…I just needed to write that down, to remind myself that sometimes my real work doesn’t look like work at all. Yet the end result is far more profound than a basket full of clean sheets or a fridge full of food. Though those are nice too.
Just two more days and I don’t really know what to write or how I will say good-bye tomorrow. How do you end something like this? How do you put a full stop on it? I’m a woman who still has crime scene tape around her childhood and is going over it minute by minute on my hands and knees, my eyes pressed to not one but two magnifying glasses. This is not the image of a woman who knows how to end things.
I walk away from things, sure, but I don’t really end them. I have buyer’s remorse for ending that unhealthy friendship that undermined me. I have buyer’s remorse for trying to end that unhealthy habit (drinking too much, eating too much, passive-agressiving too much) before it ends me. I don’t like change. There’s no safety in change. We all say there’s a beginning after every ending, but what if the next time something ends, it turns out we’re wrong. There’s only a beginning after most endings, and this time we’re shit out of luck. What’s the use of beginnings anyway? Why not cut straight to the part where everything works out or it doesn’t?
I’m contradicting myself, but really that’s the only thing I know for sure. I’m a believer and I’m not a believer. I’m a liar and I tell the truth every single time. My parents wrecked the shit out of me and my parents gave me so much that’s good about me. I’m “and” and I’m “or.” Everything does work out and nothing works out at all. I am the woman who’s been writing this for 30 days and shoving into everyone’s faces like it matters, and I am the woman who’s going to refuse to look at it again once I hit “publish” on day 31. Perhaps I’ll be an entirely different woman the day after that. This version of me will be ended and the one that starts the day after, who knows how she’ll turn out? Where she’ll pick up the thread, where she’ll take the scissors and just like that—snip!—let it go.
To be continued…
Speaking of being overweight (I knew we’d get back here eventually…)
If anyone asks what I’ve been doing over the long weekend, I will say nothing. Whether or no I’m lying will depend on your perspective. There is still just as much laundry to wash as there was when the weekend started. There are no more groceries in the fridge. I have put away 5 letters that were on the coffee table, but the table is still undusted and covered with things to file. And I have added more clutter to the piles on the kitchen table rather than sorted any of the existing clutter back to where it belongs. That is one perspective.
As I was stepping out of the shower, which I took about 5pm because I couldn’t remember if I had showered yesterday or the day before (showers I assign to that part of life Virginia Woolf calls moments of “nonbeing,” they exist but are not worthy of memory). I thought to myself, “Oh, but God doesn’t leave you empty-handed. He doesn’t take anything away if he’s not planning to give you something else.” I was thinking about my period and how for roughly 35 years I’d bled away about 12 possible children a year and though I’m still bleeding that space between the door of my fertility being open and the door being shut is less than a sliver. And then I thought, but what has been made possible—not just for me, but for others—because I haven’t had children? And then I remembered the thing about God not leaving us empty-handed, about God being not a God of lack, but of abundance, so I don’t not have children, I have something else (freedom to write? money to spend on others? time to heal emotionally?)
And if I hadn’t spent all weekend watching Criminal Minds and occasionally getting up from the couch to warm up a burrito or make a cup of decaf or pull the dirty pillowcases off the pillows and throw them on the bedroom floor, would I have had stumbled into that thought as I stepped out of the shower? That’s the other perspective.
I just needed to write that down, to remind myself that sometimes my real work doesn’t look like work at all. Yet the end result is far more profound than a basket full of clean sheets or a fridge full of food. Though those are nice too.
To be continued….
…And in that home, as she paces its many rooms, filling them with this and that, rearranging the furniture willy nilly, throwing the occasional dance party, losing the vacuum and forgetting to do laundry on a regular basis, investigating what she’s lost under piles of dust and junk left behind by others, she will somehow stumble into the hiding place of that one need even greater than a home of her own—a voice of her own.
Over the weekend I came up with the perfect plan for getting some exercise into my life. Three days/week I’m up at 5-5:30 so I can pray and journal before I head to my standing breakfast meetings. So I figured it would be easy peasy to get up at the same time on the days I don’t have meetings and use the extra time to exercise. The alarm went off at 5:30 and I promptly turned it off and set the timer on my phone so I could have 30 minutes more sleep. At 6:00 I set the timer for another 30 minutes. There’s a possibility that there was yet another 30-minute reset but I can’t quite remember. What do know is that when I finally got out of bed I had left myself no time to exercise and barely enough time to journal before I had to shower and get ready for my day.
