Stand or Take a Knee…

22 09 2016

When I was in high school, I belonged to an inter-church youth group. Many Sundays saw my siblings and I attending services at the Methodist, Presbyterian or Lutheran churches in town with our youth group – and also attending mass at our own Catholic parish. Sometimes, our youth group friends would come to mass with us – not often, certainly not as often as we attended their services (I mean, we were teens – who would actually choose multiple church services on a single Sunday morning unless coerced?!). When they did come to our church, they refused to participate in the prayer ritual on the grounds that somehow doing so made them idolators or papists. They never asked me about the rituals of the mass, or why we sometimes knelt – they had learned elsewhere that it was antithetical to their religious doctrine. So they came to our church as a sign of solidarity with us (because my parents insisted on mass), but they used their presence as an opportunity to stage a silent protest against Catholicism.

I haven’t forgotten how it felt as a teenager, to watch my friends make significant eye contact with one another as they slowly, deliberately and with a clearly intentional flourish, took their seats – in the very front pew of the church where they insisted we sit – as the rest of the church dropped to their knees.

I felt shamed.

And then I felt angry. What made them think their church was better than mine? Their way of expressing prayerful reverence somehow more “right”?

Now, all that I’ve written about this experience is from my perspective – and not even my current perspective, that of my teenaged self. Today, I wouldn’t see or feel it in the same way at all! In fairness to my friends, their perceptions and perspectives of these events likely vary widely from mine. And it is so far in the past, we’re lucky to remember it at all, much less with any nuance or detail!

However, these memories of how I felt then have helped me to understand a bit about why the recent protests during the national anthem at sporting events have so enraged some folks. When someone chooses to act in a way that is deliberately different, we can’t help but pay attention. And when their action calls out something that we do or believe as a matter of course, we tend to take their actions personally. You kneeling when I stand, or remaining seated when I kneel, is not a political statement, it is a personal affront.

This initial reaction is visceral, not thoughtful.

And here’s where we get into trouble so often, I think: instead of engaging in reflection and dialogue about what is behind both the other person’s action and our emotional re-action, we stick with the visceral. Our responses are then always arguments designed to support our gut reaction, our feelings, rather than intended to bring about understanding of multiple perspectives. It keeps us in adversarial opposition to one another, rather than allowing us to truly listen, or to come to respectful disagreement – not to mention the even more desirable discovery of some middle ground.

Unfortunately, social media feeds this immature atunement to the visceral. In many ways, it has become a scourge to mature inquiry and and reflection. I say this sadly, as one who has benefited from all of the great things social media has the potential to offer. However, as both the algorithms used weed out more and more of what might be different from our own perspectives, more and more we also unfriend those whose perspectives differ. By the time both are done with “the weeding”, we’re left with a very sparse garden of ideas, indeed. One uninformed by the unique perspectives of others whose worldviews and life experiences differ from our own.

We find ourselves in a turbulent time. There are deep issues to be addressed. I do not have any answers, nor am I suggesting that I have a comprehensive theory on how to go about resolving these issues. I am, though, attempting to hold space – by listening, by checking my own gut-reactions, by seeking a broader set of opinions than my own – for what of Goodness and Truth and Peace and Justice might emerge from the turbulence of our times. Whether I stand, or kneel, or lay prostrate on the ground – I am trying to hold space for others to choose their own posture without casting them in the role of enemy or other. It is, honestly, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But I am convinced that making the effort will be worth it, if only because it keeps me from a self-imposed solitary confinement of the mind and heart.

“It’s a fact—everyone is ignorant in some way or another.Ignorance is our deepest secret.

And it is one of the scariest things out there, because those of us who are most ignorant are also the ones who often don’t know it or don’t want to admit it.

Here is a quick test:

If you have never changed your mind about some fundamental tenet of your belief, if you have never questioned the basics, and if you have no wish to do so, then you are likely ignorant.

Before it is too late, go out there and find someone who, in your opinion, believes, assumes, or considers certain things very strongly and very differently from you, and just have a basic honest conversation.

It will do both of you good.”

— Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

 

 

 

 

 





Passports

15 09 2016

When the phone rang, I was attempting to get three things done at once. I sighed with exasperation at yet another interruption before picking up. A friendly voice on the other end of the line greeted me, then said, “I was calling to see if you’d be interested in an all-expenses paid trip to Italy.”

Without boring you with the details, I’ll just say that this was a legitimate offer to participate in a group experience with colleagues. Someone in the original travel group had dropped out, opening a spot – which was offered to me. “Of course,” my friendly benefactor added, “you’ll need to have a current passport.”

Flash back to January, when news reports cited anticipated lag times for passport renewals. Flash back to conversations with my parents, New Mexico residents, whose state-issued IDs did not meet federal standards – making passports mandatory for air travel. Flash back to the many, many times I said to myself and others, “I should get my passport renewed. You never know when you might need it!”

Flash back to all the times I hadn’t followed through on that thought.

Those of you inclined to forgive my lack of forethought on this one, may ask in my defense, “How often does someone need a passport without advance warning, really?” I appreciate the kindness motivating your words, but just judging by the stories I’ve personally heard from friends and family of their frantic efforts to get passports or have theirs renewed, it actually happens not infrequently. I could, logically, have seen something like this coming.

Let’s broaden the lens a bit, though. Suddenly, it becomes possible to see many situations that have blown up and opportunities that have been squandered due to a lack of application. I’m great at the forethought part – I often think about the things I should or could do to be prepared for possibilities or eventualities. Not often enough, though, does the thinking translate into doing.

As a Girl Scout, I memorized the three-finger pledge (On my honor, I will try to do my duty to love God and my country…) but don’t recall ever hearing that the Girl Scout motto, like the Boy Scouts’, is: Be Prepared. Still, I can hardly blame my scout leaders for not ingraining in me the impetus to be ready for what life might bring my way. My mother, Shirley, was always a believer in getting up and at the day’s chores early, just in case something fun came along (and chores must always precede fun). Plus, American culture is chock full of aphorisms (“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”) and inspirational examples and quotes I should have learned from:

“It is not often that a man can make opportunities for himself. But he can put himself in such shape that when or if the opportunities come he is ready.” – Teddy Roosevelt

Embarrassingly, my own life history is littered with torn up tickets to adventure I’ve received and been unable to use due to my own lack of readiness. In virtually every one of these situations, I had thought in the previous days, weeks, or months that I ought to do the very thing that would have allowed me to say “Yes!” when Opportunity came knocking. Somewhere along the line, you’d think I’d have learned the value in listening to these thoughts – clearly my intuition providing wise counsel.

Recently, I went to dinner with a friend who had received good news after a health scare. She insisted that each of us raise our glass and solemnly swear to live every day to its fullest, with abandon and joy. As we clinked glasses, she beamed at us and declared, “Mischief managed,” with a satisfied nod. I wish it was as simple as a declaration pledged with margarita glasses (or, in my case, a giant glass of water). It may not be that easy, but it doesn’t need to be as difficult as I sometimes make it.

So, while I won’t be heading to Italy this month, I will be heading to the passport office to expedite my passport renewal. Contrary to popular sentiment, lightening does sometimes strike the same place twice. And I don’t plan to look that particular gift horse in the mouth a second time. Truthfully, at this point in my life, I don’t want to tear up any more golden tickets due to my own inaction – I’m going to try to listen when my intuition suggests I get up and complete my chores!





Skank

8 09 2016

2016-09-05 15.46.14

I didn’t notice when the word appeared. One day I was looking at the abandoned house across the street, as I often do when I pause at my window, and something about the red paint impinged on my conscious mind. It wasn’t there when I moved in a year ago, but it is there now and has been for at least the past few weeks.

Skank.

The boarded-up house sits in the middle of the block. Of the four lots on that block, two have inhabited homes, one is an empty lot, and – smack in the middle – is the derelict: a relic of the flood that decimated this neighborhood eight years ago. My apartment building, a renovated warehouse converted into “urban lofts” sits across the street. Two floors of 8-foot high windows look out upon the other side of the block. From my shiny new apartment interior it’s hard to know who might be the intended recipient of the one-word message.

Skank.

