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Look for the Helpers

I didn’t watch Mr. Rogers as a kid. He always kind of gave me the creeps. I had never encountered anybody that was that kind all of the time, and I doubted his sincerity. And now I need to add that to the list of things I should bring up with my therapist. Regardless, as an adult I have come to love and, in times of trial, cling to a quote of his: “Look for the helpers.”

helpers

There will always be helpers. There will always be hope. There will always be a way. I am still at a loss to fully express myself after the election. I sat down to witness history, and I did. Just not the history I had anticipated. I watched as an oft ignored part of our country declared in one loud, red voice that they would not be ignored any longer. That they would not let their way of life go quietly into that good night. They raged, and we all listened in disbelief.

To the rural Americans who feel disenfranchised because their America has been slipping away from them, I am sorry. I am sorry that we didn’t listen, that we didn’t care. I am sorry that we didn’t hear your cries and that even though everyone says you’re privileged you don’t feel that way living at the poverty line. I am sorry that it has come to this, and I hope that in the years to come your situation will improve. I truly do. We are listening now.

However, we need you to listen too. As evidenced by how close this election was, we are a country divided. A deep chasm exists separating one side from the other and because of that chasm neither side can hear the hopes, dreams, fears and wants from the other. And if we can’t hear each other, we have no hope of understanding or empathizing with each other. This is a problem. This country is big enough for all of us to exist together, but only if we can understand each other. The only way for that to happen is to truly listen and appreciate where the opposite side is coming from.

get-ahaed

I hold strongly to the belief that you don’t have to push others down in order to rise yourself, which is in direct conflict to the rhetoric of our new president. I respect the decision of our country to elect him, but I do not respect him or his hateful disparagements and I will not sit quietly by while they are said. I will not sit quietly by and watch rights being taken away from American citizens simply because they are different. There is room for all of us, and we can all rise together if we are willing to listen and try. And while we learn to do that, we need to have each other’s backs.

 

To the LGBTQ+ communities – I stand with you, I am your advocate.

To the people of color in this nation – I stand with you, I am your advocate.

To the women who seek equality and autonomy of their bodies – I am one of you, I am your advocate.

To the non-Christian religious communities – I stand with you, I am your advocate.

 

Now is the time for tolerance and acceptance. Now is the time for love. Now is the time for the helpers.

candle

 

This is a good resource talking about what to do if you witness or experience racism specifically, but the information can be expanded to other scenarios as well.

This is a good strategy to use if you witness Islamaphobic harassment. Again the technique can be used in other scenarios as well.

If you are LGBTQ and need a friendly forum to express your concerns or you need someone to talk to click here for an established community who are there to help.

If you feel that your rights are being infringed upon, please check out the ACLU.

If it all feels like too much and you are considering suicide, please now that you matter, and call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline for help – 1-800-273-8255.

On a Scale of 10 . . . I’m at 2-3

I am not what you would call an overly empathetic person. I’m not a narcissist or sociopath or anything, I do have some empathy, but it is nowhere near my top ten strongest skills. Because of this, I am never the one that people come to for advice on the little things, or if they just need to whine. Chances are, I’ll just tell ‘em to “Suck it up camper,” or look at them with a blank stare until they assume I’ve fallen into a coma and walk away. It is truly amazing how long some people will continue talking once you’ve adopted this look.

internally-screaming

It’s not that I’m intentionally trying to be rude, I do try to pay attention and care. It’s just that more often than not, I lack the capacity to give a shit, and there is nothing more disingenuous than someone trying to care about something that they don’t. There is a silver lining to this though, I’m the one that people come to when there is a major decision that needs to be made. When they know that they’re going to get emotional talking about it, and need an unemotional response. I’m that person, because I can sit and watch the person in front of me getting really upset about something and still tell them without hesitation that they fucked up and here’s what they need to do to fix it. Or that the situation is fucked up, that sucks, here’s what you need to do to fix it. I have taken friends, coworkers and strangers alike from brink-of-hysteria to focused-with-a-plan. This is what I do with my lack of empathy.

This used to really worry me, and I even brought it up with my therapist thinking that something was really wrong with me. She assured me that I had plenty of things wrong with me, but this wasn’t one of them. In fact, this was quite possibly the coping mechanism that allowed me to survive a childhood with a disabled and abusive mother. However, if I really was concerned, a sure fire way to increase one’s ability to empathize was to read fiction and memoirs. What????? Apparently when reading, you are so immersed in another world that you become accustomed to viewing and feeling things as someone else, which makes you able to see other people’s perspectives in real life, and therefore more empathetic. Or something to that effect.

empathy

As I had been reading fiction for years, and it clearly hadn’t helped, I decided that wasn’t the way to go. I have also read a lot of nonfiction history about people and events. While this has definitely made me more liberal, it hasn’t made me more empathetic. Seriously, it’s crazy, the more I study history the more liberal I become. In all of the history that I read, it is the people who are willing to look beyond what is traditional, the people who are willing to fight for the benefit of others, and the people who work the hardest to bring others along with them as they succeed that I admire most. The more I read the less I have time/energy/patience for people who are intolerant and work to subjugate people who are different. Which I guess is a form of empathy, so studying history has worked some.

