personal growth

Feelings as self care in a hectic world, a peek into my life

I have a confession to make. The month of November kicked my ass. It twisted me in knots and took me to highest points of joy and it also laid me low and, while I was in the street trying to crawl away, the city bus came and rolled over me and then backed up over my broken body. Then like a phoenix, I rose again from the ashes (I sure am mixing metaphors today, right?) and now, like an imperfect human, I am crashing and counting days.

My public and professional personae have been immersed in trying to make sense of the world in the wake of Trump’s win, the rise of the white nationalist movement and the surge in harassment nationwide, which has resulted in an increased amount of work as head of an anti-racism organization. Meanwhile, my private self has grappled with riding a wave of joy that has softened me. To be frank, it has tenderized me. But extreme emotions competing for validation in one body that gets little downtime are hard to reconcile over time.

Which is why today’s post is a bit of a detour from what has become standard in this space. I need to reclaim my own humanity as a woman and not as an anti-racism educator, activist, or nonprofit manager but as a mother, a sibling, a daughter, friend, lover and my newest role, grandmother.

While the world has been spinning off its axis, my son and his wife welcomed their first child into the world, a beautiful baby boy.  My workload has prevented me from flying out to see my first grandchild; however, that problem will be resolved shortly. But already I am smitten. I can stare at pictures of my grandson for hours on end and I am sitting on my hands to prevent myself from becoming the pesky mother-in-law who dispenses advice or suggestions.  My grandson’s arrival has reminded me just how open the heart is to love and how love manifests in many different forms. I haven’t even held my namesake in my arms yet, but I know that I love him as completely as I love his father, his aunt (my  tween) and his mother. They are all three my babies. Even if two of them are adults.

The month of November has also brought a deepening of feelings for a non-related grown-up. A man. A man who has made me realize that vulnerability can be sexy and that I am far more open to new possibilities than I realized.

A lot of importance is put on the role of self-care in our lives, especially in activist spaces, so much so that at times it frankly sounds trite. In the ideal world, when life is stressing us out, we would have the resources and time to take care of ourselves and maybe even unplug from the world. But we don’t live in an ideal world, and sometimes you have to do the job because there is no one else to do the work. You have to show up because if you don’t, no one else will and that small problem really becomes a larger one. Sometimes you can’t have the vacation or the trip to the day spa because doing so will leave you and your kids in the dark with a lonely pot of unseasoned beans to eat all week.

Sometimes self-care is just knowing that you are doing the best that you can while praying/hoping for the strength to keep on keepin’ on, which has been my life for far longer than I like to admit. In those moments, I am learning that the greatest self-care is to immerse myself in the people whom I care deeply about. It is to allow for the transmission of human emotions that strengthen me and somehow give me the strength to keep going one more day.

The next several years are going to be a test for many of us who are based in the United States. Now more than ever, we need all hands on deck as we fight against policies that almost certainly will make life harder for our most vulnerable and marginalized communities. We all have a role to play whether we are longtime activists or new to organizing and educating. Trump may not have a mandate, but for half of the country, we do have a mandate and that is to activate now.

None of us knows what lies ahead as we shift to a Trump presidency but given the president-elect’s hijinks already, it is safe to say there will be no shortage of emotions and outrage and our best defense aside from direct action will be to protect our own emotional, physical and mental well-being. As for me, I am counting down the days until the adult man in my life returns home as well as the days until I fly out to see that newly arrived little guy. I am taking joy in sharing laughs with my daughter and conversation and drinks with friends. On days like this, I take joy in just writing these words and remembering that I wear many hats and while some create headaches, some create joy.
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Musings on change and more change ahead…A personal post

I can never recall who said it, nor exactly how it was said, but to paraphrase: The older I grow, the one constant in my life does seem to be change.

As I get ready for some major life shifts in my personal life, I find myself reflecting on the past year and just what a journey it has been. While I shy away from the personal stuff in this space, today is a little different for me as I realize how much of the personal changes of the past year have affected me.

Thanks to Facebook’s nifty (or sometimes not so nifty) memory reminder feature, a picture from last year popped up in my feed. It was a photo that reminded me that a year ago, I was preparing for the physical separation from my life partner of 20 years, 18 of which were spent as a legally married couple. A partnership that started at 22 and ended at 42 and basically set me off on the journey to find myself at a time in life when, according to popular beliefs, you have already figured out who you are. Increasingly, though, I am starting to believe that we never truly find ourselves, instead we evolve over time and our task is to meet the changes head on. To not allow ourselves to grow stagnant, yet also to retain our central core of self.

Moving out of the family home and into a 400-square-foot apartment (which is shared my daughter) on an island at times has felt like one of the most asinine things that I could do. And at the same time, it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It has been my healing space and in the past year, I have met many good people along the way who have shown me that despite the daily reports of gloom and doom that are fed to us, good people truly do exist.

While change may be the only constant in life, the reality is that for many of us, and I include myself, change is hard.  The day-to-day of actually doing change sometimes seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to a root canal without the anesthesia. Yet there comes a point when if we keep going, the change starts to sink in and it becomes your “new normal”…it often happens when you aren’t paying attention.

