Self Care in 2019: Balance, Balance, Balance!

Yes, yes, of course. Self care is quite the catch phrase lately, so much so that at this point I feel like its actual meaning has been replaced with a pop culture meaning, which is spend lots of money on things like spa days or brand name items and give yourself permission to ignore other people’s needs in the name of putting yourself first.

I’m not against spa days or buying brand name items, and I’m not against putting ourselves first sometimes, but this pop version of self care is a disguise and a ruse that makes us believe that by spending money or neglecting other people we’ll feel better. And many of us will — but fleetingly — and at what price? The pop version of self care is a hollow way of taking care of yourself.

But in 2019, I’m going to focus a lot more on self care — or simply taking care of myself — and to do that, I am seeking the magic ingredient:  balance. Balance in everything:  my work life, my social life, my home life, my inner life, my health, all of it as much as I can. And it’s going to be hard. Because to be balanced, truly balanced, is nearly impossible.

     Balance is ephemeral, a moment of suspended grace.                                                      It’s not a permanent position, but it’s one worth striving for.

Balance — or an attempt at balance — requires self-awareness, self-forgiveness, optimism, and even a sense of humor. Because I know with my achiever tendencies I’ll want to “Be Balanced” right away and I’ll want to feel like I’m doing it right and making the right decisions all the time. But that’s the beauty — and the difficulty — of balance. There’s no one way to do it, and the path to balance transforms day to day.

One day balance may mean listening to a friend, really listening, with that still attentiveness and no agenda other than to be there. Another day it may mean taking on the center of attention while retelling a hilarious story. One day it may mean pushing myself really hard at a work out and one day it may mean staying home to rest. It may mean working till 9pm on Tuesday and leaving right on time to go out with a friend on Wednesday. It’s tricky. It’s unpredictable. Whatever it is it’s an approach at walking through life, not as a person frozen in perfect balance — whatever that would look like! — but as a living being responding to the world and her own inner voice and doing her best to make adjustments in loving, good humor.

Doing it out of hate, or doing it for love

Like writing, health and fitness was something on my list of things to do that kind of fell off the list for a while. I was finishing up the school year — just trying to get through it — and in the flurry of deadlines and things to pack I just wasn’t able to be very physically active. As a result, I’ve gained a few pounds, and I haven’t been feeling my best. In fact, I started to really dislike myself and to feel frustrated and angry about where I was health-wise. That’s not a good thing, to be walking around in a body that makes me feel uncomfortable and even downright mad.

So a couple of weeks ago I had a little talk with myself. I could either continue as I was, mad and frustrated at myself — at my body, really — or I could decide to make a change. I decided to try change (yay for positive decisions!) and then I sat down to spend some time looking at my weekly schedule and overall summer calendar. For me I can’t make a decision and let it wither and fade, sidelined by inaction. It has to be made real for me with things that are visual and tangible like schedules and lists. So I made a weekly exercise schedule and I’ve been sticking to it — with some missed sessions here and there — but I’m working on staying positive, valuing the process and growth, rather than trying to be perfect.

That said, when I was back at the gym for the first time in months I realized in the middle of my workout why I was there — why I was really there. Originally the schedule and list and all that were a reaction to something negative — my frustration and anger at myself — but once I was there, looking in the mirror doing squats or whatever it was I realized I was actually there because I love myself, not because I hate myself. I was there to take care of myself, to spend time with myself, and to invest in myself — in my physical health, of course, but also in my mental and spiritual well being. Because it turns out that I like to move my body and feel strong and see myself grow. I like feeling my heartbeat and having my face turn pink and my muscles get that jiggly-weak feeling after doing something hard and catching my breath before trying it again. I like that timeless feeling of being in the moment, focused on what I’m doing exactly here and exactly now. All of that is a great gift to myself, and a way for me to really experience the fact that I’m here on earth, alive, in a body that supports me, in a body that is my greatest gift and tool.

And I think we all need outlets to get our bodies moving, to reaffirm our connections to our bodies, and to spend some time having those timeless moments where clocks and schedules and even the ideas of goals and perfection fade and become distant so that all we can hear is our heartbeats in our chests, our breath move through our bodies, and that beautiful moment of body and being coming together. There’s nothing better than that — that’s what I’ve been missing, and those parts coming together feel like home.

