The realities of change or a BGIM does a brain dump

I should probably be adding my two cents to the chorus of others chiming in about the armed yahoos in Burns, Oregon, who are currently occupying federal buildings at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a case of white privilege and common sense gone wrong. Very wrong.

However, I just can’t get myself worked up over angry white men doing what angry white men do in a world where angry white men are feeling increasingly marginalized. It’s a hard-knock life guys but I do thank you for the much needed laughs with hash tags like “YallQaeda and #VanillaISIS dominating the social media landscape. By the way, when planning a takeover in the middle of winter, good planning is a must. Next time bring your own Cheetos and socks so that you don’t have to put the call out for “supplies” on social media.

Instead of being my usual fiery self on matters of racial injustice, I am drowning in a sea of reality and how the need to assure others that all is fine is actually counter to what’s healthy for me. The need to wear a happy and positive face in the face of massive change is wearing me down. I have spent the past two months living out of a bag most weeks as I navigated huge organizational shifts at my job. My weeks have been spent between Boston, the marital house and my island apartment. Some weeks if I am lucky, I spend 1-2 days a week at my apartment. One of the downsides of never having made any deep friendships with people in Maine in the actively married years is that I have no one to count on in a crisis. I know people, we are friends…but they are not the type of connections where people will drop their own plans to help out. It’s an unfortunate reality and one that was easier to weather when I was actively married. The truth is that I am still very reliant on my estranged husband for many things including caring for our daughter when I travel for work. By the same token, he lacks acquaintances even more than I do, so it’s a very messy storm of sorts. To split up yet to be still be dependent on one another for your very survival.

I read this piece today, which I shared on my personal Facebook page and a comment that was posted really hit me. The desire to wear our best face in public makes sense except that increasingly there are few spaces where many of us can wear our honest face. The one that is broken and confused. The one that is a step away from just smashing all the glasses on the floor and rolling in them. Even in attempting to “be authentic” in all my interactions, I often sense that people believe that I am made of Teflon and that I have an endless supply of strength and gumption when the reality is that I am broken and crushed. What keeps me going is one kiddo still at home, an aging father and professional commitments. Also the knowledge that sometimes you have to keep going because there is no one to catch you should you fall.

My yoga practice over the years has taught me that one of the largest jobs we will ever face is making peace with the uncomfortable and I have to say that right now that is a job that I am attacking with fervor as I grapple with a personal world spinning off its axis. We live in interesting times, where our attention spans are constantly influx as we bounce from the attraction of the moment but sometimes life demands that we stay with one attraction and sit in it. In some ways this moment of life is very reminiscent of the dark night of the soul that I experienced when my mother died. There has been a death though unlike my mom’s earthly demise, this death has the potential to be a resurrection at some point but not now.

So here I am, a broken soul in a new year trying to figure out my next steps. In my professional life, I am paid to have the answers but in my personal life, the strategies of organizational management are futile against the powers of reality. In the end, do we ever have the answers?
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On midlife and vulnerability in a brave new world

“A road less traveled and a life less led. The path between the spirit and the voice in your head.” Brown Bird 

Midlife crisis. The very words evoke images of a man with thinning hair and maybe even a toupee, dashing off to get a fancy sports car and perhaps displacing his partner of many years for a younger model while he goes off in search of that last big buzz before he hits the downward slope. While that image is based in someone’s reality, increasingly I find for myself and others in my sphere, that midlife is the place where life corrections occur. Where the life that has been led is evaluated and reevaluated, a place where dreams and reality are laid down and the search for inner consensus begins. A place where you hold to the inner energy of youth but come face to face with the physical manifestations that present somewhere after forty that are clearly not the domain of the very young. The magically expanding waistline and heat surges anyone?

The search for self never stops, as I am coming to learn; it’s just that no longer is my life guided by a frantic to-do list but more the refinement of self that aligns with my emotional, mental and spiritual self.  The quest to be true to my inner guide and not yield to the pressures of the outside world.

Yet the search for self at the stage in life when our society says we are supposed to have it all together is fraught with fear. Fear of the unknown and the fear of making oneself vulnerable to others while still searching for that inner child who knows happiness but at times has been replaced by the heaviness of the adult life.

As our lives increasingly are no longer private affairs thanks to technological advances, it means that our decisions are open to scrutiny from all corners. The openness of modern life and the ways in which we live and share our lives today only work to increase the level of tension and fear as we find ourselves struggling with the images we project in those snippets we share with friends and strangers and our lived reality.

A recent comment left here highlighted for me just how real that disconnect is at times.

“I hope that your dad feels better soon. I’m responding to your post regarding your lack of local friends. The comments are closed, so that’s why I’m leaving one here. I’m someone who’s reached out to you several times, yet you never gave me a chance. Although I’m intelligent and we have things in common, you never even give me half an hour to hangout.

You told me you would, but when warmer weather finally arrived, you couldn’t commit to any time. Ironically, you repeatedly said how bored you were on Twitter during last summer. I can only surmise, that others have also tried to connect with you. If you complain about not having companionship, you have to ask yourself: “Why am I turning down possible new friends?” You have to be willing to try too, and not expect people to continuously “court” you.”

I am going to be honest and say that this comment coming when it did hurt me. It hurt me because it reminded me that that there is a cost to opening up and opening up in public. When we read the words of others, the truth is we aren’t always seeing the entire picture. As a person who plays with words, I am fairly mindful of the words that I use in this space and other spaces, sometimes my words are very clear and sometimes they are intentionally vague enough as to leave interpretation up to the individual reader.