As I was thinking about how I could get myself out of bed to go write poetry with a friend two days but couldn’t get up to exercise, I thought, “It’s because you’re lazy.” Which I’m not. And I realized as I started to think more about it that “It’s because you’re lazy” was my short-cut, easy answer. Tagging myself with a this-explains-everything adjective was an elegant way of short-circuiting any deep thinking about my resistance to exercise.
I’m absolutely positively not a morning person. And the fact that I can get out of bed to pray for at least 30 minutes and then journal for at least 30 minutes before getting in the shower is a major miracle. So I think trying to add another 30-60 minutes to that prep time was overburdening the self-talk system I have in place to get me out of bed so I could do the first two.
And while that partially explains my reluctance to answer, if I make myself push deeper, there’s actually something else at play. I’ve been there, done that. I’ve successfully lost weight by watching my food intake and exercising so many times and ended right back in the same overweight place so many times that I’ve run out of ways to make myself believe this time will turn out any differently. There is the possibility I will finally figure out how to maintain a healthier weight and exercise regimen this time, but when it comes probability—to borrow from a popular movie franchise—the odds are so not in my favor. It’s not just a physical effort to get myself out of bed in the morning to exercise, it’s an emotional one of the Sisyphean variety.
But is not actually the moral of this particular story. I’m actually more interested in the names I call myself—lazy, spoiled, selfish—so I can get out of drilling down to the scary subterranean parts of myself where my motivation for doing or not doing X, Y, or Z actually lurks. It’s easier and vastly more comfortable to fall back on even the most unflattering characterizations of myself rather than have to deep dive into the ish that’s really going on. It’s easier to believe and reinforce the stories I’ve always told myself at the point of failure than it is to try and understand the reasons for that failure cause one reason begets another reason which begets another reason until I’m excavating a whole effing cavern of neurosis or grief or fear or whatever that I’ve never explore before. I know you’re expecting a rah rah ending, but come on, that ish gets old. This would probably be a good point to remember that practice what you preach is not a bad goal to work toward. Sigh.
Speaking of being overweight (I knew we’d get back here eventually…)
To be continued…
…I can perhaps forget for whole minutes at a time that I am brown-skinned but I can never really have total empathy for, say, a white man cause I can never fully don that mantle of that certain type of privilege.
Reading back over what I wrote yesterday, I’m a little surprised that I wrote it out loud. I mean it’s the kind of post that could invite a slew of naysayers and enduring naysayers takes a kind of fortitude that I keep forgetting I’ve finally developed.
I was thinking today about the name of my blog—The Home Beete. When I first started it in May 2009, I thought it would be a good place to deposit my mania for interior design. But even as I posted pics of couches I adored or wallpaper I wanted to hang in my mythical house, I found myself also wanting a space where I could just write about whatever was in my head. Some place that was more than my journal. I read a wonderful quote from the visual artist Ann Truitt on Brain Pickings today: “…artists have no choice but to express their lives.” So it’s probably inevitable that this blog would become my sounding board, my workshop, the place where I experiment and tinker. Which sounds a lot like home, actually.
Home is the place where I don’t shower on weekends or days off (I know, gross). Home is where I pick my nose obsessively (I know, gross). Home is where my only exercise sometimes comprises moving from one end of the couch to the other. (Look, if you had my couch, you’d stick as close to it as possible, too.) In other words, home is where I can be utterly and completely myself in all my groovy, gross, lazy, manic, high-brow, low-brow selfness. Which sounds a lot like this blog, actually.
I think in addition to the Home Beete evolving into a place where I feel at home, it’s also the place where I find myself becoming more at home with who I am. With the sound of my voice. With what that voice likes to talk about, to scream about, to sing about. With how often that voice comes back to the same subjects. With how the courage of that voice waxes and wanes across a spectrum from sorta courageous to “Y’all motherfu**ers need to listen up now!”
