Womanhood

I am outside on the porch, cussing the people who decided to set load-bearing posts on top of floor boards, my own ignorance in construction, the project-creep that continually blossoms before me, and my complete weakness in wielding a hammer in tight and awkward spaces between joists.

My sister is inside, sweeping the floor in the kitchen. Later, she’ll be trying to figure out a simple sewing project, the kind I made when I was about a third of her age. Where was her interest to learn sewing back when I would have given my eye-teeth for a sewing buddy? She is willowy and dreamy; she is an artist–she paints. She is sweet. Anyone who knows her, even in passing, will tell you how sweet she is. She has large, large eyes, and a scant amount of practicality that she barely knows how to wield. Indecisiveness is her bane.

My other sister is upstairs. She has feet like a hobbit, wide and thick soled (but still very ticklish when I have to wake her up in the morning). She has two very long braids that dangle to her waist, and yes, of course, freckles across her nose. She reads Shakespeare for fun, even though she’s not old enough to get a learner’s permit to drive. Right now, she’s perched on the edge of her bunk (the bottom one), writing a multi-page letter to someone in jail, but later she’ll go on an hour long walk in the woods. She’ll enjoy that walk all the more if it happens to be pouring rain; she loves the feel of rain pelting down on her. It can be hard to understand her when she talks, if she can barely keep the laugh out of her voice.

I started out in resentment that my sisters are not me. Why am I out here, cussing the porch by myself? Why doesn’t anyone else around here care about taking care of maintaining the house? Rapidly, I realize they don’t even know how to help if they wanted to. Why not? Ugly rants about the older children having to do more work than the younger children spring to mind, but that’s not true, either. I must have been only five, possibly younger, when I first started following Dad around when he did repairs, keeping track of his tools and anticipating what he would need next. If I wasn’t helping my brothers with their construction projects, I was surely watching. My sisters found that stuff boring.

Well, I found it boring to spend endless time sketching clouds and learning the names of their different forms, like my one sister did. And I had not enough patience for sitting for hours in the chicken yard training chickens to sit on my lap, or slogging through translating Shakespeare like my other sister. So I am the one out on the porch, learning through trial and error how to make home repairs.

Still, the resentment lingers around the edges. When I was her age—No. No, that way lies madness. I am not my sisters, and my sisters are not me. I chose the things that interested me, and the things that interested me most often did leave me covered in dirt and sweat, and my brothers granting me the dubious compliments that I would “grow up to be a man yet.” They take pictures of me wielding equipment larger than I am. But they also mock my interests in fiber arts, and refer to my short and stocky build as being troll-like.

But these same hands that are wielding a hammer and a chisel–these hands also cup babies, and bake cakes, and comfort suffering people. And I hear the defense and protest in my own voice–I am a woman. I am. I have worked long and hard to understand what that means, and still I’m not really sure.

I know it’s not about gender stereotypes or cultural expectations. I know that if I were as delicate as my sister with the large eyes, I wouldn’t feel more a woman. I know that if I were able to grow my hair as long and a thick as my other sister, I wouldn’t feel more a woman. And I also know with great vehemence that I do not want to be a man, that there are fundamental differences between us that I both cannot and do not want to bridge. I used to think my brimming with emotions was one of those differences, but I’ve found that even among women I feel more things, and feel them more deeply.

When I look in the mirror now, I do see a woman–I didn’t for the longest time. That awkward girl. I’m not sure what changed, or how to describe it, because I feel like it’s mostly in the eyes. Those eyes, there’s things behind them. I’m not sure I could quite say they’ve lost their innocence, because in so many ways I think in the context of my peers, I still radiate so much innocence it makes them uncomfortable. People still apologize abashedly for swearing in front of me, embarrassed because my lack of swearing is so conspicuous to them.

I tell myself stories, trying on different roles of “woman.” Some themes emerge. Some gentle longings for my future wax stronger. Still, the concept seems like a design made of smoke; the harder I grasp to understand it, the more elusively it slips away. Why do I feel the need to define it? Why do I feel uneasy that I might not have achieved it? Societies across geography and time have defined it a million different ways, but I’m not looking to fill a tintype of idealized perfection.

I guess I just stumble over the fact that He made us Man and Woman. The distinctness and delineation of the difference, yet without explanation, makes me wonder what the point was. Why two? Why not, say, six, or nine or fifteen? What was wrong with one? And if two is better, if we aren’t meant to be alone, then why are so many of us so alone? People complain about babies not coming with instruction manuals, but I grew up with a baby on my hip. I’ve taken care of plenty of babies. You get experience. But there’s only one me; and me came without an instruction manual, too. I don’t really expect that there can be a neat little dissection of all the little ins and outs of our personalities and life trajectories. . .but it would seem that there should at least be common expectations of being human, being a woman.

I have seen enough of life to know there isn’t one “right” way. That we reflect our Maker more like a kaleidescope than a mirror. And I strongly suspect my questions are less of questions, and more of a confusion of life being so much different than I assumed of course it would be by the time I was this age. And when life fails to live up to our expectations, we invariably go looking for what we did wrong or what we could do to fix it.

But some of it is not that. Some of it is that I still feel like a stranger inside of my own body, a feeling that my time of sickness only intensified. I am me. My body is this thing I’m inside of, driving around. How do you take care of this thing? Never mind basic house maintenance, the human body is a good deal more complicated than most people would lead you to believe, and I’m in a profession of taking care of bodies.

Some of it is feeling like, since the the things that I’m doing seem to be echoing hollow, I must be missing something about basic existence. And since I feel fairly confident that I am fulfilling the basic necessities of “human,” my “missing something” must be just a little higher up the chain.

And some of it is the empty feeling of being unable to connect with my “peers.” The people I’m supposed to feel most akin to seem like such foreign entities to me. I don’t want to mimic them. And I know I’m not one of those people who will ever be “popular” or one of the “in crowd.” But part of you wonders if maybe everyone else has figured out something about life that you haven’t.

