Happy Holidays or Seasonal Calamities?

I asked a friend for some assistance with writer’s block on a holiday blog post. I wanted to write about the struggles of single people during the holidays, but I couldn’t find an appropriate angle. Here are some of the unhelpful suggestions:

  • The silver bells have a ring to them but you don’t?
  • Children make snowmen but you can find no men to make children?
  • The weather’s as cold and dark as your heart?
  • There are lights on the houses but none in your eyes?
  • You really put the “miss” in mistletoe.
  • Now that your eggnog’s gone you’ve realized maybe your eggs are gone?
  • New Year’s Eve? More like two beers and leave.
  • Jingle Bells? More like Single’s Hell.
  • A reindeer can find his way out of the fog he’s in but you can’t?
  • Your credit card gets swiped right more than you do?
  • You get plenty of presents when all you want is someone’s presence?

In summary: it sucks to be single during the holidays for precisely the same reason it sucks to be single the entire rest of the year. You’re missing out. It’s just worse at Christmas because there are more puns.

If this holiday season is starting out on the wrong foot for you, if you laughed at the above list and then gave a quiet, sad sigh, I’m here for you. Me and so many others who know what it’s like to be alone and “without” at Christmas.

I’ve always found it amaing how many more Hallmark holiday movies are churned out during this month, movies that just reinforce and validate the “normal” standard of girl meets boy and they fall in love and live happily ever after. ‘Tis the season to be reminded that you’re unfulfilled.

Of course, Hallmark like so many other socially aware companies –jewelry stores, department stores, even car dealerships — can’t help but misunderstand the meaning of Christmas for their own economic ends. The unfortunate truth is that we all get suckered in because it sounds so much better than our lives actually are.

Like the above list we play either/or with our happiness and sadness. Either I’m a sad single or a happily married. Either i’m fulfilled in a relationship, or empty on my own. Christmas, and every other season of the year, is not a black and white look at celebrating life. It’s colorful, it’s vibrant, in a lot of cases it’s glittering. It should be reflecting the best life has to offer — in any way you find yourself living it.

Be a vibrant and colorful single this year, don’t make your life either/or. Don’t be content to be pitied. You’re a glorious showing of this life, a life that should inspire gratitude, and exude joy that comes from purpose truly found, not socially mandated.

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The Unsociable Female

I’ve always been a little too introverted for “normal”. As a kid I preferred playing on my own in my bedroom to family time. I disliked making small talk in the vestibule of church — still do to this day.

I don’t enjoy “water cooler” talk, small talk, chitchat. I don’t ask how your vacation was, your time off work, your big holiday because I don’t care, for the most part. I don’t mean this aggressively or antagonistically, I just mean that for me it holds little value because so much of the conversation is routine, by rote or memory. When someone asks how you’re doing we all know to answer “fine” or some derivative thereof. So if we’re all doing it just to do it, why bother?

So I tend not to say the right things when they should be said, and I jump in too quickly and get familiar too quickly. And later someone will ask me about that person, something mundane and obvious that you’d discern from small talk, like occupation, and I won’t know because I didn’t care about that.

The problem I’m discovering as an adult is how much more I’ve been required to be sociable by virtue of my gender. I’m realizing more how “interesting” conversations get pulled to the male side of the room. I’m aware that the initial relating that’s so commonly attributed to women therefore includes me, and aware too of how often I’ve feigned enjoyment of these tedious conversations and situations because it was expected of me, when an equally introverted man might be allowed to avoid it.

If men are socially awkward and don’t like “idle” conversation it’s fine. If women don’t it’s abnormal. It’s weird, it’s probably why she’s single. Women who are naturally expressive, naturally extroverted, naturally inquisitive, naturally social are correct, and the rest of us are deviant. Odd. Unnatural.

I’ve been skilled enough with my camouflage that when I moved to college the concern was I’d hole up in my room with school work and DVDs and not make any friends and be miserable (half of that was correct). When they learned I was moving into my own apartment, no roommate, the main concern was I’d get bored and hate it.

Being good at faking sociability, extroversion, has its benefits, but as I age I find more drawbacks. Once you’ve pretended to be good at something for long enough, say 30 years, it’s expected that you will continue and when/if you don’t, understandably people are confused and disappointed, to say the least.

But we do need to stop assuming introverted women are going to be “shy” as an indicator. We need to stop making women with “resting bitch face” smile all the time. We need to stop shushing women for being blunt and direct because it’s too aggressive and masculine. We need to stop expecting relating to be the solely female domain.

Sure, I may not be like “most women”, but to be honest with you, I kinda figure most women are not like “most women”, and that there’s a lot more of us wearing camouflage than we’d ever dream.

“Putting Yourself Out There”

As far as I understand it from context clues, the phrase “putting yourself out there” is a way of reassuring someone after an embarrassing, unsuccessful, or humiliating social encounter of any kind.

“Sure, your date didn’t go the way you planned, but at least you’re putting yourself out there.”