So I don’t do work outs or yoga classes or bike or swim or run because my body frustrates and angers me and I hate it. No, I do it because my body is my home and I love living in it. I’m doing it for love, love, love.

as strong as the weakest link, or run your own race?

lately, some of the adages I’ve heard since I was very young are really starting to resonate with me — I’m really starting to get them, and it’s most frequently been in the context of the classroom.

You’re Only as Strong as Your Weakest Link

this one used to annoy me a lot as a kid, in pretty much any group situation. in the settings where I was a stronger link, most often at school, I was easily impatient with and frustrated by “weaker links,” kids who didn’t get things as quickly as I did or who didn’t do their homework or try as hard, or whatever it was that in my child brain didn’t measure up.

as an adult, and especially as a teacher, I see now how each kid coming to school may be pushing as hard as they can, but the homes they’re coming from may either create obstacles or lay fertile ground for their school success. and that home life variable can be anything from poverty, not speaking English at home, having only one parent, having parents who are splitting up or who argue and fight often, to parents who are college graduates and earn high incomes and take their children on enriching vacations and hire tutors and nannies and send them to club sports and private lessons. it’s easy to grow when you’re a kid from an optimal home — or on the optimal side — versus kids who live in obstacle-filled homes.

I can see that now, and I can see it better, and I understand why I was impatient as a kid. and I know that I was guilty of thinking that I was smarter than other kids in my room. however, no adult — no teacher or parent or family member — ever broke it down for me, explaining that not every kid has the same home life. not every kid gets their own, quiet room to sleep in at night. not every kid gets a home-cooked meal and a place and time to do their homework. not every kid gets vacations to destinations around the country and around the world. and not every kid has parents who are genuinely interested in their success. so what can I do, now that I’m in a position to be that adult who can break it down for different groups of kids? — but not do it in a way that says, “Hey, you’ve got nothing, you’re our weakest link,” or “Hey, you’re so lucky, congratulations, you’re our strongest link?”

my best attempts have been trying to show it through biography and stories — to discuss how real kids from history, like Louis Braille and Helen Keller, had different childhoods, but through their circumstances were able to achieve a lot. I felt a little weird explaining it to my students at the time, but it was true and I think I had to say it. I said, “you know, if Helen Keller’s family wasn’t a wealthy, landowning family, we would probably have never known who she was. her family wouldn’t have been able to pay for a teacher to come and live with her, to give up her entire life to teacher Helen, and only Helen, for her entire life. it makes a big difference if you’re rich, and Helen was lucky.” I paused and thought, then went on. “and Louis Braille didn’t come from a wealthy family at all, so they had to be strict with him and give him chores and not help him too much even when he made mistakes. they had to see him fall, and then tell him not give up, or let him become spoiled or hopeless. they had to push him hard and he had to push himself hard, too. thankfully he never gave up, and we have braille today, and we have him to thank — and Helen Keller has him to thank, too. so we have to remember that our families help to push us hard and even our teachers are here to push us hard, too.”

So my role as teacher, and as adult in the world I guess, is to notice those people around me who are dealing with obstacles and setbacks, to acknowledge that and not to see them through a lens of strength or weakness, but through the lens of needing my understanding, encouragement, and support.

Run Your Own Race

my internal struggle then comes from the balance I try to find between caring for my students who need the understanding, encouragement, and support and also caring for my students who are already fortunate enough to come to school with a lot of the “optimal home life” boxes checked. between these two groups, what’s fair?

honestly, I don’t know. this is a struggle I’ve had for years. I have only so much time, so many resources, and so much energy, and I have to work with what I’ve got, sometimes moment to moment, and with a lot of variables at play each day. and for me it goes down all the way to the question of what a free and appropriate education is — what that truly means. does that mean that each child is challenged and engaged at their individual level for as much of the day as possible? does that mean that children are asked to learn the content of their grade level (first grade, second grade, third grade, etc.) and anything beyond that is extra? does it mean that kids need to be divided or tracked, so kids with more similar needs can be together? does it mean that kids cycle through different teachers throughout the day, so they can see specialists for each content area?