And part of it is the sacredness. I feel like I have grasped at least some of the sacredness of humanity. And I believe there is a sacredness to being created as separate entities. But it becomes harder to understand when the differences created by God get all mixed up into the differences created by social constructs and twisted influences, half of which you drink down without realizing that’s what you’re doing. When you become startled by realizing you’re mad that other people aren’t like you or wondering if you should be more like other people — and yet, recognizing inherently that the differences are important, and valuable, and that none of us can be All of The Things, and so we must all find different pieces and roles to fill.

And I hesitate to post this, because it’s such a politicized topic. People have strong opinions and ideologies, to the point it can be difficult to actually communicate what one is thinking without  people jumping on to say what someone should be thinking or really are thinking but don’t realize it, or what is so wrong about their thoughts. But in some ways, I also feel like it’s all the more important to speak; because when those who are hesitant stay quiet behind those who are loud, it leads to a feeling of being alone, of no one knowing what it is they’re feeling like, of being lost. And I simply cannot imagine that there is no one else in the world who wonders what it means to be a woman, without fighting it, without chasing the world’s explanations, without having an agenda or a point of arrival, but simply in observation. We are different. All of us. Men from women, and women from women. And it’s not an accident or a problem. But what does it mean?

Maybe it is one of those things that is so simple that we are the ones that complicate it. Maybe “different” is enough of an answer. The quiet agitation inside me says the intent runs deeper than that. But the part of me that has seen at least a bit of life says that the thought is one that must be experienced to be known, not determined by logic or reasoned out. But I think it’s disingenuous to pretend the question isn’t out there, murmured in the background of our existence: what does it mean to be a woman?

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Mr. Rochester is a Creep

Maturity is a hard thing to assess in yourself, and is made more complicated by the fact we don’t mature equally in all things. Maturity in responsibility and action, for example, is quite different from maturity in relationships. Maturity with managing money is far different than the maturity to understand the societal systems in the world.

One of the things I have struggled with is the mild addiction to being useful. As with anything, we can speculate all we like on the root of such things. . .I used to blame it on my particular parameters of my upbringing, until I read “Grace for the Good Girl,” and the author had been raised in a wholly different situation and yet seemed at time to speak thoughts right out of my head. I suppose, on a most simplistic level, feeling useful makes us feel more secure. People don’t get rid of, or treat poorly, or forget about, useful things. People value useful things. Being useful seems like a good, safe, meaningful choice.

Ultimately, of course, it’s drinking poison. Any love you earn (or think you are earning, or feel like you are earning) can be withdrawn the moment you stop being useful. And in the mean time, after the initial rush of pleasure at succeeding at being useful, it breeds all kinds of resentment and hurt and loneliness, and a raw inability to connect with people on a real level.

It frustrates me to no end that it is exceedingly difficult to see maturity in relationships modeled in anything. It would be amusing to see if you could get a “5 stages of maturity” in relationships, as a corollary to the 5 stages of grief. . . although the biggest corollary is probably just that it’s been found that the 5 stages of grief are largely not stages nor limited to 5. But off the cuff, it’s not that hard to start scribbling up a list.

There’s the “rescue me!” and it’s equally destructive cousin “I’ll rescue you!” How many stupid, disastrous tales have been told like this? It’s easy to take pot-shots at Cinderella and Snow White, but how about Jane Eyre? I like Jane Eyre, don’t get me wrong, and in many ways she was very responsible and mature and what have you. But she was out to rescue Mr. Rochester, to reform him, to save him from his blackened ways. Oh, heavens. Jane got to live happily every after, since that’s what her author wanted, but how many abusive tales can you start with that “save him” line?

Having long had to hoist myself and my own responsibility, I rarely recall looking for anyone to “rescue me!” But I clearly recall telling myself a good many lots tons of stories of “I’ll rescue you!” Horribly romantic and terribly stupid, it really appeals to the nurturing core of many of us–someone damaged and hurt and broken, and then redeemed and restored and healed by the saintly little woman who tends to him so sweetly and gently and faithfully. We’re just so good we melt the badness right out of them. No, we don’t. Life doesn’t work that way. But we’d like it to. We want it to.

I would guess that next on the list is the painful pairing of “I want someone to be useful to me/to be useful to someone.” Although it seems strangely even more twisted, and harder to ferret out. I don’t think I’ve often fallen into the trap of trying to keep someone around just because they’re useful, but I’ve nearly drowned many times in the black well of wanting to be useful, as I’ve mentioned above. There are more sad stories than I care to try to remember of children who felt their mothers only wanted them as long as they were useful, or their fathers. I would suppose spouses, but if you look around at the fairy tales, it’s mostly parents or step-parents or adoptive parents.

I think this is because there is an inherent power differential here. I mean, there is in the first example, too, but someone needing to be saved is an assumption of weakness. Someone needing to be served is an assumption of power. To be useful, someone has to set the bar of what constitutes being useful enough.

I don’t know what draws us to this. I know that I know I’m good at being useful, and that there is a satisfaction and a certain amount of pride in that. I don’t know why I tell myself stories about girl-winning-guy by means of usefulness. Why would it be a life goal, or a relationship goal, to be “useful”? Like a toaster. Or an adjustable wrench.

Perhaps this is where the thought comes in, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” Maybe we think we won’t get anything better, so let’s go with this. But I find it terribly sad and still confusing, even though this is a place I still keep stumbling. Why do I need to be so useful? Why? For Pete’s sake, what do I think will happen if I don’t? Do I really think no one will want me around if I’m just “normal helpful” not “so helpful”? I can’t figure it out. But I do know that when I fall into the trap of “affection by means of usefulness” that I am always and continually smarting under the power differential. It’s not a healthy place to be.