“It’s too bad that you aren’t getting the recognition you deserve, but at least you’re putting yourself out there.”

As if you should be pleased to know that it’s through trying something that you fail, as opposed to those who stay home and can say things like “I bet if I put myself out there it’d go better. Oh well, back to Netflix.”

Whenever I hear someone say “at least you’re putting yourself out there” I don’t see encouragement. “At least you’re available for rejection” that’s what I hear. “At least you were brave enough to have some actually say to you, “no thanks”.”

Also, where is “there”? Most often this phrase is used in conjunction with single people, and used by married people. Married people often talk about the dating pool as if it’s an actual body of water teeming with single folk looking to be in relationships. Just put your suit on, get out there and dive in! But I haven’t actually found this oasis that seems so easily accessible in the phrase “out there”.

I don’t know if it requires a map no one gave me, directions I’ll never be able to follow, or some secret pass code, but there’s no giant single person pool where we can pair up. Mostly there’s a lot of desert punctuated by misleading vistas that proclaim bodies of water but result in puddles.

“There”, in my experience, means “anywhere that’s social”, which covers a lot of ground, and still turns up very few single available humans. The unfortunate reality is that single people look an awful lot like married people because we all tend to look vaguely, I don’t know, human-like. And as it turns out, it’s not just singles going out to socialize, but it’s married people too. So unless you’re prepared to walk yourself to a “meet” market, odds are you’re going to run into a bunch of married people “out there”.

The truth is that while these are all perfectly valid reasons to hate the phrase “put yourself out there”, none of them actually cover the reasons why I personally dislike the axiom. These are the reasons why I find it hurtful for my friends, because when you are trying to find someone it does begin to feel exactly like there’s some cool club out there that’s hidden from you, that’s inaccessible to you, and there’s no way you’ve even got a shot to get in. When even “out there” is frustrating, exclusive, out of reach, it’s certainly no longer a helpful expression.

But the reason I’ve always hated it is that I LIKE the indoors. I mean this both literally and metaphorically. I love being inside. Love it. Always have. Inside has food, blankets, movies, wifi, pillows…I’m happy inside.

But I get the impression this is wrong of me, because so often I’m still told to “put myself out there”. There’s an impression that my life would be better if I just tried to not be single. I’m not a fan of this idea because it strongly implies that my life is inferior by virtue of the fact that it’s singular. It implies that contentment without a romantic relationship is incorrect, doomed to failure, and in need of fixing.

As a society, as a Christian community, we tend to prize marital relationships above the single life, and we could get into the whys and wheres of that, but to be honest, I’m more focused on the fact that as great as marriage is (can be), there will always be single people. And we must believe, we must espouse (pun!) that the single life is valuable in its own right, it isn’t something that needs to be fixed, it isn’t broken (necessarily), and it’s not miserable by default.

So I implore you, friends, don’t throw your single companions out there into the cold. And don’t judge them for staying in the warmth of the indoors. Encourage them to live their life to the fullest, and make sure that “fullest” doesn’t fixate on romantic culmination.

Who’s Responsible for Abuse?

The problems with systemic sexual assault — assault in general, are more myriad than we want to admit. With the Harvey Weinstein allegations and accusations that take place over decades, showcasing a variety of blatant abuses of power, it should not be difficult to fathom why it took so long for truth to come to light.

What’s staggering anytime something of this magnitude happens, is the number of people who are quick to remark that it’s surprising someone didn’t say something sooner. What we all seem inclined to forget is that the culture we are involved with and invested in is something we all too easily become inoculated against. “It’s just how things are done” is what anyone who feels helpless says in the midst of a situation that’s overwhelming. In these cases, trying to justify and rationalize is about the only survival weapon one can grasp — and make no mistake, in abusive environments, survival is all that is hoped for anyway.

To suggest that victims, or those who knew victims, or those potential victims who escaped, were responsible for speaking up is to ignore how often in our own lives we ignore indications of abuses of power and normalize the event to save ourselves further stress.

A few years ago I was leaving work heading to the parking garage to take the elevator to the fourth floor and to my car. Outside the garage were a large number of homeless people, this wasn’t not really remarkable because it’s common in downtown Bellingham, but what happened next was.

I got on the elevator and as the doors closed, a man brandishing a stick as a make-believe sword charged into the elevator, sword first. My friend and I immediately parted to get out of his way in this tiny box. We then all proceeded to take the elevator to the four floor. After which the man got off and continued practicing his sword fighting in another area of the floor.

During the elevator ride I spent the bulk of my mental powers on rationalizing and normalizing what had just happened. In this stressed out environment my worst fear — besides being attacked — was offending this man who held power in this situation. My goal was to be as pleasant as possible if addressed, and to otherwise pretend I was invisible. I didn’t want anything to happen to me.

This experience of mine was fleeting, minor, and uneventful, but I feared the potential actions of a man who did have power in that situation. In no way was it a situation I felt capable of taking charge of or directing. After I got off the elevator, it did not occur to me to call the police simply because nothing had happened to me. Could this man have actually been physically violent to someone else? Is it possible that after this he went on to actually attack someone else with a sword? It now strikes me as a possibility, but at the time I was only filled with my own relief at leaving that situation unscathed.