I know what’s plausible for me as a teacher, and I’ve heard what’s fashionable and preferred by parents, which — spoiler alert — are incompatible. so what do we do? most importantly, I think parents need to adjust their expectations, and think back to when they were kids. think back to what their teachers did for them, what their parents did for them, and then what they were expected to do for themselves. because in the end, we are running our own race, each one of us — and we have been all along — and kids’ teachers and parents and supportive adults are there to coach, model, and cheer them on, but ultimately our kids have to learn responsibility and they have to be driven by their own desire to self-actualize and get to their own finish lines.

living, (in)action

the coming of spring has got me a little distracted, but i still wanted to attempt a post — so here’s what i’ve got for now.

some thoughts from the week(s):

  1. positive envy — creates a spark in ourselves to emulate those we admire:  getting fit, eating healthy, getting a degree, being kind, being courageous. esteem and admiration are positive forms of envy, ones that we hope to inspire in others so that they push themselves to greater heights.
  2. negative envy — creates a spark to be aggressive, to take people down a peg and keep them “in their place,” to keep them from being too powerful, too rich, too famous. when taken to the extreme we can attribute certain types of violence to negative envy. (from Hidden Brain podcast, Counting Other People’s Blessings)
  3. walk up vs. walk out campaign — yes, we should avoid excluding people and shun bullies, but sometimes the people being excluded or bullied deserve that behavior. i’ve seen unpopular kids become unpopular because they’re unkind, immature, rude, do gross things. there’s also the bystander issue:  if a kid is being unkind, immature, rude, gross and you’re observing this happen, as their peer say something firmly but kindly; explain that that their behavior is unacceptable and help bridge the misunderstanding. but then there’s the question — do we let kids “be themselves” no matter how much that may push them out of the social group, essentially becoming isolated and an outsider, or do we teach kids that in order to be accepted into a social group they can’t always be themselves, do whatever they want? sometimes concessions have to be made to be in a group — and if we’re not willing to make certain concessions about who we are and the ways we want to act and be, then we have to accept that it’s not a good fit, and leave that group to search for another one, no?
  4. walk up vs. walk out — one day of nice notes isn’t going to make an outsider feel like they’re “in.” and if the outsider is truly already pushed outside the social group, they will know that. moreover, redirecting kids to “be nice” instead of taking time to be socially disobedient — in a safe way, i might add — to make a point about their rights to a safe childhood and safe environments is a distraction from the actual issue of violence and access to guns. it’s also talking down to kids:  you want to protest the problem of gun violence in your society? how about you write 17 sticky notes and pass them out to your friends and teachers instead? why don’t you tell a “sad kid” a joke? a lot more work that that has to be done to create environments of care, concern, and tolerance.
  5. progressives and conservatives and neo-cons — it’s all a shit show, isn’t it? we’re all raging against a machine, one that our predecessors created and one that we’re living in, following the rules of the game, willingly or perhaps unwillingly. and groups of people when they come together create a mess. it’s hard to unify because there are so many exceptions to the rule, especially as humans. essentially we are built to be diverse in body and mind. that diversity is both our greatest strength and our greatest obstacle. hopefully we will develop the imagination and compassion to see one another in closer kinship.
  6. Hoodoisie (say:  hood-WAH-zee, from the French bourgeoisie) — a show in Pilsen (Chicago! south side!) my wife and i went to on Saturday night. lots of progressive politics discussed. lots of people present from non-mainstream identities including race, gender, sexual orientation. and as a teacher who went into teaching to invest in our collective human capital, to plant the seeds of self-empowerment, self-revelation, and internal revolution — drops of water that would hopefully one day become a wave of change on a planet that is thirsty for change — i feel uplifted and encouraged that good things are happening and will continue to happening. growth and change is on the way.
  7. children — spent time with some of my favorite four kids this weekend. checkers and rolling dice and dinner and hair cuts and car rides and talking and laughing and chocolate chip cookies. children can be terrible tyrants sometimes, but they are also beautiful healings. what love.
  8. balance — a teacher this weekend said to me, “if we all had perfect balance we wouldn’t be here.” and i take that “here” to mean the room we were in, but also the lives we’re living. balancing peace and struggle, effort and rest, compassion and justice, oneness and individuality, patience and action, control and letting go — that’s what it’s all about. there is mystery and depth and unknowableness in life, and that unites us.

are you living your best life? man, i’m tryin’!

what kind of person do i want to be? when i am on my death bed, or laying on the ground in pieces after being hit by a bus, and my life flashes before my eyes — what kind of person, and what kind of life, do i want to look back on?