There is also the “I want you/I can make you want me” pairing. Somehow, this one terrifies me the most, with no rational reason for that ranking. I know it exists, and that for some people it’s a drug, and maybe that’s the reason of my fear. I’m also afraid of ever getting drunk, and the lack of control that people who swear all the time seem to have. In my mind, raw lust equals lack of control, and being out of control of myself seems like a terrifying idea. Bad things happen when people lose control. All the more terrifying, then, that so many fairy tales (Disney or otherwise) are based off of nothing more than physical attraction.

The word “control freak” would not have been invented if fear of losing control were always a good thing. And the flip side to this issue, for me at least, is the strange conviction that “no one would ever look at me like that, anyhow.” This might sound more familiar as countless tales (most recently, I over heard it on Downton Abbey playing in the background) have this charming set up where the girl thinks she is too plain to be noticed and the boy thinks she is the most beautiful creature ever blessed with the breath of life. For every girl who thinks she is too plain to be looked at, there’s a death trap of falling for whoever insists otherwise, despite other completely unredeemable qualities. Insisting you are physically unattractive is not really a safe action either.

I guess with all of that, it might sound as thought I’ve bounced from one unstable and destructive relationship to the next, but no, not really. More the opposite, of prickling like a porcupine in defense and never letting anyone close. It’s just, as I see people all around me, all beside me, struggling to understand relationships, I feel more and more that we’re often shown all sorts of dysfunctional and destructive relationships passed off as “normal” and “healthy” and rarely are shown any sort of mature, respectful, mutually beneficial teamwork — something that is not about “winning” but is instead about building with each other.

One of the few examples I can pull up easily is the relationship of Wolverine and Jubilee in the first X-Men movie, were they just took care of each other. But that “doesn’t count” because it wasn’t good enough for Wolverine, who kept chasing the hot body (to his own misery). And I guess that’s the point. We all figure the hot guy won’t be happy without a hot girl, and the ordinary girl is just that — ordinary. Of course.

But why all these horrible cliches and stereotypes? Why is it that we think that fairy tales of princess and princes are more believable than functional, loving relationships? Do we know so little about functional relationships that we’re even incapable of writing them? We know there’s no such thing as a perfect relationship, but we’re so ready to accept terrible relationships as paragons. If any of my friends were hanging out with a Mr. Rochester type, I’d be telling them to get out now, and stop deluding themselves. Mr. Rochester is a creep, not a paragon of true love. Why can’t we imagine a paragon, even if we know we can’t achieve it? Why do we have to keep offering up really lousy things as though they were things to be chased after?

Maybe we don’t. I don’t know. I know the stories I’ve told myself have changed. And they’re getting harder and harder to tell myself, because when you grow-up out of the cliches, things are harder to imagine. It’s harder to imagine what a good team-mate would look like, because first you have to be able to honest with yourself about your own weakness are that you need help with, and honest with yourself about what strengths you have and how they actually should be used to help others.

It’s hard to grow out of wondering if you’ll ever be beautiful in someone else’s eyes, and into recognizing that you need encouragement to be brave enough to do the hard but right things. It’s hard to grow out of padding your relationship resume with how well you bake and the way you can handle minor home repairs, and instead understand that part of what I have to offer is really more about sitting down and having hard conversations. But the stories are about beauty and baking favorite cakes, not being too cowardly to do what is right and having to have hard conversations to clear up assumptions and hurts and miscommunications and differing priorities and values. And then somehow we wind up thinking we’re broken when we wind up having tearful conversations instead of baking sweets and singing.

It just makes maturity so much harder when no one wants to talk about what it is, and that turns maturity itself into a mystery. It’s hard, yes, but does it have to be a mystery on top of everything else? Maybe this is just something we need to talk about more, instead of leaving unsaid and left to nothing but speculation. Maybe we need more encouragement in what maturity is and how to move forward into it.

Importance

Last night I listened to two people talking, and realized we were practically from different planets. She was raised with nannies — the first was from a town of only 300 people, can you imagine? (yes. . .yes, I can). The rest were from England. Of course. Don’t worry, she then became an au pair herself in France, 45 minutes outside of Paris, for 2 years.  Mummy dearest has bright red nails and an accent, and can’t imagine living in a small town for even two weeks, is a bonafide work-a-holic, and is considering getting a second home in Hilton Head, or if her brother buys a boat, anyway.

It makes my brain cramp. Because our lives are so different, yet we’re still just people. It’s not that their lives are charmed. Tales of divorce, counseling, drinking, endless streams of intimate relationships ending in broken hearts, longing for reconciliation, loneliness, and endless activity to avoid accidental self-reflection.

It leaves you thinking a little, what do they have that I don’t? Anything can happen in life. And then you realize, oh, yeah. What they have that I don’t have is money. I can’t just go home and buy a new car. I can’t just eat grass fed beef because it’s better for me.

It’s not that I’m without privilege. I do have privilege. I don’t have to start working the second I’m done with school, because I have family I can stay with, who will shelter and feed me. They have before, and likely will again, lend me the money to buy a car, which will be a far better deal than taking out a loan from traditional sources.

I just always wonder how far to push those resources. Because for a certain while, it makes sense, and after another certain while, it feels like taking advantage of someone. And it’s also a struggle, because it comes with a certain lack of identity. And both of those things eat at me.

I’m not saying I have to pull myself up by my own boot straps in order to be legitimate, although certainly there are temptations to be that way. But you don’t take things without giving things, and the more “support” you take, the more “autonomy” you give away. You have less and less control over living situation and environment, what you eat, who visits and when. It is further complicated by the thing about being alone vs being around people who care about you.

So this morning I started thinking about things like, how much money saved up is enough money? Is it better to rent or buy? How terrifying to buy. And things like, good glory, the amount of debt I have for my schooling could buy me 3 great American dreams. And that opens up the whole struggle I have about the school debt: when you know you will likely never pay it off, do you try? The pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps says yes, but it’s hard to convince yourself that in light of canceling any other aspirations for life.