It is infinitely easy in hindsight to tell someone what they should have done, knowing full well what the outcome would look like, but at the time? At the time of any stressful situation the body is in survival mode. I’m told with proper training in the military encountering the stress of a war zone is made somewhat easier due to automatic reflexes that have been ingrained. Instead of thinking about the right thing to do, you just act as you’ve been trained.

I cannot stress this enough; women — as a very general principle — have been taught not to make waves, not to cause a fuss, just to keep their heads down and do the work without being obtrusive. The reflexes of someone growing up in a war zone will always look different from a trained soldier or a bystander in another country, and it is the same with systems of abuse.

A woman seeking help from an abusive relationship will voice her discomfort until such a time as it is made clear that this is not welcome.

“You’re overreacting.”

“You took it the wrong way.”

“That didn’t mean anything.”

If you are told often enough that your discomfort is meaningless, or that you will need to handle horrible situations in order to achieve your desired goals, most people will put up with almost anything, because they now believe it is normal. Women have a tendency to learn that their own intuition is not valuable, it’s not accurate, and they’re too sensitive. All of which can contribute to a system that perpetuates abuse.

What this entire situation should call us to is again critical reflection on and intense vigilance of any person in a position of power. There are many people who hold positions of power because those around them live in fear. They hold positions of power because it has been made clear that it is in the victim’s “best interest” to keep quiet. They hold positions of power because so many people are trying to survive, to normalize completely un-normal cultures.

It should disgust and infuriate us when we see people abuse their power, instead the true problem is that often these titans are applauded and supported by the unknowing population, and even when we do know, we find many reasons to excuse it. We reward success and achievement, not ethics and positive influence.

Our focus is wrong and as long as that remains, victims will live in shadows seeking to survive the horrors of their environment silently.

Before we get too excited about a leader, about their charisma, their “common man” vernacular, their relatability, their lack of PC content, consider for a moment the small fleeting voices we have heard for decades, potentially, signalling the alarm.

We are, as a culture and society, doomed to repeat the environment Harvey Weinstein created unless we are willing to dismantle the untouchableness with which we embue powerful leaders — simply because of the position they hold. In this, we will always all be culpable.

Men of Tinder

Tinder, the phone app that allows you to browse photos of humans and decide if you want to get to know them from a short bio, musical preference, brief list of common interests, and four additional photos, is perfect for the lazy slob that I am (at least when it comes to dating).

It is also a treasure trove of similarities. And if you’re someone who likes finding odd/obnoxious patterns and habits in groups of people (totally me) then you’re able to find some interesting commonalities in the truly varied group that is: Men of Tinder.

What you’ll find in photos

  • Fish — I don’t know if all fishermen use Tinder, but certainly a larger than average amount. What I don’t understand is why they think posing with a dead fish is a big draw for the average woman. Is it proving you’re an excellent hunter/gatherer? We’ve got grocery stories, my friend. I can get my own fish.
  • Pecs — Alright, so women are probably looking for dudes that are built. I get that. And on one hand I almost appreciate men pandering to that specific desire. But there’s no way to do a shirtless selfie that doesn’t make you look like a tool.
  • Women — So you know hot women. Great. From a picture it’s hard to judge relationship and context. Those could be pictures of your wife for all I know, or long term girlfriend. I get it. Other women think you’re fun to hang out with. But now you just look like a guy who’s trying to use his popularity with women to lure in other women to compete over him. Gross.
  • Random objects — Tinder man is not in these photos, it’s just random things he may or may not be interested in. Or photos of slogans that are apparently way too challenging to try and write out in the bio.
  • Children — I get it. You’re pandering to our maternal instincts. Maybe they’re your kids, maybe not, but guys look less sketchy when they’ve got a kid snuggled up next to them, right?
  • Cats — Cat guys are the weirdos. I don’t know why. This might just be my impression because I hate cats.
  • Dogs — “My dog is better than yours” is what is always said in a bio when a guy has a photo with a dog. I don’t know why this is a competition. Can’t we just love all the dogs? I get it. You’re an alpha bro who likes winning. You don’t have to win at dogs.

