change · confidence · despair · self-acceptance · self-worth · work

Answering the Caterpillar.

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Yesterday afternoon, I drove back from the dentist and
stopped to pick up lunch and a drink before I returned to my final afternoon at my job.
As I stood on line at Peet’s coffee, the tall cute guy
behind me rifled through his pocket, and out fell a green Crayola marker.
Without a cap.
This only happens to two types of people: wackos, and
teachers. I took the risk.
He replied he was a teacher. And then came the most dreaded
question on the face of my earth:
“What do you do?”
It’s one of the first questions people ask when they don’t
know one another. It’s a function of the desire to orient and locate you on the web of
society and potential commonality: What do you do for a living?
And, honestly, the idea of answering this question has kept
me from dating. Because what people are asking is not simply where are you
employed, (to me) it’s asking if you are
employed, what your social status might be, what your interests are, what your
value of your self is.
They are asking, Who are
you?


And I haven’t wanted to answer for as long as my response
has been, I’m a glorified secretary.
Sure, over the years when I’ve spoken to friends about this,
they’ve replied, you don’t have you put it like that. You are a marketing
specialist, you are in customer service, you are an executive assistant, an
education administrator. You support the people who make things happen, you run
offices, you hire and fire people, organize office events, facilitate publications. You reconcile expense reports.
AND ALL THIS READS TO ME LIKE GLORIFIED SECRETARY.
FUCK!
And, the point is that I
haven’t felt comfortable telling others that’s what I do for a living.
Because it makes me feel less-than. Because I interpret what
I do as not good enough for me. Because I feel that it doesn’t speak to all
that I am as a person, and surely, answering that one question for anyone is never an indication of who they are as a whole.
But, I have felt it a pretty good indicator.
I am small. I have zero power. I do boring repetitive tasks
while chained to a computer desk. I get condescended to and underestimated. I have the copy machine repair man on speed
dial.
BLECH!
Get out of here!
I don’t want to be that person. Because, I’m not that
person. It’s stuff I can do, but it’s not all of me.
Perhaps, though, it means that I need to hold others’ answer to
that question more lightly, because I’ve only had one answer to that question
for a very long time, and it’s never spoken to who I am as a person. So maybe I
can be more open-minded toward others whose answers don’t titillate me.
But, whatever comes of my relationship to others’ answers, I
know that I haven’t been able to budge my relationship to mine, no matter how
much work on “self-acceptance” and “perspective” and “gratitude” I’ve done. And so, the only thing to do is to
change my answer, not my relationship to it. Yet.
So, yesterday, when cute, marker-covered dude looked into
my eyes, and asked me what I did, I was able to answer easily, truthfully,
and proudly: I’m a teacher, too.
(you know, part-time, after school two days a week, but,
it’s a start!)

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boundaries · confidence · letting go · relationships · self-doubt

Dic(k)tator

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I had a boss once who was the consummate micro-manager. I
would be asked to carry out a project, and as the week would go by, I would get
inquiries about the state of the project, if I’d done a, then b, then c. Did I
remember to? Did I contact? Where was I on it?
I spent nearly as much time on the project as I did answering my boss’s incessant questions.
At one point during my employment, I had come to the end of
my rope about this type of management style, and I let my boss know
that I was having a hard time with our communication – that I felt my boss did
not trust me to carry out a job that was assigned to me.
Although it was stated that of course I was trusted to do my
job appropriately, the actions that continued to take place showed that wasn’t
entirely true. And even though it wasn’t exactly personal, I felt
disenchanted with the duties I was performing, feeling my power of ownership, and therefore, my professional confidence, was being undermined.
In a total book-reader/movie-watcher’s understanding of such things, I would say that
it’s like defending a castle.
There is usually an external wall built around a castle and its grounds, in
place to prevent ingress and marauders. The citizens trust that the wall will
defend them.
However, what if there is a monarch who doesn’t trust those
walls to hold. Despite the greatest masonry, the height
of engineering and construction, the monarch still feels at risk.
And so, she sends out sentries to patrol the exterior of the
castle wall. There are boundaries, but these are not trusted, and so she
employs a defensive and offensive line.
The thinking goes: I do not trust that the boundaries I have
put up will hold, and so I will go beyond them, in front of them to fend off
any attacks. I don’t even know if there are any enemies out there, but there
could be
. And I don’t think the walls I’ve
built will hold.
I am not willing to have the boundaries tested. I must make
extra defense.
Let’s turn the analogy to personal boundaries. If we don’t
trust that our boundaries, our internal mechanisms, will be faithful, will
perform their job appropriately, or have been built to the utmost of our
knowledge, we will continue to send out sentries beyond those boundaries to
defend ourselves.
What this does in the end is show that we do not trust
ourselves and our boundaries. We never get to test those appropriate walls to
see if they can in fact do their job. By not allowing them to do what we’ve
built them to do, they will never get the chance to prove to us that they can,
and we will continue to send out a forward offense/defense.
At the risk of being obvious, I am that monarch.
I may have spent years building and refining a system of
appropriate boundaries, but I am loathe to test them. Instead, I employ an
extra electric fence to ensure that those boundaries are never even tested.
Because what if they fail.
I surround myself with an added, superfluous layer of
defense and offense, because I am scared that if you get too close, my appropriate resources won’t have the ability to measure and defend your threat.
But. If I don’t allow you to get to the wall of the castle, I
will never know if you are friend or foe. Instead, I will always interpret you
as foe, because I have paid my sentries to treat you as such.
I don’t trust you, I don’t trust my boundaries, and so I am
insulated and impervious. To all comers. Benevolent or not.
I hated feeling treated as though I were not capable of
doing my job appropriately. It felt diminishing and disrespectful and
disheartening. I hated having an extra layer of checks and balances around a
system that worked just fine.
The appropriate layer of boundaries I’ve built around
myself, that we all need (that is permeable, and fluid, and always learning and
gaining in refinement) has been long-sheltered and is tired of this
trigger-happy band of sentries, “protecting” my own system of protection.
If I don’t allow you to pass that ridiculous layer of
defense, I will never know you. You will never know me.
And I will miss the opportunity to learn to trust myself and
to create relationships that will enhance the whole kingdom. 

