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?”

 

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Confessions of a State School Ivy Leaguer (Part 2)

~ Written while sitting in the airport waiting for my plane to D.C. to attend and present my research at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting. ~


A few months ago I wrote Confessions of a State School Ivy Leaguer (Part 1). In hindsight, I was right on the money. But, instead of fighting it, I’ve decide to become an expert at “playing the game” (whatever that means). So, I’ve been name dropping and networking everywhere, because that’s what we do. Except now, saying, “I’m a graduate student at Brown University studying urban education policy” doesn’t feel like such an unconquerable tongue twister. Why? Because I realize it’s really not a big deal. Rather than being fixated on the prestige and all that I never thought I could own up to I’ve decide to focus on all I can gain from this program and how much my perspective has been challenged and changed.

Here are some realizations:

Brown students are no different. I used to think, “who are these people, and what am I doing here?” I still think that, but I now realize, at their core, people want to belong and feel purposeful. We crave connections with each other — to something larger than ourselves. We know this. Brown students are no different – they’re just people. We’ve ascribed value to their lives and accolades because of their university affiliation. But really, they’re just people. It only means something if we let it. I built Brown up to seem like something for which I was entirely unfit. I felt motivated to continue the facade and charade of “belonging”. Something changed when I stopped competing and convincing, and instead relentlessly chased after learning. And then, I truly thought “I could be happy here” – there were moments at least. Not all at once but slowly, I gained confidence and stamina.

Here’s why:

I stayed the course – and was rock star! The change happened once I realized I DO belong! As in, I’m smart enough, diligent enough, persistent enough, intellectual enough, eager enough. I am enough. But then, the real work began. Now that I know these things, rather than keeping up the show and attempting to convince others, I have to own it. I know I’m good, and that I do good work. My emotional investments in my work and myself are propelling me up the social and academic ladders. Now it’s personal. It’s beyond simply playing the game. This is my life. And in this life, I’m unapologetically pursuing my dreams of becoming a researcher. That means, I have to show up every day. I have to grasp, and sometimes flail at, every opportunity.

Speaking of opportunities…

I learned my faculty work for me. In the simplest sense, if there were no students attending Brown, the faculty wouldn’t have jobs. My tuition (and hefty endowments/donations – YAY Ivy League!) pays their salaries. So, in a way, I’m their boss, and they work for me. That means I’m entitled to ask them questions and expect them to answer me thoroughly. I’m going to capitalize on the important knowledge and experience they have, and be a captive audience member so that I can grow my own knowledge and skills. They owe me that much. And in return, in my next endeavor, (once someone gives me a job) it’ll reflect well (perhaps even superficially well) on the institution . I’ll (un)willingly perpetuate the cycle of misconception because I am amazing and unstoppable. It’s not because of this university, but in spite of it. That’s how the game it played.

And in playing the game, I discovered that…

If you look beyond the curtain, this university has a lot to offer. At Brown there are spaces where you can be inquisitive and wonder. You can cultivate and engage in great conversations. There are spaces to be fearless in your pursuits, but you have to seek them out. There are so many talks and resources available. But, if you’re going to be exceptional then you have to show up. You have to show up often. Contrary to public perception, going to Brown doesn’t mean that everything will be handed to you on a silver platter. In fact, most of the experience hasn’t be easy at all.  However, if you advocate for yourself, commit to your craft, and focus on your goals you can be impressively successful – and learn a lot too. Real talk – I am learning a lot! But, you also should know, there have been extensive, debilitating road blocks along the way.

Such as this:

Brown is a great place to be a feminist – unless you’re a Jewish and/or queer feminist. The activism on this campus is both a blessing and a curse. Each day I’m excited to see students donning shirts that read “CONSENT” or “This is what a Feminist looks like”. I see stickers hearkening women’s empowerment and I’m often impressed by the conversation and engagement around tough issues. However, behind the curtain there’s some really toxic advocacy too. There’s competition for the “best” activism and spaces that privilege voice over value. These types of actions (here and here for example) make it dangerous to be a Jewish and/or queer feminist or activist on this campus. [note: I am juxtaposing feminist and activist because of how closely related those identities are to me. Someone else may be an activist but share a different set of values related to equality.]

