Who has earned the right to hear my story?

My list of things to write about is filled with topics that seem simultaneously too immense to tackle and too irrelevant to warrant attention. I want to write about counting – what counts, who counts, what do we count up, what do we count down?  I want to write a passive aggressive piece about the biggest occupational hazard of being a writer – exposure. I want to write about the relationship between trust and vulnerability. Let’s see if I can do it all by answering a question inspired by Brene Brown, “Who has earned the right to hear my story?”.

Counting

Brene Brown said,  “Our stories are not meant for everyone. Hearing them is a privilege, and we should always ask ourselves this before we share: “Who has earned the right to hear my story?” If we have one or two people in our lives who can sit with us and hold space for our shame stories, and love us for our strengths and struggles, we are incredibly lucky. If we have a friend, or small group of friends, or family who embraces our imperfections, vulnerabilities, and power, and fills us with a sense of belonging, we are incredibly lucky.”

I can count on one hand the number of people to whom I’ve spoken my story aloud. Those are the people in my life who “count”. They’re the ones I’ve learned to let in and have earned the right to hear my story. They are the ones who “mesh with my messy” and keep hanging in there and hanging on – no matter what.  I have learned to count on these people. I count down until I can see them. I count up the memories we have together and the anniversaries of our friendships. Earning a place in my life where you “count” doesn’t come naturally or even easily. It comes with time spent, loyalties exchanged, and a whole lot of patience. I’m a tough one to crack – a slow burn as one friend describes it. However, once someone “counts” and I count on them, my fierce loyalty and dependability means they’re in it for the long haul.

So if you want to “count”, you have to be willing to hang and hold on tight.

The Occupational Hazard of Being a Writer

Practically daily, Brene Brown reminds me of about the power of vulnerability and choosing authenticity.  Her work reminds me that being seen and owning my story is courageous. In fact, she says, “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing that we will ever do.” This sentiment is one of the reasons I write. However, the hazard of being vulnerable is so unbearable to consider and the consequences feel multifaceted. It can lead to misconception and immense exposure. As a writer, certain aspects of my life are more public than private. I feel like sometimes when people read my writing think they know me better than they actually do. What’s challenging is that my writing is often editorialized to make money (or generate web traffic) and the choices I make regarding how to convey emotion, which phrases or formatting are more attractive to readers, and which examples to expand on based on what may be salient to or resonate with readers are only relatively representative of my lived experience. I cannot control the fact that people make inferences with the information they have (hey – we don’t know what we don’t know) and that’s hard for me to tolerate. Conversely, I don’t have the energy or obligation to “explain” myself to everyone in my life whom I feel has misunderstood my story by only learning of certain aspects of my life by reading my writing.

However, the hazard of being vulnerable is so unbearable to consider and the consequences feel multifaceted. It can lead to misconception and immense exposure. As a writer, certain aspects of my life are more public than private. Consequently, I feel like sometimes when people read my writing think they know me better than they actually do. What’s challenging is that my writing is often editorialized to make money (or generate web traffic) and the choices I make regarding how to convey emotion, which phrases or formatting are more attractive to readers, and which examples to expand on based on what may be salient to or resonate with readers are only relatively representative of my lived experience. I cannot control the fact that people make inferences with the information they have (hey – we don’t know what we don’t know) and that’s hard for me to tolerate. Conversely, I don’t have the energy or obligation to “explain” myself to everyone in my life whom I feel has misunderstood my story by only learning of certain aspects of my life by reading my writing.

So there’s a tension. I want to be understood and yet I’m hesitant to share about my life. At the same time, I’m anxious about the anticipation of being misperceived (something I cannot control – I realize) because the representation of myself via my writing feels raw and heavy.

The thing is for every 1200 words in a post, there are thousands more I decide not to share. The things I don’t share via writing are the details in my story, the nuances, that explain “me”. They are things like how I communicate, that I’m an introvert, that I hate being taken care of, and that when people push too hard, too fast I pull away. They’re the fact that sometimes my life is scary and sometimes I want to run, but I can’t escape it. And it’s the idea that regardless of all I’ve experienced, I don’t live my life from a place of being a victim. In fact, most people who know me don’t learn about all the things I’ve experienced – my story- for a long long time.