All that was left, was memoirs, so I’m giving that a try. So far I’ve read about a boy soldier in Africa, a Jew during WWII, a US Iraqi war Veteran, a black boy growing up in the inner city, a holocaust survivor and I just started one about hillbillies. None of these books have made me lose sleep or in all honesty have really even affected me all that much. Empathy level is still clocking in at a steady two – three on a ten point scale. At this point, I’ve kind of given up on increasing my empathy, and look at is as more of a study of human motivation. In that sense, I am fascinated. Seeing how circumstance and background come together to influence the choices that people make and the behaviors that they exhibit. What from the outside looks completely asinine, actually makes perfect sense when looking at the microcosm of their life. As a writer, I can’t get enough. To play off the old saying, give me everybody’s shoes, I want to take them for a walk.

What started out as an experiment in emotion has turned into an intellectual study of human nature. I love it! Therefore, I am officially open to recommendations of good memoirs. No teenage girls though, I got enough whining to last me a while from Anne Frank. Yep. Holding steady at 2-3.

never-change

 

 

I Need Help with The Help!

I recently finished the book The Help. I definitely enjoyed it, but there’s one thing that bothered me that I can’t get out of my head. It obviously hasn’t colored my entire opinion of the book, but as it keeps coming back to me, I figured I would bring it up and see if anyone else had this issue, or can explain it to me. That being said, if you haven’t read the book and want to, I’d stop reading as the rest of this post will contain spoilers. I haven’t seen the movie, so I cannot attest as to whether this will give away a major part of the movie. I would assume so though. For all those, who have read the book or aren’t concerned about spoilers, please read on!

titanic

The big turning point in the book is the arrest of Yule Mae. If it weren’t for her arrest, chances are pretty high that Skeeter and Aibileen would not have gotten enough interviews to get their book published. So really, her arrest is what makes the rest of the book possible. It is this inciting incident that doesn’t quite sit right for me. It is in fact a legitimate arrest, as Yule Mae admits to stealing a ring from Hilly. However, her reason for stealing the ring doesn’t make sense to me. Yule Mae, has twin boys, and she and her husband have been setting aside money for years in order to send them both to college. They were $75 short. Yule Mae asked Hilly for a loan and was turned down, so Yule Mae stole the ring in the hopes that she could pawn it for the $75.

According to a 1963 Almanac, tuition for a year of college was anywhere from $100 a year at the University of Texas, up to $1520 for a year at Harvard. Tougaloo, the black college located north of Jackson, would have likely fallen at the lower end of the tuition spectrum, if not under $100 a year.  For the sake of our argument, let’s say that tuition is $100. Which means that to send two boys to that college for four years each, would be a total cost of $800. In the letter that Yule Mae writes to Skeeter, she says that her legal fees of $500 ate almost all of the college money. All of this adds up to tuition being right around $100 a year. They were $75 short, which means they had $725, which would be decimated by a $500 legal fee.

tuition

Here’s my problem. I have attended two different colleges and just about everybody I know also attended college. None of us had to pay for the whole thing up front. At my first school, I paid a semester at a time. At my second school, I paid a quarter at a time. Which means, that they had at least three years to save up $75. Now I realize that in 1962 that was a lot of money, especially for a black family being paid less than minimum wage. However, to get to the full amount needed before that last year of college started, they would have to save less than fifty cents a week. That’s a quarter per parent, or less than fifteen cents each if both boys got jobs. For reference, that would be the same as saving $4 per week today. For something that you really want, that’s doable.

That means there was no logical reason for Yule Mae to steal the ring, because she didn’t need that $75 for three years. Why would an educated women take that kind of risk – especially with a woman like Hilly – when she was capable of the same reasoning that I just employed? What am I missing? It can’t be that the boys were going into their senior year of college and they were $75 short, or they wouldn’t have had the money to pay the legal fees. The only way that she would have had the money to pay her legal fees, is if the boys had yet to start school. So why steal the ring? Did you have to pay for all four years up front back then? Did I miss something in the text? Are we supposed to believe that she was really that short-sighted? Or is this just a gaping hole in the plot? Somebody help me, this is driving me nuts!

 

 

A Bias Against Black Men

The first conversation I ever had with a black person, was at my college orientation. I was 18. Black people didn’t live where I lived, they weren’t in the books that I read or the shows that I watched unless they were the thugs getting arrested. With the exception of slaves, Harriet Tubman and MLK Jr, they weren’t part of my education.  For the first 18 years of my life, black people, (specifically men) were like the mountain lions in the forest around me. I’d never met one, but I knew they were there, and they scared me.