What you’ll find in bios

  • Self-Employed — As one sharp friend of mine mentioned, it’s just code for “unemployed” given how often it appears.
  • Height — Almost always guys include this physical detail in their bios. Also they always blame women for it so apparently we’re always asking about it. Women! Stop. It. Also, all men seem to reluctantly divulge. Like women over 40 being forced to tell their age. “I’m 5’9” because apparently that matters.” Ugh only to SOME women. Stop talking to women who make you feel like crap, I don’t care how hot she is!
  • List of physical assets — This is usually just a list of material possessions of any substantial worth like a car, a house, a good job, etc. Since I never think to ask about these things it makes me genuinely concerned that they’re just responding to the blanket material questions that some women ask. Which, by the way, how is that not just an instant red flag for them??
  • Nothing — If you’ve just posted one photo or several photos but no bio, it doesn’t matter how attractive you may look, or how normal. I a mentally filling that bio in for you and it’s not complimentary. It’s bad. It looks very bad.
  • 4/20 Friendly — A lot of guys are really just looking for pot buddies.
  • Outdoorsy requirements — I’m probably bitter about this because there’s so many attractive outdoorsy men who are looking for someone to go rock climbing with them and I am soooooooooo not that person. If there’s a picture of you happily in a sleeping bag in the great outdoors, I’m fairly confident we won’t get on well.
  • Female requirements — I don’t care if you have specified “I don’t like materialistic women” the fact that you feel compelled to say this smacks of you having at least a certain baseline issue with women. Also the whole “I don’t like women who don’t laugh” I mean geez, did you ever consider that maybe you’re not funny?
  • Whining — This one always gets me. I don’t know a single woman who is lured in with the “I guess women only use this to check out hot guys because no one ever responds to a good guy like me”. Oh sweetie, that’s not how anything works. Sometimes life’s hard and you need to buck up.
  • Life advice — Speaking of handing out unsolicited advice, Tinder men are full of it. Whether it’s a pithy phrase perfect for a motivational poster, or a quote you picked up somewhere to help spur your aspirational living, it’s gross. It smacks of some 80s sitcom Dad handing out wisdom at the end of a half hour episode. That may do it for some, but that’s a really niche market you’re working in.
  • Just Ask — Usually it’s phrased like this “I don’t know what to put here, lol if you want to know something just ask.” This is pure laziness. If you can’t even pretend you’re interesting or thoughtful, don’t make me work to figure it out.

Bottom line: Tinder caters to the demographic that believes in taking good selfies that make it look like you didn’t just take a selfie for a dating app, and those with any amount of writing skill and healthy (over-healthy) self confidence.

All this to say: if you can’t get any hits on Tinder, it 100% has nothing to do with who you are as a person. It probably just means you’re bad at marketing. And to be honest with you? That’s kind of a good thing.

Rage Against the Sheetcake: Tina Fey’s Delicious Satire

“sheetcaking” has been a recent addition (I think–it was hard to sort through all the google search results of editorials vilifying and heroizing Tina Fey’s recent appearance on a special SNL Weekend Update.) to American vocabulary. It basically means “eating your feelings.” If anyone does know the origins of the term, I’d be happy to learn it.

Of course, just last week the term went viral. I saw friends on both sides of the political spectrum share the video. Some accepted its sly lampooning of white privilege with good humor, some took it seriously as a riotous emblem of the current esprit de corps and accompanied the post with hashtags like #fuckyeah. Others took it seriously as a direct criticism of either themselves or their political perspectives and dismissed it as tone-deaf at best, a flagrant indulgence of white privilege at worst.

Throughout the week as I watched the drama, horror, conflict, pathos, and ugly demonization meted out on those who stated almost any opinion at all develop out of the horrendous events at Charlottesville, I struggled with what to feel, how to feel, and if there was anything to share in it. Sometimes, as I commented on Katrina’s recent post, I’d just rather listen. But then, as she discussed, staying silent, too, became a problem. Here is the list of items about me that contributed to my sense:

1-My family on both sides emigrated within this century. I’ve got no familial connection to either honoring or denigrating early America and the choices thereof. Of course, I now bear all the privileges of an American, so there’s not point in saying I’m not involved at all, but there’s a sense of removal, certainly. The furthest east my relatives have ever lived is Michigan, which would have been both Union country and wild frontier during the times before and after slavery. The Netherlands–from which most of my family emigrated–certainly contributed to the slave trade during its heyday, but any real connections to the industry are lost to time.

2-I’m white. I’m white-white. Not only am I white, I’ve grown up in one of the whitest areas of the country. I could count on one hand the black kids at my high school. Hispanic students were more common, but still a vast minority. I can think of one South Asian student, and he was adopted. I now live in Seattle, one of the least diverse–not for lack of trying–cities in the nation. This predominantly white experience wasn’t through any lack of trying to experience culture, or any desire to be removed from other cultures, just because there was very little available.

When I moved to San Francisco after college to teach school, white students were in the minority; my classes were filled with Hispanic Americans, Indian Americans, Asian Americans, African Americans. Middle school students notice cultural differences, but I did not see a lot of racist actions. The most racist thing I ever heard was a complaint about attributing a fart to someone on the field trip bus; “It smells like curry!” I loved how my students brought culture to conversations, and how being different seemed to be simply and easily accepted. All the same, I couldn’t fail to notice that the teaching staff was predominantly white (also female–another conversation for another day). I did during the last year of my time there actually see firsthand a gang-related conflict go down at a large church youth event. I saw kids punching each other; girls screaming with their hands buried in each others hair, I pulled fighting students apart and held a girl’s hands behind her back to keep her from scratching her opponent’s eyes out. It still feels like a strange, underwater nightmare. I remember shooting incredulous looks at my fellow youth staffers as we separated instigators and spoke to the police.

