with them, I am reminded yet again how fortunate I am to have the family I do.

Sunday Randoms.

(wherein I unload any and all random stuff accumulating in the brain)

This coming week is my SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps) challenge for school: I’m to live and eat on a $29 food budget for the next seven days. $29 was the average benefit per person per week in TN as of FY2014. Think about that for a minute. $29 for an entire week. How can you eat healthy on that? $29 is the average amount I spend at the butcher every week. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where food is a glorious luxury; I love to cook, love to indulge, love to get fancy with it… and I haven’t had to operate within a strict budget for a long time. All the thoughts, feelings, and reactions that have already cropped up as a result of this challenge are interesting, to say the least. I’ll write more about it throughout the week, I’m sure.

It occurred to me last night that, when you date someone for a year (or close to it) and it ends, the first year after that can be a challenge. You’ve got a whole year ahead of you of being reminded where you were and what you were doing this time last year. That’s the space in which I’m finding myself these days; it’s making for a melancholy autumn, so far.

(Melancholy Autumn is my new band name. Or my new stage name, although that wouldn’t really bode well for an exciting performance, now, would it?)

And then there’s this lovely piece. I don’t know if it’s real or if someone made it up – I’m not sure I need to know, either. It’s just perfect. I met you in the rain on the last day of 1972.