And, while we’re talking about feminism and conversations…

Code switching is real. Sometimes, I feel like there’s a performative element to being a Brown student. If you can set aside Brown’s history of slavery and oppression and instead frolic freely among the waves of liberalism you’ll see what I mean. There’s a lingo and a “type” at Brown. In fact, most students will tell you, as long as your opinions reside with the popular – read majority – stream of thought you’ll get along fine!  If you can talk the talk and look the part you’ll fit right in. But, it’s a hard place to have a loud, and opposing, opinion. And for most of us, the socially acceptable buzzwords like, “conceptualization”, “space”, “colonialism”, “patriarchy”, “subjectivity” (to name a few) aren’t part of our daily vernacular – see what I did there?  The elite speech patterns I’ve acquired  to get along at Brown makes me feel and seem pretentious to everyone else who is important in my life. I have to “turn off” my “Ivy League speech” when I’m in other contexts because I literally can’t stand to listen to myself or because I can perceive how annoying it is to other people. Performing Brown feels necessary to make it here. It also feels really fake, impersonal, and detached. Yet I’ve become so accustomed to this lifestyle and role that sometimes it takes hours for me to snap out of it. I find myself hopelessly stuck in cycles of blaming systematic, institutional oppression and whatnot.

Lamenting aside, the reality is, the name does mean a lot to other people! And, that matters. You know, if we’re playing the game.

Writing about Writing

Writing about writing involves thinking about writing, or even better, thinking about thinking about writing! (Yay! Meta-level thinking!) If I stay here too long it can feel really out of control really fast. But, in short bursts the feelings of ambiguity and possibility are bearable to entertain.

Anyway, I haven’t posted recently because I’ve been over on ravishly.com living the dream as a contributing writer! Here’s my contributor page: YAY!!!! Similarly, I’ve been over on themighty.com (here) writing about chronic pain.

Writing has been the most amazing outlet for me! It’s helped me find space, give voice to my words, and speak my truth – that’s super powerful. When I’ve felt most “stuck”, both with things I’m dealing with and how to write about them, I’ve read the piece aloud and recorded myself with the inflection, tone, and emotion I heard in my head, and would have used in a conversation with a good friend. After listening to the recording and following along with my words I was able to overcome the “stuckness” and finish the piece. Writing is a welcomed, reliable, trustworthy companion these days. When I’m writing I notice nothing else. I retreat to a state of flow. I feel at peace. Maybe even happy? It’s allowed me to think fully in a way I have truly missed.

I didn’t even recognize this feeling – this change – until I stopped and acknowledge how refreshing and unfamiliar it feels to think coherently again! My friends said, “I feel like you’re back”. I nodded confidently. Slowly but surely, I’m finding parts of myself that disappeared months ago.

My words are stamping the world with imprints that are illustrative of the messiness of life. Through my work, I’m declaring “dealt with” (mostly) the things I’ve kept to myself or ignored for WAY too long. It’s liberating! The experience of spewing my thoughts, taking a break, and revisiting and reorganizing what I’m trying to say has helped me feel calmer, express myself, and gain a sense of connection I didn’t realize I’d find with myself and people across the world – literally.

I wrote this a few weeks ago and it still resonates with me: The last six months of my life have been the most challenging I’ve experienced in a while. I graduated and left a school where I was thriving. I spent nearly every day for four years feeling on top of the world. It was amazing. I felt unstoppable. I left for a glamorous name and what I expected would be the next best step for my personal and professional development. After months of struggling silently I found respite and strength in writing. Rather than just reading (daily) the articles on sites that share my values and teach me so much, I jumped into my own uncharted space and started to connect with myself and others. It’s been hugely influential to my personal growth and exploration. Earlier I wrote, “from fury comes insight.” That’s how I feel when I tame the chaos I’m experiencing by writing. This feminist writing space has shown me that people “get” that not every day can be a good day and I can tell others understand that academia can be a difficult and special space to reside especially in the face of other challenges and experiences.

The type of connection, belonging, validation, and excitement I’ve felt from my friends online is inexplicable. This journey has introduced me to some incredible, down-to-earth, empathetic people who are practically the hidden treasures of internet (they’re also just people but I’m glorifying them here because they’ve made a difference to me. Internet fame is real!).

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!

Recently, I shared that I traded social media connections for authentic, personal connections. In this context, I valued in person conversations, and quality over quantity. I still value quality relationships but my parameters have expanded. Connecting with people online showed me that these connections can also be authentic, valuable, personal connections. I’ve found more people who “get it” and been more open about my experiences than I ever anticipated. I’m loving cultivating meaningful relationships as a I grow as a writer, academic, and activist.

I have discovered the world of shared experiences and stories. I feel closer and more whole than I expected or thought was possible. There’s a world out there where people absolutely get it and care. I realized that even though I feel lonely,  I am not alone. That was necessary.


