the courage to speak

IMG_1745I’ve written about courage before, here and here.

I was in Charleston, South Carolina recently, a place that I once called home. A place that echoes a mysterious call to me. The food, the Charleston drawl, the landscape – the secrets.

Walking around in the older parts of Charleston, I can almost hear the whispers of hundreds of years of history. I can also hear and feel the pain of those whispers. Some of those whispers are my own.

On that trip, I ended up on a boat with some friends and friends of friends and some older white men and women who were obviously from money, or trying to seem like they were from money. Some were dressed in Polo shirts and khakis that were ever so crisp, others layered with beautiful linens and looked ever so “done”. Makeup, hair, clothes all in perfect alignment.

We were surrounded by beauty, the inlets off Morgan Creek, the scent of pluff mud, the green grasses and marshy water, the sun high overhead with a cool breeze. As the booze flowed and we made our way through fresh oysters and beaufort stew with shrimp caught that very morning, conversations broke off into groups. Music and a little dancing began, it was exactly as Charleston should be.

I sat on the edge of the boat looking off into the marsh, remembering other days, other times and was sinking into happiness, when off to the other side of the boat I overhead a man, late 60s early 70s say something about “some nigger”.  My heart dropped and my chest puffed out, did I hear that?  And then he said it again.  I thought to myself “I’ve got to say something right now. He cannot say that.”

Instead of jumping right up and marching over there, I was paralyzed. I’m on a boat with people I do not know, some are colleagues of one of my friends. I want to go say something to this man and let him know it is not okay to say that in front of me, in front of anyone. And yet, I cannot move, I’m a character in this story, this is not my story. It’s not my place, my people, I do not have to work with these people, my friends do.

It reminded me of a time when I was in college as a Sophomore at the College of Charleston, it was a Friday, I was in my dorm room and there were parties going on out on the breezeway and in some rooms. My roommates and I were having beers. I went out on the breezeway and was smoking and just down the way were some Citadel cadets, obvious because of their haircuts. I didn’t know them, but one called out to me “Hey dyke!” I looked and said “What? What did you call me?” he said “You’re a dyke right?” I was seething, but what could I say back? I didn’t identify as a dyke, I’m definitely gay, but I’m not all that butch or anything. I’m also a Sophomore in college, still trying to figure things out in life. What do I say?

From out of nowhere Brandon, a former Citadel Cadet that I knew through his girlfriend appeared and called these young cadets to attention and pressed them against the wall.

“Hey! You apologize to her, right now. That is not behavior appropriate for a cadet.” He barked.

The Cadet apologized to me.

Brandon told the rest of the guys that he’d be sure to see them back on campus and they should head there now. They filed past me, nodding and apologizing, shame holding down the bold words they said before.

Brandon had the courage to say something and it made a difference to me.

This is the South I remember, this is the South I left behind, the good, the bad, the courageous, the ugly.

On that day on a boat in Charleston, the whispering of old Charleston sat right beside me and I said nothing. I didn’t have the courage to speak up in the same way that Brandon did. It wouldn’t have mattered, to anyone, but me. It would have mattered to me. And I have to admit, I let myself down that day.

With everything going on in the world today, from Furgeson, to Peshawar, to Sony executives, to Bill Cosby, to change any of it, I have to start with myself and what I bring to the world everyday, not just what I say I am, but who I truly am. The things I allow in my life, the way I speak in private, is who I am.

I have more work to do. We all have more work to do.

On_thanks_and_giving

I’m dusting this off again this year. This memory never gets old for me. Happy for thanks and happy forgiving.

At Thanksgiving – I am more than thankful – I remember.

I remember my Mother. The way her hands moved over raw turkey, salting and buttering under the skin. She was mindful about food and set in her ways about how this or that should be done, when it came to cooking. All ten of us kids were banished from the kitchen, but I would watch – from a distance – in wonder – at how she made things – all from scratch – all on more than a tight budget.

