humanity · judgment · vulnerability

Queen B*tch

9.26.18_2I began watching the 7th season of Once Upon a Time recently, and was telling a friend how a part of me envies the bitches.

There’s a new character (not the above pictured; I just love the Evil Queen costumes!) who, judging by the little we see, owns some kind of real estate business where she has a large office on a top floor, tall wooden doors that are frequently thrown open with drama, and tailored outfits that could bounce an Army quarter.

She’s fierce, in the meaning of the word that isn’t reserved for drag queens, but in the unforgiving, unflinching, unquestioning, decisive, detached sense of it.

This character doesn’t pause to consider sides, to consider another’s humanity or perspective, to question whether her judgments are just or kind or evil.

She just does.

And there is such freedom in that!!!!  Or, so my poor heart would have me believe.  (Though maybe it’s my ego.)

What a welcome relief to live in a tower of righteousness and galling assertion, to scatter minions with a sharp word, to know with formidable certainty that what you want will be attended to with efficiency and unflagging effort by others.

BUT, I told my friend, the evil queens always die.

They’re always alone in that tower.  No one has compassion for them, as they don’t for anyone.  An oak will topple in a storm where a reed will survive.

There is, of course, strength and wisdom in being a reed, but oh, the majesty of being an oak!

This human thing is hard.  It necessitates humility and compassion and acceptance of the sort that makes a heart pump with ache.

But this human thing also opens the gates for connection and support that makes a heart pump with love.

Thus is the curse of living outside the tower, and (as you already know) thus is the blessing.

Besides which: I don’t need to be a Bitch Queen to wear fierce outfits.

 

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grief · trust · vulnerability

Safe Word.

9.17.18.jpgThere is hardly a conversation with my mentor that doesn’t ultimately return to the word “safe.”  How I retreat from others’ vulnerability: so I can “stay safe.”  How I limit my visibility in the world: so I can “stay safe.”  How I attempt to control the attitudes, behavior, and experience of others: so I can “stay safe.”

When I page through my personal history, there are dramatic highlights—or low-lights as it were—where it is crystal clear what there was for me to attempt to be safe from.  And while those circumstances of the past cannot be changed, the way that I have reacted and grown from them can be.

It made infinite sense for me to retreat, hide, and control in order feel safe in my world at the time/s.  Yet, as I come into greater awareness of these patterns’ domination, I notice a familiar grief that they had to form in the first place and a new grief at discovering how isolated my reactions have made me.

I cannot change what occurred or how people behaved, but that’s not what I feel steeped in today.  Today, I feel awed that those circumstances precipitated a chain of understanding that leads me to perpetually feel I am unsafe.  And in need of constant defending.

There is a sorrow, and a fatigue, in that defensive stance through life.

So while I may not, rather can not, wash the events of my history white as snow, I can in whatever ways, come to realize that continuing to use this same barometer in the world is inadequate:

What does an undefended self look like?

What would it mean to not constantly scan for the sniper?

How would I feel in the world if I wasn’t perpetually bracing for impact?

Can’t answer these yet, but noticing is a great beginning.

 

fear · humility · vulnerability

Be vewwy qwiet…

It’s really uncomfortable to bear witness to others’ humanity.

What happens on the flip-side of that is I don’t generally allow others to bear witness to my own.  Not the struggling parts, the messy parts, the parts that don’t have it all figured out.

The registered shock from coworkers when I share I’m barely holding it together, that I’m making it up as I go, that I don’t feel like I have it all together reinforces my inextricable adoption of the “Look Good.”

“But you seem so confident, you seem always on top of things, you seem so ‘together.'”

It’s all a facade, I tell them with a laugh and a smirk.

But what is that facade?

What is the protective layer I anchor around myself so that others can’t see me squirm?

I always want to clean up others’ mess.  I take on more at work because I think there’s a cleaner way.  I’m told to (literally) “Stay out of his closet” by a close friend when I dated a man whose home was … gross.  I bear witness to someone’s suffering, but hold my breath so I don’t catch any.

I want it all neat and tidy because it’s so hard to be with the mess.  The mess of others, and the mess of myself.

It’s. So. Vulnerable.  To tell someone I work with that I’m struggling.