adulthood · aging · authenticity · confidence · femininity · joy · life · self-acceptance · self-love · vulnerability

"Only Her Hairdresser Knows For Sure!"

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I am likely not the only woman to tear up at the sighting of
a gray hair on her head. But I may be one of the few who wells up with tears of
gratitude.
Yesterday, during my morning primping, I noticed a gray
hair. I usually don’t pull them out; this isn’t the first I’ve noticed. But
this one, I decided to.
About 5 inches of silver, shiny, light-catching hair. 5 inches
that have grown back since it all fell out from chemo in late 2012.
Call me crazy, but I’ve never been scared of going gray. I
had none at all before cancer, and several now. But, even before then, I always
thought of it as a rite of passage. As a crowning achievement, really. You’ve
made it
. You are alive to go gray at all. You are passing into the stage of life that
is for richness, boldness, satisfaction, self-esteem and a greater degree of self-assurance.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from reading about aging
generations, it’s that so much of our self-questioning begins to fall away once
we reach “a certain age.” We begin to think less about how others see us, and
more to question what we want to leave as a legacy. And this brings with it so
much reflection and truth-finding.
Who wouldn’t want to
age into that category?
Surely, you don’t have to turn 50 to begin to assess your
values and your desires for the remainder of your years. Like me, and surely
others, you can do that at most any age. But it helps to have some experience
behind you to make those choices from a place of peace, not fear.
The first memoir I ever looked at, I didn’t read.
I saw it on a shelf in Borders (when it still existed) about
7 or 8 years ago. I noted the title, looked at the flap, and went on with my day.
But I never forgot about it, and last year finally picked it up to read.
The title? Going Gray:
What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and
Everything Else That Really Matters
. A
woman’s exploration of what that means to “go gray” in our culture and society.
A lifelong hair dyer, she made the decision to give up the illusion, and embrace
whatever lay under the chemicals, for better or worse.
Author Anne Kreamer looks at the history of dying our hair;
goes “undercover” as a woman trying to reinvent herself to re-enter the
workforce to see if image consultants will tell her to dye her now growing-out
grays (none do); and comes to discover that with her new look comes a new clothing
color scheme, and a new confidence.
She also doesn’t purport the superiority of letting her hair
grow out. She talks with successful women who do and don’t dye, and let’s them
have their experience. All she can speak to is her own.
Surely, it helps that she goes gray in a “nice” way, with
silvery and dark chrome strands. Which is much the way I anticipate I will.
With my dark coloring, I imagine that I will go silver,
instead of stale gray, or as my mom describes her (dyed) fading blond: dirty
dishwater.
So, that “beauty in the beast” helps my acceptance, I’m sure.
But what brought me to tears yesterday as I stood there,
admiring this newly-found strand, now plucked and held like a precious object
in my hand, was the reality and giddy reminder I feel every time I find one: I made it. I am alive to have gray hair.
I’m alive to see what will happen with it: if they’ll turn out
all spidery texture and I’ll lament I ever praised finding them. If I’ll
consider dying it after all. Or if I’ll love every single thread of life these gray hairs represent.
I tear up when thinking about this, because it’s true.
Because, like someone admiring a sunset, or their sleeping child, or the taste
of a food never eaten, it means I’m alive.
Which itself means I have a chance and a choice to make my life whatever I want
it to be.
My gray hair represents possibility, transformation, and
authenticity.
Who wouldn’t rejoice? 

authenticity · clarity · confidence · despair · self-love

WWWD?