Except, via my writing, I do share parts of my story with the world. Here’s why:

Brene says, “We’re all grateful for people who write and speak in ways that help us remember that we’re not alone.”  After I press “publish” my writing is left in the heads, hands, and hearts of whoever stumbles upon my words. Being a writer helps me own my experiences and when I put my words out there my truth radiates. I learn I’m not alone. Which is terrifying and exciting.

The Relationship Between Trust and Vulnerability is Linear

Brene Brown argues that “Trust is a product of vulnerability that grows over time and requires work, attention, and full engagement.” I tend to agree, yet I believe that as trust grows so too does the inclination to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is scary and painful. It’s the kind of unwelcome discomfort that sits right on top of the fence wavering relentlessly between I need this and I cannot tolerate this. However, when you trust someone and you know they’re not going anywhere it’s easier to be vulnerable. Conversely, as trust decreases, so too does the inclination to be vulnerable. As a result disengagement and disconnection emerge. Two qualities that hinder the capacity to be open to receiving my story. The presence of enduring trust answers the question, “who has earned the right to hear my story”. Sharing my story is one way I can be vulnerable, and if I do not have a foundation of trust, then the privilege of learning my story isn’t accessible.

Conversely, as trust decreases, so too does the inclination to be vulnerable. As a result disengagement and disconnection emerge. Two qualities that hinder the capacity to be open to receiving my story. The presence of enduring trust answers the question, “who has earned the right to hear my story”. Sharing my story is one way I can be vulnerable, and if I do not have a foundation of trust, then the privilege of learning my story isn’t accessible.

Glennon Dyole Melton reminds us in Love Warrior, that “we can do hard things”. I interpret that to mean we can choose our adventures, make mistakes, acquire accolades and achievements, and overcome life’s challenges. Writing allows me to be the author and narrator of my “hard things”. I write because it helps me make sense of my story.  When I’m writing, I choose how the chapter ends and what the message is. This – writing – is hard. It takes courage to confront hard things and be seen. 

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“What is this Feeling?” And Other Broadway Inspired Thoughts

I’m irate. So, I’m going to write. election-tweets

I am still in absolute shock.

This doesn’t feel real.

I cannot make sense of the results of this election. I’m feeling so many mixed-up, irrational things – all of which are all valid. I can’t find peace.

The morning after the election, everything felt surreal and quiet, but also so loud it was inescapable. I watched the sunrise after a night of barely any sleep, and I thought, “how can the sun even rise after all of this?” I felt hopeless.

I can recover from losing one night of sleep; the implications of November 8, 2016 are permanent.

I am devastated, and afraid. I’m afraid as a Jew, a woman, as someone who identifies with the LGBTQIA+ community. I’m sad. I’m just so sad.

Now, not even 48 hours after the election, I’m somewhere between wondering how we’re supposed to just go about our normal business, and thinking that we have to keep moving forward.  I’m somewhere between wanting to check-in with my friends and loved ones who are clearly hurting too, and being so exhausted by even just the premise of one more conversation about this damn election. For three days, I’ve been vacillating between all the feels, and sometimes experiencing them all at once – sadness, rage, and fear, panic, numbness, resentment, and disbelief. I’m trying to decide what our “new normal” will look like, and how it’s possible that this can all be okay. Everything feels unfulfilling, and subdued.

The way I see it, the whole election season can be likened to a story plot:

plot-diagram

  • Exposition and Inciting Incident – Primary Elections
  • Rising Action – Debate Season, and the Campaigns
  • Climax – Election Day
  • Falling Action – The Immediate Aftermath
  • Resolution – The Future (if we’re being hopeful)

 

Election seasons retell and predict the ongoing story of our country, and our democracy. We are forced, through this process, to remember what we’ve accomplished, set grandiose goals and plans, and yearn for possibility, and the triumphs ahead. Living through this experience unscathed is practically impossible. Living through this story unaffected is unforgivable.