 

If you’re experiencing writer’s block (or loneliness), keep writing! As much as you can, keep exploring, connecting, wondering, asking, and thinking! It’s an adventure, and in the end, it could turn out to be like nothing you ever anticipated – it might even be better!

 

 

Coffee. Because Grown Ups Can’t Carry Security Blankies

Any Peanuts Fans? Try this simile: 9780694010448my coffee cup is like Linus’ security blanket.

Really though, how weird would it be if grown ups carried around security blankets? Luckily, there’s a solution:

COFFEE!

Surprisingly, this isn’t a post about the necessity or joys of excess caffeine consumption in graduate school – that’s been done (and overdone). However, I strongly contend that coffee is necessary to survive graduate school. I don’t fully trust people who don’t drink coffee. To that note, you won’t often find me without a cup of coffee in my hand. That’s a tendency my thesis advisor eagerly brought to my attention YEARS ago.

Here’s another simile: 5b324d3f5f4747035ddbb790cacbe5d4me holding a cup of coffee is like a teen holding their cell phone.  It’s like they can’t live without it. They’ll panic if it’s not within arm’s length. I definitely feel that way about coffee. My coffee cup is practically an appendage.

More than once, I’ve said that if I could have an IV of coffee I’d be set for life or something as illogical as “I wish I could replace my bloodstream with coffee.” Although, even with a constant stream of coffee flowing in my body at all times, I still might hold on to cup – my trustworthy mug.

When I’m holding a coffee there’s a reciprocal, warm embrace between me and my lifeline that aligns perfectly with the curved grasp of my palm. It’s always been there for me and it doesn’t judge. It’s the last thing I think about before I go to bed and the first thing I attend to when I wake up – NO I’m not addicted (*looks away*). It’s silly. Really.

I know.

IMG_20151219_190658
Typical.

But, there’s comfort in coffee. It’s reliable. It makes awkward handshake dances easier to avoid. It makes not knowing what to say practically a nonissue (*takes sip*). Similarly, sipping on coffee combats the tediousness of long commutes or college lectures. Coffee dates are the saving grace for uncomfortable interactions with mere acquaintances or exciting reunions with good friends.

So yes, coffee is my socially approved, grown up, sophisticated security blanket, and I think that’s perfectly okay!

15 Good Things From 2015

Everyone’s positive energy building up to the New Year is absolutely contagious. I want to join!

Here’s my list of 15 good things from 2015:

*not in chronological order or order of importance*

  1. I was awarded a Chapter Distinguished Service Key (DSK) in Alpha Phi Omega (APO): Upon receiving this fraternity honor I wrote “I feel like this statDSCN4702us should go something like “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” or “nobody said it was easy…” but actually, in all seriousness, it was truly an honor to be awarded a Chapter DSK today. I am so thankful for the wonderful experiences I’ve had as an active Brother and I cannot wait to continue to serve with APO as alumni!” Just a few weeks later I was offered a position on Region 1 Staff! This fraternity has given me more than I could ever ask for. APO continually shows me the the meaning of brotherhood in ways I can’t explain. I made some of the best friends and learned some of the most important lessons and skills of my life.
  2. I went on Birthright and spent my 23rd birthday in Israel!
  3. I finished my honors thesis: but really 53 pages later! This seemed like an impossible task made manageable only by consuming inappropriate amounts of coffee and working ALL THE TIME. I still don’t know how I did it all. Before this project, conducting my own research seemed like a task that was beyond the scope of what I expected I could accomplish as an undergraduate; my advisors’ commitment to me and my project convinced me otherwise and showed me that I can accomplish more than I expect. Having an advisor who saw enough value in my ideas and capabilities to believe in my project was imperative to the success of this work and was necessary for me to grow both academically and personally. My confidence and pride was ignited because she didn’t tell me no. Rather, she pushed me each day to excel. This project not only taught me the research process but was instrumental in creating a foundation for both my future professional and academic interests. Now, I want to be a researcher! Of course, none of this would have been possible or as fun without my amazing HDFS honors cohort. We were a great bunch and I loved every minute of our learning and lamenting together.11149684_10204024050981885_3863601930795783864_o
  4. I became a runner: I used to have a witty excuse as to why I hated running. I’d say, “it’s physics. It’s just logic. If you start where you end then you’ve displaced nothing. So, why would I run if displacement says at the end I’ll have accomplished nothing?” I clearly didn’t really understand running or physics then. I still don’t understand physics. Now, whether I’m running to escape or running to gear up to something, running is important for me. It gives me time to think. It gives me order, control, discipline, expectations, freedom, and strength. Some days, the best we can do is put one front in front of the other and face the day. That’s what running has taught me. There are no unconquerable obstacles, just different paces with which we overcome them. On June 4th I posted this photo [yes on Facebook] and pulled the caption from the first time I publicly shared this picture during my senior year of high school public speaking class last lecture. I wrote, “In the face of a challenge, face it. You never know what you can do until you try”.Then there were sentiments of continuing to persevere until you 11351330_10204410118993344_5105233088170803531_nreach your goals and never stopping until you achieve what you want. Apparently my 18 year old self was more attuned to grasping at opportunity than I realized and, I may never learn to stop!