If necessity is the mother of invention, I can say that the past year has forced me to seriously assess my own skills and talents as I was faced with the uncomfortable truth that while running a grassroots organization is the ultimate in doing good, rarely is it financially rewarding. Given that I don’t wish to spend my golden years eating kitty chow and living under a bridge…yet I love the work that I do…I have increased my own side work and it is slowly starting to bear fruit. Starting a side business while running an almost 50-year old grassroots organization is challenging but so far, I am keeping all the balls in the air.

This past year, I have even seen a long-held dream come true. For years I joked about wanting to give a TED Talk and on November 5, at the State Theater in Portland, Maine, I will be a speaker at TEDxDirigo (Maine’s little slice of the TEDx world).  While it is an honor to be among an amazing group of speakers, it is one of the hardest and scariest things I have ever done. The preparation for a TED/TEDx talk can only be likened to preparing for a marathon. A mental and emotional marathon, but a marathon nonetheless.

Yet the greatest changes in my life have been on a personal front, in large part as we prepare for a new addition to our family. My son and his wife are expecting their first child, who will be earthside soon. After 25 years of motherhood, I am preparing to enter grandma-hood and with each passing day, I find myself getting more and more excited. With new change comes new realities and entering the next phase of adulthood has rendered so much of what seemed important as really unimportant. This became clear to me this spring as I stood with both of my previous husbands and watched our son get married, a day that will live in my memory as long as I am in sound mind. But that day is a close second to feeling my daughter in law’s belly move as my unborn grandchild kicked.

I have had two babies; I remember their  in-utero kicks and movements but to see your own grandchild kick, to realize that your baby is an adult who is about to have his own baby, is one of the greatest joys in life. My children and soon my grandchild will be the three constants in my life, no matter what changes come my way.

Life is like a roller coaster and I am holding on tight as I ride the wave of mamahood, work, starting over, what is shaping up to be a new relationship and watching the next generation of my family take hold. What a journey it has been! 
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Digital selves and real lives

Once upon a time in a world not that long ago, the acquisition and exchange of information was a multi-step process. When I was a wee lass, it often involved a physical trip to the library and meant asking the librarian for guidance, looking things up in the card catalog, trips to the stacks and then physically skimming books. Now we possess handheld devices that can deliver the world to us and we don’t even have to leave the bed. This brave new world has also allowed voices that often didn’t have access to an actual audience to be heard. It’s allowed me, a child of the working class, to create a voice and a following and to integrate my thoughts into my actual work in a way that I never could have imagined as a younger person. Yet increasingly I am aware that there are pitfalls to this brave new digital world that in many ways has become our actual world.

I am not big on podcasts, but there is one podcaster whose work I often listen to and this morning Audacious Kay had a podcast that felt like it was tailor-made to me. I think it’s a worthwhile listen for anyone who uses digital means as a platform to build a brand or to promote their actual work.

Back in 2008, I never could have imagined that one day this blog would have such a huge impact on my actual work. Until late 2013, I tried to keep this space separate from my day work because frankly as a Black woman heading up a faith-based organization in a very white space, talking about race was deeply frowned upon and when the white man signs your paycheck, you do what you have to do in order to stay gainfully employed. It’s what millions before me have had to do to survive and it’s what millions will continue to do to ensure their daily bread.

However in moving to an anti-racism organization, I was free to talk about racism without jeopardizing my livelihood and while that has been incredibly freeing, it has started to take a toll on me because increasingly, I am not Shay Stewart-Bouley, a woman who is Black and who writes and speaks on race. For many, Black Girl in Maine is the whole of my being, and frankly I am so much more than the head of an anti-racism organization and a writer on race. I am a mother, daughter sister, friend and a woman looking to find myself in the second act of my life. As people who work closely with me know, I rarely shy away from allowing myself to be human even in the moments when I need to be in charge. As a manager, sometimes my greatest strength is admitting that I sometimes don’t have the answers and that I even need help.

I recently had to take a medical leave of absence from my day job to address some health issues and there is nothing like being in a state of unwellness to give you clarity about your life and where you are heading. Things that seem important are inconsequential when you are working towards full health. During my convalescence period, social media was my near constant companion, and given that for two weeks, I was physically restricted in my movements, I had a lot of time to really think about how we live our lives in a digital world.

Presidential candidates are now elevated on the strength of their digital selves, a la Donald Trump. Everything that we deem true is only true if we can grab our device and “prove” it. Words are read and shared and rarely do we look behind the words to the people who speak them. People become the sum of these words that have become memes or hashtags. for both good or bad. Overall, though, I cannot help but think that this not a healthy way of being.

Given the emotional weight of this election season, I am sure that most of us are only one degree at best removed from relationships and connections that have been altered based off something someone said or shared online. It used to be that someone actually had to do something egregious to alter a relationship but now declaring our candidate can lead to the end of a connection.

As I struggle with the reality of needing to ensure that me the person is not consumed by the personality that writes this blog, I cannot help thinking that what once promised us growth and freedom has become a tool to control us and limit our human potential. We are  people who are ideally living whole lives and we need to remember that behind the words we read and share online are whole people who at best are only sharing a fraction of themselves via these digital channels that have become our masters.
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