i’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, because i’ve been housing a lot of regrets. and why? my life is out of balance — too much time at work, too much time worrying about getting things done, too much space given up to to lists of chores and tasks. and it’s taking a toll on me, self-esteem-wise and my happiness overall — even my ability to see good things, to register pleasure and joy. the stuff that makes up my heart and soul has been hard-packed by the trivial things in life and it needs some loosening up.

so — the things that matter to me most, that bring me the most joy, should be the things that should float to the top and be my priorities.

i think about this in relationship to teaching, which is a big part of my identity. i love learning and ideas. ideas — and just plain thinking — excite me, and i want to share that excitement with kids.

teaching, like life itself, should be part-structured and part rollicking and free. (we need to know where our next meals are coming from, but we can also have an adventure before dinnertime, you know?) as a teacher, as the teacher i strive to be, i am present to the kids, ever observant and open to them, their personalities, their problems and concerns, their foibles and idiosyncrasies. i am compassionate, but i push. i let them fail in a safe space, i ask questions, i sit back and think along with them. i wonder and i let the possibilities unfold. and even if it doesn’t happen this way most of the time, i want it to — i want to bring more of myself, the life enthusiast, into my classroom.

i think about teaching in relationship to living — the way they interact together, almost like the inhale and exhale of breathing — and i think forward to the inevitable moment on my death bed. so with the end in mind, i remind myself that i can be a good teacher — and a good life-liver — if i remember who i am, do the things that make my heart sing, and stay open to the fascination and terror and puzzlement and thrill that is living this messy life.

Addicted to the Big Reveal

So this winter break I’ve become really interested — okay addicted — to an HGTV show called Fixer Upper. Despite this show, and this network really, being responsible for my wife and me thinking we could buy a building (and then we did) I still love this show. And what’s not to love?

There’s the typical goofy husband / beautiful wife combo who work with clients to make their dream homes become reality. There’s some silliness during construction, a peek at the Gaines’ growing family and their animals at Magnolia Farms. It’s great.

What I especially love is that Big Reveal at the end. Ooh, I just friggin’ love it!!! The couple is nervously laughing and their shoulders are all tense, or they’re grabbing one another’s hands in anticipation, and Joanna or Chip ask, “Are you ready to see your fixer upper?” and the couple says “Yes!” and then the screens are pulled away and then someone shrieks with joy, or the couple hugs, or they exchange handshakes or hugs with Chip and Joanna. It’s the best, that moment of unveiling and sharing after such a long time of waiting and hoping and wishing and dreaming for the day.

I love the moment of the big reveal because energetically, spiritually even, it feels like a big moment of exchange, of following through with all your promises and giving it everything you had, of showcasing earnestness and honesty, of having every good intention fulfilled and put on display, of giving and healing — healing both the home owners and the home itself. It’s the final moment of taking someone’s trust (and money, of course) and turning it into a newness that was previously only imagined in the mind’s eye. The home, the place where our bodies and minds come to rest and where our energy is replenished, is made new. It’s just so… — I just love it.

And in some ways, New Year’s Eve feels like that, too. Tonight is the big reveal on the new year, on the start of 2018, something new and fresh. It’s like a backyard full of freshly fallen snow, and no one — not even a sparrow or a stray alley cat — has stepped foot on it yet. It’s blank, and the potential seems endless.

The tricky thing is what to do — and how to live — once we get that clean slate, that do-over, that moment of starting anew. I know I’ve had many Mondays where “this is the week that everything will go just the way I want it,” and of course it doesn’t — because life is a messy organism. And after one fail I wait for the next Monday, and it turns out that over the years I’ve spent a lot of time waiting to start over.

So I go into this new year focusing on the big themes I want to heal and make new — no, not make new — just see and live in a new way. Because we all have lives that are just like these fixer uppers — the bones are good and the potential is there, we just have to see it in ourselves and then lovingly, day after day, choose the path that creates change and fulfillment — one little Big Reveal at a time.

Christmas Shopping & Gender

This past Friday I was about 1% prepared for Christmas in all of the possible ways:  no gifts purchased, no decorations hung, no cards written, no cookies baked. But it was on the list of things to do for Saturday and my wife and I really got it done. At some point I just decided that this year all the adults were getting socks and all the kids were getting books, so I think that helped. Sorry, family members, if you’re reading this. Maybe I should’ve put a spoiler alert at the top for you. Either way, let’s move on.