Here’s the thing, I don’t remember ever encountering or spending time with an overtly racist person. I can’t recall ever being told by a teacher or parent or friend that black men were dangerous. I didn’t personally know anybody who had been victimized by a black man. So why was I afraid? Where did I learn to fear black men?

I hate to name something as banal as ‘society,’ but what else is there? I learned that fear from watching the nightly news with my parents. I learned that fear listening to talk radio hosts pontificating on the evils of gangs and the black men in them who killed each other and anybody else who happened to get in the way. Now I’m not saying that I am pro-gang and think that gang members and their violence should be talked about in loving terms. Far from it. The thing is, I never heard anybody talk about the black community positively. I learned fear because the black narrative was predominantly, at times exclusively, negative, and I had nothing in my real life to refute it. I had been conditioned to fear black men and think poorly of black people in general. I have no idea about anybody else from that little community, but that was the state in which I left.

naive

Subconsciously, I was aware of the conditioning and never fully bought into in. I’d love to give myself credit and say that I was a socially enlightened being from the get-go and this was a conscious choice, but that would be a bald-faced lie. It’s only in retrospect that I can look back and see that I fought against this conditioning. I had no idea what I was fighting, but I knew that I didn’t want to believe that an entire race of people could be bad or lazy or dangerous or any of the other descriptors used. I was well aware that not all white people were good. Some were great, some were crappy and some fell in between. The same had to exist in the black community. So when I met and talked with my first black person in college, I latched on to her and she became my first college friend. I LOVED that she dispelled ever stereotype that had been planted in my brain as fact. We talked about honor classes and stressed out over grades. When she talked about her dad, I heard, for probably the first time, about a successful and thriving black man.

That summer I worked for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival where I met and worked closely with a black actor. He was incredibly talented, kind, funny, generous with his time, and when the shit hit the fan toward the end of the summer, he had my back. To this day, I have nothing but respect for him and his work and I would work with him again in a heartbeat. I also met a woman who would later become one of the hardest and most demanding professors that I ever had. Yet despite this, she was able to instill a life-long love of Shakespeare in me and I eventually overcame my awe of her enough to become friends. Once more, nothing I was encountering in real life matched the narrative that I had been fed growing up.

Yet when I looked around, the same narrative continued. Only this time, I had something to refute it. Something to hold onto in order to fight the conditioning and keep it from settling back in. Eventually I stopped watching the news, and talk radio was definitely out. I didn’t want to live in that world anymore. So I didn’t, and I naively thought that I had outgrown . . . outwitted . . . out maneuvered . . . I don’t know exactly what to call it, but I felt as though I had moved beyond my biased conditioning. Ta-da! Pat myself on the back.

racist

Jump forward to me living Los Angeles, and it became abundantly clear that I hadn’t. No ta-da, no pat on the back. While Denver certainly had much more diversity than the tiny mountain town where I grew up, it is lily-white in comparison to Los Angeles. I have never seen so many cultures in one place in my entire life. For the record, I love it! I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

However, in this culture shock, albeit a good culture shock, my conditioning resurfaced. If I was out walking my dogs and saw a black man, I would get nervous. It could be the middle of the damn day and the appearance of a black man that I didn’t know would make me nervous. I didn’t even realize it at first. It was so rooted in my subconscious that a black men equaled danger, I didn’t even think about it, I just felt it down to my bones.

It finally hit me that this was occurring, when one of these so-called dangerous black men turned out to be a coworker. I hadn’t recognized him at first. I had prepped my purse in order to fend off his attack, and this made me feel so guilty, I almost apologized to him. I almost apologized for lumping him into the ‘dangerous’ black man category, instead of the ‘friend-of-mine-and-therefore-friendly’ black man category. That was my light bulb moment. My conditioning was still firmly in place. I had merely made exceptions to the rule to accommodate my friends and coworkers. Take away that exception and all that remained was fear.

anger

I don’t like to admit this, in fact this is the first time that I ever have, because it makes me feel like I am a racist. It makes me feel like I’m a huge racist, and I don’t like that feeling. In all honesty, I would get angry that I felt like a racist. Angry at who, I have no idea. I would hazard to guess, that I am not the only one who has gone through these emotions. In fact, I’m pretty sure this is where that whole white-guilt thing comes from. The guilt comes up, we bury down the feelings that caused it, ignore them and reassure ourselves that we are good people. For the next couple of days, we might even go out of our way to be nice to every black person we see, just to reassure ourselves that we aren’t racist. I know I’ve done this. I’ve stayed longer to hold a door open, or let someone cut in line at the grocery store specifically to reassure myself that I was not a racist. But here’s the thing, all of that is pointless because it doesn’t accomplish or change anything. The underlying thought-process that caused the first behavior is still there. And here’s the kicker, I’m not a racist, so why was I spending so much time concerning myself about it? Because I was confusing being a racist, with having a bias. There’s a difference, and yes it can be a fine line, but there is a difference. Since I’m a massive word-nerd, I looked up the definitions from Merriam Webster.

