Celebrations

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Admire someone else’s beauty without questioning your own.

Something about this line sent me reeling this week. I have hardly slept. I spent some of my nights pondering the implications. There’s so much more to the words – something more than the sum of all its parts.

How much of my life do I spend comparing?

Is there a single area where I am content with my own beauty?

Short answer: No. 

But more than that, I start to think about the conversations I have with friends and family from time to time. More than not, our lives are spent comparing.

“You’re such a stronger person than I am.”

“I wish I had abs like hers.”

“Why can’t I lose weight as well as he does?”

“I want to be as good a writer as you.”

Worse than that, some of these conversations do even more than acknowledge other people’s beauty over our own. Some of it is belittling their own self-worth. I do this. A lot. “Oh! I know I’ve gotten Editor’s Pick more than once, but I’ve still never had a paid publication. I must be a shit writer, then.” “Oh! I know I lost 10% of my weight, but none of it matters yet because I can’t fit into those pants yet.”

So last night, I consider the possibility that maybe it’s time to change my thinking. That perhaps part of the reason I have been so unhappy is because I can’t look at my own beauty. In fact, I avoid taking pictures of my face as much as possible.

Case in point

I know there is some there. I need only ask my friends and family to look at an image, and they are always there to pick me back up. To encourage me. To say what it is I need to hear to feel less unworthy of their words. But truth is, I don’t hear the words. I only hear my own voice saying how pathetic it is I need validation.

But there is truth in what they say, and it’s time I embrace those things first. It’s time we all embrace and celebrate our beauty! So I thought I’d start this off by naming three things I know are alright about me. Then I’d encourage everyone to do the same, because we all need a little more self-worth. For the next week, I’m going to focus on these things. First. Then see if maybe it changes the way I feel.

I can see my beauty. 

I have great passion, sometimes to a fault. Plenty of people have learned this the hard way.  “Arwen was never at the Ford of Bruinen! It was Frodo alone who stood up to the Nazgul and screamed, ‘You shall have neither the Ring nor me!'” (I may or may not raise my fist in the air as I finish my tirade.) When I’m focused and passionate about anything, I grit my teeth and make it happen. In fact, I recently won the very first thing I’ve ever won before – an 8 week challenge. See! I have a trophy to prove it. And a cute tiara. Because every girl wants a tiara?

I have a great smile. Let’s leave my face out of this, but my smile. I know it’s pretty good. I randomly smile at complete strangers to try and cheer up their day. I know. Lame. But awesome. But mostly lame. I especially like it when I can see a barista or shop clerk who looks a bit flustered and under the pump. I flash them my pearly whites (okay, they’re really cream-colored) and like to see their face light up when they smile back. Again, lame, but mostly awesome, right? Right!? (Insert required validation comment here.)

Lastly I’m super encouraging. No idea why. I like to see people succeed. Whether that be by helping people with their resume or prepare for an interview or beta read their pieces. I love helping others reach or strive for their potential. I do it in almost all aspects of my “social” life from writing groups to work colleagues to exercise buddies.

Embracing my beauty

This is not my usual writing style. In fact, I am normally never this blunt. I don’t intend to make a habit of it, because, for one, it’s exhausting. Maybe by doing this, though, it will break me out of what ever it is causing me to not write lately, and it might encourage some of my friends to do the same.

Confessions of a Reformed Racist

(Please be warned. There will be some very graphic and offensive language in this post.)

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“She’s really smart… for a black girl.”

“There’s a difference between a black person and a nigger. A black person wants to be decent, like a white person. A nigger doesn’t give a shit about anything or anyone.”

“It disgusts me. Seeing those spics earn American dollars and not spending a dime of it here.”

“I will not stay in the same room as that lesbo! What if she tries something while I’m asleep?”

I have a big confession to make. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I said all of these things.