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This morning, I imagined myself going into my interview for
the “Gold/Coal” job tomorrow morning. Going in as I felt at the moment I was
reflecting, hunch-shouldered, weary. Why do you want this job, they’d ask? For
the money, I’d bite into a lie that would instead say something about
supporting the education of children, though I would have zero direct influence
in that education.
I imagined the gray, and lonely march, with the exterior
painted for display.
Somewhere in my reflections this morning, I remembered what I
always seem to forget: I am a witch. 
I am a shaman warrior goddess. And like many of the women I
know who are, I do not fold into a box of forget-me-yes’s.
Raise your brows if you like, but I forget, with apparent
force, that I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to subsume my person. I don’t
have to abandon myself.
What would a witch do? She would see opportunities. She
would create them.
I don’t know in this instant what that is, but I have remembered that I am a healer, and that I love helping others to heal.
When I was sick, and was tired of others bringing me things
and taking care of me like I had nothing to give them in this world, I hosted my workshop. My
workshop called, Creativity and Spirituality. I sat for an afternoon with 5 women,
and helped them find something in themselves they’d lost or thought they had to
abandon. I am a witch. I am a healer.
I am six feet fucking tall. I don’t have to hunch my
shoulders, and roll over dead for anyone, including for the spite and ire and bile
in my brain sometimes.
It’s shorter, these lapses in memory. And today, I finished
my journaling and meditation with a smile of confidence I haven’t had in a bit. The smile itself may wane, but I hope that the centering thought does
not.
And here’s where the real miracle is: The thought hasn’t
waned. For years now, I’ve eventually come back to that centering truth that I am not powerless and I am not worthless. Sometimes it takes longer than
others. But after seriously considering this morning whether I should go on meds, something else happened. The bottom dropped out of my
short-sightedness, and I remembered that I am not as narrow or narrowly defined
as a drone, the drone I’m trying to prove to someone else they want to hire me
to be.
Who knows. Is that more school in some kind of healing art,
is it running my workshop again just to get some spiritual juice flowing, is it
looking back into working with kids in a direct way, revisiting my idea for an
after-school program for them?
I don’t know. But I remember.
And I’ll show up tomorrow, and I’ll place on my lie. I’ll do
it because that stability could finance further education. I’ll do it because I
show up to things and never know how they’ll turn out.
But, unlike when I took the job I have, and cried
mercilessly after work while waiting for the unfailingly 45-minute late bus,
after earning a master’s degree through words and performance that I created,
after accepting what I thought I had to at the moment (and perhaps did) – and one
month later developed cancer … Unlike then, I seem to be remembering that I
have power. That I don’t need to accept a life sentence of menial work, or define myself under such disparagement.
I’ve been depressed because I have thought that to be what’s
happening again. Once again applying to things I don’t want because I want to afford healthy food and visit my mom in New York. Once again, I’m poking around the internet half-heartedly saying, yeah, sure, I can answer your phone and type up your emails. I can hack away my power so you can look good. …
And if it weren’t for cancer, this time might indeed be that away again. But because I am hyper aware and viscerally afraid that subsuming my
light in pursuit of “stability” can cause repercussions of atomic scale, it is
top of mind to not allow myself to shrink into that dull, flatlined human
who trudged her death march to Muni every morning.
What would a witch do? Firstly. She would remember she’s a
witch. Then she would put on high heels. 

