Category Archives: Miscellaneous

“You’re Pretty”

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

Today I was riding to work with my Uber driver. He was an elderly gentlemen with a mild manner and a nice sense of humor. He had joked the day before that it was “destiny” that I was riding in his car again, and somehow I ended up riding in his car today as well. The day before he had asked if I had a boyfriend (Note: he is happily married and was not hitting on me) and I told him no, and he commented that it made sense because I needed to focus on school and work.

Today, though, he brought up the subject again.

Him: “It’s strange that you don’t have a boyfriend.”
Me: “Oh, really?”
Him: “Yes- you’re pretty.”

All I could do was what I usually do, which was laugh and say “thank you” instead of saying how I really felt. Usually, I’m only slightly offended, but today, his words stung, because I think for the first time I saw the hidden implications behind them. The unspoken idea is that if you’re a pretty woman, then you’re desirable, and if you’re desirable, you must be willing to be the object of someone else’s desires. That someone else is almost always assumed to be a man. Men always ask me if I have a boyfriend, and sometimes if I say no, then they do ask if I’m interested in women, or the ever-irritating, “So do you like men?” The implication there is that if I’m not interested in them, it must be because I don’t like men, which is pretty much saying they think they’re the best thing that could ever happen to me (betraying a high level of conceit).

In asking about my sexual preferences either way, they’re showing a pretty marked lack of concern for my privacy. Maybe the fact is that I don’t have a boyfriend could mean that I just don’t want to be involved with anyone, regardless of gender. Or that I’d just rather be alone than be with the wrong person. It is inconceivable to a lot of people- in this world that leans so heavily towards heteroromanticism and amatonormativity- that anyone could simply want to be unattached, but especially a woman. If a man is a bachelor, he’s said to be just “sowing his wild oats” or thought of as unlucky. If a woman- especially one who is considered attractive- is alone then she’s the object of confusion and pity (or she’s thought to be stuck up).

The other implication is that prettiness is valued above other traits- that a woman who is “unattractive” cannot be expected to have a partner. This makes all sorts of assumptions on what is considered beautiful, and the importance of said beauty in the world. It also puts women under obligation to “put out” if they’re thought to be attractive. So it sends two messages: “If you’re not pretty, no one wants you” and “If you are pretty, you should share it with someone”.

Pretty or not, you do not owe anyone anything. You are under no obligation to anyone to be a part of a relationship if that’s not what you truly desire. You also don’t have to do the things that are expected to follow, such as getting married or having children. You can be as involved or uninvolved with other human beings as you like. It’s your life. When strangers probe you about your relationship status, it might seem harmless on the surface, but what they’re really saying is, “You’re not normal. I don’t know you, but here’s what I think you should do to fit in”. Well, I’m here to say that you don’t have to put up with any of it. You do not have to answer questions about your sexuality if you’re not comfortable.

I really didn’t expect to make a post like this, but I’m becoming pretty convinced that asking a woman why she’s not married or doesn’t have a boyfriend should be on a list of “things not to ask women.” It’s even worst if you’re not asking, but you’re actually telling her that she should just magic up a relationship. Even if she does want to be in a relationship for herself, putting pressure on her to do things is not going to help the process. Society at large subtly and overtly sends women the message that we are not our own- that our lives and bodies belong to other people. I’m fighting to take back my autonomy, and not internalizing these mass-marketed, harmful messages is a part of that.

On Being Present

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com

I briefly mentioned the book “Presence” by Amy Cuddy in my last blog post. I know that in that one I focused on the fact that I felt bad for “needing” to read a book like this to feel better about myself, but that wasn’t fair because it overlooked all of the great insights in the book. I learned a lot, and actually enjoyed it so much that I finished it off in less than a week.

In the notes that I wrote after I was finished, I summarized presence as “bringing your authentic self to a a situation”. In the first chapter Cuddy describes the struggles she endured after suffering a traumatic brain injury in a car accident, and how afterwards her difficulty with learning undermined her self-confidence. She talks about the times when she was so afraid about presenting her research that she clammed up and wasn’t able to express herself effectively. That is because, she said, that negative emotions like fear and anxiety cause us to become inward focused- we are not longer able to “be present” and really be focused on the ideas or message that we are trying to convey. Instead, we become hyper-focused on our own nervousness and sense of discomfort.