Virginia Woolf famously wrote that every woman, in order to be an artist, needs a room of her own. I think Mrs. Woolf will forgive me if I rewrite that to every woman artist needs a home of her own. And in that home, as she paces its many rooms, filling them with this and that, rearranging the furniture willy nilly, throwing the occasional dance party, losing the vacuum and forgetting to do laundry on a regular basis, investigating what she’s lost under piles of dust and junk left behind by others, she will somehow stumble into the hiding place of that one need even greater than a home of her own—a voice of her own.
To be continued…
…Speaking of being overweight…
Today I went to a literary symposium at a theater in town. I knew the panelists most likely would be all if not mostly white (it was 100%) and I knew I’d be one of the only if not the only person of color in the room (there was one older Black gentleman there). Still, prepared as I was, I found myself resenting having to walk into that white space. I resented being confronted immediately with the fact that I was the other, of being so conscious of myself when all I wanted from the event was to disappear into my skin of someone who just listens. There’s something about walking into an all-white space that makes me feel like an object. I am so markedly different, I don’t have any control over whether or not I’m noticed. I can never hide.
I resent having to remind myself that I belong in the room simply because I look so different from everyone else in it. True, no one is saying—by action or word—that I am not welcome, but in a room full of strangers unlike you, where is the corner where welcome hides? We are always looking in a room full of strangers for someone who seems like us: skin color is the easiest sameness to see.
I know I am responsible in part. I need to get to know even more people of color who are actively engaging in the arts so I can invite them to be in the room with me. Though it’s an odd thing to invite someone to join me in enduring that feeling of “other” just for the sake of our creative enrichment. I also know that this is not something I was feeling for the first time ever nor was it any different than what many people of color feel when they walk into certain rooms. And I also know if I told my white friends who were there what I was feel they would have tried to empathize or, worse, they would have tried to console me. As an artist my mission is empathy. Yet I’m realizing empathy has its limits, doesn’t it? No white person can really understand, bone-deep, what it is to be a black person in this country. I can perhaps forget for whole minutes at a time that I am brown-skinned but I can never really have total empathy for, say, a white man cause I can never fully don that mantle of that certain type of privilege.
There is no answer here. No rallying cry to this particular post. No to-do list, or action plan. This is not a feel-good post nor can I tell you how you should feel about it. I just wanted you to know that sometimes, a lot of the time, I get tired of being the only damned black person in the room.
To be continued…
…Have I compared myself to others or tried to “keep up with Joneses” today? Have I given myself a moment just to daydream? Have I had a moment of gratitude for all that I have? Have I stopped contemplating all that I lack for at least a little while? Have I truly, madly, deeply lived today?
And one more question: have I really seen myself today? If you asked me what I looked like as a girl, I would say I was always fat. But if you look at pictures of me from that time, I’m not waifish, but I’m still fairly slender. Narrow shoulders, small breasts, a tiny waist, flat stomach, and hips that flare more like eggplants than the watermelons I lug around these days. In other words, I was somewhat curvy but I was far from fat. But I’d been made to feel ugly often enough by my parents during those days, and in those days once I hit junior year of college and really did start to gain weight, that the story I tell myself is that I was always fat, always the ugly sister.
I wonder what effect it would have had on my issues with overeating and body image and self-esteem if I’d had a clear picture of myself to begin with. Or if the narrative I was told about myself focused more on my strengths–intelligence, humor, leadership skill, ability to work on a team, empathy–than on the things I wasn’t so good at, or that I had to work a little harder at.
We all carry around a narrative about ourselves. Some of it we make ourselves but a great deal of the story we tell about ourselves has been–consciously and unconsciously, explicitly and implicitly–told to us by other people. In the ideal situation, the distance between what we tell ourselves about ourselves and what other people tell us about ourselves is minimal. (Let’s face it: we can’t be purely objective about ourselves, and possibly we can’t be purely objective about others either.) But in a case like mine that distance is Grand Canyon-sized. I’ve learned to get a truer picture of myself by, despite what Public Enemy says, learning to believe my hype.