acting · community · confidence · fear · learning · smallness · theater · trying

Be a Royal

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Yesterday, I auditioned with the weird, avant garde theater
company I saw perform briefly on Saturday. Last week, after telling me I didn’t in fact get a ‘Pride and Prejudice’ role as I’d thought, the producer of the company I’ve
been auditioning with these past few weeks continued, “You must know your
height gets in your way.….
“But, we’re doing this ‘Queen of the Amazons’ play, and I’d
like to introduce you to the director.”
So, I met the director last Saturday. At the weird hippie
commune cult Renaissance patchwork crystal-wearing children-of-the-corn-toting ensemble performance.
I’m hippie, people, but I’m not that hippie. Really.
Nonetheless, I spoke with the director for a little while,
he invited me to stay for the performance, which I could only for a few
minutes, and then the producer called on Wednesday to say the director would like
to audition me. And yesterday he did.
He asked at our initial meeting if I really played bass, as is
listed on my resume, and I said yes. So he asked me to bring it. And I did,
along with my guitar, since I really am only a novice at bass, and can’t really
improvise how some might.
We met. He showed me binders and binders of photos from his
previous performances. Despite being achingly weird, some of them, they were
interesting. Achingly weird. He said American theater bores him – he’s Italian.
And then I played two songs I’d written on the guitar, and
sang. And it was strange, just us two, but so nice to be back behind an
instrument again. My throat is sore from it, from being out of practice – just
another muscle, you can’t just decide to
run a marathon without training.
And then he had me read some of the scene. The main role,
the Queen of the Amazons.
It was challenging. I’m not that experienced, you know, and
it was great to have his feedback on what I was doing, like a private acting
lesson. “Be more open, more proud, you’re a queen.” Smile, melt us with your smile, make us love you even when you’re
angry. Speak from down here, not up here. Crouch, get physical, you’re an
AMAZON.
Ha.
It was weird, and fun, and hard, and intimate, and
vulnerable. And it’s still unclear to me if I’m “in,” and because of my “too-soon” (my brain can’t find the word I mean – need more coffee) — PREMATURE!! — that’s it — premature declaration the other week about landing a role, I’m
cautious to do that here. But. It seems very positive. And even if not, I got
some great notes.
It’s clear to me that I have some education to continue
around acting. That it would be worth it for me to look up classes or lessons
again. If I do get this role, it’s
intense, starring, physical, musical, and (word for pushing & challenging I
can’t think of). It may be more than I can chew, but I’ll face that if I get
the role.
The piece that stands out to me about the audition yesterday
was the director inviting me to be more queenly, assertive, confident. To allow what he saw as I played my instruments and sang. To let that person out. To not
be a queen through me and my mishegas (not his word!), but to be a queen as she would be.
I drove from the audition to a very long, but good meeting
at work, and on the ride asked myself aloud, “What does it feel like to be a queen?”
Role or no role, it’s my job to find out. 

camping · community · confidence · courage · doubt · grace · insecurity · laughter · love · self-esteem · self-love · serenity

Confidence: How To.

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Think of something you know you know how to do. Something
you enjoy knowing how to do. Maybe it’s making the lightest quiche, or playing
the drums, or changing a bicycle inner tube. Maybe you know that you know how
to plant seeds that germinate, or fix this computer bug, or mix the perfect vermillion. Maybe it’s as simple
as knowing you know how to hug a child, or tell a good joke. Find something that makes
you feel competent and confident.
Experience that feeling. The surge of blood through you, a
sense of guidance, purpose, direction. A sense of being the right person for
the job, in the right place at the right time. A feeling of ease and tension
release, of certainty and even exuberance. I know how to do this – I love
doing this.
For me, about 2 years ago, I realized it was (car) camping.
I know how to do that. I knew when we
needed wood, when we should start the fire, how to put it out. I knew how to
set up my tent, how to walk in the woods, how to avoid poison oak. I knew how
to brush my teeth at the tap, and use my headlamp to find my missing sock. I
knew how to have fun, how to do what needed to be done, how to help others
because I knew how to do these things.
What if… we allowed for the possibility that we could have
that feeling in more places in our lives. If we could recognize the mastery we have in some areas, and allow that
sense of confidence and competence support our less certain attempts. Maybe, it’s just knowing that I know how to
put on liquid eyeliner with deft precision. Can I allow that to fill up my tank
a little? – Come to think of it, can I recognize that I know how to fill my gas
tank! (If you grew up in NJ, you might not!) 😉
But the point, today, is that although there are many areas
in which I am not an expert, and that will always be so, and there will always
be something to learn in the places I want to become more adept… there are also
a host of places that I haven’t recognized I’m doing pretty well.
I think this is what they call, “building self-esteem.” What
a concept.
But, it’s true. People in general, and people like me, tend
to dismiss what we think is easy for us. For me, I have tended to dismiss my
writing when its complimented, since it can be so easy for me. What’s the value
of something that is wickedly simple for me?
Somehow the idea that valuable things are hard things came
into our zeitgeist. This is not to say that you or I needn’t work for what we
want, but it’s about recognizing what we have, and sometimes what we’ve been
given, that we take for granted.
I take for granted that I know how to put on crisp eyeliner.
I learned it, I do it, it’s a part of me. So, I forget it’s not something everyone else knows. I take for
granted that I can write this every day, for better or worse! I take for
granted that I can talk to the children at work and make us both smile. – Well,
that one I don’t. I don’t take the smiling for granted, just the knowing that I
know how to do it.
If I were to go through a given day or week, and take note
of the things that I seem to “instinctively” and “intuitively” know how to do,
how many things would pile onto that list?
Sure, there are blank spots, there are gaps, there are wide
berths of where I want to know and learn and be more. But they’re gaps. They’re
not the whole.
If I tried to recognize that I could feel the same
self-esteem while cooking eggs in the morning as I do when making a teepee out
of wood in a fire-pit; if I could remember to feel adept and facile when I
parallel park my car; if I could allow a sense of ease and confidence for the
simple act of knowing to pause in today’s heavy sunshine,
I imagine that delightful, intrepid poise can offer a
foundation for my less assured endeavors.  