3-I’ve been in the South only a handful of times. I know racism and militant neonazism exist; I’ve watched the editorials and movies. I’ve read about these groups occasionally, heard firsthand accounts of how violent racism is still alive and well in the South. I’ve rarely if ever experienced it or seen it firsthand; I feel distinctly unqualified to make judgements. I can unequivocally condemn Nazism as a damaging ideology. But it makes no difference to the people involved in it. It doesn’t change hearts or minds. It doesn’t seem to help anyone for me to rant and rave.

Watching Tina Fey dig into an American flag sheetcake felt at once enlightening and…therapeutic. I watched it again, and I thought, as many people did, of Marie Antoinette’s famous words prior to the French Revolution; “let them eat cake.” Words used to define wealth, privilege, and ignorance. A phrase that has gone down in history as a damning foreshadow of the thoughtless pride that lead to the downfall of the ruling aristocratic class in France.

As the news covers more and more examples of the widening chasm between rich and poor Americans, the loss of the middle class, the evermore pride-filled flagrant indulgences of the wealthy, from Kardashians to Trumps to NFL players’ ridiculous salaries (yes, I said it, Hawks fans), parallels to pre-revolutionary France are often made. Fey’s play on that richly-weighted metaphor was both deeply resonant and challenging. It was one of the things that let me know both that a) it’s ok to feel at a loss, unable to do anything really valuable, and b) that inability to understand firsthand what all of this means doesn’t preclude me from saying something about it.

In case anyone misunderstands, Nazism is evil. Neonazism is evil. Those who embrace these ideologies are at best misguided, at worst sold out to an evil ideology. Anti-fascists who respond to violence with violence are wrong. Slavery is wrong, and white supremacy is wrong. As a Christian, actually, pursuit of the supremacy of any one person or race over another is wrong. White privilege may not be directly my fault but it is in my power and in my responsibility to be a part of changing it. While I’m still learning what that looks like, maybe this is a start.

My friend Corrie recently wrote the following challenging words to her audience, regarding still more recent conflicts about memorials to the US Civil War:

“Compassion must be lived out loud. You *cannot* say “All lives matter” and yet insist on keeping monuments and flags representing only one kind of life at the brutal cost of others….You *cannot* say a piece of concrete is worth more than the pain of your neighbor. Pain must not be mocked. And when you do, perhaps with catty memes or retweets, you are actively participating in deepening an already painful divide. If one part of the body hurts, it all hurts. When was the last time you listened to anyone who mocked your pain or said it didn’t matter?

It matters to me. There, I said it. Now let’s eat some cake.

 

Now Is the Time to Overreact

I’m a woman. So I’m no stranger to overreacting.

I mean, I’m a woman, I’m no stranger to being told I’m overreacting.

And overreacting is bad. It’s not reasonable is it. It’s not rational. Zeal is way out. Overreacting is passe. We hear things, snippets of things, small ideas or words and think these things:

  • That’s a minority opinion.
  • Everyone knows that’s crazy.
  • They don’t mean it.
  • There’s a kernel of truth.
  • Listen to the other things they’re saying.
  • Give them another chance.
  • You didn’t hear it right.
  • You’re misinterpreting.
  • Maybe he’s a racist, but he’s a nice guy otherwise.

So we let behavior slide, and we let words slide because we don’t want to make a big deal out of something that is “probably nothing”. And we have been doing this, culturally, for years and we have done it most profoundly harmfully to minorities in this country.

Here’s the things I have myself though in response to racism around me:

  • I don’t want to get into politics with him.
  • He’s an idiot, of course he thinks that.
  • This isn’t the time or place.
  • I don’t know enough about this to say whether he’s wrong or right.
  • I probably am overreacting.
  • Maybe I’m just a bleeding heart liberal.
  • I’m just too focused on the one side.
  • I wasn’t there, how can I really know.

My lack of zeal is the problem. My willingness to let things slide is the problem. My stance toward casual racism is in part what contributes to an entire country having a casual approach toward racism. And it’s easy to be casually racist, because it requires you to do nothing but think and act defensively. To remind yourself when you hear about racism that

  • It’s probably not how it actually went down — the media skews things in favor of minorities.
  • They’re making things difficult for themselves.
  • If they’d just focus on keeping their heads down and doing work this wouldn’t be a problem.
  • It’s not like I have it that much easier.

This is an absence of zeal. An absence of love. An absence of empathy. This is selfishness. This is apathy. This is complacency. This is rationalizing.

I’m a good protestant. I believe in total depravity. And because I believe in this wholeheartedly, it is my job to work against it with every fiber of my being, in my own self and in the world at large.

There are too many Christians who believe in “tough love” to minorities. The old adage “pull yourselves up by your bootstraps”. They believe that minorities ought to put in a little effort and try a little harder to earn the support — financially and otherwise — from the Christian community.