    What’s even more important (and timely/relevant) about this picture is this: it’s the first time I ran and triumphed over RSD (circa 2007).  And now, I consistently surprise myself by running farther, faster, and longer than I have in my entire life. Not pain free but, still confident and owning it! In 2015, I tracked 426 miles and ran a 10K (6.2 miles) in 1:04:47.

  5. I was published on The Mighty! You can read my piece: The One Statement I Want to Hear From Loved Ones About My Invisible Illness here. [Side note: I have a forthcoming  piece on Ravishly – I’m really excited!]
  6. I started this blog! When I started this project I said, “I’m starting this project to make space to wonder…I’m also using this blog to find a space to reflect. That’s a word that wasn’t in my vocabulary a year ago but, many great mentors and conversations later, I’m craving that necessary “me space”. However, not even my best mentors or friends would willingly sign on to interact with my every thought, question, challenge, insight, funny link, or freak out moment. So instead, there’s blogging. ” I’ve grown to love exploring and thinking on things. Sharing my work has been exhilarating and making connections through my writing [and my online community] has shown me that even when I’m feeling lonely there’s someone out there who “gets it”. My list of “things to write about” is growing longer and longer each day. These days, you won’t find me without a notebook in hand in case something sparks an idea. It’s been a risk, it’s still a risk but, I’m really loving this project.
  7. I learned about the importance of relationships and gained some amazing friendships: And of course the only appropriate comment here would be from Grey’s, “We’re friends, real friends. And that means, no matter how long it takes, when you finally decide to look back, I’ll still be here.” – Grey’s Anatomy
  8. I practiced saying what I need, asking for help, and being a better communicator: I started with being okay with things not being “okay” or “fine”. I found an outlet through writing and some great, trustworthy friends to express myself more honestly without worrying about being a burden or being a toxic friend.
  9. I graduated from UConn!  It’s true, some of the best learning happens outside the classroom. At UConn I was challenged, pushed, mentored and questioned both inside and outside of class. Rather than feeling inadequate or frustrated I was inspired and thankful for all that I learned and all the ways I grew. At UConn, I truly thrived! I felt supported and confident. I did it all and then some and, I had an amazing network of friends, mentors, advisors, and professors encouraging me along the way. This quote rings true for me and is so applicable right now, “I’ve learned that home isn’t a place, it’s a feeling.”― Cecelia Ahern.  I miss UConn *literally* every day and I am SO proud to be a  Husky!
  10. Logically what comes next, I started at Brown University in the Urba10360465_10204185744024110_6042675827618780031_nn Education Policy Program: While this hasn’t been the BEST thing in 2015, one thing is certain, (in a paradoxical way) I know that if I never came here and if I stayed at UConn I wouldn’t ever know that I truly didn’t like it. I mean, beyond speculation. Also, and I guess obviously, the things I don’t like aren’t the things I was most nervous about so I suppose there’s value in that too. Regardless, I’ve had some amazing opportunities here to continue to grow as a researcher and an academic (whatever that means). I also learned the value of networking and connections beyond the colloquial saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. I’m working hard and making it work day by day.
  11. I fell in love with stories and great conversations: I traded social media connections for authentic, personal connections and I couldn’t be happier with that choice. I’ve been listening a lot and also searching for those stimulating conversations that ignite wonder and create more opportunities to learn. The kind that leave you thinking and questioning long after the formal discourse has ended. I craved thinking critically and conscientiously. I’ve learned that when you’re open to allowing a conversation to change your perspective and you’re a partner in creating the space for meaningful, intentional interactions you’re facilitating change. Hence, this year, I adopted the use of the phrase “thought partner” in every, even sort of, appropriate context.
  12. MUSIC: Just music. But really, from country concerts and Broadway musicals, to the sounds and spirits of Kabbalat Shabbat I was reminded of and gained a new appreciation for the ways in which music connects us and fills a room (or a person) with such unique energy. Music fills the quiet space that so often feel lonely. A quote from one of my favorite movies August Rush seems appropriate here, “You know what music is? God’s little reminder that there’s something else besides us in this universe, a harmonic connection between all living beings, every where, even the stars.” SO TRUE! And of course, Taylor Swift gave me more reasons to love her. Including most recently, topping DoSomething.org’s Celebs Gone Good list for the fourth year. Gotta love her!
  13. I traveled! In 2015 (and the last days of 2014) I went to the APO National Convention in Chicago, Israel with UConn Hillel, New Orleans with Honors Across State Borders, NYC, the first ever ParentCampUSA at the U.S. Dept. of Education in D.C., and more!
  14. I recognized and reclaimed my body: It’s easy to learn to ignore  your body when you’re living with chronic pain. Too much attention to your pain can be detrimental because then you can get stuck focusing solely on your pain. We’re taught (in the chronic pain world) to find ANY strategy to ignore the pain and distract ourselves. In 2015 I reclaimed my body and grew stronger! I’m more physically fit than I’ve been before. I pursued strength for me – starting with an earnest desire to be able to run a mile. Rather than my pain owning me, I owned my pain and I was in charge of my body.
  15. I accomplished everything I wanted!  2015 was the year of doing too much and not knowing how (or when) to stop. With coffee as my lifeline and internal motivation I didn’t even know I possessed (once described as a glowing purple ball inside my body that was constantly radiating energy, and another time described as “robotic” – as I operate with the same amount of energy an11008595_10204092958784537_8915779519335960414_nd efficiency at all times) I did some amazing things! And, perhaps more importantly, I learned that I am more than the list of accomplishments that fill up my resume or the things I do each day to feel productive or worthy. With the encouragement of some amazing mentors and lots of hours spent thinking (reflecting), I found myself when I intentionally took the time to critically consider my experiences.  I started attributing credit to myself for my accomplishments rather than luck. Told myself “I earned this. I did this. I am good enough” and slowly I started to believe it. Judith Bulter wrote, “life histories are histories of becoming” and that notion has been a driving force compelling me to consider what I’ve experienced and why it’s been influential in my life rather than just considering how it’s going to propel me on toward the next “best” thing. I am done quantifying my success by how others view my accomplishments. This year rather than reaching the top step and turning around to find 15 more steps to climb I’m standing proud on the top, looking down with satisfaction, attributing value to what I’ve accomplished, and just letting it all soak in.