The commenter made valid points, but what they don’t know is that in the past two years this space has grown enough that I am bombarded with requests to hang out, speak to groups, support projects, etc. (at this moment there are over 5,000 emails in the BGIM email account from July with 90% of those being requests of some sort) Throw in the occasional stalker-type messages, the real-life stalker of a few years ago and just the messiness of personal life as well as the intensity of my professional life and well…shit happens.

I don’t share this story to dogpile on the commenter but rather to explain how I think any time we open ourselves up, be it with our inner circle, partner, friends or however we lay ourselves bare, we make ourselves open to criticism and frankly we make ourselves vulnerable. To be vulnerable can be one of the scariest fucking feelings ever because we don’t know what the outcome will be yet at midlife as we settle into our true selves, that vulnerability starts to look a little less scary. I don’t think we’ll ever not have that twitchy stomach moment yet it becomes easier to let it go.

It’s that knowledge that allows us us to let go of that which binds and maybe even confines at times. It’s how people let go of the seemingly happy marriage, the good job and all that seems just perfect yet no longer feeds and nourishes our spirit.

Once upon a time I danced around the fringes of vulnerability but I know now that I cannot fully be who I am meant to be without some level of vulnerability whether it is in this space or other areas of my life.  Instead I see vulnerability as the gift of growing a little less younger and maybe just even a little wise. So as I walk through the flames of life managing the many transitions that I face, I know occasionally I might get spanked for the vulnerable moments but I embrace them as part of the never ending process of change and even refinement of self. How do you handle the vulnerable and uncomfortable moments?
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Seasons of discomfort and cycles of life

When my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer when I was 30, few of my peers in my inner circle at that time had experienced having a critically ill parent. When she died six weeks after my 31st birthday, the only other person in my peer group who had lost a parent was my husband, whose mother passed away a year after we married. No one quite knew what to say. After all, parents are supposed to live long, healthy and productive lives. Mothers aren’t supposed to die at 50 and no one is supposed to be motherless at 31, but real life doesn’t work that way. As the famous John Lennon quote says, “Life is what happens when you are busy making plans.”

In the past few weeks as I have grappled with the very uncomfortable reality of having an ailing parent and the responsibility of overseeing his care and having to think long term about how his health and lack of resources will impact me directly, I am struck once again by how very few of us have the words that offer comfort. Words that don’t come across as empty and even, at times, as little more than asinine comments and platitudes.

In talking with a newish friend who has had the experience of being a caretaker for a mother-in-law with Alzheimer’s disease, it hit me that as a culture most of us lack the language to address the less-than-pleasant moments of life. In fact, in our culture there is this deep-seated need for everything to be fine, for things to turn around. Yet there is no rational basis for this desire and frankly it leaves us lacking when the crises of life hit…and inevitably they will hit.

We treat aging, ill health, divorce and any other “uncomfortable” moments as something that should be brushed aside as quickly as possible so that we don’t find ourselves infected by the unpleasant moments.  In wanting to move past those uncomfortable moments we leave people stranded in the emotional sea. We silently demand of them to put on a good face and not bring others down or make them uncomfortable. This leaves those people going through the storms of life feeling adrift and at times utterly alone. How can you make peace with the seasons of sorrow and pain when the world demands your joy?

There is a season for everything and some seasons are harder than others. As I learned over a decade ago, sometimes the painful seasons of life bring the greatest growth despite the pain they bring.  No one is guaranteed a stress-free ride in this vehicle we call life and as a society we might just be better off if we learned to create the language and spaces that acknowledge the uncomfortable moments.

As a Black woman, I am acutely aware of the trope that exists around our perceived strength and while I wish I could say that I was indeed a strong Black woman, the reality is that I am just a woman doing what needs to be done. Sometimes we carry on because we have no other choices. While curling up in a fetal position for a good month is an attractive idea, the reality is that I have a kid to raise, an organization to run, a dad to take care of and a life to figure out. I often think of myself doing the mental version of Neo from The Matrix as I duck and dodge to avoid the multitude of bullets life fires my way.  Occasionally, they get me and they lay me low, so low that I envision myself as a snake slithering on my belly. But like a snake, I also shed my skin and I rise again as something more. But never is it without some bruising.

Speaking of Black women and our strength, I am sickened at the death of Sandra Bland and while I plan on writing about her death in detail in my next post, I have in the shorter term been thinking about my own initial assumption that she couldn’t have taken her own life. Suicide crosses all lines; none of us are immune. The thinking that she couldn’t have taken her own life is dangerous because it plays into the false trope that Black women are inherently stronger than other folks and to some degree devoid of emotion as part of that imagined super-strength.

As a writer who has blended talking about race and racism with my own musings on life especially in middle age, it feels even more important to me that in acknowledging the value and beauty of Black lives that we also acknowledge that sometimes this life is hard as hell. That sometimes our strength is our weakness and that sometimes it knocks us down and in those low moments anything is possible, even that which we cannot imagine. This is yet another reason that we need language and spaces that allow one to lay down their burdens and be supported.

As for me, I am here. The past few weeks, despite the pain, have also provided great clarity. So even in the midst of a season of discomfort, there is the occasional bright spot. Sometimes we need a reminder to clean out our emotional and mental closets, and crisis is at least good for that in many cases.
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