When I was old enough, which wasn’t very old – I was allowed into the kitchen – for a few minutes – to add butter, milk, salt and pepper to the potatoes – only in her way.

She’d mash with an old hand masher, thick grooved metal at the end and a wooden handle that used to be red, but was mostly worn down to the wood. I’d add things. In her way.

Butter first. She’d hand me a butter knife and put a stick of butter on the table, still cold in the wrapper. “We’ve got to add this butter while the potatoes are hot.” I’d slice off inch after inch of butter, unwrap and throw it into the pan – all as fast as I could. She’d mash and then stop to look into the pan. “More butter.” I’d slice, unwrap and throw in again. “See there, it’s not all white anymore.”

Then milk. She’d mash and I’d pour into the old battered, but still solid cooking pot. My small hands balancing the gallon jug of milk, one hand at the top, one at the bottom.  “Not too much milk.” She’d mash and mash. “Potatoes should be creamy, not too thick, not too thin. Add some more milk.” Bang. She’d hit the side of the pan with the masher. The potatoes fell back with a thud. “More milk.” More mashing – Bang – the potatoes fall back – with a lightness.

Then pepper.  “You should see the right amount of pepper all through the potatoes.” I’d shake and shake, the pepper never came out of the pepper shaker very fast. “See that’s right, now you can see pepper everywhere.”

Then salt to taste. I’d shake the not really white anymore, plastic Tupperware shaker with the broken lid, a few times. “Potatoes need a lot more salt than you think, Amy.” I’d shake and shake and laugh, so much shaking. She’d press on, now with more stirring than mashing, fluffing up the potatoes. She’d drop a finger into the pan and bring potatoes up to her mouth. The back of her hand would come into focus. Thin and thick at the same time, veins standing out, small brown spots, always tan, but not leathery. Their smell in my mind without ever smelling them, onions, salt, butter, flour – it’s as if she had been cooking her whole life.

“Mmmm, but not yet, more salt, a little more milk.” I’d pour and scramble to keep up. And then bang, bang, bang, the masher on the side of the pot, to shake off all the mashed potato stuck to the masher. With me standing on the chair next to the table – she’d hand over the masher. I’d scrape it clean with my hands, shoveling what was left into my mouth – jump down – turn on the sink – rinse the masher and throw it into the sink with another bang.

Mom would cover the potatoes still in their pot and I would go back to doing whatever it is we do on Thanksgiving, on a cold November day – hoping for snow, thinking about Christmas, fighting with each other, watching the black and white TV – In the middle of nowhere in Michigan.

my halloween costume

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 6.39.30 AMI don’t dress up for Halloween.

That’s just how it is.

It seems, to me anyway, that most people love to dress up for Halloween and when I tell them I don’t, their exclamations deflate. Thud.

Maybe I’m not playful enough, maybe I don’t like to have fun, maybe…I don’t like to dress up as someone else.

When I try to explain, sometimes I get strange looks or random comments.

Why is not okay to say, “I don’t want to and I don’t like to” – and have that be enough?

Because it’s SOOOO much fun for everyone else that I must be missing out. And I seem like someone who would be SOOO much fun to go to a Halloween party with.

Trust me. I am not.

No. At over 40, I can say no and explain and leave you to dress up on your own.

When I was 7 or 8, maybe even younger – this was the early 70s right around the time that people stopped making their own costumes and started buy store-bought plastic thingies that looked like cartoon characters we didn’t have the money to do that so – we put on someone else in my family’s clothes, remember there were 10 of us, that were too big, or too small in some cases, tied the pants around the waist with a piece of rope, opened the coal stove, rubbed some soot on our face and called it Halloween. Going to school or trick-or-treating with my family of hobos, wasn’t so far from everyday life. So maybe that’s where it all started?