But I still need to check in. To look around the actual evidence of my life and see what it reveals about who I am. True, it reveals that I’m a lousy housekeeper, but if I look at what I’ve accomplished in my 9-5 and with my poetry, and if I look at the quality of the people in my life and the quality of sustained relationships I have, it affirms that every time that old narrative starts running in my head–I’m lazy, not worthy of love, not good enough, voiceless, blah blah blah–I’ve got exactly the proof I need to shut it down. I just need to remember to ask the question before I get too far down the rabbit hole of that old story.
Speaking of being overweight…
To be continued…
So in addition to asking myself what I would do if I stopped focusing so intently (and unhealthily) on what other people do, I’ve got to ask myself what opportunities—for relationship, for healing, for grace, for favor—am I missing because I’m looking at situations through twin lenses of guilt and shame?
There’s probably a whole bunch of questions we could all stand to ask ourselves on a daily basis: Have I been kind today? Have I been an asshole today? Have I laughed at least once today? Have I really listened to everyone I had a conversation with? Have I in some way told at least a few of the people I love that I love them? Have I had a moment of wonder? Have I shared something on social media that’s positive and inspiring? Have I shared something on social media that’s just plain old mean? (This may be a subcategory of “Have I been an asshole today?”) Have I shared some thought-provoking on social media? Have I let go of one hurt I’ve been carrying around for a long time? Have I said sorry for a hurt I’ve caused whether it was on purpose or not? Have I reacted or have I acted? Have I done at least one good thing for my body today? Have I learned something new? Have I thrown away or recycled one thing I just don’t need anymore? Have I taken some time to just be still? Have I looked up at the sky today? Have I shown generosity in some way, shape, or form? Have I done something nice for myself? Have I forgiven myself for at least one of the things I’m mad at myself for? Have I done something kind/nice/sweet for someone just because? Have I spent time offline? Have I disconnected from my phone for at least 30 minutes today? Have I been willing to change my mind about something today? Have I compared myself to others or tried to “keep up with Joneses” today? Have I given myself a moment just to daydream? Have I had a moment of gratitude for all that I have? Have I stopped contemplating all that I lack for at least a little while? Have I truly, madly, deeply lived today?
To be continued…
…Why am I looking outward and comparing myself to others instead of looking to the ways that I already do whatever that hard thing is because, chances are, in some small way, I’ve probably already done it.
Not quite sure what to write. I just got home from Bible study and I just want to eat and go to bed. And I’m feeling like the aforementioned Jesus freak because 1) I just told you I went to Bible study and 2) what was on my mind was another God thing. And my vanity/fear/unwillingness to stand out in a crowd is urging me to find another topic. The conversation in my head’s going a little like: “People are barely reading this as it is and do you know how many people were turned off of this whole project by your whole nattering about God yesterday?” Perhaps I should add stupidity to the list of reasons why I’m whispering in my own ear that maybe another topic would be best.
It’s not that I’m ashamed of God, exactly. It’s more like I’m ashamed of being perceived as a person who’s head over heels with God. Because, let’s face it, these days any mention of the Christian God summons up images of the Westboro Baptist Church (not cool) or people who bomb abortion clinics (not cool) and a host of other things that by no stretch of the imagination could be included in a “Guide to Being a Practicing Christian.” I guess what I’m saying is I don’t have any problems with being a Christian, it’s more like I have a problem being called a Christian because, unfortunately these days it conjures up a host of images and behaviors that are not Christ-like at all. To put it in the terms of the marketplace (and to borrow shamelessly from Pastor Clark) as Christians we’ve been doing a fine job of corrupting Jesus’ brand. Jesus hasn’t failed; we have. And I just haven’t been able to come up with a word or phrase that takes back what the word “Christian” is supposed to mean from everyone who’s broken/defiled/screwed it up for the rest of us.