definitions

I don’t believe that race has anything to do with human traits and capabilities, or that one race is superior over another. I never have and never will. That is the entire definition! If I disagree with the entire definition, then it is clearly not describing me. However, the third definition of the word bias is another story. ‘Inclination of temperament or outlook’ and ‘unreasoned judgement’ sound pretty spot on. I have no logical reason to judge black men poorly, other than what was fed to me through society. I think we as a people, need to step back and really examine our biases. Are all people on welfare lazy drug-addicts, or is that merely what we’ve been led to believe by people who oppose the program? I can tell you that when I was on welfare, I was neither lazy, nor on drugs. Yet that was a bias that definitely took up space in my head until I stepped into that world myself.

Here’s the thing, having biases doesn’t make us bad people. It’s human nature, everyone has biases that play into everyday of their lives. There’s a reason that I bought a Chevy instead of a Ford – I have a distinct bias against Fords. My grandfather worked for Chevy, and so did my aunt. Therefore they MUST be better cars. Does that make any sense? No. Yet I drove a Chevy into work this morning. In the grand scheme of things, this bias is inconsequential. So I’m going to ignore it and probably go on avoiding Fords for the rest of my life and nobody will care one way or the other.

ford

However, the bias against the black community, and black men specifically, is a problem and has been around since the founding of this country. In the grand scheme of things, this is a huge problem and it effects thousands of people all over the US who are spending their lives in jail and getting killed. I’m not saying that there aren’t black men that deserve to be in jail, I’m sure there are. What I’m saying, is that when you look for trouble and the majority of the attention is focused on one group of people, you’re going to find trouble. Not because it only exists there, but because that’s where you are looking. And if you don’t see any, yet keep looking, seemingly innocuous behavior will begin to look suspect. I’ve heard my parent friends talk about sneaking up on their kids to catch them in one act of wrong-doing or another, only to be surprised that what seemed nefarious was actually innocent. If you expect trouble, you will eventually get trouble whether it’s real or manufactured.

A recent study done by Yale showed that the bias against black males starts as early as kindergarten. They had teachers watch a video to look for signs of challenging behavior among four children – one black girl, one black boy, one white girl, and one white boy. Despite the fact that none of the children were exhibiting challenging behavior, the teachers reported that the black boy needed the more attention then anybody else. After reading that, it makes a little more sense why for many young black men, school is a direct pipeline to jail. Maybe it’s just me, but if I get wrongly accused of misbehaving enough, I start misbehaving. If I’m going to be accused of it anyway, I might as well get the pleasure from doing the misdeed.

I’m sure there are people who don’t have this bias, and I applaud them. But with the history of this country, and if we’re all being completely honest with ourselves, I would guess that number is low. The good news, is that if we can acknowledge that this bias exists, if we can swallow our frickin’ pride and admit that we do this, we can reverse it. I really hope the teachers that participated in that study are now looking at their classrooms with a different perspective. It won’t happen overnight, but we can retrain our brains to come up with new conclusions, and expect different outcomes.

It took me about four years. Now, when I’m out walking my dogs and I see a black man, my conditioning goes to ‘dude-I-don’t-know’ instead of ‘dangerous-black-man.’ If it’s night, that conditioning goes to ‘potential rapist,’ but to be fair that’s my conditioned reaction for any man I see at night regardless of race. When outside by myself at night, all men make me equally nervous. Which is an issue all by itself but as long as the rape culture persists it’s warranted. Don’t get me wrong, I have every faith that my dogs would defend me if I was attacked, however, they are puggles, not German Shepherds. I’m fairly certain that the worst they could do is give someone a permanent limp. So I keep my eyes open. However, for the first time in my life, my heart doesn’t speed up more at the sight of a black man then it does at the sight of a white man. And I consider that progress.

 

 

Sometimes You Get a Reminder

I think it’s good, every so often, to get a reminder of why we do the things we love. I had one last week, and it’s gotten me thinking. There wasn’t a lot of theater around where I grew up. Plenty of nature as we were five miles from the western entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, but cultural things were pretty few and far between. Sometime in middle or high school I became aware, I don’t know how long they had actually been around, of a repertory theater that would put on a few shows every summer. They were pretty good, but that was it. Therefore, it wasn’t until after I had been in a theater production of my own, that I was introduced to Broadway-caliber theater. We had just done a production of “Annie,” and since it was touring through Denver shortly thereafter, we all made the two hour trek to see a matinee.