I once worked in a job where I was told to buy a digital camera for another coworker.  Because I didn’t know how to go about that (it was the early internet days), and because I didn’t have a budget or specifications, I kept putting it off.

I would get calls from that coworker asking for its status, and I would say I’m working on it.  Though I was totally frozen on how to move forward, I did not say that.  I put on my Look Good and said I was on it.

About a month later my big boss came to ask me if it were true that I hadn’t gotten the camera yet.  I froze.  I don’t remember what I said in the moment, but I do know it was within that week that I quit that job.

Yes, the job was not my dream one, but the idea that in order to avoid feeling caught, seen, vulnerable, or “stupid” I would quit a job to protect myself from being a visible mess??  Wow.

I went out with a group of coworkers after school yesterday, and I felt like I didn’t have enough to say, enough to share.  I didn’t have a list of cool things to tell them I was doing.  I didn’t have a list of national parks I’d been to.  I didn’t have kids to talk about.

I felt awkward.  I was fine (I assume they didn’t notice because my Look Good skills are cold steel), but it reminded me of that first/last date I had a month ago where I felt like a cement-tongued wallflower, unable to name one cool thing I was up to… or one real thing about myself.

On the phone this morning with a friend, she said there’s consistently a ton of stuff that I can and want to share about.  “You write a blog every day!” she exclaimed.  Clearly, I’m not at a loss for what’s going on with me, what realizations I’m having, or how I’m bumping against things or overcoming them.

But somehow, that fact never shows up in answer to, “What are you up to?”

Sharing that stuff feels … inappropriate?  Like I won’t be met, so why bother?  Like, nobody wants to hear about it, so shut up?

Ugh.  The ugliness of how we treat ourselves.

I went to graduate school, in part, to begin to move my writing from “the page to the stage,” to get out of the quiet cocoon that is a notebook and begin to share with an audience.  In those moments, I felt like my humanity was valuable, but only because it was for similar people involved in similar projects.  In the “outside” world — in person — is my writing of value?  Are my insights “appropriate”?

If I think my own messiness and vulnerability and humanity are gross and need to be shielded off from the urbane eyes of the world, then I will never launch into my life in the way I desire to.  If I look at the mess of others, personally and professionally, and judge their messes as disgusting and in need of immediate repair, this is just a mirror of how I think they will perceive my own.

I hide and alienate when I want to share and connect.  But to share and connect is to be vulnerable, so I hide and alienate.  Repeat.

What is the value of humanity?  What is the value of messiness, of the power of our flaws and vulnerability to connect us?

What value is there in a Look Good if all it does is look good?

 

reality · self-care · vulnerability

Vul-Hole

8-20-18-bad-hiding-under-box.jpgIn the storied flurry that was my late teens, I had a girl friend who got stuck in a K-hole.  For the uninitiated, a k-hole can result from taking Ketamine, a prescription drug meant for anesthesia but used recreationally for sedating fun (eek).  She related to me afterward that, for several hours, while everyone else simply saw her sitting on a couch unmoving, unresponsive to the world, she was locked inside her head.  She was trapped in a box on the side of a hill.  She was terrified, screaming, clawing her way out.  (Don’t do drugs, kids.)

When, yesterday, I shared my blog “A Teacher’s Prayer” with some select folks at work, I swandove headfirst into that box!  I compulsively refreshed my email while spiraling down into thoughts of: Oh g-d, why did I do that.  It’s not good, they won’t relate, no one will reply, I should have kept it to myself.  It’s too vulnerable, too honest to share.  This is work, what were you thinking?!

“You did a dumb thing,” in essence.

Then, finally, I stood up from my laptop, walked out of my kitchen, and began to talk to myself (occasionally aloud!):

Molly, you’re a good writer.  Molly, who cares what they think of it—it’s important to you.  Molly, you’re a 36-year old woman with a wealth of experience, and you’re on your way to a date.  You are a writer, singer, friend, teacher, human.  You are more than one emailed blog post!  Let it go.

Be in what’s happening right now.  You are not locked in a box on a hill with your negative swirling thoughts.  Don’t be an asshole to yourself.  Jeez.

And, so I did what I was taught: The next right thing.

The next right thing was to text my Goals Group ladies that I was feeling super vulnerable.  The next right thing was to shower, get dressed, and get out of the house.