That being said, here’s the thing I wanted to write which prompted all of the above. I’ve periodically read the book of Jeremiah, which is basically God saying to the Israelites: “Look, you guys are screwing up. I keep giving you a chance to turn your lives are round, stop worshiping false idols and stuff, and you keep not taking them. So I’m going to let these other countries and peoples enslave you and take all your wealth.” Reading Jeremiah used to terrify me. I always identified with the Israelites and became convinced that I was doing everything wrong and God was going to sever all ties immediately. Forever. It never occurred to me, or at least it hadn’t occurred to me till a few weeks ago, that I could actually be Jeremiah. That I could read the book as a call for me to speak out, have a voice, use my skill as a writer to encourage other people to seek out a relationship with God. I was so busy feeling guilty and ashamed of all the times I’d messed up that I’d flat out missed what God was trying to tell me. So in addition to asking myself what I would do if I stopped focusing so intently (and unhealthily) on what other people do, I’ve got to ask myself what opportunities–for relationship, for healing, for grace, for favor–am I missing because I’m looking at situations through twin lenses of guilt and shame?
There’s probably a whole bunch of questions we could all stand to ask ourselves on a daily basis…
To be continued…
…We need others to affirm our voices, our right to speak out loud for a good long while before we can finally begin to do that for ourselves. And even then, I for one, still need a refresher course more than every once in a while.
So I go to a Christian church. I’m not quite sure how to describe it as fundamentalist/born-again Christian have become so pejorative (thanks to so-called Christians who haven’t seemingly actually read the New Testament) and I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been churched for a bit really knows what full-gospel means. So perhaps I’ll just say I believe in God, I believe Jesus is the son of God who died to repair our relationship with God, and I’ve given my life to the Lord by which I mean I’m actively working at (and sometimes failing miserably at) having an active and close relationship with God.
That’s all background so you’ll understand when I say that witnessing—sharing one’s story of coming into or being in relationship with God—is an important principle in our church. Jesus did it, the original disciples did it, and so we should do it. That being said, guess who’s not raising her hand when they ask for people to gather on a Saturday evening to share the gospel with people in our community?
My friends and many of my colleagues know that I’m a Christian and that I attend church on a fairly regular basis but it rarely goes further than that. I do occasionally go through a long stretch of using “How can I pray for you” as my Facebook status update, and I will talk about my faith with people in my various communities who are also believers but I’m not big on witnessing to the unbeliever.
mom became a practicing Christian when I was around 13 and all of a sudden I couldn’t listen to secular music or go to the movies, and I went from attending an hour-long Catholic mass to a service that seemed to last all day and that scared the heck out of me. (Not a lot of fire-and-brimstone preaching and talk about demons and such in a Catholic church, at least not at St. Clare’s Roman Catholic Church in Rosedale, NYC.) My mom became a zealot overnight and wouldn’t and couldn’t tolerate anyone who didn’t follow her views.
I eventually left church and it took me nearly 20 years to find my way back. And though I know I’m wired quite differently than my mom is, I fight constantly against the fact that I’m going to turn into an intolerant zealot. I have this fear despite the fact that, while my mom is as obsessive about ministry as ever, I would no longer describe her as a zealot. (No woman who flirts that much can stay a zealot!) I don’t want to be that weird Jesus freak woman. If you ask, I’ll tell you in a heart beat about what God has done for me; I’m just not going to tell you unprompted.
Today while talking to a friend (she was raised Christian but doesn’t practice) about my father’s funeral (which was Christian even though he wasn’t) and her grandfather’s funeral (her grandfather was a pastor) I shared with her that one of the things I learned from my current pastor, and that I take to heart, is that when it comes to talking about Jesus and God that you really have to meet people where they are. As Pastor Clark expressed in our recent annual meeting, the temple at Jerusalem was comprised of multiple types of gathering places that you had to walk through to get to the holy of holies. And not everyone wanted to go to the holy of holies. With that in mind, we’ve reconfigured our service to offer multiple entry points for people so whether you’re a newbie, a seeker, or a long time churchgoer, there is a way for you to meet with God during the service. It wasn’t until my friend and I were finished with the conversation and she said, “That’s quite a witness,” that I realized that I had indeed witnessed to her. I had shared some of my beliefs about faith and about my relationship with God.
I’d stayed away from witnessing because I thought it was only about handing out tracts on the corner to strangers or somehow telling a stirring rendition of my personal story of coming to know God that would crescendo at the moment when the person decided to accept Christ as their savior and we, with joyous tears, recited the sinner’s prayer together. While that’s all admirable and necessary it just seemed too hard and scary to me.