authenticity · community · confidence · courage · encouragement · intimacy · laughter · vulnerability · writing

But We’ve Got The Biggest Balls of Them All!

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When I was living and teaching ESL in South Korea, I earned
a nickname: Ballsy Mollsy.
It was not uncommon for me to approach a stranger in a bar
and ask inappropriate questions. Or, maybe I was with a group of friends, and
wanted to steer the conversation in a more exciting direction, and would pose a candid question to a group that would earn laughs, but few answers. Maybe I would just stumble out to the next bar in search of new conversation without
telling anyone, but that was more stupid than ballsy, fyi.
As chance would have it, one day last month, I attended a
play my friend was performing in, and I ended up sitting next to the 25 y.o.’s
mother. “How did it even come up?,” he answered via text. When I told him, he
replied, “That’s right, I forgot you talk to strangers.” (Indeed, how we met.)
I do. I talk to strangers. I mean, how are we ever to meet
anyone new if we don’t talk to them? Like the other day, waiting for my
burrito, I ended up waiting on the bench next to this guy I see
around my neighborhood a lot, who I’ve seen working at the café on the corner. We
struck up a conversation, turns out he’s a nice guy, we had a pleasant chat about movies,
and he went off with his burritos for himself and his girlfriend.
It’s not always about “meeting dudes;” in fact, it’s more
than often not about that. I just like to find out about people, not walk around like
the Ants that they talk about in A Waking Life who, unseeing, run into one another and then walk around and continue
on their way, antennae down. I mean, that’s what New York is for. 😉
I suppose I learned this from my mom. My mother is
notoriously gregarious. To the point, growing up where it was embarrassing, and
not a little evidence of her manic tendencies. But, still. We’d be in a store,
she’d exchange more than a cursory Thank You with the cashier or salesperson. We’d be on a
bus, and she’d ask the woman next to her about the museum she’d just
visited, based on that metal entry pin tacked to her lapel.
Sometimes, she’d flirt with the cashier or waiter or
whomever. There was a base note to her conversation that wasn’t just cordial or conversational. Pre-divorce, this was a little unnerving.
But. A few years ago, she recounted a story to me that she
held as an exemplar of growth and self-aware change.
She was in Zabar’s (Manhattanites will know), and was in an
aisle next to a couple. She could overhear them debating which of the cream
cheeses they should get. If the tofu spread really tasted like cream cheese, if
the chive was better than the dill?
My mom. Had an opinion. She always does.
The success came when she didn’t offer it. She reported to me that she realized they were not
asking for her help, they didn’t
need her help, and she picked up the chive tofu cream cheese she loves, and
went on her way.
Trust me. This is a big success. To “mind your own business,
and have business to mind” is a very important boundary to learn. I was amused
at how proud she was of herself, too, like she knew that she was learning
something, that she was changing something.
I mean, it’s part of the reason our relationship has been
able to grow where the one with my dad has faltered: she really is trying to
change. And it shows.
Like all of us, change and growth takes time, isn’t simple,
and sometimes means taking contrary actions.
But sometimes, how we behave in the world influences others,
too. How she interacted in the world helped to inform how I do. Now, sure, I’m
not Holly Go Lightly everywhere I go. Sometimes I wish I had a burka. But
sometimes, the purchase of a burrito is transformed by the simple act of
connecting with another human being.
I leave you with this: I received a card in the mail this
week from a friend. In it, she thanks me for what I write here and on my
Facebook; that reading “me” helps to buttress her flagging spirits.
I told her how much that meant to me. How much it means to
me that my interactions with the world are making a difference; that I’m not
telegraphing into deep space for purely selfish and masturbatory reasons. I
never really know if how I’m choosing to express myself here is “too much” or “too honest,” and
I have to trust that those of you who choose to click on the link to read me
do so because you find something here, even if it be self-congratulations for
not being as bipolar 😉
To hear that how I behave in the world influences and
affects people for the better is one of the greatest gifts of having big balls.