Further, when I returned from the date and only two emails had come through, I booked a workout class for 20 minutes from then.  GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD!  Move your body to move your emotions!

Vul-Hole, you bugger.

Because here’s the final result: 6 hours after I emailed out that blog, my “big boss” replied to thank me deeply for my words … and then asked if I’d read it at today’s staff meeting.

Are you sh*tting me?!

The ultimate lesson however needs to have nothing to do with the result.  The fact that my boss, and several of the other faculty, emailed me to say they really appreciated my words has nothing to do with how I felt about it.

The true lesson here is about how I treat, and treated, myself while I was in a Vul-Hole.

Phase One: Feel elated, and kinda proud, at the courage it took to send it.

Phase Two: Feel deflated and self-immolating at what I’m now calling hubris, not courage.

Phase Three: BE IN MY DAY.  Don’t get mad/sad — Get Moving!

Phase Four:  Come back to my self.  Remember I’m a whole person with ups and downs, and that this event is one microscopic stitch in the tapestry of Time.

Phase Five: Feel pretty damn proud of myself for getting out of the Vul-Hole and acknowledge that my ability to do that is more than any accolades, likes, or dates could ever offer.

 

growth · strength · vulnerability

Bio-Dome

8-13-18_2.jpgIn an article I read several years ago, it described the results of a real-life biodome experiment.  Scientists had constructed an environment inside a dome with plants and animals and trees, carefully monitored humidity and air composition.

After a year or so, they realized their oversight:  The trees that grew were massive. Unencumbered by the elements, up and up they grew.  Then, these trees began to topple.  Their root systems too shallow to hold their height, the trees began to uproot themselves.  They were too weak.

What the scientists reflected was that in the absence of wind, storms, an opposing force, there was nothing for the trees to press against, no muscles they had to build in order to survive.  They were lily-livered.

The trees needed opposition, they needed challenge, they needed to test their mettle against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune!

In other words, they needed to be exposed.

When considering those things within us that are our most precious secrets, our most protected parts of self, I must consider that there’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg dilemma.

If I don’t expose my secret dreams and talents and self to external slings and arrows, they won’t become stronger because of it.  And therefore I get to fear that my dreams and talents cannot hold up—and I’d be right!  Because in truth they can’t survive if they’re lilies, so I protect them further.  They stay weak, and I fear they’re weak.  Rinse, Repeat.

As I regard my moving out into the world in a more full way, I have to know that my dreams will suffer.  They will hit bumps, they will be jostled.  They — I — may feel threatened.  I may feel inadequate.

But this is in service of my strength.

It’s so vulnerable!

Yet, the alternative of hiding and waiting for storms to pass eternally is impossible.  To live an undiscovered life is to live in certain death.

There’s no real bravery in my opening up the bio-dome, exposing my tender green shoots to the terrors of “out there” — there’s only sheer and pure necessity.

Besides, I know I’ll get stronger, and strong girls are hot.

 

courage · love · strength · vulnerability

Going Soft.

9 2 17 marshmallow

I was in a book study a few years back with a Man, capital M.  He was tall, burly, a hefty, baseball-cap, sports t-shirt wearing Guy.

As we went around the room sharing why we were there and what we hoped to get out of it, this Man said he was afraid this process would turn him into a marshmallow.  That at the end of this, he’d be weak and soft, that opening to his humanity would expose him irrevocably.  We nodded in shared understanding.  Opening oneself is never easy, as our ego-minds — flashing warning signs — remind us repeatedly.

By the end of the year-long group, this Man was indeed softer.  He laughed more easily, he shared more deeply, he allowed his vulnerabilities to be witnessed.  He had turned into a marshmallow.

He had also turned into an entirely stronger version of himself.  His vulnerability and humanity made him approachable, communal, and this community strengthened him further.  His supposed “weakness” was now a great strength, showing confidence, authenticity, and self-possession.

I, myself, am being called to soften, particularly in my romantic life — perhaps one of the most intimate places we are called to grow.

In his kitchen, in his arms the other morning, I said to my boyfriend, “You’re going to melt me.”

Like the Man of the book group, I am scared that my melting will expose me.  Will lay me vulnerable…  To what?!, I have to ask myself.  Oh, Love, you are so misinterpreted by me:

Love lays you open to breakage.  