She also shares about how important authenticity is to people who are hiring other people or negotiating various business deals. People who are making decisions on whether to invest in a particular project stated that it was important for them to feel as though the person presenting the project really believed in what they were putting forth. In other words, they needed to show genuine enthusiasm for the idea. They also didn’t like to see people who seemed to be “trying too hard” or were pushy or aggressive. Interestingly enough, they said they didn’t mind if the person was a little nervous because “they’re doing something big, something that matters to them” so it makes sense if they feel a little nervous.

Throughout the rest of the book, Amy Cuddy expresses how we can reclaim our personal power and “bring your boldest self to your biggest challenges”. We can do things like practicing yoga and “power posing”, which is scientifically proven to increase testosterone (the hormone associated with greater risk taking and initiative) and decrease cortisol (the “stress hormone”). Even doing simple things like sitting up straighter and using more open, relaxed posture can increase our sense of confidence and feelings of being grounded. We can also use imagery techniques like picturing ourselves flying or just imagining ourselves performing difficult tasks with pride and enthusiasm before we go out and actually do them.

With this year coming to a close, it is common for people to be considering what kinds of “New Years’ Resolutions” that they will be making. Miss Cuddy explains why this doesn’t actually work too well for us. The goals we set are too lofty and ambitious. For example if we plan to “exercise three days a week” and we aren’t able to fully meet this goal (we only go once or twice) it tends to lead to us abandoning the goal altogether. She says that instead- and she uses herself with running as an example- that we should give ourselves small “nudges”. We should say, “Today, I’ll eat healthy” or “I’ll stretch for 15 minutes”. Those incremental changes can in the end lead to big results, without us feeling like we have resolutions hanging over our heads like a threat.

I’ve noticed that as I’ve been reading the book and trying to implement some of the principles, I’ve been experiencing less depression and more confidence. There’s a chapter in there that’s titled “I Don’t Deserve to Be Here” that goes over “imposter syndrome”. It explains how people in all sorts of careers and fields often have a pervasive feeling that they are “fake”, or that their positions in life have more to do with “luck” than with their own talents. These feelings of “being an imposter” tend to increase- rather than decrease- with every new achievement. I can definitely relate to having these feelings. Even though objectively I’m doing well in school and I’m handling my life well, the sense of “wrongness” persists. I find myself asking myself “what now?” every time that I achieve something good. The better the grade, the more I think that the teacher may have given it to me in error. Knowing that other people are struggling with these emotions- and that they have nothing to do with objective reality- I can reject these feelings and instead begin to celebrate my accomplishments. I can tell myself, “Actually, you do deserve to be here.

Achievement Exhaustion

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I’m going to be reviewing some of the ideas that I explored in my blog post entitled “Just Do It” in which I discussed why raw grit and determination alone aren’t always enough to push you to success. I actually started thinking more about this concept after watching some motivational/inspirational videos on Youtube (I’ve been watching these videos on and off for about a month now).

These videos usually encourage you to look deeper within yourself for the inspiration to push yourself forward. They talk about things such as examining your motives, eliminating time wasters and distractions, crafting clear goals, utilizing systems of reward and punishment, and tracking your progress. I can’t deny that all of this is really good advice, but there’s just one little problem- and that is that sometimes despite doing all the “right” things you just can’t seem to stay on the track that you’ve set for yourself.

For me, the problem is that I used to just be tired. I’m not talking about ordinary levels of exhaustion that can be cured by a good meal and a nice nap. I’m talking about bone-tired, skeleton-stiff, brain-clouding migraine levels of fatigue that won’t go away no matter how much rest you seem to get. Like in another post I quoted the lyrics “Wake Up Exhausted” and that’s exactly what happens- you “just woke up like this.”

This can be a sign of a number of things, but the main message is this- you’re probably doing way too much. The threat of burnout is very real in a number of fields and you have to make sure you are setting appropriate priorities, instead of just trying to do everything all at once.