I do not doubt, however, that there is an intended recipient. This word is a sharp weapon, used with a soft target in mind. “Derogatory term for a female, implying trashiness or tackiness, lower-class status, poor hygiene, flakiness, and a scrawny, pock-marked sort of ugliness. May also imply promiscuity, but not necessarily,” says the Urban Dictionary and all of my 1970s high school.

Skank.

One night, in my former life in college administration, a student nearly died as I watched paramedics attempt to revive her from an alcohol-induced stupor. Later, I was told, she coded in the ambulance – I was in my car waiting to follow them to the ER, but the ambulance sat for more than forty minutes before leaving the campus. She was legally an adult at 18, but the hospital called her parents anyway because they were next of kin and it was not a given she would live through the night. Later – technically the next day, but as I had never been to bed it seemed like one nightmarishly run-on day – I interviewed students about what had happened. The first person told me, “She had a reputation.” I asked what kind of reputation. “You know, she’s kind of a skank.”

Interview after interview I heard the same things. Always, first, the definition of what she was – skank, slut, ho. Then stories that made my heart break, stories that would normally have led the students on our campus to intervene or seek help for their classmate. But not for this skank. Even my usually empathic resident assistants had stood back and watched, judging but not intervening.

A lot of students felt bad after the fact: after they’d spent months sharing salacious gossip about her, but never reaching out to her; after they were forced to confront their tacit complicity with a campus-wide “freeze out”; after the skank had been returned to her residence hall, unconscious and dumped on the floor by several guys who then fled before any questions could be asked. But until she nearly died, no one questioned their indifference or compassionless judgment.

Skank.

I knew a young woman who was nearly annihilated by that word.

When I see that red scrawl on the boarded up porch across the street, I think of her. And I remember the incredible power of words. I think about the interplay of the words people use against us and the choices we make – a stranger in a car yelling “fat bitch” at me as he passed didn’t make me fat. But it did affect choices I made that day, including whether I felt strong enough to face the world, or worthy to even be in it. Over time, their accumulated impact was a wall of isolation I had to tear down brick by painful brick if I wanted to live my best life.

I hear a lot of angry rhetoric about “political correctness”, how it has harmed us, made us weak and unable to confront hard truths.

I’m calling bullshit on that.

There has, in my lifetime, been a movement away from using the harshest and most derogatory terms. A movement away from the weaponization of words to harm, hold back and harass whole classes of humans. Compassion and clarity are never misplaced, and they unify us rather than make us weak. What makes us weak? This backlash against “political correctness” being used to call forth all of our racist, misogynistic, jingoistic tendencies. Because we human beings have these proclivities – just as we have the propensity to feel empathy and care for others in distress.

Which of these tendencies do we really want to call forth in ourselves, to bring out into our world? I know which I always hope to share. That doesn’t make me politically correct, it makes me someone who consciously chooses to bring my best self to the world.

Every day I have an anonymous tagger with a can of red spray paint to thank for reminding me of that. Skank: every day, I see that word and I remember that I choose kindness.

 

 

 





Showing Up

1 09 2016

I have a friend who, for years, has talked with her retired father on the phone each morning. Over time, these daily telephone conversations became a source of jealousy between my friend and her siblings. Her adult sibs would grumble about how she was “the favorite” and that they wished they got daily time with their dad. After listening to their complaints, my friend finally threw up her hands in exasperation. “Go ahead, YOU be the one to listen to him endlessly recount what he said to the guy at the meat counter yesterday, or repeat word-for-word what every single guy at the retired men’s coffee klatch said this morning! I’m happy to let you in on these scintillating conversations!” Faced with the reality of long, mostly one-sided, and sometimes boring interactions – as opposed to the idealized version in their heads – her siblings reconsidered. They told my friend, “No, no. You go ahead. It was your idea in the first place.”

Here’s what my friend understood, that her siblings didn’t necessarily get: what makes her interactions with their dad meaningful is that she shows up for them every day. No matter what else is happening, or what size the mountain of tasks she is facing that day might be – regardless of how mundane the conversation –  she shows up. Her siblings wanted the end result, the closeness, without the responsibility or the tedium of doing the daily thing.