This production opened my eyes to the fact that the exact same material can be interpreted in multiple ways. My interest was piqued. After this, I somehow, I have no idea how, convinced dad to take us back to see “Les Miserables” and then “Miss Saigon.” My life was irrevocably changed. These pieces blew my mind. They were provocative, and engulfed me into another world, and made me feel as if these people I just met were my best friends and worst foes. I had no idea it was possible to illicit that kind of a reaction from a person, and sitting there in the audience, I knew in my heart of hearts that I had to do that someday. It wasn’t a want, it was a visceral need. I needed to experience the exhilaration of creating a completely different world for people to get lost in. I needed to create, to build and subsequently to grow.

finding-your-purpose

I think anybody that has ever gone into the arts, has a similar experience.  Some moment that was so profound, that they knew there was no other life they could lead. “Les Mis” started me down that road, but when they lowered a helicopter, a frickin’ helicopter, onto the stage, my fate was sealed. I hung on every moment from then to the end. Lea Salonga, as Kim, was mesmerizing, and I cried like a baby at the end. I couldn’t get to my feet fast enough at the curtain call.

I wanted to be Lea Salonga. I mean she got to be Eponine and she was Kim, and she was . . . that’s all I knew, but it was enough. I sang her songs constantly and I idolized the way that her voice could transport me. Cameron Mackintosh, Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg were like my gods. Someday my work would be as good as theirs. In a screenplay I wrote, I even named one of my main characters, Claude and the other Michel. It wasn’t until later that I learned Claude-Michel was a French name, which was a problem as my characters were German. In my defense, Michel is spelled the same as my last name, and my family is of German descent. So I think I was totally justified in not recognizing that as a French name.

ethnicity

At any rate, in college I had the opportunity to see “Les Miserables” again. However, this time around I was disappointed. By this point I had seen a lot more theater and so had more to compare it to. I had also done more theater, I had taken classes and like most juniors in college, I of course knew everything. So instead of sitting in the audience blown away, I was re-blocking the scenes in my head to make them more engaging. Due to the contracts, the production had to still use the staging from the original production, which when it opened was innovative. By this point, everybody and their brother were using these conventions so it appeared stale.

I was crushed. One of my absolute best memories from my childhood had just been ruined. So after that, I vowed that I would never see “Miss Saigon” ever again because I didn’t want to ruin that memory too. Fast forward to last week, and I still had not seen another production of “Miss Saigon,” but I was about to break my vow. A friend invited me to go see a screening, at a movie theater, of the 25th Anniversary Performance, and I figured it was about time. After all, I saw a production of “Les Miserables” a couple of years ago, that completely redeemed that memory, so I felt pretty good about it.

Obviously since this was performed with the intent of filming it and making a DVD, there were film aspects to it. It was actually a really nice blending of theater and film. They also tweaked the script in places and straight up swapped out one song for a new one – for the record I like the old one better. But just like the first time I saw it, all of those sweepingly epic songs sent chills running up my arms and down my spine. The love song between Chris and Kim just killed me and pretty much for the entirety of the second act, any time Kim came on the stage I started crying because I knew what was coming at the end.

duet

Then at the end, since it was the 25th anniversary, they brought out the original cast of “Miss Saigon, starting with Lea Salonga who sang several of her old songs. She did a duet with one of the new cast members and then they brought out the original Chris and they sang a song. There was my hero singing the songs that won my heart over and made me want to be a storyteller. I was transported back to the wide-eyed naive kid all over again. I sat there and watched her, knowing in my heart of hearts that the path I chose so many years ago, is still right today.

 

 

Use Your Vacation Hours

I will never understand why people let their vacation time pile up at work.  I mean, if you are working your dream job and you love your work, then I can somewhat understand that. After all the big goal is to find a job that you don’t need a vacation from. However, even in that situation you still need to take a vacation every so often to refuel your batteries! Or to give your brain a rest, or visit loved ones, or just to do something different. I take it back, I don’t even understand letting vacation hours pile up in that circumstance. Taking time off is good for you even if you love your job!

I was talking to a co-worker today who has over 200 hours of PTO banked – my company doesn’t differentiate between vacation or sick, it’s all PTO. I’m fairly certain that my jaw hit my chest. 200+ hours!!! That is over five week’s worth of time off. Good lord! The things I could do with that kind of time off blows my mind, and she’s just sitting on it! When I asked her why she hasn’t used any of that, she gave several answers, but the one that stuck with me the most was this one, “Something might happen, and then I’ll need it.”

vacation

Okay, there’s some sense to that. Be prepared and all that jazz. (Name those two musicals) However, tomorrow you could drop dead from a heart attack, and then what good did it do stockpiling those hours? None! Those hours could have been spent pursuing a hobby, road-tripping across the country, or sitting on a beach reading a good book. Instead, you spent them sitting on your butt at work … just in case. I don’t get it. For perspective, I am the person who keeps fully stocked earthquake survival kits at home, in my car and at work. I am all about being prepared! But that does not translate to time. I refuse to stockpile time for future use.