Love, my fear touts, is a sedentary bull in a china shop: You’ll be picking up broken pieces sooner or later.

But, I am not a china shop and my inner world is not a precious porcelain museum.  It is a dynamic, industrious candy factory. (…Sure, why not!)  And allowing people, a person, a beloved person into that factory, well, I can only see that he will appreciate my colors and flavors, and help me see that I can do the same of myself.  And of him.

For many years, Love has been dressed (and addressed) as a risk.  But really, it’s just a curious visitor hoping for something sweet.

community · debt · healing · vulnerability

A Kick Start.

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Well, folks. Tomorrow I will publish my indiegogo campaign
to help me pay the back-rent accrued when I was in chemo.
It’s been a short, strange, and amazing process.
About 2 weeks ago, I was sitting with a friend in a café, both of us
“applicationing,” online searching, looking for work, looking for authenticity.
I said to him, “You know my favorite thing I ever did? I
hosted this group art show in SF.”
I showed him the LocalArtists Productions page, practically
defunct and way out-dated. I told him how successful it was, people came,
people who didn’t know they could sell their art sold their art. I even sold some!
People laughed, ate, met, mingled. It was divine.
I then told my friend that I haven’t painted much since then. That I can’t really in my small apartment with a cat who likes to
walk over wet paint. I told him about this art studio I found while exploring
the 4th floor of my apartment building, and how I’d inquired to my landlord
about it, and how he’d said, yes, I can rent it for $25 a month(!!!), if I pay off my back rent.
Almost $4000 now. Out of work for 6 months, only working
part time after that. I racked up quite the debt. And have been slowly paying
it back. But…
Here’s where lightning struck. My friend said to me,
“You should do a Kickstarter. This is exactly the kind of thing people use
crowdfunding for.”
I looked at him, stunned, quizzical, a little vague. I tilted my head, trying to process what was just
said, offered, opened up before me.
I replied, incredulous, “I guess people would donate to a cancer survivor who wanted to make art
again, wouldn’t they?”
And so it was, 2 weeks ago we started something new.
Planning meetings, a few video shoots, a lot of “omigod, I’m
not even wearing any make-up, I wish I’d smile, I look awful” moments. And it’s
done. It’s being polished, and tomorrow morning, I will push this campaign out
into the world in the hopes that others will actually feel something from it.
In the hopes that I can stop writing “back-rent” in my
monthly budget. In the hopes that I can sever that weight of debt from that
time in my life.
As I sat with my friend going over the language in the
campaign, we have been talking a lot about “closing the cancer chapter.” And I
turned to him and said, “This isn’t closing it,
you know? This doesn’t make it ‘over.’
There is no “closed” when it comes to cancer. I’m in
remission. I’m 2 years into the 5 year “almost as healthy as normal people”
period. But it’s never closed. It can be moved on from in many ways, but the
simple existence of the campaign itself is proof that I’m willing to move into
the world in a way I wasn’t before
cancer.
Everything I do is in reaction to it.
I told my friend, tearfully, that this campaign is
important. It’s helpful. But it isn’t the end. The “closing the chapter” is a
great sound-byte, and I’m using it. But it was important for me to say to him,
“Not quite.”
For better or worse.
I am proud of the
strides I’ve made since being sick. I’m proud of the advancements and actions I’ve
taken – being in a band, singing, being in plays, a musical, going to Hawaii,
Boston, Seattle, trying dating again, flying a goddamned plane! – and I’m
overwhelmed by the support I have gotten.
But, it’s so hard to sit with the reality that I am who I am
because of what I went through.
I still get nervous when I get a sore throat, cuz that’s how
I was diagnosed. I still have to keep extra tabs on my health insurance. I still have
a butterfly-shaped scar on my chest where the chemo tube went.
And last week I put on a sweater I hadn’t worn in a while,
and pulled a strand of hair caught in it. The hair, my hair, was long, past
shoulder length. It was from before I was sick. Before my hair fell out.
It was like seeing a unicorn. Evidence of a mythical time. A
time called, “Before.”
It existed. I existed.
The cancer chapter isn’t closed. I don’t know if it ever
does.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t take action and strides and
make use of the persistent lesson to live.
I am proud of the
woman I have become and continue to evolve into. I know she exists now. And
maybe she always did.