And really, isn’t that true for most of us in at least some of our relationships?

Unfortunately, it is too often true about our relationships with ourselves, as well. This became especially clear to me the other night. A friend who is a cross-country coach posted an invitation on Facebook to come to his annual open meet. I typed the following reply: “I’m too fat to come this year.”

Of course I erased that self-shaming message before I hit send. Besides, what I really meant was, “I don’t feel good enough about myself right now to show up for you.”

That thought gave me pause. I have excused myself from exercising regularly due to tendonitis in my shoulders; I have allowed myself to eat fast food frequently because it is late in the evening when I arrive home; I have treated my minor depression and other menopausal symptoms with snack foods and junk TV. In other words, I have not been showing up for average me, much less my best me.

As a result, I just don’t feel like showing up for my friends or my family if it requires any effort on my part – or when doing so means they might notice how I’ve let myself down.

When we stop showing up for ourselves – when we consciously forego the kind of daily self-care that allows us to feel good in our own skin – we are much less likely to have the energy or ability to be present with, to or for others. And that is no way to live.

“Growing into your future with health and grace and beauty doesn’t have to take all your time. It rather requires a dedication to caring for yourself as if you were rare and precious, which you are, and regarding all life around you as equally so, which it is. ”  — Victoria Moran

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 





How $8 Changed Me

25 08 2016

When I moved to Minneapolis in 2013, I went with a good deal of confidence in my professional skills and abilities. I have a masters degree in counseling and student affairs, and I had worked in increasingly responsible positions in higher education administration, crisis response, judicial affairs; I had excellent supervisory experience. I was fairly certain that, even though I was making that move without having already secured my next position, I would find a job that utilized my skills and offered me the opportunity to engage with my community.

There were tons of job for which I was qualified. I applied, I made phone calls, I received assistance and introductions from friends. Nothing materialized. When it became clear that I needed an income even if it wasn’t from an ideal position, I looked for an hourly job that would ease my financial worries while still allowing me the time and energy to continue my job search.

I found a part-time job (which quickly became full-time) at an upscale grocery store, as a barista in their Starbucks kiosk. When I was offered the job, I was told by my new supervisors that they understood where I was in the job search process – both of these managers were also women with excellent backgrounds who had found it difficult to get professional positions. They hired me, primarily, because they had empathy for me – and I was grateful for the opportunity.

My starting hourly wage was $8.00 an hour.

I had been poor before, but it had been nearly thirty years since I had truly been poor and not just “cash strapped” periodically. Being poor takes skills, and you lose or forget those skills if you are not called upon to regularly use them. You don’t exactly forget being poor – rather, you forget just how truly wearing it is on your psyche. If you live for very long in the relative luxury of middle class, your experiences become anecdotes of your scrappy past, rather than painful stories of survival. At least, that’s how it was for me.

My fellow baristas were a font of information for me on how to get by, how to recover my skills for living small. First, they found out that I was paying $800 a month for my COBRA insurance, and it was eating up my savings in giant gulps. My coworkers informed me that I likely qualified for county healthcare assistance (this was just as Obamacare was coming into being, and I ventured onto Minnesota’s health care marketplace and discovered that my colleagues were right). I entered the rolls of public assistance for the first time in my life.

Coworkers told me about the best food pantries – where they would go to get actual meat once every two weeks, or fresh produce that was still really edible. I didn’t use these resources, because I could supplement my earnings with some money from savings, and I was suddenly viscerally aware of the very real people working side-by-side with me who were trying to raise families on their $8.00/hour. I didn’t want to take food that a family might need.

I liked my job. But it meant eight hour shifts on my feet and I could never afford shoes that met dress code AND were comfortable on my feet. It meant closing one night and opening the next morning, on way less than eight hours of sleep. It meant working weekends and evenings; never two days in a row off, never a set schedule. I had a hard time adjusting, difficulties juggling my own life needs around the schedule. I missed out on a lot – and, again, I just had me. Many of those I worked with were juggling their families’ needs as well. Working in food service, we were supposed to call in sick if we had any illness that might be communicable. But we had no sick leave, no PTO. If we missed a shift, we didn’t get paid. I began to understand how e-coli spreads in fast food restaurants – diarrhea is not always a good enough reason to miss a fifth of your weekly pay.