I like life binary. I like right and wrong. Be simple and clear cut. It makes me so highly annoyed when I find out life is complex and confusing, and without straightforward answers. You might not get a diagnosis; you might just be stuck managing your symptoms. You might not get your dream lifestyle, but wind up living 15 different versions of making do, longing, and scheming to try again. You might get your education, but always wonder if it was worth it, or if it should have been went about in another way. (Right now I don’t think that, but ask me when I’m confronted with making payments.)

When it all comes down to it, I sometimes think I just want to stop being confused by life. I want someone to say, “this choice is the right choice, this choice is the wrong choice.” Armed with irrefutable conviction, I could then accept the consequences and carry on. But there is a niggling part of me I keep fighting with, the part of me that says, you can do a lot of the things you want, if only you had the guts to take the risks. And the risk adverse part of me says, “risk is stupid.”

I’m sick of doing what I’m supposed to do, and want to be reckless and do my own thing. But that is at war with the part of me that says conventional wisdom is both conventional and wise for a reason. There’s no good reason to not work for 2 to 3 years.

But I want to be in control. I don’t want to be riding on the waves of societies expectations and  social systems. I want to be busy being me. And when I talk about it as a defiance of society and the world, I feel so holy and I think I should find courage to make risky decisions. Other times, I wonder if I’m just fighting God. I want to be in control. I don’t want to be told what to do with my life. I don’t want to do those hard things, I want to do MY hard things.

I mean, just for supposing. . .suppose I turned down lucrative full time employment, in hopes of finding something part time? That’s a luxury only achievable by support of others. If I took full advantage of that support, and defiant risk in the face of all that’s responsible adulthood, I could do that. But I feel like I owe my support better than that. I feel like I owe my support a faster pay back than a part time job, too. And I’m not sure which is worse, feeling like your life is being ruled by money or emotions, but having it ruled by both at once sure does stink.

So while I try to resign myself to the idea of seeking full time employment. . .I also find myself looking for the silver lining. How fast could I save it up if I stayed with the support system? Could I outright buy a place I would want to own, and skip renting or mortgages? Would I feel too guilty not spending more toward school loans? Would I be able to save that much while paying back borrowed money for a vehicle? Could I manage the relative lack of autonomy for another two or three years?

And behind it all is the persistent longing that my life could be defined by more than my job. The one area where I feel like I have no control at all. I pray about it a lot. But I still have so little idea of what God has planned or why He has it planned. I don’t know why we wander, and I don’t know why we so often have to wander alone. I feel sad about where I am, but also certain, in some part of me, that God is good and gives good things.

Is that enough? I don’t know. But I think it’s the most important.

 

 

 

Deserved Opinions

Lately I have been hearing people talk about “deserving to be here.” And I’ve struggled to relate. I am where I am. It just is, it’s not a question of deserving or not deserving. But I find that I don’t actually feel like I “deserve” to state what I do or do not value.

I mean, I can state things that make me angry or upset. I can toss out casual preferences. But in terms of really holding that the things that I think are important, ARE important–if only to me, but it is me only that things need to be important. Not in a self-absorbed sort of way, but in the honest fact that the only person in the universe who is me, is me, and it is me that I have to be, and ought to be, and am–regardless of how hard I might at times try to mute that.

I often struggle with this in terms of things I haven’t tried yet. Who am I to say I shouldn’t want to pursue things that “people” say would be good for me? Who am I to declare that I want to pursue things that “people” say would not benefit me?

I know part of this reason is that I have a strong negative reaction to, well, people who have strong negative reactions. People adamantly make declarations of the worth of things they’ve never experienced. But that’s not the whole picture, and I feel like it’s time to poke at that part of me a bit.

Because I feel like it partly has to do with trying too hard. Because the times when I most find myself enjoying myself and excelling are in things I’ve nearly stumbled into by accident or haven’t attempted to schedule, plan, discipline, scheme, goal-set or achieve. One might think that is because the scheduling, etc., becomes itself a burden, but one would be quite wrong. I enjoy scheduling and planning and scheming.

I think it’s because I drink too much from the well of “ought.” Of other peoples’ ideas promulgated regarding success, and the worth of measuring things. Of the religion of hard work and discipline accomplishing all things. It’s a powerful idea, because it promotes the glorification of self. But mixed in with that is the idea that, you know, it’s allowed to be unpleasant, because that’s part of hard work and discipline. Sacrificing yourself for your goals is indeed part of the process.

So when I say, “yeah, but I don’t want to,” I immediately feel guilty. Shirking the valuable experiences that would shape me into a better person. If I was disciplined, if I didn’t avoid pain that made me grow, if I was willing to be challenged. . .if, if, if. But why can’t I simply value that I don’t want to?

Why is that something that is supposed to be smooshed, instead of acknowledged as part of my person? Why is it not okay for me to simply accept that some people do some things and other people do other things, and this is simply not something I want to choose to do? Instead, I feel this guilt to somehow conform and perform, instead of assert the authenticity of who I am, including: Not That. And including: Yes, That. Both halves.

Because, I don’t know, it seems rude to assert you aren’t something when you’ve not yet tried it. Because it seems like a value judgement on other people. By refusing what other people say is important, it feels like disputing their value. And also sometimes, feeling as though I have to justify what I feel is important by demonstrating it’s value in terms that other people can understand.

Yet I know I am my most valuable when I am most myself. And I am not most myself when I am acting from a place of fear, insecurity or people-pleasing (and there is a fine but very important line between serving people and pleasing people). All things that I am continually acting out of.

But one does have to say “no” before one can say “yes,” and I am pathetically poor at saying “no,” especially to fear, insecurity or people-pleasing.

Last night I was looking at books that claim to help you do just that, and just feeling so frustrated. It doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing that you should actually have to read a book about, and it nearly doesn’t seem like a thing that reading a book would help. I do know I need to say “no;” what will more words help? And yet at the same time, if “knowing” is enough, why, for years on end, have I not said “no”? (There is some reflection there of the inadequacy of discipline and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps as being effective means of actually solving problems.)