Happy New Year!

You May Now Proceed to “Overthinking”

This blog was a risk. This blog felt vulnerable and scary. But, this blog has also been freeing. I’ve gained a space to think and wonder but I still feel nervous almost every time I post something.

I haven’t posted in a few days (almost two weeks) because I’ve been angry and also buried in school work. Instead, I’ve been scribbling my thoughts in a notebook begging for a moment to make sense of everything. At the same time, I’m really craving a chance to just spew some (possibly) utter chaos and just leave it here so that it’s somewhere and I can move beyond it.

Here I go…

I’ve come to one of the biggest realizations of my life these past few days:

The system is only a system if you buy into it”

[Side Note: I use a lot or metaphors and write in cyclical notions. It’s because metaphors make space. That’s a double meaning. They allow me to explain myself and explore what I’m thinking when either I don’t have the words or I don’t want to confront the words. They provide a necessary element of distance while also providing direct insight into how I’m thinking and feeling. Anyway, these days I’m attempting to make metaphors work because then I don’t have to “own” everything just yet. I can make space and take space through one simple (kinda) conversation.]

What a troubling realization. Basically, life shattering. All this is to say EVERYTHING is socially constructed and things only have meaning if we allow them to have meaning. From grades, to language, to religion, and relationships the meanings we attribute to them and the agreed upon social understanding of these ideas are what perpetuate them. Another day maybe I’ll dabble in a conversation about race, gender, and sexual identity in a similar vein because the same logic applies. BUT, I don’t want to get into that right now.

Regardless, this whole sentiment makes me think a lot!

If I think too much, and allow myself to wander down that windy path, it makes me question if anything matters at all.  Not in a hopeless way, but in a curious way. If we can break down each construct and get to the bottom of all this thinking, underneath it all, we’re just people. I DO realize the danger of a statement like that!