Let’s say, though, that you aren’t experiencing that type of fatigue, but your whole life is sticking to a strict schedule, always making lists, constantly tracking your goals, staying on a particular diet, etc., and maybe you’re just bored. You may be making progress, but there is absolutely no variation or spontaneity in your routine. You have to make room for play in your life. It seems like an oversimplified suggestion, but you have to remember to actually have fun.

I think this actually goes double for people who are working, studying, or just generally doing this thing called life and dealing with a mental illness. Remembering to take time for yourself doesn’t mean that you’re losing sight of your purpose and your intent. Iyanla Vanzant actually pointed out in her book, entitled, “The Value in the Valley” that your purpose is bigger than just the individual goals that you might set for yourself. There is no specific prescribed method for success. There is still work involved, but you should be able to progress naturally- you should allow your passion to lead you. If some of that is fizzling out, you might want to re-examine what’s going on with you.

When I first decided to drop out of my theory class, I felt so torn. I felt like I was taking the “easy way out”. I believed that I owed it to myself to push myself to the absolute limits of my endurance, and I thought that being under constant pressure was somehow beneficial to my growth as a student and musician. It turns out, that the opposite may be true. Of course, I need to work hard, but having some free tme again has unlocked some of the creativity that was quick disappearing from my work. Another bonus is that I don’t feel achy, fatigued, and “cloudy” all the time. I actually feel like I’m an active participator in my life again.

So everything has its place. A relentless pursuit of achievement may seem good on the surface, but it isn’t always helpful to have tunnel vision. Sure, be focused, be mindful, but remember that there’s “more to life than chasing out every temporary high”. If you see life as just a staircase that you are constantly climbing you might not be aware of the bigger picture. Spend time with your friends, participate in hobbies that you enjoy, and know that you’re valuable as a human being- regardless of what achievements you have unlocked.

Purpose and Intent

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I wrote a post a few days ago about Iyanla Vanzant’s book, entitled, “The Value in the Valley: A Black Women’s Guide Through Life’s Dilemmas”. I gave a few examples about the types of valleys and the underlying principles discussed in the book. I wrote about how Iyanla emphasized introspection, self-examination, and prayer/meditation. She also taught the respect of the so-called “universal laws” like “the law of cause and effect” or “the law of attraction”. I went over the valleys only briefly, but there’s one that I would like to focus on right now- the “valley of purpose and intent”.

In the chapter on this valley, Iyanla says that purpose and intent should guide all that we do. She describes our purpose as being something we are divinely ordained to do and have a natural propensity for and liking to. When our purpose is clear, we are at peace. Intent describes how we intend to fulfill that purpose- it’s the positive energy that we put forth into the universe to show that we are indeed being serious. Our intent- or intention– could be described as our drive and focus to do the things that lead us toward the ultimate goal and meaning of our lives.

Being in alignment with our purpose does not guarantee that our lives will be free of challenges. As Iyanla put it, the world doesn’t stop spinning so that we can go ahead and pursue our dreams. We have to be extremely intentional in everything that we do and make sure that we give priority to the things that are contributing to our purpose and to set aside the petty things that hold us back. She says that setting goals is a good thing, but that we have to be aware that the goals we set are often made from our very limited perspectives. She emphasized being more open- to just focus on our purpose, and have our minds be intent on moving towards it. Slowly opportunities will open up for us- opportunities that we may have missed if we hadn’t been paying attention.

Reading this chapter helped me to remember the importance of knowing what I really want out of life and consciously pursuing that thing. I know I want to write, and I know I want to compose and perform music, so I’ve prioritized my musical education above everything else. The rewards have been very apparent. Gradually I’ve gotten better grades, faced fears, and increased my knowledge and comfort with the subjects I’ve been studying. I’ve been able to handle a steadily increasing course load and I will soon be able to graduate. I’ve definitely had to make sacrifices- mostly financial ones- but also I’ve had to chase my dreams against the wishes of my father (I think that’s been pretty huge).

My purpose and intent haven’t just worked out with school, either- it’s worked out other aspects of my life, such as changing jobs and moving out on my own. I intended to do those things, but the how and the when I hadn’t figured out yet. It’s funny though, how you do really get the things you want even if you have to be pushed by outside forces to finally make your move. That was Iyanla’s emphasis when she wrote about “the valley of courage”- that life has a way of forcing you to face the very things that you fear the most.