The other store employees were unionized, we were not. They received scheduled pay increases, benefits. We did not. It was a very strange dichotomy within one store – everyone assumed that we had the same deal they did. To compound this, customers and coworkers alike kept complimenting us on Starbucks’ “generous” benefits – which we didn’t get because we were store employees, not Starbucks workers. Also, like baristas everywhere, we listened patiently to our customers complaining about their days – wealthy people complaining to struggling ones about the cost of the private schools their children attended, or that insurance didn’t pay for their cosmetic surgery. Many days, I left work feeling the strangest kind of dissonance – grateful to get back to my neighborhood and grab a coffee at The Boiler Room, where the general shabbiness felt welcoming and unpretentious.

I developed some of the skills necessary to survive earning so near the minimum wage: I learned what stores and shops had specials when; I never walked past change lying on the ground; I became a connoisseur of the best cheap toilet paper (and I shopped for it regularly at the BP gas station next door to my apartment). I rode my bike everywhere I could – and I enjoyed it – to save money on gas and vehicle maintenance. I managed when my apartment had no running water or no heat (and when it did have mice) – the rent was affordable and it wasn’t a horrible place to live, in spite of these occasional hardships. I learned to cut my own hair, or to go to Cost Cutter on the days of their $6 specials. I said goodbye to pedicures, to having facial hair waxed, to television, to shopping. I waved a fond farewell to artisanal cheeses, charcuterie boards, movies, theater tickets. I had internet, but only because I lived close to downtown Minneapolis and could use the city’s subsidized service.

What I couldn’t ever get the hang of was trying to live this way and still maintain a sense of self-worth. I know I made choices, and those choices resulted in where I was. But it felt as if other people controlled my outcomes (the people who had no issue, for example, telling me they wanted to hire younger professionals despite the fact that age discrimination in hiring is illegal). And there were systems in place that felt actively hostile to my efforts to make a better life. For example, when I needed assistance to get signed up for health care, it took two days worth of navigating telephone call trees to finally talk to a human being – who informed me that I had the wrong agency. He gave me a number and I started all over on another phone tree. (Folks, I have a masters degree and worked for decades in higher education – if I couldn’t follow the convoluted directions successfully, I submit that it would be difficult for many others to do so!) Another example: the two years I made the least money of my entire adult life were the ONLY two years I owed federal AND state income taxes, to the tune of several hundred dollars. Thinking about the panic and anxiety that induced can still make my pulse race.

Why am I writing about this now? We are in a political season, and things have been ugly. In the process of all the mud-slinging and the intentional lie-telling on both sides of the political fence, I am afraid that many of the real issues that we should be paying attention to, even fighting over or for, are getting lost in the rhetoric.

I was so much better off than people who are truly living in poverty and struggling to make it. I had family and friends who could (and did) offer support in both financial and emotional ways. I had retirement savings that I could, if needed, dip into. I had some excellent, quality goods that I already owned prior to my downturn in fortunes that prevented me needing to find ways to purchase them (a car, a bike, good quality clothes, etc.)

And it still ground me down. The more I learned about how my coworkers struggled, the more I became convinced that change is needed. These people worked full-time jobs – some of them had other part-time gigs as well. Sometimes their children had special needs, and often these needs went unmet or only partially attended to. One minor setback – like a car battery that dies in Minnesota’s polar winter – could sink them into a hole it would take them years to scramble out of. Working their butts off the whole time. God forbid they should break a leg or get cancer and be unable to work.

Now, as I am vetting candidates at the local, state and federal level, I am listening closely to what they say. And I am reading their platforms. And I am asking them questions when I can. I want to know what they think about the minimum wage. I want to know what priority they place on making sure that every working American can feed his or her family. I want to know how they will ensure that people on a fixed income will be able to afford both food and health care. I met a local candidate the other day who said his goal is to eradicate poverty in our county within the next 50 years. That’s a goal I can get behind – but I want to know how he plans to start that ball rolling – I want to know it isn’t just a hook being used to get him elected.