The fact that I lost seven family members before I could legally buy a drink, probably has a lot to do with this. There’s something about watching people you love die, especially before their time, that puts a whole new perspective on things.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s sad when anybody dies, but somebody in their nineties has done one heck of a lot of living. Someone in their forties or fifties, not so much. My mom was in her forties when she died, and my aunt was in her fifties. They still had vacation time in the bank. Not literally, well maybe literally who knows, but I can guarantee that they still had things they wanted to do.

do-things

My aunt and I had been “planning” a whitewater rafting trip for over ten years. It would come up every so often when we were together and we would both agree that we really needed to do that, because it would be so fun. Then it would be filed back onto the ‘Do It Later’ list. It has now been moved to the ‘Can’t Ever Do It” list. I guess that’s why I decided to go to England next year. I can’t really afford it, but I’m doing it anyway. One of the things on my bucket list is to see a live performance of every play in Shakespeare’s canon. As it stands today, I have seen every one of his plays, except one. And wouldn’t you know it, The Royal Shakespeare Company is mounting that exact play in Stratford-Upon-Avon in late 2016 – early 2017. So I am flying half way around the world to see a play. Why? Because I can.

Use your vacation hours.

 

 

A Sea of Self-Loathing Tears

I feel like it’s a pretty universal truth that comparing yourself to others is the death of happiness. That being said, it’s hard not to compare and contrast your life to your neighbors, your coworkers, and your family and friends. It’s really damn hard on the bad days, when the self-doubt starts creeping in, to not look at your BFF, and think, “Damn! She’s got everything together, I suck.”

That’s damaging enough, but what I think is even worse, is comparing and judging yourself against the outliers. The novelist who hit the NY Times bestseller list at the age of 17. The entrepreneur who made a million dollars before their 25th birthday. You might as well pack up the shop and go home, because that comparison is going to wind up creating a sea of self-loathing tears.

tears

Outliers are out there for a reason. They either have some amazing gift in their field, or just happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right idea. Or quite frankly a combination of the two. I’m not saying, there isn’t a good amount of work involved as well, but that hard work and determination met with some luck somewhere along the line. How else do you explain two people who work their asses off and one does okay, while the other one is a huge success? There’s got to be some sort of luck/right-place-at-the-right time thrown in there. So what good could possibly come from making that comparison? None.

Now I’m not saying that I’m crying myself to sleep at night because I’m not a Christopher Paolini. Far from it, I have a healthy respect for myself and the work that I’ve done. However, lately I’ve noticed that I’ve been making some pretty major comparisons without even realizing it. In talking to people about my search for an agent, I have lost track of how many times I’ve said, “Stephen King was rejected over a hundred times, before he was signed.” Which seems innocuous enough, it’s a way to set the bar for my own experience. But then it hit me. What happens when I hit 100 or 150 rejections? I’m already half way there, so those are plausible numbers. If you add to the count the number of agents who have ignored my query letter, I’m already there. What happens to my comparison then? If I surpass Stephen King’s number and still don’t have an agent, does that mean that I’m a failure? Does that mean that I’m nothing special, just one of the average masses?

fate

Honestly, I don’t think it means anything. The world in which he was sending out queries is so completely changed from the world in which I am it’s like trying to compare apples to water buffaloes. There is no relevant comparison possible! Which brings me back to my first thought. Even if I step away from the outlier league and look at friends, coworkers and acquaintances, I have to come to the same conclusion. THERE IS NO RELEVANT COMPARISON. Each person has their own set of gifts and hurdles that they bring to the table. Clearly, those with only a handful of hurdles are going to get further faster. Clearly, those who realize immediately what their gifts are and how to use them are going to get further faster. Those who have a couple hundred hurdles and have had to devote a good part of their life to clearing them before they could even look at their gifts, well it’s no frickin’ wonder they’re just now showing up. Contrary to popular belief, they are not late to the party. They are not behind or a late-bloomer. They are simply running their race, the best that they can.

I think it’s high time that we realize that we each have our own race to run, and cut ourselves some slack when we don’t arrive at the same milestones at the same time as those around us. Myself included.

 

 

Much to My Astonishment

I never used to smile at people. If somebody initiated contact, or said hi, I would be polite back, but I was never the initiator, and if there was a smile it was a weak one. I went through life head down (sometimes literally, but mostly figuratively) focused on my destination, or my goal. Amazingly, I rarely got the ever so prevalent, ‘Smile,’ which a lot of women get. Instead, I was called a bitch, or referred to as bitchy. I think that’s because I had perfected my ‘Fuck off!’ vibe. I sent out the aura wherever I went that I was not interested in any sort of interaction, and people must have picked up on it, because I was left alone.