I’m not even going to try to write a monumental, millennial values inspired post about white supremacy, the patriarchy, and our not-so-post-racial America because I cannot process any of this coherently enough, yet, to write anything ineligible.  All I want to say right now is, “No. Hell No.”

No – it’s not going to be okay. No – we can’t just preach about unity, and expect the country to come together. No – it’s doesn’t matter that he’s “just one man”. No –  as long as racism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. are raging through our country’s veins it’s not going to be okay.

I don’t feel like listening to anyone’s remarks about giving him a chance, or how as a country we needed something radically different, and she wasn’t it. I don’t care about WHY it happened, whose votes we “missed”, and who we didn’t “predict” would vote (Ahem… white people everywhere). I don’t care if it seems like I’m being immature. I just need a way to process this; I need to figure out how we move forward, and what to do next.

So, instead, right now, I’m going to turn my energy to music, and the voices and stories that have already so beautifully and precisely articulated many of the feelings I’m experiencing – Broadway musicals.  I’m finding solace, validation, authenticity, and explanation in this music, and these plots. Both the lyrics and the musical composition intimately portray feelings such as excitement, disappointment, loss, dread, hope, and optimism. I’m searching for clarity in a space I have reliably found to be filled with love and truth. I need to warm my soul; I’ll use the energy and beauty of Broadway to illuminate a path forward.

Here’s my best attempting at processing, at mapping, my emotions throughout the trajectory of this election story in Broadway songs. [You can access the full playlist here]

Exposition and Inciting Incident:

  1. Politics and Poker – Fiorello – “Gentlemen, how about some names we can use?/ Some qualified Republican who’s willing to lose.”

Rising Action:

  1. The Election of 18000 – Hamilton – “Can we get back to politics?… / the country is facing a difficult choice”
  2. Popular – Wicked – “It’s not about aptitude/ It’s the way you’re viewed / So it’s very shrewd to be/ Very very popular/ Like me!”
  3. Anything You Can Do – Annie Get Your Gun – Anything you can do, I can do better!/ I can do anything better than you!
    [Frank:] No you can’t!
    [Annie:] Yes, I can!
    [Frank:] No, you can’t!
    [Annie:] Yes, I can!
    [Frank:] No, you can’t!
    [Annie:] Yes, I can, Yes, I can!”
  4. Cue: In The Heights and West Side Story
  5. Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little – “And the worst thing/ Of course, I shouldn’t tell you this but-“
  6. The Corrupt Bargain – Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – “We need to find a scheme to keep the power in the hands of the chosen few.”
  7. Somebody’s Eyes – Footloose – “Somebody’s eyes are watching/ Somebody’s eyes will never close, never sleep/ Somebody’s after the secrets that you keep /Who’s got alibis/ From somebody’s eyes?”
  8. Take Me or Leave Me – RENT  – “So be wise/ Cause this girl satisfies/ You’ve got a prize, so don’t compromise/ You’re one lucky baby”

Climax (in this particular order):

  1. It’s Gonna be Good – Next to Normal – “It’s gonna be great! It’s gonna be great!/ It’s gonna be great. Fucking great.”
  2. Maps – Fun Home – “Maps show you what is simple and true”
  3. Totally Fucked -Spring Awakening – “Totally Fucked”
  4. Edges of the World – Fun Home – “It’s a lot. It’s a lot to keep under control…/ Dear Al, I’m scared/ I had a life I thought I understood.”
  5. Tomorrow – Annie – “When I’m stuck in the day that’s grey and lonely/ I just stick up my chin and grin and say oh…/ The sun’ll come out tomorrow!”