But that in and of itself is part of the problem: saying, “part of who I authentically am is someone who is struggling to say no to things she knows she should say no to; and part of who I authentically am is someone who sometimes finds benefits in hearing other people talk through the same problem.” That is an exceptionally true statement, but yet I’m–for lack of a better word–afraid of what people would think of me with things that are frequently labeled self-help (ironic, in the sense that by the time you are trying to see what other people have to say in the matter, you have actually already moved beyond “self” help).

It is one thing to say it is valid to be yourself. But it’s another to actually act on that. I’m here, because I’m here. I’m sick, because I’m sick. But what do I say “no” to, and what do I still pursue?

And some people like to say, “How you respond to your circumstances in your control!” But I don’t think that’s fair or complete, and I think it’s terribly misleading, and I think it’s barely true on the superficial level. I am who I am. But part of “choosing” is choosing to honor who I already am. I don’t think change involves struggling to be a different person. I think change involves reconciling who I really am with who it is I am acting in, resolving conflict rather than causing it. Some people think that growth only comes through hard things and that resolving conflict rather than fighting to overcome conflict is taking the easy way out. But they’re only half-right. Resolving conflict is nearly always more difficult than fighting through conflict, and the rewards are almost always far greater.

But I still feel like I’m only saying what I “know,” and I’m still very much doubting my ability to respond with the appropriate action.

 

 

Be Nice or Go (away from) Home

I hate negativity.

I understand that means that I am part of the problem; that is exactly my problem

When I get tired–and it doesn’t take much to make me tired, so it’s hardly any excuse or justification–I lose almost any shred of patience or tolerance for sarcasm, arm-chair judgements and criticisms, bad-mouthings and cutting comments. It’s not that I necessarily think all these things should be tolerated, but I more than willingly accept that the proper way of responding to these things are not shooting back my own sarcastic or cutting criticisms. Yet I do.

It makes me so angry to hear this kind of callousness. And I can say as well as anyone that “the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” But I’m honestly shocked by how angry I get so quickly. People have no right to be talking to or about other people that way–about me or about others–and certainly not laughing like it’s funny.

I’m not even quite sure what produces this knee-jerk reaction, and I guess it’s something I need to pay more attention to–and deal with the root cause rather than lashing out with my own short-comings. It doesn’t help that it seems the casual observer sees this just as me “enjoying getting her goat gotten.” This isn’t not a teasing kind of joke; it’s mean spirited and inconsiderate and painful.

It’s hard for me to understand what a right reaction should be, because I’m not entirely sure that I do wan to just get better at “tolerating” it. I know that I do tolerate it better when I’m well rested and under no stress, and I know that my fuse does shrink to non-existent when I do get tired. But it’s hard for me to find a meaningful, measured response that adequately expresses that which I do mean, especially when expressing hurt seems only to get me labeled as “too sensitive” and “needing thicker skin.”

It’s funny, after I went away to school, I wondered why I had started this blog instead of working on my other one. I remembered I had wanted to set this one aside for girl talk, for processing things it appears my very manly family can’t comprehend, or won’t respect. But when I’m by myself, I don’t have to struggle with these things nearly so much, and I forget the impetus for stepping away.

I realize this is a double-eged sword. How many times have I heard that marriage makes you examine yourself so much more, revealing all of your faults and weaknesses? Being away from others doesn’t do away with my weaknesses; it just relieves me of the task of facing them. At the same time, I certainly understand the appeal of the philosophy of avoiding conflict. Life can feel so much harder when your demons keep picking fights with everyone else, instead of staying inside and tearing singularly yourself apart. They’re still there, but at least then it doesn’t seem like you’re dragging everyone else through your rubbish.

If it is just my rubbish. Personally, I think we’re both bringing rubbish to this battle. But I also don’t think it’s funny, in any way, and I’m not at all sure I’m ready to cede petty, either.

When People are Watching

“Does she ever make you record yourself and listen to what you sound like?”

“No. Why?”

“Well, I don’t see how else you’ll ever get better, if you don’t hear what you sound like.”

“That’s what the piano is for. I’m supposed to match that tune. A lot of times I can hear myself going wrong, and that’s when you hear me stop and correct myself.”

“Well, is all I know is ever since you started taking singing lessons, you’ve been sounding more and more affected and you’re sounding worse and worse! But whatever, I’m not your singing instructor.”

Why, I wonder, do conversations like this make me feel like garbage? I could tell by the tone of his voice that he was coming to complain, that he was disgusted by my practice–the practice that I thought had really gone pretty well. I already hate practicing where everyone can hear me, but there’s no place else to practice. Everyone loathes it. They’re sick of my songs, sick of hearing me work on my range, sick of the fact that when one is singing–really singing–their voice carries. You have to, to let the air out, without holding it back. Any other way, and it damages your vocal cord. That’s how I know when I’m singing wrong–it’s uncomfortable. I know I’m singing right when it seems to float right out of me without any strain at all.

I suspect that’s what my brother was calling “affected”. Because when we talk, conversationally, we’re not speaking on our air. So I kind of know what he’s complaining about, and I know he’s wrong. I made a brief foray into trying to explain the reason behind the “affectedness,” but it was clear he wasn’t interested. He felt the need to tell me I sounded terrible. I apologized he was tormented by listening to me sing.

But I’m still going to sing.

And I’m still going to feel like crap.

I try to rationalize it away. He was just one person. My singing instructor says the opposite. My friends who sing notice great improvement. It feels right within my body. I’m enjoying myself. But I guess I don’t have much inside of me that resists very well that tone of voice.

You know that saying that everyone is plastering everywhere? About dancing like no one is watching and singing like no one hears? The thing that gets me every time about that is that it is being used as a rebuke about self-consciousness. That no one is really listening or watching anyway, and if they were, they could only really appreciate your offering. The truth of the matter is that people do watch, and people do listen. And guess what? They think and say critical, harsh things. They don’t like what you do.