* * * * *

By the time I was in high school, I had eaten hate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single day. I didn’t even know it was racism. I just accepted what I heard. The Mexicans were taking all our jobs. The blacks cry racism when they have far more opportunities than whites. The chinks and Indians were taking work that good hard-working Americans deserved. The gays were ruining the country.

Dad was the worst, but I never saw it. How could a Native American be racist? They’re an oppressed people too. His best friend was a black man. He was a good God-fearing man. He was accepting of my gay friends. I thought…

It took distance to see it.

I moved out and immediately had someone tell me how slightly racist I sounded. I wasn’t, though! I couldn’t be. I had black friends, I was super nice to the Mexicans I worked with. Sure, Asians were always pushing me out of their way, but I never pushed back or raised my voice at them. I was super accepting of my gay friends. I just made excuses for them for “turning gay”.

I ignored the signs. How could I see them when I was certain that was the way every person in the world thought?

The longer I was away from home, the more I would hear the hate.

Then it happened, like a giant floodlight shining light into every chamber of my mind, I realized I was a racist too.

I was never a Confederate flag-swinging, sheet-wearing, brick-throwing racist. I was the kind that mumbled biased and unfair comments under my breath, the kind that tensed her shoulders when a black person walked past me, the kind that scrunched her nose when someone mentioned gay marriage.

The more I heard myself, the more I hated the person I was. How did it come to this? How could I change my perception?

It turns out that realizing is half the battle. After that, I did what I knew was right. I pointed out racism and prejudice when I saw it, and as I started to pick this up, it triggered something in my own brain when I was thinking or saying or doing something racist.

I’m far from perfect but moving out of Texas proved to be one of the best things for me.

I was just not prepared in 2016 to see that the blatant racism I saw in a minority of people was actually in a large majority. In November, I was so upset about the news that I didn’t eat for a whole day. I was sick with grief. I could not understand how anyone could support such a racist, and then it occurred to me…

Racists don’t know they are; they don’t see it. They can’t accept it, because it’s all around them. They aren’t born that way; they are taught it from birth.

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For some reason, though, they never had the same moment I did. I was lucky that someone pointed it out to me. We need more people like that. Those willing to shine a giant floodlight on racism, and those willing to see the truth and do something about it.

There will still be words like niggers, chinks, spics, redskins, abos, and towelheads. Stuff will still be “gay” instead of “lame” and ridiculous words like lady-men and dykes in hushed conversations. And you know what?! It’s not fucking okay! Honestly.

We shouldn’t be labelling people, beliefs, sexuality, anything. We’re all the same.  We love. We experience joy and frustration. We cry when we’re hurt or when we lose someone. If our finger is cut, we all bleed the same color of blood. We worry about how we can pay our bills and put food on the table. We wonder if this will be the year that the missiles get launched or the next big superbug will take us home.

We are human beings, and it’s time we treated each other as such.

I have no idea how it can be done. All I know is that I’m sorry for ever being that way and saying those things, for saying them again here in the spirit of transparency. I hate all the hateful words I said or thought or wrote. I hate that I didn’t see it sooner. But mostly, I hate that I can’t change the world.

But maybe we can.

Bad Memory

Memory is such a funny thing.

On Sunday, I decided to have Beauty and the Beast playing in the living room while I cooked meals for the week. I haven’t watched it in years and only a handful of times in adulthood, yet I still remembered every single line. I admittedly watched it nearly every day in the summer of 1992, but still. Why is it still in there when so many other things probably should be.

But in the same afternoon, I opened the oven door and stuck my head in to grab the tray of roast veggies and got a face full of steam, instantly fogging up my glasses. It happens every time without fail. I should know by now it will. In fact, I do! I admonished myself, as I always do. How can I so easily forget something so basic?