The odd thing is that I didn’t do this to avoid interacting with people. Sure, there were days that I was feeling anti-social, but for the most part I actually craved interaction. I yearned for someone to say hi. To show a modicum of interest in me as a person. To see through my façade and realize how truly lonely I was. But the risk of rejection was too great to face, so instead I made the choice to repel the very people I wanted in my life. I didn’t smile or say hello, because in my head they didn’t want to interact with me. I was an albatross and it was my job to stay away so as not to burden other people with my presence. With my hello. Or with my smile. It was my job to exist as unobtrusively as possible until I reached some place where I had actually been invited. Then, and only then, was I allowed to take up space, interact and smile.

mother-teresa

I lived like this for years. I even bragged about the fact that I was able to navigate crowds of people without a single interaction. Then one day I realized how very sad that was. How many interactions and quick greetings did I miss out on? For all I know, I missed a chance encounter with my soul mate because I was so intent on ignoring every person around me. Who knows?

What finally broke me out of this wasn’t any sort of conscious decision on my part. It was because of my dogs. It is damned near impossible to ignore people when you’re outside multiple times a day with the most adorable and friendly dogs you’ve ever met. Seriously, when the puggles were puppies, people would cross the street to come say hi to them. The managers that worked in the office of my apartment complex would stop what they were doing to come say hi. One of the managers even pointed the puggles out as a perk of living there, while showing prospective tenants an apartment one day. Everybody knew the puggles, and the puggles loved each and every person they met. This happened pretty much everywhere I lived.

Wouldn't you cross the street for these puppies? I would!

Wouldn’t you cross the street for these puppies? I would!

Eventually, the people that I would see over and over again, introduced themselves to me and I became Kat instead of simply the puggles’ mama. I began to smile, say hi and exchange small talk. I definitely wound up in a conversation or two that I couldn’t wait to get out of, but for the most part it was pleasant. It was nice to be recognized and to some degree welcomed. I’ve taken that to a whole new level where I’m living now, as I now consider several of my neighbors friends, and on days that my neighbor’s four-year-old doesn’t feed the puggles dinner, I generally forget until just right before bedtime.

my-bad

Despite this, it occurred to me a couple of years ago, that while I was very friendly when out with my dogs, I reverted back to my aloofness when by myself. Especially at work. Every day for two years I had walked down to the mail room to get the incoming mail at one and then back down to drop the outgoing mail off at five. I saw the exact same group of people almost every day, yet I didn’t know any of their names and had never said hi. So one day, I decided to do an experiment. I swallowed my awkwardness and started to say hi to these people. Much to my amazement, no one was awkward. No one cared that it had taken me two years to warm up and say hello. They all just said hi back, and now on days where I’m not super busy, I’ll even stick around and shoot the shit with some of the guys. It’s nice. And even more amazing to me, is that I have largely become that person who says hi and smiles at just about anybody. Even the ones giving the ‘Fuck off!’ vibe, because you never know.

 

 

Not if I Have Anything to Say About it!

“There’s nothing we can do.”

At the age of 21 those were the words said to me by my orthopedist. I had been diagnosed with scoliosis at the age of 15,and it had developed into a triple curve starting in my neck and finishing at the bottom of the shoulder blades. Five vertebrae had naturally fused together. It was slight enough, that no medical intervention was warranted, yet severe enough that I was in pain every day of my life and experienced muscle spasms at least once a week. When it was really bad my right shoulder would sit 2-3 inches lower than my left shoulder. That combined with several traumatic back injuries, left me in pretty bad shape. Living like that, for the rest of my life was not an option for 21 year old Kat. So when he said that, I was furious.

I Can

The fact that he said it in such a supercilious, “what did you expect?” Tone made it worse. I wanted to grab him by the lapels and tell him that that was unacceptable, and he better come up with something to do to help me! Thankfully, I refrained from doing that, because all he had to offer was sending me back to the physical therapist- been there, done that 5+ times – or a radical surgery installing rods in my back to force my spine to be straight. At the time, that seemed like a good option. Now I thank my lucky stars, that we didn’t go that route.

Instead of physically assaulting my doctor, I showed my frustration by storming out of the office. Then I did my own research, and landed on Pilates. I read accounts of people using Pilates to lesson their back pain, and I latched onto the idea like a life saver. I found a studio that was willing to take insurance where I could take private lessons, got the aforementioned orthopedist to write me a prescription and dove in head first. My trainer specialized in rehabilitation and she was amazing. It took a year of painstaking practice and patience, but eventually we got the five vertebrae in my back to un-fuse. It then took another seven-ish months before I could articulate between each one independently.