Another valley that I identified with was “the valley of understanding”. You would think that such a valley would be about gaining understanding in an intellectual or academic sense, but it is actually about trusting the “knowing” and intuition that you already have inside. One of Iyanla’s frequently repeated sayings in that chapter was “you know when you know”. We all have a sense when we first meet a person whether they’re trustworthy or not, but we often dismiss those feelings, only to discover later that we should have trusted our first sense. (“Trust your first thought”) We all know when we’re starting a job we’re going to hate, and even after we’ve gritted our teeth through it for a while we know when it’s time to leave. Do we leave? Often times not. We know when a relationship is failing, when we’ve outgrown our city or neighborhood, or when our conscience is afflicting us because we’re biting our tongues when we should really speak. We know these things, but when we don’t act on them, we’re being disobedient.

Even when we do have the understanding, we aren’t going to be able to move until we are ready. That’s something that I’ve observed about myself, too, when I’ve reviewed my life. I have constantly moved through seasons of action and inaction. Sometimes I have been too eager, and made a horrible, destructive mess out of things (while still managing to accomplish nothing as far as personal progress). I’ve hesitated when I should’ve moved forward, but when my time to dawdle was up, life moved me forward whether I was “ready” or not. I could either keep hedging or move with it (I chose to move with it). Other times I’ve been in sync with the flow of life, but I’ve still had periods where things just stayed the same for a long time. That was life’s way of testing me, to see if I could continue to be faithful to what I was doing and have the patience required to fulfill the task at hand.

I’m sure I’ve quoted this before, but there’s a quote from the movie (500) Days of Summer. The narrator says, “Most days do not have any impact on the course of a life.” I have found this to be true. That being said, each day we’re either walking in our purpose or outside of it. Those days add up into weeks, months, and years, and before we know it we’re either looking back at our life in regret or we are looking back with a sense of fulfillment.

So in summary: be courageous, have faith, trust your instincts, and be true to yourself. Don’t let anyone silence your voice. Don’t let anyone undermine your authority or undervalue the gifts you bring into life. Live on purpose and act with intention. Don’t stand down for anyone, and when life seems overwhelming, take a deep breath and keep on going. You have everything you need to face this life and triumph, so don’t turn away.

Run your race to its completion, and claim your crown!

The Value In the Valley

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

This blog post title comes from a book that I recently read by Iyanla Vanzant, titled “The Value in the Valley: A Black Woman’s Guide Through Life’s Dilemmas”. Even though she targets black women in the title, I think Iyanla could be speaking to any woman who is feeling burdened down by the problems of this world. After all, women of all races can be afflicted with the guilt that they’ve come to association with their gender, the oppression of “the patriarchy” and a constant craving for outside approval and validation.

Iyanla starts the book out with a solid introduction, and then quickly moved unto outlining the states of being she would be discussing through a chapter she titled “Anatomy of the Valley”. Here she gives a brief overview of each of the valleys. They all have different names like “The Valley of Light”, the “Valley of Courage” or “The Valley of Love”, for examples. She said that it was possible to be in multiple valleys, and that you will intuitively be able to identify which valley you’re in.

In fact, relying on your inward “intuition” is something that Ms. Vanzant emphasizes in her book. She talks about the importance of relying on your Higher self or your God self, which she also describes as a guiding force simply called “spirit.” She will tell you that spirit knows all that you need to know, that the answers are inside- to stop thinking so intellectually and to intuit and know through the feelings in your heart. She warns that if your gut tells you something is off, and you disobey it, you are bound to reap the consequences. If you are confused about which inward feelings you are receiving, then you should stop and pray and ask for guidance.

To whom or to what you’re praying to is a little vague. Before each chapter where she discusses a specific valley in detail, Iyanla has a few paragraphs of what she called “Meditations with the Mother” in which she addresses the reader from the perspective of a divine Mother speaking to her daughters. She gently chastises and admonitions them to return to Her, to trust in Her love, and to know that She and “Father” created them in Love and for a purpose. With Iyanla’s yoruba background, it’s appropriate to assume that by the Father she means the Creator-God of the faith- but she doesn’t mention Him, or any other gods and goddesses by name in the book. I think that she sought to make her religious expression as inclusive as possible.