I remember every line of My Fair Lady the last time I watched it, too. I can sing the songs at the drop of a hat. I can still play my flute despite never touching it.  I still know the words of Rachmaninov’s Bogorodiste Devo and randomly sing the soprano part of the song just because, you know having a Russian ave marie is something that every person wants to carry around all the time. I can comfortably talk about movies and books that I haven’t seen or read for years. I can sing Monty Python’s Galaxy Song at the drop of a hat.

But I can’t seem to remember to put bottles of water in my bag to take to work with me despite drinking it every day. I leave my wallet in the wrong bag. I forget to take the pills I am meant to take every day. I struggle with basic grammar rules like when to use who and whom and kick myself when I look it up and say, “Of course!”, yet I write almost daily.

I wonder about the power of the mind. The way it stores memories as a hard drive stores data. How does it choose what to keep and what goes? Is there a little person in there that just randomly deletes stuff to get room for new stuff? If so, why does it keep knowledge of Glorfindel and Ghan-buri-ghan (Lord of the Rings characters that were not in the movies) but not any details of the hundreds of other books you’ve read over my life? I can understand not remembering it if it was forgettable or boring (I’m looking at you, Scarlet Letter and Old Man and the Sea – even though you both are very important in the landscape of American literature), but many are not.

I understand things like muscle memory is not actually memory, but it still baffles me. Like when I get a haircut and consciously remind myself that I’ll need less shampoo, but still end up with a palm full of shampoo rather than a dime-size. Or when in that same example my hand tries to pull my hair from under my blouse after I’ve put it on, but there’s nothing there. 

I wonder if that is why in this year’s election so many people are forgetting the Bush-Gore election. All those supporting the independent parties have readily forgotten what happened when Nader took so many potential votes from Gore. How would the world have been different then? How will the world be changed by the Johnson’s this election year?

But seriously, most of all… How in the world do I still remember every line to Beauty and the Beast?
 
 
 
 

Gateway 

“The power of suggestion can be greater than cause and conviction,” I wrote some thirteen years ago. 

I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was happening to me right then.

The cool kids were doing it. I resolved never to. I was stronger than them, and despite my desire to please everyone, I had drawn the line. I would never try it.

It was fun to make light of it, though. It was a slacker label in high school. In college, it was just a part of the norm. If you went to classes sober, then there was something wrong with you. If you were still doing it well into your twenties, it was fine, but if you were older than forty and still doing it, man, dude, you were a sad hippy, man. And probably unemployed or something.

It was a gateway to a lesser life. That’s what I believed. 

But time weakened my resolve. By my early mid-20s, all of my friends were doing it. It seemed a normal part of life for them, and slowly I began to think there was nothing bad about it. 

What the schools don’t teach is that peer pressure never has to come as a direct push. Sometimes it’s a slow burn. 

The power of suggestion had become greater than my cause and conviction.

I tried it and felt nothing, but by all accounts, I should have felt something.

Another day, I tried it again. Still nothing. I must be doing something wrong.

It was the third time, right before work one day, when I finally did feel something. I was convinced I wouldn’t feel anything this time and so it was safe. I was so wrong. 

It was the one and only time I ever did it before work again. I walked through the motions in a daze and was convinced someone would know. It was the biggest buzz kill.

But I was hooked. I was in a dark place, and my demons were screaming in my head every day. They threatened to consume me, and this drowned them out. 

The power of suggestion had destroyed my cause and conviction.

I went the whole package. I bought a pipe. I bought an ironic lighter. I bought a big glass bowl. 

Every day, I would get home from work and partake. Once, twice, sometimes three times a day.

I started talking about it as casually as you would talk about getting drunk. I had one rule. Not before work. Never before work. I kept that promise.

It was two years later when I realized it was affecting me. My memory was terrible, when I had had an elephant brain before. I was angry all the time. But mostly, I heard the voice in my head talking about trying other things. That if I had been wrong about this, maybe I was wrong about so much else.

On that day, my cause and conviction won.

I stopped. Cold turkey. I never touched it again. I never turned back.