I’ve heard so many arguments that it doesn’t matter who you vote for, because nothing changes. Being poor for a couple of years in mid-life has taught me the lie of that response. Who holds office, who sits at the table when decisions are made, has a very real impact – especially for those who are at the bottom of our social class structures, those who are living in poverty, those who have been disenfranchised in some way. Safely ensconced in my professional, white, middle-class world, I am not as susceptible to the immediate pendulum swings. But the people at the edges feel every slice.

I have kept this piece intentionally personal, and I haven’t argued for one side or the other of the political heads/tails of our two-party system. What I am arguing for is the fact that our votes do make a difference. Being an educated voter, therefore, is crucial. I have always voted, though often I have been a lazy citizen, accepting what candidates have said without looking closely at what they actually mean – what programs and planks and platforms have their votes and ongoing support. Having experienced and compared different cities, counties, and states has taught me that real differences exist on the basis of how these communities have voted. Communities are made up of individuals like you and me.

Please, don’t fall prey to voter apathy and disenchantment; don’t believe the lie that your vote makes no difference. My vote is one drop in a vast ocean, I know. But an ocean’s waves are powerful, and they shape the shoreline. How you vote, how I vote, makes all the difference to people living at the water’s edge.

 

 

 





The Real-Life Magic of Friendship

18 08 2016

“But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,’ said Frodo.
Sam looked at him unhappily. ‘It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick with you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo.”  — JRR Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

On one hand,  it seems my friend Carol and I had the most random meeting ever: in a mall parking lot, in October of the year we were both in fifth grade. On the other hand, the fact that I moved into a house down the street from her a few days later makes our friendship begin to look like destiny rather than random circumstance.

When I moved to another state later that same year, I lost track of Carol. And began a pattern that held true for much of my life: arrive in a new location, make friends; move on, leave friends behind.

But Carol has pretty much refused to be left behind. Eventually, I moved back to our hometown (during our senior year of high school). I saw Carol in homeroom on day one but I was too shy to approach her. She didn’t hear my name called, and it was mid-year before she realized I was there. Boy, did she let me have it for not approaching her or somehow flagging her attention.

Over the years, Carol has been the most loyal of friends – always reaching out, always thoughtful, always remembering. Last week, I received a lovely package of goodies from Malaysia, where Carol has been living this past year with her husband Zul and beautiful daughter Rumela. I wrote a thank you card, then realized I have no idea where to send it, as Carol is currently traveling. She has always had the skills to find me, while my tracking abilities leave much to be desired.

Truth be told, the issue is bigger than tracking skills. Truth be told, friends are something of a mystery to me.

Making a new friend feels like alchemy, a mixture of chemistry and fairy dust I don’t begin to comprehend – even when I make intentional overtures (like the day I met Kate and Victoria and pretty much overwhelmed them-ok, frightened them- with my offer of friendship). I never feel very certain how it actually happens, though I’m so glad when it does.

But if the beginnings of friendship are difficult for me to parse, the part I really don’t get is the part where friends become lifelong, true to the core, loyal and beloved. That feels like full-blown magic to me.

I say magic, because: a) I don’t understand how it happens; b) I certainly don’t deserve it-which makes it truly a gift, and one that seems to materialize before my very eyes at that; c) I know that I am rarely as good a friend to others as my friends are to me.

Magic, because it is more than a collection of moments spent together. I have friends who amaze me and add warmth to my days even if we rarely see each other.

Magic, because it is more than a set of similarities between us. If friendship only exists between people who are alike, I could name a handful of people with whom I would never have become friends (but I won’t, because that would be rude, and I love those people!).

Magic, because sometimes things appear unexpectedly and make me clap my hands in delight: cards from South Dakota, macaroons from Ames, Facebook messages from Hawaii, or texts from across town.

Magic, because my friends understand what I need even if I sometimes don’t. And they give it freely, even without being asked.

Who ARE all of you magical people, and how did you appear in – and become part of – my life?