Then there’s the time when I was 11 and I lived alone with my two brothers (you remember that story), I really wanted to do something fantastic for Halloween. I had the best idea that I could make a mask out of oatmeal and plaster oatmeal all over my face, hair and head.  OR they could buy me a mask.  They opted to buy me a mask, but we waited until the last day to go look at masks, so all that was there was a hairy-faced ape mask, so I settled for that.

I pulled that on after school and ran around the neighborhood with a giant pillowcase, hoping to come home with it full of candy. What happened though was that I couldn’t see out of the mask and I ran right into a construction stake with a bright pink tag on it that was in someone’s yard and tore my pants and gashed my leg open.

The next year, I was back living with my parents and my Dad told me that at 12, I was too old to trick-or-treat. So, after that I didn’t. Maybe that’s it?

Or, maybe it’s because all those years all I wanted was to look like everyone else with normal clothes and not hand-me downs and to just be me.

Throughout my 20s, I never did Halloween parties. I was spending so much time trying to figure out how to be normal in the world and desperately trying to figure out who I was. I went from mini-skirts to dresses with white flats, to button downs, to argyle sweaters and socks, to short shorts with combat boots – a complete train wreck of an identity. I couldn’t imagine trying to create another persona that I could dress up as for one day out of the year.

Some people might say that’s the release, that’s the great thing, you can be whoever you want for one day!!!

In my 30s, I finally settled in and really started to figure out who I was and what I wanted in the world and figured out that I’m really okay. Me. I’m good enough and I’m ok with that.

So, if you want to dress up that’s awesome. DO IT! FUN FOR YOU! But I don’t and I won’t and that’s okay too. I’ll dress up as Me today. I spent half my life trying to dress up as someone else or someone I thought I should be, so I’m done putting on the mask.

So, if you invite me to your Halloween party, I’ll come as Me. If you say COSTUME ONLY, I’ll come as ME. It’s the best costume and character I have.

And I’m totally fine with it.

 

Before you are_believe you are.

Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 6.00.54 AMBefore you are whatever you are – you have to believe you are whatever it is you want to be.

I used to say I could never be a consultant or work for myself. There was a part of me that knew I could and I’d be great at it, but some small part of me doubted it could work.  So, I didn’t do it.

When I started to shift my mind around the whole idea of working for myself, I’d wake up every day and think I’m a consultant and every day I focused on that. That’s where my energy went and today – my business is almost two years old and I’m doing it. Making it.

Sometimes it takes a small shift to make a big shift.

When I was working at a design studio, an art director who was struggling asked me. “Do you think I can do this job well?”  I replied “That question is not for me to answer, but do you believe you can do this job well?”  My response was not what he wanted to hear. In fact it made him furious. So furious he quit that very day.

If you are looking outward for acceptance, you may not get it. Accept yourself where you are FIRST.  It doesn’t mean it can’t change. It can. It will. Believe it.

What do you want to be – feel, know? Before you are, you gotta BELIEVE it. GO!

Big CANvas type of WORDS.

It’s fall and I suppose I need to get back to writing.

~

I’m not a poet, but every now and then I write something that sounds like poetry. I imagine it written on a big canvas.

She was mysterious
Wondrous
Thinking of things she could have
If only she would have
Thought a little less
Pushed herself under
Peeled back one more layer
Took something deep into her heart
And let it loose
Gave it freedom
If only she might have
Been a little less strong
A little more vulnerable
And in the end she became those anyway
Who she had been designed to be
Because she wasn’t willing to go on her own
The turn of fate
Dealt its own hand.

~

And then I imagine another big canvas that says

KEEP GOING KEEP WRITING – KEEp PainTING keep on. GO>!

Sometimes you have to get knocked down, knocked back, knocked under to save your own life.

~hiatus over.

The past is passed.

Screen Shot 2014-05-29 at 7.18.10 AMThe past is passed.