This is completely against the saving grace of God and the state he found me in when he saved me.

We are not to reach out to the oppressed because they earned it, they deserve it, or they’re worth it. We are to reach out to the oppressed because we are to show the love of God to whomever we can.

Sin is easy. Sin is the natural default. Doing nothing is easy. Doing nothing is the default.

Be zealous. Be loving. Start in your small circle to take the important stance that racism in all its forms and colors is not okay. It’s sinful.

It is when the majority of people do nothing, that insanity is free to reign. This has been shown in history time and time again and in every age the human reaction is the same.

  • I’m probably overreacting.
  • It’s probably going to pass.
  • This isn’t that big of a deal.

Please, overreact to racism. Please overreact to ideologies that inflame violence, incite hatred, and beget pain. Things pass only when we take a stand against them. Things only become unacceptable when we say they’re unacceptable.

I’m terrified of what my friends and neighbors will think of me being so passionate about this topic, isn’t that tragic? I’m afraid of what they’ll say about me.

But if I’m being totally honest, I’m more afraid of what the future will say about me if I don’t stand up and speak up for what’s right. I’m afraid for the people who will get crushed under the wheel of my apathy. I’m afraid for the people I could have helped, but didn’t because it didn’t affect me. I’m afraid of the way history will remember me if I’m okay with what’s happening now. I’m afraid of the history we’re creating because we’re unwilling to overreact.

Don’t Always Be Like a Lady

I had a physical therapy appointment this week, got new instructions on how to properly build muscles in my legs. My therapist’s parting words were, “when you stand up, don’t have your knees together. You’ll want to keep them shoulder width apart.” I’m sure he thought this was a simple trick to help build muscle in my legs, but for me it was revolutionary.

As a girl, from the second you start wearing dresses you are told to keep your legs together. Standing, sitting, reclining, legs should be together. I remember when I found out that the ladylike crossed legs position wasn’t good for blood flow. I felt irritated that I’d have to instead keep my knees together because it took so much more energy and focus then simply crossing your legs.

When you get a hip replaced these instructions are even more seriously followed and you learn not to cross your legs at all because it’s bad for the replaced joint. But it wasn’t until today that I realized that sitting like a lady was bad for me either way, replacement or not.

My first reaction to my physical therapist’s announcement was “It’s going to look so indiscreet if I’m wearing a dress! And it’s going to look so mannish if I’m in pants!” Can you believe this was my very first reaction to my therapist’s simple advice? How would it look to someone else. I hadn’t realized how ingrained my concepts of femininity were with my every day movements.

In my head the concept of femininity was the overriding value — at least initially — trumping my own health and mobility.

Of course, that’s not really foreign to women, is it? How often do women, in search of beauty or femininity, harm their own bodies? We could go all the way back to ancient practices of foot binding or killer makeup made with mercury, but that isn’t necessary. Hair removal fits the bill nicely, given that hair is a protective layer on every human body, particularly around the pubic area, and that hair removal can and often does lead to infection. We could talk about risky surgeries people undergo to modify their appearance, or eating disorders.

The quest for femininity and beauty doesn’t have to be toxic, but we continue to make it that way ourselves. We often sacrifice our own health and well-being for the fleeting sensation of physical perfection, or the approval of others.

To be honest with you, for me, losing muscle around my legs is too high a cost for being ladylike. Maybe I won’t come off as refined at the next cocktail party, but I’ll certainly be a lot more comfortable.

 

The Petty Way of Life

Today I opened a new pack of gum and tried to pluck out a piece, but was rewarded only with the paper tearing. I tried this three or four times until I had a small pile of gum wrapper confetti on my desk, and still no gum. In my head I angrily composed a letter to the gum company about how hard is it to supply consumers with gum they can access and chew on? Would it kill them to make chewing gum the ONE SPOT IN MY DAY THAT WASN’T AWFUL?

Obviously I realized I was on a real tear (pun!) and was being overly dramatic and ragey before I got around to looking up a complaints hotline. In my head I simply added the hashtag #firstworldproblems to my rant and moved on.

But I’ve been thinking about all the little things in the day that can truly ruin what’s going on in life. How absolutely absurd that is, but almost unavoidable. Mostly it happens when I’m conditioned to enjoy myself.

I was staying at a hotel the other week when a series of small annoyances happened. Let me list them as these slights are too fresh to be forgotten:

  • I found a large ant crawling across the carpeting and had to kill it.
  • The lamp next to the couch was out.
  • One of the lamps in the vanity over the sink was out.
  • Housekeeping was bothering me at NINE AM (ON A SATURDAY)
  • The WiFi cut in and out and I couldn’t finish my Bollywood movie (Diwali) and had to watch the REAL TV. (It honestly took me about ten years to figure out where the mute button was on the remote too. I kinda forgot how those things work.)

In the end, when I checked out of the hotel I didn’t mention any of these problems at reception. One, they didn’t ask. And two, I’m petty, but I’m not so petty that I want other people to actually know I’m petty.

