Sunday, May 28, 2017

112 Ways to Be Soft with Myself

This post owes a lot to my favorite piece of street art from the DC Women's March (below) and to Elizabeth Gilbert, Gretchen Rubin, and Elizabeth Craft, whose podcasts Magic Lessons and Happier  have been steering me back toward my happiness wheelhouse these past few weeks. 

            Last Monday in therapy, I got to a breakthrough point that was as relieving as an exhale. Closing a volume on a particularly ensnaring story, I felt space open up around me in a way that I haven’t felt in years. The urgency, defensiveness, and vigilance that has always fueled/plagued my life has, for the moment, receded.

            Friday afternoon, just before being let out of a phone session early (Because of happiness!) I told my wonderful therapist (SERIOUSLY. Call Women Organized Against Rape if you need help even a little. (215) 985-3333. ) that in order to preserve this lovely margin that has opened up for me, I want to make my life as soft as possible, to give myself every advantage over the harshness that is unavoidable both in my head and in the world. Here’s what I have so far, in no particular order:

1.      Be imperfect.
2.      Just sit for a minute.
3.      Take pictures of flowers and other beautiful things.
4.      Think about chakras.
5.      Plant things and see if they grow.
6.      Read chick-lit books and pretty magazines.
7.      Read in bed.
8.      Sit in the park.
9.      Treat the neighborhood mini-libraries as oracles.
10.  Write whenever and whatever I want.
11.  Build up my money cushion.
12.  Read children’s books, especially biographies of cool-as-heck ladies.
13.  Keep Hillary in my heart.
14.  Do yoga at home and in classes.
15.  Leave places whenever I want and then
16.  Go back whenever I’m ready.
17.  Never have a classroom again.
18.  Call a hotline whenever I need it even a little bit.
Women Organized Against Rape: (215) 985-3333
William Way LGBT Community Center Peer Counselling: (215) 732- 8255
19.  Always have a therapist.
20.  Keep taking Prozac.
21.  Give others margins too--be slower to judgement.
22.  Learn to distinguish between microaggressions and annoyances and then
23.  Push back as often as needed.
24.  Block any number I want to, for any reason.
25.  Date in real life, not online.
26.  Expect softness from partners, and give it.
27.  Continue to not watch Twin Peaks. Fuck off, Dead Girl Town!
28.  Sleep in.
29.  Go to bed early.
30.  Go back to bed.
31.  Take naps.
32.  Keep being addicted to Insight Timer and sending strangers around the world “Thanks for meditating with me” messages.
33.  Keep loving Yoga Nidra and other guided meditations.
34.  Keep swimming.
35.  Keep getting on the elliptical, even if it means sometimes having to watch the news.
36.  Be late for stuff.
37.  Or be early.
38.  Earn the amount I deserve to, which is at least $50 an hour for tutoring and creative coaching.
39.  Keep having jobs that allow me to regularly stop and put cash in the bank, I’ve loved that feeling since my waitress days.
40.  Look at baby animals.
41.  Walk in the woods and around my magical neighborhood (which has woods too).
42.  See my niece and nephews.
43.  See my siblings.
44.  Go to the beach, alone or with family.
45.  Get haircuts.
46.  Get my car washed.
47.  Canvass for candidates I believe in.
48.  Donate to good causes whenever I can.
49.  Call the government a few days a week.  (Daily Action and ResistBot really help with this!)
50.  Get in marches, protests, and demonstrations whenever I want to.
51.  Make, enjoy, and photograph street art.
52.  Use my art museum membership.
53.  Draw.
54.  Paint.
55.  Collage.
56.  Color.
57.  Bake.
58.  Make soup.
59.  Have breakfast for dinner.
60.  Look at gemstones.
61.  Visit the Hope Diamond, which I think is the most existing thing I’ve ever seen.
62.  Learn the names of birds, butterflies, flowers.
63.  Read Rumi every day.
64.  Listen to happy podcasts! (Right now I’m bingeing Magic Lessons.)
65.  Write a haiku sometimes.
66.  Wash the dishes and do the laundry.
67.  Enjoy my time working in the bookstore with Amy.
68.  Buy one feminist book per month.
69.  Watch movies.
70.  Accept invitations but
71.  Cancel plans whenever I need to.
72.  Ditto for calling in sick.
73.  Keep fresh flowers in the house.
74.  Send mail.
75.  List gratitudes and accomplishments daily.
76.  Say thank you, I love you, and I’m sorry easily.
77.  Be a guest house for emotions and other things recommended by Rumi.
78.  Go on mini-artist-dates whenever I get a little pocket or time.
79.  Or do nothing.
80.  Always be doing The Artist’s Way.
81.  Do self-help books, or “emotional sudoku” as Maria Bamford calls them.
82.  Watch, read, and listen to funny ladies. (And, okay, other funny folks too.)
83.  Honor my sacred alone times: Fridays after yoga, Sunday morning swimming, whatever else comes along.
84.  Make alone time on family visits.
85.  Always have good candles, notebooks, incense, and meditation stones.
86.  Goof around in thrift stores.
87.  Drink wine and watch Steven Universe.
88.  Believe that the Universe loves me and wants to shower me with gifts, blessings, and synchronicities.
89.  Admit to being a romantic.
90.  Have pretty clothes.
91.  Say yes to free stuff.
92.  Keep umbrellas, headphones, lipstick, cardigans, and chargers EVERYWHERE.
93.  Increase my IRA deposit whenever I can.
94.  Turn off the phone.
95.  Or just go ahead and scroll through Instagram.
96.  Play games.
97.  Watch sitcoms.
98.  Notice and enjoy silence.
99.  Celebrate having a body.
100. Say no to things I don’t like.
101.   Allow for the possibility of grey areas.
102.   Assume good intentions.
103.  Use and celebrate my voice.
104.  Treat everyone, especially myself, as if we were The Prodigal Son/Daughter/Non-Binary Child.
105.  Look at collections, varieties, arrays.
106.  Enjoy my friends.
107.  Have some tea.
108.  Believe fortune cookies, encouraging tea bags, and other messages from the Great Whatever.
109.  Keep a stock of tea lites.
110.  Notice magic every day.
111.  My neighbor once told me that “Living in a community is a constant state of forgiveness and self-forgiveness.
112.  Put loving myself first, always.