If there’s really any truth in that statement, it has nothing to do with flowery, happy feelings of self-affirmation and coming out of your shell like a beautiful butterfly. No; it’s about setting your face like a flint, and doing what is very hard. It’s about defying every dark voice, voices that really are there. When people talk about “dancing like no one is watching,” I think the picture that often gets imagined is one laughing in the summer twilight and twirling with the autumn leaves. It’s really more like trying to find the spirit to dance in a war-zone. It’s realizing you have every reason to shut up and sit down, and getting up and singing anyway.

Which begs the question: why?

If you really do have every reason to shut up and sit down, why would you even call it “inspiring” to stand up and sing? What if people are just mad at you for singing over the war-ruins? What if everyone thinks you’re doing such a bad job of it, it’s a disgrace to everyone’s pain?

It also begs the question: how?

Even if we could pretend that it was really inspiring to sing badly, inspiring to disgust your listeners, inspiring to publicly fail, repeatedly. . .where are you supposed to find the strength to do that? There’s a reason why people don’t sing when others are listening or dance while others are watching. It’s hard. And it hurts.

Do I have splendid answers? Not really. At the core of it, I just know that if I don’t, I’m allowing myself to be caged and bound. I’ve always wanted. . .but, no, there’s an audience. Locked up inside of fear, not being who I really am.

Who I am is a disaster area. Who I am is a train-wreck. Who I am doesn’t summon butterflies and adoring crowds. Who I am annoys people and disgusts them.

But if I’m not who I am, I might as well be dead. If I’m living, I might as well strive to be alive. I can’t be alive as anyone other than me, even if me is the one who sings affectedly, has calves like a Clydesdale, and bosses people around indiscriminately during house-moving jobs. I might not want to be this person, but it’s my job to be alive. Part of that job description means singing even though people are listening, and don’t like it that I am. I apologize, but I cannot cease–without ceasing. The hard things still have to be done.

Remember:

  • Stop trying. Any thought I have to myself that starts with “I’ve tried” or “I’m trying” or any day where my goal is to “try”–well, for me anyway, it needs to stop. Stop trying, stop thinking it depends on me, stop wearing myself out on what I can’t do anyway. “Try” needs to be replaced with “rest,” with “trust,” with riding along with what God is already doing, not trying to haul God along. Trying is exhausting, and accomplishes nothing. Go with it.
  • That doesn’t matter. There is so much that doesn’t matter. Money. To-do lists. Being right. Having it figured out. Usually, I’m anxious about stuff that matters. There’s not so very often in my life (thank God!) where I really am worried about matters of life and death, about real pain and suffering, or about rending spiritual questions. I’m mostly worried about stuff that doesn’t matter.
  • Let go. Most of the time, it isn’t burdens placed on me. It’s stuff I’ve picked up on my own accord, that I don’t need; I need to learn to let it go. Expectations. Standards. Goals. Figuring it out. It’s not important to hold on to it; it’s important to let go of it.
  • It might not be as bad as you think it is. Yes, really. I don’t think God decides to check out while I’m in the middle of studying for school; I think I stop looking for Him. I wonder sometimes why that is. I think maybe I call some things pointless more because I’m not really looking for the point. I just don’t like something and complain about it, without ever even trying to find a point or trying to find God in it.
  • “What if’s” go in two directions. “What if everything goes wrong?” is a valid question; but so is “What if everything goes right?” Neither one is really all that likely; usually some things go wrong and some things go right. I do pretty good at giving the “what if things go wrong?” question a work out, but I’m pretty lousy about evening out that equation.
  • Be thankful for specific things. This is hard to practice, but can be surprisingly eye-opening. I read somewhere, can’t remember where now, about the idea that when we give thanks for our food, it often seems like it’s not important enough and so we start throwing a bunch of other stuff into the prayer just to kind of beef it out–as though being thankful for food wasn’t enough. I’ve started considering actually ingredients, which seems really silly–but has also really humbled me. We had tomatoes for supper. Real, true tomatoes, not processed in anyway–in the middle of January. Is this not a miracle? Is this not special? Huh. The things I’ve taken for granted.
  • All you have is now. All you need is now. How I worry over the tomorrows! Right here, right now–what is needed? Not much. I wish worrying was productive, because I do so stinkin’ much of it, I would be a whirl-wind of efficiency if it actually accomplished something. Strangely, it doesn’t.
  • He is here. I’m the one who’s loud and whiny like a two year old, not Him; so I’m usually the one making more noise. That doesn’t mean He isn’t there. Sometimes it just means I need to stop paying attention to me, and start paying attention to Him.
  • Respect what has been given to you. Like your body: there’s nothings stupid about things like taking care of my body–by resting, by doing nothing, by eating right, by trying out that oatmeal face mask. Same thing with skills and interests: they’ve been given to me. They’re a gift. I need to learn to respect and value that, not take it for granted or devalue it.
  • He gives: you have to receive. I have been thinking about this a lot. If I’m worrying about something, I’m essentially declining the gift of peace. He’s taken care of everything. If I accept that as true, I can have the peace He offers. When I worry, it’s because I’m not accepting what He’s extending–the assurance that it doesn’t depend on me. Focusing on what I’m holding onto in my hands keeps me from looking at what He’s holding out for me.
  • Rest is sacred. God started that, not me. Right from the very, very beginning. I often feel guilty for resting, and I don’t know why. It just feels like there’s so much to do, and if I was a good person, I’d be doing it! But I think I have to learn that God is happier when I rest, and let everything else fall to the wayside. Rest is more important.
  • If God is happy, why aren’t you? I often times get unhappy about how things are going, or how I perceive things to be going, or the things that make me anxious. . .but I usually get the feeling God isn’t the slightest bit upset. If He isn’t, why am I? Instead of trying to convince God there’s a good reason to Not Be Happy, maybe I should be trying to take His lead, and be happy. Maybe He has a better idea of how the cards are going to play out–that sneaky insider knowledge can make all the difference!

