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! 
—————————————————————–
If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

 

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.
—————————————————————-
If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support.

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?
————————————————–
If the words in this space resonate with you regularly, please consider making a one time gift or becoming a regular monthly patron. (If the “gift” link above doesn’t work, click on the “Donate” button in the lefthand sidebar of this page)