Besides the socks and books, my wife and I did some other in-person shopping and as we zigzagged between the boys’ and girls’ clothing sections the contrasts were pretty stark. Thankfully a boy I was shopping for only needed clothes in navy and hunter green — but if he had wanted anything in an even slightly peppier hue, it would have been a challenge. At one point I stood in the tiled aisle facing in towards the clothing racks, boys’ side on my right and girls’ side on my left. The girls’ side looked like a a balloon had just popped and as many sparkles and frills as you could imagine rained down in colors like pink, soft purple, white and yellow. Since it’s Christmastime, there was also a good mix of red, green, and black, but when my eyes moved over to the boys’ side, it was like all the color had been leached out. Gray, navy, hunter green, black, more gray, a few spots of white and royal blue. That’s it.

And what does this tell our boys and men? Because it’s the same thing when I walked the women’s and men’s sections, if not even more pronounced. Women’s racks were strewn with dresses that looked like silver and gold disco balls and the men’s racks had black, gray, blue, dark green, more gray. Just looking at color, and not even more detailed things like fit or design, to me it looks like boys and men aren’t supposed to have any fun. They’re not supposed to see their bodies and their clothes as a way to express themselves, to be viewed in a decorative or showy way, to play with color, pattern, or texture.

To me this small detail, a wardrobe drained of color, portends that men cannot have — are not culturally allowed to have or are not “supposed” to have — a relationship with their own sensuality. Think about it — when you picture a “bachelor pad” in your mind, what do you see? Over the years in person and in media I’ve mostly seen hyper-minimal looks, lots of black, white, gray, and stainless steel, maybe some raw or dark wood, maybe some sports memorabilia. Colors are often bland and dark. It’s often feels hard and in many ways lifeless. Sometimes even a bit cold and empty.

And what does male clothing or home styling have to do with anything? Well, we’re having this national “moment” about men and their bad behavior towards women — not all men, but enough men towards enough women that it’s made its way into many of our daily conversations. It makes me wonder:  if these men, who were once boys, had been allowed to get in touch with the full range of their sensuality by playing with color in something as mundane as their clothing, what would have happened — what could have happened?

If men had had the chance, the permission, to wear yellow, orange, purple — gasp! pink! — what would that have felt like? Would it have sparked a change, a tiny shift, into asking the simple question:  What else? What else can I feel? What else can I experience? And what if the what else didn’t end with color and clothing, but with putting aside other hyper-masculine attributes to explore something else, another side of who they are and another way of being in the world? What if they asked what else when it came to expressing affection? What if they asked what else when they wanted to express sexual desire? What if they asked what else — how else can I deal with this — when they felt sad, lonely, rejected, isolated, unattractive, unwanted?

Because beyond being male, each individual person, regardless of sex or gender, is so much more — and there is always something else, something more to explore, something more to see, another shade or angle to experience.

And if you’re a man or identify as male, it’s very likely that if you’re like most of the men I know:  you haven’t had a chance to explore your sensuality, your creativity, your way of being in the world that isn’t highly dictated by very strict masculine norms. And what a thing — to miss out on all the shades of life. How dull. How boring. How gray.

i see you, i thank you, i love you

I just came home from a long visit with The Kids. Let me explain. I’m not a mother, but I’m a teacher. So in a way, I’m a part-time mother to many. In this specific case, The Kids are a family of four kids who are currently being taken care of by their grandmother, who they consider their mom. The full storyline is a little muddled and gray, but in general the gist is something like the mom was mentally and emotionally unstable, had four (or maybe five) kids within about six years, and through a series of abandonments and neglect, left them with her own mother to take over full custody and care for them.

I’ve come to know them — and love the shit out of them — through my wife, who was preschool teacher to the youngest two, the boys. Through a long series of conversations and events we saw that one of the boys was gifted, like truly gifted, and he qualified to attend the regional gifted program that’s housed in my school. Besides seeing them at school, we’ve gotten closer to them over the years, taking them out on the weekends and during the summer, attending their teacher conferences and meet the teacher nights, helping with school projects, all that.