But in the moment, on Saturday night, let me tell you something. I was almost incensed. I was so upset that I couldn’t even go to a damn hotel and have a nice time. What? Is it so much to expect my hotel to be insect free?? To have all light bulbs functioning?? To have actual working WIFI???

I don’t have to go to a hotel to be angry about small things though. I can’t be the only one who stacks things on a shelf or on a table and expects them to stay in that exact pose no matter how precarious. I can’t be the only one aggressively bending book spines because the pages turn each time I get up to get myself a snack and I can’t be bothered with a bookmark. Am I the only one, perhaps, who gets pissed when a car going the speed limit keeps me from getting to the light right as it goes yellow and they COAST through while I sit there fuming?

And the longer the day goes on and the more the small problems of the world add up the angrier I get. At almost literally everything.

But if you want to know the truth, having arthritis is a lot like living with a bombardment of petty problems.*  Let me show you what a real average day is like for me (and please, auto-immune conditions are varied enough that you shouldn’t use me as a template for any of your auto-immuney friends).

  • Wake up achey because I turned over weird and now my arm aches for about thirty seconds.
  • Consider sleeping in because I’m still tired. Realize this is exactly how I felt yesterday and we made it through that day so what makes today special.
  • Take out my mouth guard and realize my jaw hurts when I open and close my mouth for about five minutes.
  • Get out of bed and have trouble walking for about three steps, maybe because I just woke up, but also maybe because the bones in my feet can’t remember what it feels like to have my weight on them.
  • Walk into the bathroom, hate my hair because I slept on it weird (this is not arthritis, but I mean, come on, it’s pretty damn irritating)
  • Walk up the stairs to my office, feel a twinge in my foot and panic that I’m going to be limping all day and everyone will ask what’s wrong and I’ll have to say “you know, life.”
  • Sit at my desk and rotate my shoulders, hear them pop, continue working.
  • Feel my wrists ache, consider putting braces on, decide it’s too much work.
  • Open those lever handles on the doors between the hallways, get mildly angry each time because my wrist doesn’t bend like that, but what are you going to do? Stop going through doors?
  • Carry a full water glass and tea mug back to my desk, get stopped halfway and stand there trying to converse and simultaneously wonder how long I can hold these items before I drop them both.
  • Rotate shoulders again, stretch, feel a weird pain come down my arm, decide it’s nothing.
  • Discover my thumb is having a bad day. Try to coddle it without appearing to.
  • It’s 2:30. Tired has crept back up, but it creeps up on everyone so there’s no reason to mention it. Get tea.
  • It’s now 4. I’m acutely aware of my wrists, but I’ve only got an hour left. This is fine.
  • Try to plan a mental meal, realize I don’t care what I’m eating tonight because I’m actually exhausted. Remember I still have errands to run.
  • Drive home? Road rage.

For the record, this is a cliffs notes list. I gave you the moments in an average day that I recall. But right now, because I’m deliberately thinking about this, I’m aware that my elbows ache, have been for awhile now, I think. I’m aware my one shoulder which is NEVER happy is currently unhappy, and that my thumb wants to act up even though we’ve talked about this and we had a deal. I’m thinking about my feet in an uncomfortable/but more comfortable than anything else position, and I’m wondering about the damage I’m furthering in my wrists because I’m not wearing my braces. I’m also wondering about that whole exercise thing. Because body and I agreed we were going to do that, and now body’s like “oh I’m tired” which is true EVERY day, but who’s being a baby now?

It’s all minor, it’s all petty. And most of the time, I don’t even realize I’m in a bad mood because my body hurts until I’ve been harsh to half a dozen people.

On top of all that, I still have energy to get mad at gum wrappers and traffic incidences, people who lack my verbal precision (because I am 100% the best communicator…), and general workplace grievances too stupid to mention.

Everyone’s got their own set of personal petty that keeps coming up, that takes energy to address that isn’t acknowledged verbally or publicly. Maybe it’s even something they think shouldn’t matter to them, shouldn’t affect them. And yet it’s always there, always ready to preemptively ruin a day that you were going to be SO GOOD at. And of course, that adds to the frustration that you’re not handling life well at all, and shouldn’t you be? After all, you’re __ years old, you should know how to do this by now.

But here you are, having a tantrum because the damn door won’t stay fucking shut and WHO MADE THIS ANYWAY WHY WOULD THEY DO THIS TO ME. That’s it. Fine. I’m burning my apartment down.

Petty problems are simply the result of unmet expectation. I expect my hotel experience to be completely luxurious. And if it’s not? Rage. I expect my day to go by unruffled. And when it’s not? Rage.

When it comes to my health…I may have had arthritis for eighteen years, but I’m chronically surprised that there’s always that smidgen of pain. This isn’t how life is SUPPOSED to be, you know? Everyone else is healthy (I know this isn’t true), everyone else is living a life where they don’t have to think about these things, but I have to?

So if you’re wondering why the rants section of this blog is so large, it’s probably this.