Falling Action:

  1. I Dreamed a Dream – Les Miserables – ” There was a time when love was blind/ And the world was a song/ And the song was exciting/ There was a time/Then it all went wrong”
  2. Memory – Cats – “Memory/All alone in the moonlight/ I can dream of the old days/ Life was beautiful then/ I remember the time/ I knew what happiness was/Let the memory live again”
  3. Without You – RENT – “The tears dry without you/ Life goes on but I’m gone”
  4. Quiet – Matilda – “And my heart is pounding/ And my eyes are burning/ And suddenly everything, everything is… Quiet/ Like silence, but not really silent.”
  5. All That’s Known – Spring Awakening – “Still, I know to trust my own true mind/ And to say ‘There’s a way through this'”

Resolution:

  1. No One is Alone – Into the Woods – “Hard to see the light now/ just don’t let it go/ things will come out right now/ we can make it so/ Someone is on your side/ No one is alone.”
  2. Solidarity – Billy Elliot  – “Solidarity forever/ All for one and one for all”
  3. I’m Here – The Color Purple – “I’m gonna take a breath/ Gonna hold my head up/ Gonna put my shoulders back/ And look you straight in the eye…And I’m thankful for every day that I’m given/ Both the easy and hard ones I’m livin'”
  4. Light – Next to Normal – “Day after day (day after day)/ We’ll find the will to find our way/ Knowing that the darkest skies will someday see the sun.”
  5. Climb Ev’ry Mountain – The Sound of Music – Climb every mountain/ Ford every stream/ Follow every rainbow/ Till you find your dream”

The list could go on and on, and I could select other lyrics that evoke similar or different emotions from these same songs. The fact is, I cannot silence my feelings, and I won’t apologize for being melodramatic or overreacting. This is serious, and I don’t know how else to grieve. Thankfully, there’s music.


Want to share your thoughts? In the comments feel free to contribute to this list! Which songs do you associate with the tumultuous journey we’re all on?

P.s. Also, don’t miss the The Crazy 2016 Campaign, in Song featured on The New Yorker Radio Hour 🙂

Reflecting on What’s Unsettled, Uncomfortable, Unfocused, and Uncertain – Thoughts for the Jewish New Year

During the Jewish month of Elul, the month preceding the Jewish New Year, we’re asked to welcome introspection. We’re invited to identify what unfinished business, what distractions, are keeping us from living in the moment. This practice compels us to have conversations with our self, grappling with feelings which are unsettled, uncomfortable, unfocused, and uncertain. So, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reflecting!

This reflective practice, prepares us for teshuvah. The practice of teshuvah, literally translated to mean “return”, and conventionally translated as “repentance”, helps shape how we experience the challenging truths of ourselves and our lives. After Elul, after identifying our missteps, and realizing where there is room for improvement, the practice of teshuvah compels us to turn outward. We look toward our community, our friends, and our family for their forgiveness and insight about how they experience us. Only then can we come full circle, return to ourselves, and identify how to put our best selves forward in the next year. By doing teshuvah, we make a choice to focus on our flaws, and find the strength, direction, energy, and support from those who are most important to us so we can grow and improve – so we can reunite out body, mind, and soul.

Rabbi Alan Lew, in his book “This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared”, reminds us that “everything we do is an expression of the entire truth of our lives.” He goes on to say that, “The present moment is the only place we experience ourselves as being alive, the only place we experience our lives at all”. In a very literal interpretation, I take this to mean that we must be present without any competing distractions to fully experience ourselves – our constantly, continuously becoming selves. Glennon Doyle Melton describes it this way; she says, “to be human is to be incomplete and constantly yearning for reunion.” I understand this concept to imply that we’re always yearning for reunification with ourselves, and that very often the representation of ourselves that we share with others is not our true, flawed, and imperfect selves.

And so this return, this reunification of body, mind, and soul, is incredibly difficult to achieve especially when I find myself battling so many unsettled, unfinished thoughts. The type of thoughts that creep up on me when I least expect it, and that push into my consciousness no matter what I do to avoid them. It’s much more comfortable to maintain some distance from myself. In fact, Rabbi Lew explains that, “we spend a great deal of time and energy… living at some distance from ourselves” typically because of fear of what we may learn, or perhaps because then the hard work of improvement and self-realization will be looming right in front of us – and that’s daunting. We maintain stories that are no longer relevant because we are terrified of acknowledging the truth of our lives – of our existence. Brene Brown also explains this idea in her work. She says, “There is a narrative that all of us hold on to that we have to retire at some point because it no longer serves our lives or our stories.” This choice, the challenge to either move forward and grow, or remain trapped in the fears and narratives that have limited us in the past, is the cornerstone of the Jewish High Holidays.