What are your ways?

Monday, April 24, 2017

Dear Trumpish Guy at the Decemberists Show

I was superexcited to see The Decemberists Friday before last, but I almost didn’t get to enjoy it. While the crowd waited between bands, the venue (presumably at The Decemberists’ behest) played an old-timey country album that reminded me of every won’t-somebody-please-worry-about-poor-white-racists post I’ve scrolled past since the election. I’m sure it was a perfectly respectable album, but it made me feel so creepy and rotten and is-indie-rock-unintentionally-white-supremacist (probably) that I almost left.

But then the band came on and for a little while, the rotten feeling went way. I remembered how good (if Bush-era bleak) the band is and settled into the very enjoyable task of looking at Colin Meloy’s lovely face. We were only a few songs into their tenth-anniversary rendition of The Crane Wife (Which, okay, is not the most soothing album.) when I saw a scuffle starting up a few people away, right in the middle of the crowded general admission floor. A short, mean-faced blond guy with the demeanor of all the social nightmares was yelling at a woman, calling her an asshole for asking him not to dance into her.

I offered to switch places with the woman and did my best to be big and silent and ignore the guy, but he just transferred his yelling onto me.

“Thanks, FEMINIST,” he hissed. “What are you, gonna wear your PUSSY HAT?”

            While I was trying to keep my space on the floor next to this jerk, the woman he’d originally been yelling at told me that The Decemberists had been her band with her late husband, and she’d asked the man to stop dancing into her so she could enjoy the experience. Seems pretty fucking reasonable to me.

“Just so you know, I’m gonna stand here.” Said the guy, and pushed his shoulder into mine.

“You can step away from me,” I said, but he pushed back harder onto my shoulder.

“Okay, I’m going to get security, I told him, and struggled my way out of the crowd. I told security that there was a guy at the center of the crowd harassing women, and I never saw whether it got taken care of or not. I felt guilty for leaving the woman in there with him, but I didn’t have it in me to persevere back to my spot. I stood on the margin of the crowd and tried to get back into the music, but it was hard. There was another argument going on nearby, so it was hard to un-jangle. I felt an emotion I’ve felt on and off since the election, the feeling that all of us, the grieving woman, the shoving guy, the backup singers, everybody, are adrift in this soup of fear, loss, and anger, with no way out.

And then they played their new song. Introduced as “This is kind of a state of the union…” the song went:

Everything is AWFUL…”

            The crowd went bonkers, and I went bonkers with joy. I felt my jangledness and trauma move and shift out of my body as I jumped around, bobbed my head, squealed, smiled, sang along, and clapped in true fangirl fashion. You could feel the audience breathe a sigh of relief, let go of a little of the weight of this moment in history.

            In that spirit, I have some things to say to the reason I ended up on the margin of the crowd.