And we just came home from a long visit with them. Unfortunately they’re struggling to deal with school and their emotions and how to treat one another and how to listen to their mom — essentially how to process and deal with their unfairly fucked up lives. But none of this stuff is their fault, they didn’t create any of the circumstances or make any of the decisions that have landed them where they are today. And even though they’ve been struggling lately, overall they’ve been amazingly resilient and strong; they’ve gone through more emotional trauma than even most adults and they’re not even four feet tall yet.

Which leads me to thinking about several things. One, the mothers and fathers — parents through blood or love — who, regardless of what life has thrown at them, have pushed themselves to get to work, show up for their kids, do whatever is in their power to protect, nurture, and push their kids to their highest heights — I see you, I thank you, and I love and admire you for the sacrifice, the drive, and the never-ending persistence that you show. Because of parents like you, your child’s success is not a possibility, it’s already a fact. You are doing it, and it’s already happening.

Two, to the children of these circumstances — whether you are still small or already in a grown-up body living in the world — even if it doesn’t seem like you’ve had much in your life that was given to you, like nothing was ever easy, you are making your life — you are the creator of your fortune — and because you have come from such depths you have the capacity to know such heights. You have been burnished by hardship, and smoothed by rough waves, and your success means more to the world — it just does. Your accomplishments, your wins, your awards and prizes, they are a beacon and a victory, a jewel in the crown of creation, because your life demonstrates how a person can create something wonderful from almost nothing. You are a piece of magic on earth.

So to my friends and even unknown readers who are seeing this, I know it can seem like your life is hard and small and heavy. All the little shit builds up to a crushing weight. But take a minute and look back to those moments when you were low, so much lower than you are now. And ask yourself — how have I gotten this far? Most likely the answer is that it’s been through the care of a parent — from blood or love — and through you, your power and your decision to be better. Please keep going — don’t stop — you’re almost there. And I see you, I thank you, I love you.

 

Let go and let go until it’s really let go

I grew up Catholic. My mom took my brother and me to church every Saturday — well — kind of religiously. Why Saturday? Isn’t it supposed to be Sunday? Yes, sure. However, technically Sunday is the first day of the week and so Saturday is the last day of the week, a day of rest and the Lord’s day. Also, Saturday mass is less crowded than Sunday mass, so it’s shorter and we’re in and out faster. What can I say? My mom was a very efficient Catholic.

Regardless of what day and time I went to church, I grew up hearing about forgiveness. There was confession, where the priest forgave you your sins, there was praying to saints and Mary who could intercede for you, and there was also praying straight to God, whichever of the three members of the Holy Trinity you decided to pray to, who you might ask for forgiveness. This isn’t meant to be a critique of the Catholic faith or my upbringing, but in some ways — even as an eight-year-old — I just felt, or even knew that someone saying, “You’re forgiven” didn’t really mean it was so. Really? Just like that? Forgiven?

I spent some time as a child, adolescent, and young adult thinking about forgiveness and what it actually is, but I didn’t have much to grab hold of, something concrete. Even when I’d watch 20/20 interviews with the mothers of murder victims — the poster people of forgiveness — saying, “I’ve come to forgive [so-and-so murderer] for what he’s done to [so-and-so victim],” I’d watch and still wonder. What exactly happened, inside that mother, inside her brain or her heart or her consciousness or her spirit or her I don’t know what, that determined she had undergone the process of forgiveness?

I meditate. I’ve been doing meditation and energy work for years now, and in that setting, some of the energy I’ve worked with is the energy of forgiveness. It even has a color. Gold. And I’d use it in meditations, work with others using it, and still not quite get it. What is forgiveness? What’s happening here?

And maybe this is all obvious to you, if you’ve listened more carefully in church than I have or watched 20/20 interviews more intently or really gotten it when you meditated, but it hasn’t been like that for me. I just never knew if I was going to be capable of understanding forgiveness, of having forgiveness, of performing the act of forgiveness towards someone else.

Then, when I was in the process of meeting my now-wife, I was hurt. I was really hurt deeply by someone I had considered a friend, even a best friend — if that even exists for adults. After coming out to her (even I didn’t quite know and accept that I was gay until I met my wife), and telling her about my new relationship, she stopped speaking to me, excluded me from her own wedding party without telling me (I only found out when I went onto her wedding website to RSVP and saw the wedding party and that I wasn’t in it), and then informed me the night before my own wedding that she wouldn’t be attending because — well — just because.