Also, I’m sure, many other things. But these are some things that I think I need help remembering, and sometimes writing things down helps me to remember them better.

Gloves that don’t fit hinder you more than you know

Clothes that fit make you feel beautiful.

I think it’s because of the psychological boost that comes from meeting the implied standard: you are exactly as beautiful as this piece of clothing had hoped. YESS!!! It sounds silly, but really, I bet everyone would feel more beautiful and happy in clothes that fit.

Also? If you dress glamorously, the task you’re doing feels glamorous. I know everyone says “dress nice for yourself!” More practically, though, no one tells you to get dressed up to put away laundry in your own bedroom. Try it. Seriously! I have been breaking in some heels by wearing them when I do laundry, and suddenly laundry no longer seems mundane.

I am not really a glamor girl, but I do not care for the slovenly way I’ve been dressing. The sad thing is, I know why I dress the way that I do. It’s hard to dress glamorously when you’re living a slovenly way. I don’t dress nice, because I don’t have a nice desk to sit down at. I sit cross-legged in an easy chair, and balance my laptop between my knees. Doing that in a skirt? Not cool.

Since one of my goals for this year was to stop dressing so slovenly, I’m trying to figure out what stand in my way. A person will always take the path of least resistance; so the the most obvious thing is to get rid of the resistance so you fall the way you want to go anyway.

Part of it is restocking my closet. Part of it is making sure what is in there is both comfortable and interesting. But along that same vein, part of it is trying to figure out how to do what I’m already doing, better. Maybe the problem isn’t that the process isn’t elegant (laundry); maybe the problem is I need to change the process. Because who’s in charge, here? Are you living life, or is life living you?

Sometimes it is a question of the chicken and the egg. Try wearing a dress (I wore one my grandmother gave me from when she was a young woman–cotton, but classy!) and heels while doing the dishes, and watch your motions change. Or–concentrate on your posture, and see how your attitude changes. Or–give up on life, and watch your appearance go totally to crap.

The interesting thing to me is that these things are all inter-related. One does affect the other. You might not have control over one, but you might be able to use something else to “hack in” or “use the back door” and influence the other aspects. I could never try to tell you that if you dress well, your life will suddenly start to make sense. But I can tell you that dressing poorly certainly won’t make anything better either.

How much of a difference would it make? I don’t know; but I’d guess it depends on how consistent you were about it. Our surroundings influence us subtly, and we often don’t realize what a difference they’re making on us until we move into better situations.

Put on the dress fits, and see what a difference it makes!

 

 

Really Uncomfortable

I am really, seriously uncomfortable with some of the “fitness” stuff going around Facebook–“exposed ribs!” “Legs don’t touch!”

I’m sad–no, I’m horrified. I really am. Being able to count someones bones is properly a sign of malnourishment. Legs that don’t touch is a sign of being underweight. People are describing someone who is gaunt, starved, and in a very frail and unhealthy state–and calling it fitness.

I know there’s a skinny culture; I know there’s eating disorders; I’ve seen the terrifying models that look like abuse victims. But I guess it’s just recently that I’ve been seeing this marketed to the Jane Doe girl as healthy.

The heck it is.

It makes me angry, because it’s bad enough when you have these twisted, unrealistic ideas of what a person is supposed to look like–but when you start marketing something that’s literally an unhealthy destruction of the body–well, I’m okay with saying that should be a crime. It’s public endangerment.

We make up all these rules about how large a soda can be sold and where you can smoke–impingement on freedom in the name of health. But it’s perfectly okay to market self-destruction in the name of health?

We’re not measuring health on how much physical labor someone can do in a day. We’re not measuring health by the functioning of their internal organs. We’re not measuring health on strength, on speed, on agility, on endurance, on an ability to rejuvenate. No, health is being measured in numbers and in appearance. And what is the yard stick by which healthy appearance is measured?

Cancer patients, war prisoners, and drug addicts, apparently.

So Guess What?

My New Year’s resolution is to Look UnHealthy.

I want my legs to touch. I don’t want you to be able to count my bones. I don’t want to fit in a size “hiccup”, and I don’t have a magic number for the scale.

If you want a magic word for healthy and beautiful, try this one on for size: VIVACIOUS.

It’s very attractive.

(But it won’t catch on, because counting ribs is marketable and being ALIVE is not.)

Flying high or under the radar?

I’ve had three experiences in rapid succession that have left me not only unsure of what to say, but also unsure of how I feel. I’m left with this strange kind of ache-y hollowness that I don’t really know how to describe.

The first of these was on a really cold morning. I mean, it was really cold, because it was the first really cold day of the season. I have seen much colder than 6F (yes, single digit), but the first time it happens for the year, it kinda takes your breath away. Also, it gives those of us short on small talk some material.

“It’s freezing!” I say. Eloquently.

“I know! It’s really cold out!” she says.

“Yeah! When I. . .went out this morning, it was only 6 degrees!”

That awkward pause? That, I-was-going-to-say-something-but-I-changed-my-mind blip? My brain stopped my mouth before my mouth knew what was going on, and it left me so befuddled I could barely continue the conversation. I was GOING to say, “Yeah, when I went out to take care of the chickens this morning. . .” and then some really bizarre auto-correct kicked in.

You can’t say that.

Why not? Why can’t I say that?

Look at her. Blond hair, blue eyes, perfect skin, new clothes, the backpack you secretly covet. . .she’s too sophisticated to talk to about CHICKENS!

Um, really?

Yeah. Seriously. What are you thinking?

I dunno. I’ve helped her some with homework. She seems nice. I don’t think she’d be grossed out by chickens, or anything.

No! Do not tell the peoples about chickens! Stick to safe, acceptable things, like helping with homework! NO CHICKENS!

But I do have chickens! I don’t think it needs to be any kind of sec–

Look, just shut up, okay?

Um, okay.