But it turns out witnessing isn’t actually hard for me at all. I had just decided, based on what I’d seen other people do, that I couldn’t do it. What I should’ve focused on instead was how to do it—as Frank Sinatra said—my way. I get excited about stuff all the time and it just bubbles up into the conversation. I don’t make a plan (usually) to tell people about the new podcast I’m into or the book I’ve just read that changed my world. I just let myself be excited and that excitement finds its way out. And, as my conversation today proved, when I’m excited about the things of God, that bubbles out in conversation too. So I just need to let myself be excited and not worry so much about how I’m going to work it into the conversation.
So I guess what I’m wondering now is what other hard things do I not do because I keep looking at how other people tackle them? Why am I looking outward and comparing myself to others instead of looking to the ways that I already do whatever that hard thing is because, chances are, in some small way, I’ve probably already done it.
To be continued…
…But again, there’s no sexy way to say, “I had narcissistic parents who fucked me up and I’ve just figured it all out so now I can have a healthy relationship” while also trying not to spill your martini (with a twist, preferably of orange instead of lemon, but definitely not an olive). This is the part of the letter, Marc, when I really wish you were actually writing me back. Sigh…
My pastor told me today that what he appreciates about me is that I’m honest. By which I think he means that I’m not afraid to speak my mind. When I was a kid and into my early adolescence, if I needed something from my Mom, I would write her a note, leave it on the fridge, and then endeavor to be fast asleep in bed before she came home. She terrified me on a good day, much less if there was any chance of a conflict (that is her saying no and dismissing whatever it was I wanted to do). The extent of my understanding of her then was that if she said “maybe” to a request that usually meant yes.
I suppose I was fairly vocal outside of the home—in the drama club, with my friends. But I heard so often at home that I was a follower (a title I earned I think because I often zoned out to escape the intense emotions I felt at home) that it never occurred to me that I was a leader, and that I was, in fact, demonstrating that every day by being the one to speak up about what I thought whatever community I was in should do in whatever situation.
As I’ve become more comfortable with myself, speaking my mind has become second nature. My struggle recently has been to stop saying, “But I don’t really care what happens” after spending 10 minutes talking about how exactly I think a situation should play out. (My very smart boss has taking to pointing out, “But obviously you do care.”) I’ve learned to speak out loud but I’m still working on the part where I know what I’m saying has value. Whether or not I influence the final decision, my voice matters.
There is a train of thought in poetry that all poetry is political and it’s taken me a long while to truly understand what that means. All poetry is political because claiming the right to have a voice is a political act. It’s political whether we’re talking about politics with a capital P in terms of state craft and such, or if we’re talking about the politics of being part of a community—at home, at work, in church, in a relationship. Having a voice is the first step toward action. And that’s what’s so dangerous about having parents who are not invested in helping a child find his/her voice. That kid—by which I mean me—grows up spending a great deal of time reacting and struggling to act. That kid also grows up not understanding that being the voice with the wrong answer is not the end of the world. It doesn’t negate her right to be heard. And she doesn’t have to stand on an absolute bed of certainty—by which I mean piles of research and what have you—to risk speaking and thinking out loud. Not being right is simply an opportunity to learn; it’s not a reason to abdicate one’s voice.
One last thing I’ll say is that I’m a fairly intuitive thinker. I’m not a facts and figures person in the sense that I retain individual facts and figures to support my positions. I tend to take them in, swish them around in my brain for a while, retain their essence, and then let them go on their merry way. So I have an informed opinion, I just can’t always easily tell you what brought me to form that certain opinion. I just know in my gut that I’ve taken in enough information to give a valid opinion. But as I wrote earlier, one of the outcomes of growing up with parents like mine—like ours—is we can feel like we’re always on shifting sand, which makes it difficult if you’re an intuitive thinker to own your voice. You’ve never been taught to have that internal validation and without facts to back you up, offering an opinion on anything always feels like jumping off a cliff and forgetting the damned parachute every single time.
Which is why it’s so important to have a community, no matter what an introverted misanthrope you prefer to be. (I mean myself, of course. But feel free to join my club if you’d like.) We need others to affirm our voices, our right to speak out loud for a good long while before we can finally begin to do that for ourselves. And even then, I for one, still need a refresher course more than every once in a while.
To be continued…