Slowly

Over the next three years, I worked my way up from Practicing three hours a week to over twenty hours a week while training to be a Pilates instructor. For the first time in over 10 years, I would have pain-free days. From a skeletal viewpoint, I was doing great. The muscles in my back, however we’re still pretty pissed off and it became obvious that I couldn’t sustain the schedule that I was doing. That combined with the conflicting hours of a new job meant that I had to drop out of school before I got my full Pilates certification.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I was still doing pretty well skeletal wise, but the muscles were worse. It was also around this time that I found myself working as a manager for a MAssage Envy, and I happened to be the only manager that liked deep tissue massages. Therefore, whenever we had a therapist who was applying to be a deep tissue therapist, I took the interview . . . The interview consisting of an hour long deep tissue massage. For a couple of months when we were short-staffed I was getting upwards of two massages a week. Awesome! It was also there that I met an exceptionally gifted massage therapist, who I still go to now. Because of all of that, the muscles in my back finally calmed down enough that muscle spasms became a once-in-a-great-while occurrence, instead of a weekly occurrence. Whoo-hoo! My sciatica Problems also went away. Double Whoo-hoo!

"Was that the sensitive spot you were telling me about?"

Now this is not to say, that my back is now totally better, but I do get pain-free days and even weeks sometimes. It’s only when I skip the daily maintenance of stretching, Pilates, yoga and skip my monthly massage. I still have to do all of that to maintain, and when I slack off I usually wind up at the chiropractor,which happened last week. But here’s the thing, I wound up seeing a new chiropractor (because he had an evening appointment available) and he did a full examine to start out, including a scoliosis check. To which he reported, that there were no signs of scoliosis left in my back. The triple curve is now totally gone. SCORE! My back still hurts, and it’s something that I will deal with for the rest of my life, but my biggest obstacle is now gone, and I figured that was worth celebrating!

Also, take that Mr. Orthopedist nay-sayer man!

 

 

Onwards and Upwards

Three and a half years ago I started on a journey that has led me to a place I never could have imagined. After pitching my idea to a magazine and being accepted, I wrote my first Heroine of History article. It was a short biographical piece about Mary Elizabeth Bowser, who was arguably the best placed Union spy during the American Civil War. This was my first attempt at biography, and I loved it. It wasn’t easy, but I loved unearthing her story and telling it.

That is largely how I’ve felt about all of the women that I’ve written about. Those biographies are the hardest things that I write. The research alone is daunting. The Internet is amazing in that there are literally millions of resources right at your fingertips. But anybody can post things on the Internet, so who’s to say what is fact and what is fiction. That’s not to say that books are 100% reliable either. I have read many an erroneous account in a book. I would guess that close to two-thirds of all of my research time is spent corroborating or dispelling facts.
truth
I’m researching Shirley Chisholm right now. Two sources say that she was born on November 20, 1924, three sources say that she was born on November 30, 1924, five sources say November 1924, and a handful of sources don’t mention her birthday at all. Now multiply that by almost every relevant fact about the woman. Half the time I feel like I’m taking a poll: “Was Shirley Chisholm the oldest of four children or the oldest of eight children?”

I spend hours weeding through similar yet varied information, and then picking and choosing which “facts” seem to be the most factual. Then comes the daunting task of telling their story in a way that honors their life. I obviously pick these women because I find them inspirational, so I therefore want to do them justice.

And none of this takes into account the content of the stories. Yes, these are amazing, take-charge, get-things-done, and overcome-the-odds, inspirational women. However, in order to overcome something bad must happen first. So these stories are also full of loss, poverty, abuse, racism, sexism, disappointment and the destruction of dreams. It is heavy stuff.

Broken

Yet, they are also the most fulfilling. The more I research and the more I delve into these stories, the more I come to realize that these women have something in common. Regardless of race, social status, background, era, etc., all of these women place their focus on something external. Their communities, the disenfranchised, the downtrodden, those who have trouble speaking for themselves. These women served. They lifted up those around them, and in doing so, lifted themselves up too.

One of the most magical things about helping others, is that it is almost impossible to do so without also helping yourself. I can’t think of a single time that I willing offered and gave my help that I didn’t feel better about myself afterwards. Despite the hours of work and the emotional drain that each of these biographies takes, I feel better after having written them. I feel better after telling their story, after doing my part to ensure that their deeds won’t slip into the darkest corners of history to wilt away forgotten.

Rise

I also feel better knowing that I have done my part to pass their inspiration on. Every person needs a hero to look up to, and it’s even better if you can relate to that hero. I had one growing up, and it’s her story that started me down this road in the first place, and so it is in her honor and the honor of every other heroine that has lent me their strength that I’ve decided that it is high time to expand beyond the Heroines of History. What started as a simple magazine article, has grown into so much more. The ball is rolling on two new steps – okay, being nudged down the road is a bit more accurate than rolling – but I am excited for these two new ventures: Through Her Eyes and the Heart of a Heroine Alliance. Onwards and upwards, here we go!