Dear Trumpish Guy in the Middle of the Decemberists Crowd,

I guess you’re what they mean when they say that misogynists and bigots are emboldened by the Trump regime, though hate has always seemed pretty shameless to me. Either way, what I see in you is the opposite of boldness. I see a deep, broken, desperate cowardice, a poisonous avarice that makes you feel entitled to more space than you have earned, a greedy urge to shore up your own lack of self-worth by colonizing everyone and everything. It must be exhausting.

And you know what? Women are not going to let our bodies be claimed. The pussy hat may have been put away with the winter clothes, but this is our time, and you are a tarnished shard of a gender structure that is already broken, that has already abandoned you.  We’re not yours. This isn’t your world anymore. Give up and get on board or be washed away in the tide of your own hateful limits.



Friday, January 6, 2017

Prozac and Me: A Love Story

As you know, I broke my arm at the beginning of last summer, so I spent a lot of time Rear Window-ing the internet. Like all of my LGBT friends, I shared a million sorrows and liked a million rainbows for the Pulse shooting victims. I paid brokenhearted witness to the grisly murders of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It was a bloody, broken summer for everyone.

Around the same time, my landlord decided to landscape the weedy side yard I loved so much, wiping out my forget-me-nots and all of the jillions of wild purple morning glories. Coming home to a starkly pretty and mulched yard instead of the overgrown area I liked to keep in pleasing chaos should not have been a big deal, but it was. I tried to let the weeds grow back, but the landlord sprayed them with weed killer. Because she owns the property and they are weeds.

I marched and vigiled for the murdered people all summer, and I went back to canvassing as soon as I could, but I couldn’t move on from the morning glories. I transplanted them as soon as they popped up, enlisted the cute neighbor in re-cultivating them, bought a new trellis, and bought seeds upon seeds upon seeds, but it all seemed hopeless, I couldn’t stop checking vigilantly to see if the weed killer had come, if it had encroached on the green space I’d just started to cultivate. It seemed that the weed killer was the law of the land, the only thing true, and I felt helpless against it.

I wrote to my (very kind, thorough, and attentive) landlord about it and she predictably (and as nicely as possible) said that it’s her property and she’ll use weed killer if she needs to. Perfectly reasonable, but I couldn’t stop myself from seeing hate in her landscaping choices, from feeling that she was trying to force me out along with the lost weeds/flowers. Her email came the night before my 42nd birthday and resulted in me crying on the floor and insisting that the world was trying to push me out.

I have suicidal ideation once or twice a year, when I ruminate too far and can’t climb out of deep depression fast enough. It never goes as far as planning or action, but the “I have to die” thought does come. More often, I have the feeling that I don’t exist, wasn’t supposed to be born, or that I have to erase my personality completely to be loved. It usually passes within a few hours when I stop talking about it.

After poor Amy calmed me down and I had a pleasant birthday doing voter registration in Wissahickon Park, I realized that if I was going to cultivate a life, if I was going to hang on to the work and connections I’d already accomplished, I was going to need help. I felt too raw and defensive to try talking to a new therapist, so I took my primary care doctor up on a years-ago offer of a prescription. Since I was a teenager, I’ve stubbornly refused to be medicated for depression, but I realized that my brain was not going to be able to help me on its own.

And it was like a miracle. I’m still sensitive, defensive and insecure, but I have new resourcefulness and hope. Sometimes, for seemingly no reason, joy surges out of me in laughing bursts and I feel closer to the best version of myself. After a year or so of dressing invisibly and forgetting about the possibility of romance, I started to feel pretty and feminine and inclined to get dolled up like I used to be.

But I still didn’t understand depression’s toll on my life until a couple of weeks ago. I was talking to my peer counselor at William Way LGBT Community Center (CALL THEM! They are amazing and you can have eight weeks free counselling per year, in person or by phone.) I was making 100% of a problem out of 5% of information, filling in the other 95% with self-defeating worst-case scenarios. Once she helped me realize that math, she simply said “That’s depression.”


I never really saw it that way—depression is the weed killer. It tries to destroy whatever I’ve managed to cultivate and even tries to un-happen wonderful things that have totally already occurred! I always saw the sadness as inextricably linked to the rest of me, and in some ways it is, but it’s such a relief to see it as something that’s separate from me, something that can be treated.

So treating depression is my main theme for this year. I’ve signed up for counselling at Women Organized Against Rape and I plan to attend their support group as well. I want to be generous and kind and loving and understanding toward myself, and of course I’ll keep taking the Prozac as long as insurance exists. Thank you for coming with me on this ongoing journey to serotonin. I couldn’t do it without your loving support.