I’m sure there’s a better way to handle this. Zen, or yoga or whatever, but to be honest with you, I can’t bend myself into those poses.

 

…time to write another blog.

 

 

*Literally I just mean this for me. If you’ve got arthritis or something else and you mind that I compared arthritis to petty issues in the day, don’t worry, I just mean my arthritis. I don’t mean yours. I don’t know what yours is like, obviously.

Relating Gone Wrong

Because we live in a media saturated environment where all opinions are weighted equally until popularity makes one opinion greater than the other, one person greater than the other, we live in a time of poor relating.

Critical thinking and holding your tongue have always been hard for humans. Both require genuine effort. But today it seems as if no one is exercising either ability, so why bother trying it out ourselves?

Recently I attempted to help a friend by sharing my experiences and it resulted in a bad conversation for both of us. Fortunately for me it was just a bad conversation, but for her it was an exchange she carried with her to the end of the day and had to overcome by discussing with a more sympathetic partner.

It’s not the first time I’ve messed up my part of a relationship, and it’s most assuredly not going to be the last. But I’d like to share with you my personal list of no-nos when it comes to how we respond to those who are struggling.

  • “I Win” — I’ve talked about this one before, but it’s any person who hears the issues of another person and says “that’s nothing, I…” and proceeds to illustrate that they’re better than you because of what they can handle and because of who they are now as a person. Winning is the one of the worst tendencies of childhood that gets translated to adults. I hear this one particularly when I say the words “I’m tired”. In our busy-ness oriented society “tired” is a key word to start winning the conversation.
  • Full House Syndrome — This is my neat way of saying “wrap up the problem and put a bow on it.” It’s when someone tries to solve your problem in 30 minutes or less. It’s when people moralize your struggle “for the greater good” or tell you to “look on the bright side”. Neither of which are helpful. Though sometimes helpful is watching an actual episode of Full House.
  • Cosmetic Sufferer — We disguise these as “First World Problems”. Or what I like to consider “inconveniences”. These crop up when I’m annoyed, and they build throughout the day. They’re not actual problems, just an excuse to be in a bad mood and complain to someone else for a little bit of unnecessary sympathy.
  • Self-Inflicted — I have a good friend who does insane things like run 100 mile marathons and scream at mountain lions in the wild to make them go away. She’s incredible, really and I’m always awed by her approach to life. I’ve also appreciated that she doesn’t share a walking chronicle of her injuries that result from her constant harrowing activities. If you’re going to put yourself in harm’s way, on purpose, because you want to, and as a result –surprisingly– you got injured, don’t whine about it. If it was your idea to swim jellyfish infested waters naked for four hours, I don’t want to hear about how often you got stung and isn’t that just the worst. It is the worst because you’re an idiot, not because it happened.
  • Any Opportunity — When I was a kid my sister got glasses. I was so jealous. I wanted glasses. Glasses were cool (she’s my older sister, everything she did was cool). So I lied about how I couldn’t see the chalkboard (yeah, I went to school when there were chalkboards). Truly I couldn’t see the chalkboard but it was because Kelly’s head was in the way. And then I proceeded to lie during the eye exam until I felt guilty and started telling the truth and didn’t get glasses until I was in my 20s and at college — not because I read too many books but because I watched movies on my laptop which was placed on my stomach as I lay in bed. Good times.

The prestige of having a problem is intoxicating. You wonder why there are high drama people in the world? Because having a problem gives meaning. It’s why we have hypochondriacs too, it’s validation. It means people have to listen when you talk.

A good way to tell if you’re a suffering opportunist is to ask yourself “did I consider this a personal problem before I heard someone talk about it?” Or did I perk up and think, “if I rationalize this, I’ve experienced the same thing!”

Being left out — even being left out of suffering — increases feelings of isolation, abandonment, uselessness. It’s natural to want to get in on the angst, it’s also bad for you as a person and bad for society.

  • “I Understand” — I’m prone to this one especially. “I hear what you’re saying about getting kicked in the nuts and I totally know what that’s like as a woman because one time I…” If it hasn’t happened, you don’t know. If you didn’t struggle with it, you don’t know. You might have an idea, you might have heard other accounts, but “I understand” quickly takes all the power from the sufferer in terms of owning and experiencing their suffering in their own way. I’ve noticed that “I understand” is more prominent among white people, male people, and American Christians when it comes to a marginalized segment of society voicing frustration, fear, or concern. Let’s be clear on this. You can have all the facts, you can know the full history, and you still won’t have the experiences. You can’t know.

There are plenty of people who have a hard time living in this world because that’s what got handed to them upon their arrival in this world. Others got every benefit known to man and have encountered many challenges as a result of that “privilege” as well. Life affords every human challenges and obstacles. Everyone understands suffering in their own capacity.

So make sure you give people the chance to express it in their own capacity, give people the space to feel their hardships. Suffering is universal and pervasive and the least we can all do is recognize its presence without trying to moralize it or make it all about ourselves.