I may not understand how friendship happens, or how it works exactly. But I do know that it has and continues to enrich my life in many ways I can’t begin to articulate. And while I remember how I first met Carol, the same isn’t true for all of my friends. I don’t remember the many ways our lives have crisscrossed, or all of the times we have offered support or encouragement to one another. I can’t list the tangible – much less the intangible – gifts I’ve received from (and hopefully given to) my friends. But I do recognize real life magic when I experience it. And I am beyond grateful for it – even if I sometimes forget to say thank you – or don’t know where to send the card!

 

“We were together. I forget the rest.”

–Walt Whitman

 

 

 





…And…

11 08 2016

The genesis of this blog was a challenge to myself to make and keep in my mind and heart a connection between my own struggles with weight and the growing numbers of people in the US who were living with food insecurity, if not outright hunger. It began with a profound moment of humility – what right did I have to live a gluttonous life while others starved?

Over the first couple of years, Jenion became a repository of self-revelation: what I was learning about myself in the process of awakening to and changing my life. As I lost weight, I also shed many self-deceptions, delusions, limiting beliefs. In each post I tried to share as honestly and completely as I could what I was learning, discovering, or feeling. Sometimes, it was painful to share. Sometimes, it was joyful. Always, it was as honest as I could make it – what I was experiencing without glamor: shame, vulnerability, binges, loneliness, gassy bloating. (I also shared good and positive insights and experiences!) A number of people, you perhaps, resonated with those posts. I heard from people who felt I’d put their own experiences or feelings into words. Sometimes, people called me brave for sharing so openly and for uploading photos of myself on a scale each week, in order to hold myself accountable to the truth of my choices.

Eventually, my posts shifted again. I had made many changes in myself and my life – and I wanted to keep those changes going. My posts, at least to my mind, shifted toward positive self-talk and inspirational messages. If I look over the past several years of Jenion, key words like perspective, love, openness – pep talks and rainbows – show up quite a lot. There wasn’t less honesty, but there has been less personal sharing – which is a very fine distinction when one is writing a blog that purports to be about truthful self-discovery. I began shying away from the “warts and all” philosophy I originally brought to Jenion. I became less brave.

Why was this the case? In part, I didn’t want to let everyone down. I began to feel like I wasn’t living up to the promise of those early years of awakening. Shouldn’t I be happier? My life, my self, had changed for the better – wouldn’t it bum everyone out if I didn’t continue to express the inspirational joy those changes wrought? I had taken some risks -wouldn’t my friends and family worry more if I wrote directly about how I was struggling? How could I fully share my feelings of failure or depression or anxiety without offering an uplift in the end? That would depress everyone. It would depress me.

Yesterday, I came home after a day at work where every five minutes brought another crap-bomb detonation. I came home after a painful first visit to a physical therapist for shoulder pain. I came home after a disappointing workout at the gym, where I barely managed an elevated heart-rate (in part because I am taking medication which actively prevents an elevated heart-rate).

Who am I kidding? I’m already damn depressed.

I sat at my computer and typed into Google: menopause and…Even before I typed in the word I intended to use to complete that phrase, up came a list:

anxiety

depression

fatigue

hair loss

headaches

You get the idea, even without reading the entire alpha listing of symptoms. Throw in weight gain, fear of death, existential anger, and an incredibly divisive political climate tearing families and friends apart…and you have the picture of my life right now. The difficulty is in parsing out which of these symptoms is physiological in its genesis, which emotional or psychological. This distinction is probably only academic – the real question being: what can I change and what do I just have to find a way to manage?

I never intended Jenion to become a blog about life as a middle-aged woman coming to terms with what that means. As an “elevator speech”, that sentence sucks. Perhaps that’s why I’ve contorted so many posts to end with some kind of hopeful upturn, even when it felt falsely peppy. What I did intend Jenion to be – an unflinchingly honest account of my own quest to be a better person, life a fuller life, make some kind of difference in my world (and if that helped anyone else in their quest in any way, that would be great) – got a little off track. I love Jenion; I love posting once a week – in some ways, it has taken the place of a journal. But I love it most when I speak from my heart, not from my self-delusions. If that doesn’t feel peppy and uplifting enough for anyone else to read, so be it. For those prone to worry about me: I’m ok, just struggling with this ordinary thing called life. Just like everyone does.

In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

–from “The Layers” by Stanley Kunitz