It was so weird. I’ve made about a million resolutions that THIS time, I actually open up and make friends, and talk about myself, and not try to make my invisible bubble where we’re all friendly but not really friends. I’ve resolved, repeatedly, that its very lonely when no one has any clue who you are and the only way to head it off is actually open your mouth and say stuff about yourself, instead of quietly thinking them in your head.

The encounter was over in seconds. I felt like I stood there befuddled for nearly as long. What had happened? Why did I feel compelled to edit out chickens? I didn’t mean to do that. It went against all my resolutions. I did it so automatically, and I didn’t even know why. What was wrong with me? And what was wrong with chickens? Lots of rural people come to this school. And even if they didn’t–still, what’s wrong with chickens? Why do I feel the need to pretend I’m not me, or obscure random facets of my existence? I have no answers.

***

I was in the other room, and I don’t think he knew I was there. But he was talking, loudly and with disgust, at my inability to stick with an exercise program. I kept letting things like other obligations or visiting friends get in the way. I’d never learned to just let exercise be a bad thing that happened to me, that I had no control over. I would never just stick with it. Never, never, never.

He wasn’t talking to me, so I stayed quiet. Part of me wanted to protest–you aren’t supposed to live a passive life! You aren’t supposed to just let life happen to you! You’re supposed to be in charge and weigh priorities, and make decisions! Exercise is not my religion, and I will not tell all my friends, “Sorry; I know this is the only day all month that would work for both of us, but that time is when I have to exercise.” And I’m not going to go running when my body is breaking down. Some things are more important.

But that was just a quiet, surface voice, and I abandoned even that. Underneath it was a feeling of such a gulf. He would never understand me. He would never respect me. I would always be separated, alone, weak. But I didn’t want to be like him, and I didn’t agree with his definition of strength.

What words are there for the feeling of when you see how big the space is between you and someone else?

***

This other one, he calls me his baby sister, even though he’s my baby brother. He hates noise. He’s like what-sis-name from lil’ Abner, who wants to go to jail because there are no people there, and no one talks to you never.

But when I practice my singing lessons, there is no reprieve anywhere in the house. The cat disapproves of music of any kind, and flees. Since I am upstairs and he is downstairs, I can’t see what he does. But I’m pretty sure he flees, too.

I told him I was glad that he had patience with me making noise. He told me, very earnestly,

“Oh, no, I think singing is a good thing. Even when you’re bad it, singing is good.”

I wanted to laugh and to cry. I laughed, because you aren’t supposed to cry. He wasn’t even trying to give a backhanded compliment. That was just the truth as he saw it: even though I was making, in his book, an awful racket he could barely stand, he was glad I was singing.

How do you feel when someone tells you that, so earnestly? It’s okay that you’re horrible; I like you anyway. Okay, George. Thanks for the support. I don’t know what to say.

***

I feel asleep thinking about it all. And about my singing lessons, especially. At the beginning of the semester, she told me there would be a concert at the end. She wouldn’t make me do it, because I wasn’t a music major; but her other students would have to do it. I imagined myself singing in that concert. Having learned so much, improved. I would get confidently up there. I would maybe even invite my aunt to come see me, finally singing. I would not hide; I would not hold back. I would victor.

Now it was time for the rubber to meet the road. She had to get the schedule ready. Next time I saw her, I would have to say yes or no. She thought I would be prepared and would do fine, but understood if I didn’t want to. I told her I would think about it. I went home and slept on it, and woke up thinking, “dear God, I’m so glad I don’t have to be part of that concert!”

Why? I’m just tired. I don’t have the emotional strength to fight that battle right now. It’s the same reason I didn’t ask anyone to come to my graduation for my two year degree. I wanted to do it, but I knew everyone would hate to come. I didn’t ask. I mean, I told them when it was and that they could come. But I didn’t specifically say, “This is very meaningful to me; get your butt there.”

I couldn’t. I didn’t even know how I would feel. I just knew I had to go, and I didn’t have the emotional resources to fight that battle with everyone else. Some pictures were taken of me, and my family all said, “wow, she looks so happy in those pictures. huh. I wouldn’t have went to MY graduation, if it was me. I guess she’s weird.” One brother said, “If you’d asked me to come, I would have. I didn’t know it meant that much to you.”

I told him the truth: I didn’t know it was going to mean that much to me. I didn’t tell him the rest, about how sometimes it’s just too hard to swim against the grain. I used up all I had getting me there; I didn’t have anything left to get anyone else there.

It was mostly okay, but then my brother graduated. He had no difficulties inviting the proper grandparents. Plus, he had a much smaller class, and he was valedictorian. And my mom went and my dad, who abhors stepping foot outside of his house–if I remember right, he went too. Then it really wasn’t okay.

I didn’t say anything, because I hadn’t asked my grandmother to come to mine. If I had, she would have come. If she had come, my mom would have come, lest she be shown up by her mother. But I didn’t have the stamina left to do that, so I flew under the radar. I figured out, barely, how to get myself there, and I went through the ceremony with my whole class. Afterwards, my grandma rebuked my mom for not telling her I was graduating. I felt bad, because I should have said something to my grandma instead of hiding. But I felt worse that my mom didn’t have any innate interest in attending my graduation, but had no problem showing up for my brother’s.

I’ve been thinking about that again, I guess, because, Lord willing, I’ll be graduating again this spring. A Bachelor’s degree in science. From an online school. How many jokes do you think there are about graduation ceremonies for online schools? I’d have to travel 3 hours to get to the real ceremony. I am thinking I probably will. I like the feeling of a ceremony closing a door on a chapter of my life.

Is this like the concert? Where I swear now, I will invite everyone? I will talk about chickens? And then in the end, I’m just to tired to fight that battle?

If things go they way I think they’re going to go, in a few more years I will be graduating again, this time with a Doctorate’s degree. What will I do then? Will I ever get up the guts to assert who I am, and that I am important, and that people had better take notice and a little respect of me? Or will I always be this person who flies under the radar because it’s too risky to tell people who I really am?

I don’t know what to feel or what to say.