And so,  I’ve spent the month of Elul, a Jewish month of introspection considering, yet again, the importance of stories. I’ve asked myself “which stories are holding me back?”, “which stories, which truths, have impacted me in ways that, maybe, haven’t even fully revealed themselves yet?” I’ve considered, “what unfinished business is tearing [my] focus away from the present tense reality of our experience? From the present moment, the only place where we can really live our lives?” And, I’ve participated in Do You 10Q to help me discover more about myself, and make this gigantic task a bit more manageable.


Here are my answers to all 10 questions, in 3 sentences or less:

  1. Describe a significant experience that has happened in the past year. How did it affect you?

A year ago, I would have told you that I had to exclusively find and sustain strength inside myself, and be strong for my friends – even if it meant pretending (also see this).  Then, I experienced the incredible power of friendship when I was struggling and needed help. Now, I’d tell you I can’t be my best without the support my friends and family; they’re the ones who give me strength and energy – especially in the areas where I still have room to grow.

  1. Is there something that you wish you had done differently this past year?

I wish I didn’t think I needed to go through all of life’s challenges on my own. I wish I understood the power in admitting I needed help earlier. I wish I didn’t waste so much energy pretending things were fine, and instead I put energy into doing everything I could to find strength, safety, and calm.

  1. Think about a major milestone that happened with your family this past year. How has this affected you?

This year, I earned my Master’s degree in Urban Education Policy. My education, passion, and experiences prepared me to step into my role as a Research Coordinator at the Brazelton Touchpoints Center. I learned an incredible amount this year, and now I have a job that I absolutely love!

  1. Describe an event in the world that has impacted you this year. How? Why?

One world: Orlando. Earlier this year I started writing about asexuality (among other things) on Ravishly. However, it wasn’t until Orlando that my identity within the queer community felt both salient and threatened; this event made me simultaneously want to be out, and reject any and all queer identities at the same time. [Side note: interestingly this year Yom Kippur coincides with National Coming Out Day!]

  1. Have you had any particularly spiritual experiences this past year?

Read here. And here. I’m constantly craving spaces where the energy is contagious, and where I can be so present, confident, and welcomed that everything else fades away – for me this is often Shabbat.

  1. Describe one thing you’d like to achieve by this time next year. Why is this important to you?

I want to be less fixated on food, and weight by this time next year. I realized this is really just a way to feign control when other things feel too hectic. It’s easy to let this line of thinking become an obsession, and get out of control.

  1. How would you like to improve yourself, your life, next year? Any advice you received that could help?

I want to work on being more emotionally intelligent, and giving more attention to how things make me feel. I’ve discovered that if I can identify how I’m feeling in a situation, and allow myself to authentically feel the entirety of my emotions in their context, right when they’re happening, I can be in charge of deciding how to react, and what steps I should take to alleviate the feeling or perpetuate it. My friends have reminded me that my feelings don’t have to feel out of control, and that other things will fall into place when I allow myself to feel whatever emotions are associated with anything I’m experiencing.

  1. Is there something (a person, a cause, an idea) that you want to investigate more fully next year?

Since I’m a huge research nerd, I want to learn more about research methods, and what approaches resonate with me so I can make an informed choice when I pursue a PhD in a few years. I also want to learn multilevel modeling and longitudinal analysis techniques!

  1. What is a fear that you have & how has it limited you? How do you plan on overcoming it this year?

I am inexplicably afraid of stopping because I’m afraid of what I’ll learn about myself, and I’m afraid that the flooding will be too intense. This “go, go, go”,  do all the things mentality has been both an adaptive coping strategy, and has stifled my personal growth. As overwhelming as it may seem, I’m working to create space to learn more about myself, and let myself know it’s okay to stop.