And initially I was angry, and then happy because I was married the next day, and then numb to feeling anything about her because I was busy being married and working and living life. But finally the dust settled. And I could feel a space, a hole, that she used to inhabit. And I realized, I’m hurt. I’m sad. And I’m also fucking pissed. I had not forgiven her — at all. And every time I saw her I would either want to pretty much stab a pencil through her eyeball — or on better days — I’d want to be friendly, supportive, caring (her engagement fell through and she was pretty devastated for a while) but there was an invisible wall there, something holding me back.

I could go on and on for another 25 paragraphs about all the internal processing I had about her, our friendship, about myself, but I won’t. I did realize, though, that in order to let myself heal, move on, and make truer, more meaningful, and lasting friendships, I’d have to let go — I’d have to forgive. And every time I see her different feelings are stirred up within me, but when the dust settles, I let go. I let go a little more and then a little more and then a little more. On an energetic level I thank her for being who she was to me when we were friends, and I let go. And the letting go creates a space, a new space, a different space. And in that space forgiveness resides.

Life Is a Grassroots Campaign

Last week I wrote about my appreciation for my body, for all the things that it allows me to do. That appreciation still holds, but I’d like to go into it a little further; with all things simple, there is a lot to be mined from the depths.

I grew up studying ballet, a discipline which in general teaches its students to have anything from a mild distain to a full hatred for the body — usually because it’s not meeting the ideals of the ballet physique or the standards of what a body should do and how it should look doing it. If you want to seen an example of just how much ballet can skew your self-concept, take a look at this Russian ballet superstar.

In addition to ballet, add the fact that I’m female. The pressure to act and look pleasing  is so subtly pervasive, it’s like a mist in the air; you know there’s something there, but you just can’t quite put your finger on it. Then, compound that with female competition — who’s the most pleasing, the thinnest, the smallest, the prettiest — and I was swimming in a pretty chunky self-hatred stew. The trouble is, like I mentioned, it’s so pervasive and so common — and starts at such a young age — that I wasn’t even fully aware of it until I was well into womanhood.

I left ballet towards the end of high school — I wasn’t going to be good enough to be

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Found in the lot next to my building. Reminds me of the stinky onion of self-defeat.

professional — and even though the physical training had ended, the mental training of ballet stayed. There was some good in that training:  I was very goal-oriented, self-disciplined, extremely respectful of authority figures and teachers, I had a lot of body awareness, and strangely good peripheral vision. But I also retained heavy self-judgment and self-doubt, I was perfectionistic, and I could hardly ever acknowledge that I was doing a good job, let alone doing “enough.” And these characteristics made it hard for me to be good to myself as a college student and a young adult. These characteristics also made it hard for me to be good to the people around me.

What does all this have to do with life being a grassroots campaign? Yesterday I was listening to a podcast with Mike White, a movie writer and director. The topics he discussed were wide-ranging, but mostly focused on people’s jealousy and obsession with status. At one point he said, life is a grassroots campaign; we start with ourselves, in the body that we’re in and the dirt that we’re standing on, and from there we build out to the people around us.

And I realized — intentionally or not — that’s what I’ve been doing since the day I left ballet. I’ve been working to let go of the self-judgment and self-doubt, the perfectionism and the idea that I am never enough. I’ve been loosening my grasp on “perfect,” and reframing my life around growth and self-forgiveness. A small, quiet, tiny but profound internal revolution.

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I ask myself, are my health and body perfect? Definitely not. But can I see small changes  when I go to exercise, when I make a choice about what to eat, when I ask my body to do something challenging and it rises to the occasion?

I ask myself, is my job perfect, is this the job I want forever and always? No. But am I growing and changing through this job? Am I thinking of how I can use it as a bridge to develop into what I want and who I want to be professionally?

I ask myself, is my marriage perfect? Sometimes yes, but not always. But is it growing and changing with who we are? Are we approaching a life together focused on mutual love and support?

I ask myself, are my friendships and family relationships going the way I want? Mmm, it depends. But can I see how approaching a person with compassion and optimism can strengthen the ties we already have?

Can I see how my loving treatment of myself can build momentum, turn into a ripple and then a wave, and that over time it can radiate outward? And can I see that eventually I am the head of my own grassroots movement — one that is rooted in recognizing and cheering on growth, change, forgiveness, optimism, and resilience?