But really, if I think this through enough it’s like nothing is actually real until we make it real. And in so many ways, making it real means attributing a label or value to what we’re experiencing. Remember, “The system is only a system if you buy into it”. This meaning making requires us to create and make sense of arbitrary distinctions and agree to attribute value or worth to them in order to reinforce hierarchies or beliefs that in some ways separate us and in other ways bring us closer together or build us up. Although, even when we’re being built up, it’s always in contrast to someone who is necessarily considered “less than” us. Otherwise, how would we reinforce these systems and structures?

So, it begs the question, if the systems only exists because we allow them to, then how can we say that anything is really real? And, if we’re ascribing to this perspective, and can rationalize that nothing is real, then clearly, nothing really matters. Okay, let’s say there for a second. If nothing really matters BUT we can’t escape the classifications and hierarchies (systems and structures) that are literally the foundational aspects of the word we live in, then does anything matter only because we let it matter? Are we simply learning to live as compliant beings and play our part in systems that we cannot change? Are we upholding the systems by performing our expected behaviors and not challenging our roles?

I’ll concede. Yes, there’s logic and order associated with the extent to which we accept and act out our roles and comply with the understanding that the world works in a certain “way”. But really, I can’t help but wonder what it would take to make it all stop for a second so we can catch our breath and realign our expectations and so we can take a good look at our world and consider what REALLY matters?

It makes my head spin!

Thoughts on Relationships and Validation

Today, I’m tackling one of the topics on my “Things I Want to Write About” list: relationships and validation. This post isn’t about how great it feels to be told I’m right or consistently needing my ego stroked.  It’s about recognizing the power of and my appreciation for the friends in my life.

Months ago, I wrote the following important (to me) sentences:

“Relationships are among the many tools in your toolbox. They serve a purpose and they’re necessary to build your complete self”

That’s where I’ll start. This past year, I’ve learned a lot about relationships. I’ve learned to let people get to know me and I’ve started to understand and truly appreciate the necessity of reciprocity in friendships. I’ve allowed myself to be just vulnerable enough that I can accept others investment in me. Rather than pushing them away or putting up high walls, I’ve shared pieces of myself to add to the foundation of our relationship. Together we built something wonderful and soon I was able to feel how influential these investments were. In a year, I learned the meaning of true friendship and I’ve found my “people” (because why shouldn’t we reference Grey’s Anatomy wherever we can?!). I gained friends who likely know me better than I know myself and somehow, they always know the right thing to say to make everything better (or at least manageable for a moment).

Twice recently, I’ve had friends thank me for allowing them the space to “get enraged”. That’s the reciprocal part! That’s when I realized again that validation, active listening more precisely, is an essential aspect of friendship. I didn’t have to have the answers. I just needed to listen, acknowledge, and then ask what they needed from me. That shift from trying to “fix” the problem to simply supporting a friend has meant so much to me. It means that we can admit that sometimes the solutions are hard. We can respect and acknowledge each individual’s needs. Sometimes “I hear you. That sucks.” and saying or hearing nothing more is more powerful than whatever advice you could spew or pretend to listen to in the moment. Other times, our friends are our first line of defense where we can leverage our networks and share experiences and resources (when they are asked for of course. Consent is important!).

An interesting element about validation that I don’t think I initially realized is that in order to be validated, you have to share parts of  yourself – introduce people to the “real you”.  That means, you must have the tough conversations and sometimes let down walls or cross boundaries. You have to move past small talk. The benefit is, when you let the right person “in” you can experience the beauty of feeling truly cared for and important to someone. And, that’s all we can ask for some days. All we can hope for, all we can expect, is that we are important enough to someone and that our relationships are dynamic enough and salient enough to weather the storm and anything we might encounter.

This year, I’ve learned to love and rely on these relationships. The first time I realized how influential these friendships are was when a mentor, advisor, teacher, and now friend said to me “I hope you get everything you want”. That was one of the first times I felt genuinely supported without any external expectations. After I heard that, I smiled and felt like I could do exactly what I wanted without letting anyone down.  I can’t explain why that interaction touched me so significantly but, (at the risk of sounding cliché) it changed my life. So, since then I’ve been seeking out more meaningful moments like that. I’ve been searching for the spaces where I am heard. I’ve been wanting more friendships that change my life and warm my heart.

So, yes, validation feels good. It reminds me that relationships are necessary and that I’m not alone. It reminds me I CAN ask for help and, I don’t have to put up a front or appear to always be “okay”. Together we can share the true privilege of supporting each other – a privilege I like to call friendship.