  1. When you get your answers to your 10Q questions next year, what do you hope will be different about you?

I hope I am able to be more honest with myself both about my strengths, and the areas where I can improve. I hope I’m still relentlessly passionate and aggressive in my pursuit of my goals, but that I’m able to supplement my professional life with a healthy balance of socializing and other activities that bring me joy.

Those are my answers! What are yours?


גמר חתימה טובה – May you be sealed (in the book of life) for good.

Something Kinda Meta

Here are some of the pieces I plan on writing in the future:

  • How Chronic Pain Feels
  • My Emerging “Radical Feminist” Coming Out Story
  • How Hair is a Feminist Issue
  • 2 Truths and a Lie
  • Pressure: The Incredible Motivator
  • How Do You Measure A Year? (coming December 31, 2016)

However, as we all know, plans and reality are different. There’s so much I want to write!  I spend my days narrating an internal monologue only to find that when I finally sit down to write, and calm my thoughts enough to spit out something relatively coherent “my fingers freeze, my mind stops. I can’t find the words and the paragraphs I had so eloquently written in my head are nowhere to be found.” This whole thing is so frustrating!

I mean, I’ve been writing over on ravishly.com living the dream as a contributing writer! Here’s my contributor page: YAY!!!! And, I’ve been over on themighty.com (here) writing about chronic pain. Yet the personal stuff, the things I actually want to work on and write on, has been disappointingly neglected.

I’ve said it before, but when I’m writing, I can be myself and share my thoughts. It actually feels really vulnerable, exposed, and terrifying! Sometimes I get “stage-fright” and want to swallow my words back up or not claim them as my own. In those moments, I take the the Shonda Rhimes “yes” approach – even though it scares me. I have to own this!

Earlier this year, I couldn’t think. In those months, I felt like an essential part of my identity was missing. It enraged me! During that time writing, editing, and revising helped me make sense of the chaos.

In so many ways, I’m back now, and I can think again! And so, what follows is literally something kinda meta. It’s just I’ve been thinking a lot, and need to reconcile those thoughts into something relatively cohesive.


They say the best writers are well read.  I envy the craftsmanship of writers whose talent makes ideas and images explode off the page. I admire people who are so fervently dedicated to this art.

I walk around the world narrating to myself. I arrange the words in my mind as if they’re puzzle pieces. When I get stuck, I move on to another part, or I backtrack and approach the challenge from a different angle. For example, I could see a bee pollinating a flower – sucking the nectar from its colorful, robust center, and wonder, to myself: How would I describe this? What imagery would I call upon to depict the experience of quenching one’s innate desire by entering the succulent, tight center of a bright, open flower? How could I detail the onomatopoeia I’m searching for to describe the sucking sound escaping from the bee’s mouth as it nurses the flower, caring deeply to attend to every last drop of think, sweet nectar like a baby coveting, adoring even, its mother’s breast? Is it a puck sound? More of a slurp?  

As I hear conversations, I consciously insert the unspoken aspects of dialogue – sigh, beat. Soon, the percussive nature of a gripping exchange becomes inexplicably compelling. An oration that is disciplined by rhythm embodies a pace, a tempo, that’s nearly impossible to ignore. It’s the type of pentameter that’s so relentlessly captivating the words practically don’t matter at all. And, when I zoom up close to the rhythm of life and embrace the interconnectedness of each person’s story the words, the narrations, become illuminated for me.

These words, they practically beg for engagement and acknowledgement. They strive for consumption and understanding. Yet, the beauty lies in the ability to appreciate both the clarity of shared meaning, and the messiness of each individual’s experiences clouding a shared conceptualization of a story. If we’re attentive, intentional, and skilled, we can generate stories that completely relay how we’re feeling, and what we want others to understand about our lived experience. Idealistically, we can use words as vehicles to move ideas forward.

And so, here I am; I’m relentlessly trying to narrate my world. I walk around composing paragraphs, envisioning the sentences, rearranging their structure – all the while tirelessly wondering, “how will I explain my play, my script, of the world?”, and “how will I tell my story?”