I’m reading a book called Hauntings by James Hollis. It’s not about ghosts, like dead people haunting you, but about ghosts of experiences haunting you. There are many words in the book that resonate with me, but 3 ideas are the most powerful. Paraphrased here: How often has our failure to show up in our lives revealed immaturity on our part, a failure to grow up, an active participation in victimhood? Wounding moments hurt, sometimes for decades, but our willing participation in those wounds perpetuates them. What new values or opportunities may appear if we stop serving the message of the haunting? Reflecting back on experiences shapes me and sometimes heal me. No knight in shining armor can do that for me, no one is going to come and save me, if I am not willing to save myself. Sure, people can help and people will help, but the hard work is mine. For me it’s about growing up. Looking at the past, using discernment to sift through what happened, why and how it impacts me or limits me now is not always easy, but in doing so I’ve found I’m able to live more fully. I’d like to look at all the good parts of me and ignore the “bad” parts. But at some point realizing that the bad parts aren’t actually bad, they are just parts of me that I’d like to change or maybe embrace or just let it be and move on. My hauntings are almost always based on fear. Sometimes a rational fear and sometimes an irrational one. I used to, and sometimes still do, start sweating bullets when I have to get my blood drawn. Why?  Well, rationally I can say it shouldn’t be a big deal, but when I think back – when I was a kid  – if any of us got sick or injured – my Mom’s “guts would start rolling” and she’d be out on the front porch puking, because we didn’t have any money to pay doctor bills or a way to get to the doctor without having to ask for help. Her anxiety about all of this and the puking and crying – THAT made me hate getting sick and pretty much made me deal with every illness, broken bone, blah, blah, blah as if it was no big deal. Nothing to see here, my leg’s falling off, but please don’t be upset Ma! Because of this and other instances related to medical issues, my fear was in overdrive. It wasn’t rational, but it was still real. I took on my Mother’s anxiety about it and eventually had to be held down to do a simple finger prick for a glucose test. Then I learned I could take a Xanax and I could tolerate the blood draw – IF I was laying down, turned my head, and I counted to 20, while they were doing whatever they were doing – which I could not speak of. I couldn’t walk through a hospital. I couldn’t think about going into a hospital. I could go to the doctor, but the mention of a blood draw would make me woozy. What did I do with that? This was no way to live, eventually I was going to need to get a blood draw and at some point visit a hospital, eventually there would be an emergency and I was going to need to be present. I needed help. I needed to take care of myself. I read somewhere that the Dalai Lama passed out once when he was having his blood drawn and started to have anxiety about blood work because of it. So each time before a blood draw he would visualize the needle going in his arm and also allow himself the luxury of passing out if he needed to. Give it up – go ahead and pass out. So, I took up the same practice, because I was having to get blood draws more frequently for a thyroid test. At first it stressed me out more, I was so worried about passing out. I also still took the Xanax. Sometimes we get stuck in a childhood memory or haunting that doesn’t allow us to let go, to face it, to grow up. So, I kept focusing on growing up, I kept facing it, kept understanding and sifting through all the memories of the instances that contributed to this childhood fear. I’d ask myself, What are you afraid of? What’s the worst that could happen? I’d remind myself, you have insurance, you’ve always paid your way, you always find a way through if you run out of money. I kept having the conversation with myself. I realized this haunting was holding me back. It took a long time to uncover it all, but in the last few months something has shifted, maybe I’m desensitized or maybe I’m willing to grow up a little more and say, I can do this and am no longer haunted and stuck in a childhood nightmare of blood and guts and dying and someone puking off the front porch. Now, I can get a blood draw without a  Xanax, sometimes.  And while I was working on this fear I realized that other fears were dropping away as well. I do feel more grown up. As if I evolved somehow, have a greater consciousness of this fear and how it haunts me and how to work with it and not against it. And at the same time work with kindness with my 10-year-old self, who still trembles at the thought of a blood draw, telling her that this fear has no place here anymore, I’m a grown up and I got this. Sometimes as children or after some experience as an adult, we make a decision to protect ourselves out of necessity, but we also need to know when that protection is now holding us back. What’s haunting you?