I gave it up to be myself again. I can now say with conviction: in my early mid-20s I was pothead. I’m not proud of it, but I’m so glad it never got any worse than that. 

But the burning question I have is am I a better person for having experienced it? 

Hell nah. 
 
 
 

Stepmother

“Do you like 80s music?” he asks. His high-pitched tone makes me think of a little girl.

I hesitate, “I like some.”

“I love it!” then he starts singing “Hungry Like a Wolf” at me.

I’m twenty-five, and in that moment, I suddenly realize what I’ve gotten myself into. And that scares me for the first time ever.

 

“He” was my partner’s youngest child – a boy of ten, and this was the first time I had ever spoken to him.

My partner asked both of his children to talk to me on Skype one afternoon after I had already made the decision to move across the world to be with him. They were both eager to talk to me. They knew who I was. I was Dad’s girlfriend. I was… The other woman.

“I built a website,” she says to me.

“Oh really? Is it wysiwyg? Or html?” I ask.

“HTML,” she answers.

“Do you use CSS, then?” I’m certain a twelve-year old couldn’t code HTML by herself.

“I use style sheets,” she answers. After a pause, “You’re cool.”

I start imagining I’m going to be her confidant. That when a boy wants to go “all the way” I’ll be the person she will come for advice. I realize I’m ill-suited to discuss those kinds of things, and I get scared all over again.

The oldest turned thirteen not long after I moved to be with my partner, and the youngest was eleven before the end of the year. Their childhoods were nearly over, yet here I was – an impromptu stepmother to two children.

The separation of their parents had been a long time coming, but it didn’t hurt them any less. The tragedy was that I came into the picture not long after that, and I worried resentment would hurt what relationship we would have.

I was lucky, though. The kids liked me immediately. They were so excited to meet me, and I was not prepared for that. I was ready to work for their love. I was ready to be hated. I was ready to be known as the wicked stepmother.

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They respected their father, and they trusted his decisions. He had told them I was nice and pretty cool, so they had no cause to think I wasn’t going to be good for him. They were as supportive of me as I could ever want.

I walked into a relationship knowing full well that I would have to help take care of two children. My partner and I had discussions about custody, and both kids would be living with us half the time. The amicable separation of mother and father meant that they had agreed to joint custody. I was actually be there to raise two children.

What I wasn’t prepared to discover was that being a stepmother to children with a mother meant I was still kept at arm’s length.  The decisions surrounding how they were raised went to mother and father, and I was only there to enforce them. I learned early on that I could not dole out punishment, that I should not come between mother and father’s decisions, that I was and never would be a mother.

I chose to love them as my own, nonetheless. They are the only kids I will ever have, and I knew that even then. I never say the words to them. It’s too difficult. Too easy to get hurt. Even I know it’s a hard pill to swallow when you love someone but never really know if they love you back.

I was an impatient and unforgiving parent, and many of the decisions I thought I made correctly (like making them eat the foods I cooked or go hungry) were initially overruled. I had to learn from my mistakes quickly, and I was forced to learn their parenting-style on-the-go. The ultimate on-the-job training, really.

The biggest lesson I had to learn, though, was that I would never be their confidant. If they had a problem, they went to mother or father first. I never had the difficult conversations. I never got to help with homework. I never got to hold them when they were down. I was separated from all of that. I was just needed to pick them up, cook their meals, and encourage them to make the right decisions. I was more nanny than parent.

A lot of stepparenting websites will tell you that what I did was right (at the time I never read a single one), and I can confirm that I have a good relationship with both of children. I can confirm that we found common interests and used them to build a strong relationship.

My stepson still lives with us, and he actively watches TV shows with me or plays video games and board games. My stepdaughter lives separate to us, but from time-to-time, I will get a text message or FB message from her about events or things she found that she likes and thinks I’ll like as well.

I am not their mother. Nor do I want to take her place, and that’s how I know I succeeded at this stepparenting thing. Because I never did.

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