Another thing that Iyanla discusses, which I have a little bit of trouble with, are certain “spiritual laws.” She quotes the Biblical expression, “What you sow, you reap”. She often suggests that if someone is having trouble in a particular area of her life, that she examine how she might’ve misbehaved in the past. For example, if she has financial trouble, or people borrow from her and don’t repay, then she should look back and see if she borrowed from anyone and neglected to pay back. Or she should see if maybe by negative thoughts and words- like constantly talking about being broke or worrying about how to make ends meet- that she is encouraging the “spirit of lack” to take root in her life.

This ties in pretty strongly to what I’ve talked about with regards to “hidden agency” in previous blog posts. I think that seeing what our part is in a problem or situation is very important, and choosing to stop contributing to something in a way that causes negative results is crucial. I think the problem enters in when we believe that some unseen power- be that “the universe” or “God” or “the law of cause and effect” is arranging things to suit people who are “good” and doling out punishments to those who are “bad”.

To her credit, Iyanla did admit that the “universal laws” don’t always seem to be exactly tit for tat. Being a thief doesn’t necessarily mean that someone will rob you- but maybe you’ll lose something important in another area of your life. Also, she “Doing the right thing for the wrong reason” is still wrong and has its own consequences. She also argued that the Universal laws cannot be manipulated. You might try to be positive, try to talk a good talk, but if your heart and spirit don’t believe it the Universe will take note.

So my problem is this idea that all of these forces outside your control are all “holding you accountable” in one way or another. I feel that believing this may lead to paranoia and self-blame. Also, it may just be plain old untruth and superstition.

That being said, I think her emphasis on introspection, getting still and meditating, positive purpose and intent, and even prayer are all very valuable. Also, with regards to prayer, she was the first person I heard that said just saying things out loud to yourself may be a good thing to do as well- and it’s something I practice.

i think though, with the way I discovered this book, you’d think that I’d have a little more faith in unseen forces than I do. When I saw it I was at work, and I knew that I just had to take it home with me. I can’t describe how I knew- I just knew. It’s that kind of intuition that Iyanla praises in her book- but we can’t really prove that it’s a divine or spiritual thing. It may one day be explainable through science. For now though- spiritual or not- what I experienced was valid. I did indeed enjoy the book. I read through the whole thing in three days and excitedly shared insights with my friend. Its message of peace, of having faith in yourself, and in looking inward were invaluable to me at that time.

I’ve been focusing a lot on spiritual things lately in my effort to manage my depression. The current theme that’s I’m discovering is that life is a series of rhythms. I started thinking more deeply about it after watching a Youtuber named Brandon Gilbert. Birth and death, hunger and satisfaction, day and night, the changing seasons- all are a testament to the rhythmic nature of life. Like Solomon said, there is a time to all things- a time to mourn, and a time to laugh, a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing. Change is the nature of life. Stagnant water is usually not life-supporting- unless you’re breeding mold or mosquitoes.

There is value in the valley, and there are things to be learned from the heights of joy and peace to the depths of despair. There is a  lesson to be learned in every situation- it’s not so much about outward success as it is about inward spiritual growth. It’s not about how much I have, but it’s about how much light, life, and love am I willing to receive. Do I think that I am worthy of these things, or do I doubt my value as a person?

Back to the “change” bit. Accepting the changeability of life releases me from being overly concerned with outward outcomes. This doesn’t mean that I never strive to improve my position in society, my financial status, etc. It just means that if something happens that trips me up, I rise up and dust myself off, because “that’s life.” A favorite saying of a friend of mine is “this too shall pass.” That includes good things as well as bad.

The Apostle Paul wrote,

“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” -1 Corinthians 13:12

Everything is revealed in time. For now, all we have to do is wait, be at peace, and do the next right thing until the answers come to us.

Religion and Sexuality

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I was looking for ideas on what to write, and my friend suggested to me that I write about how my religion has affected my relationships. This is going to be a tough one, because I think that in exploring my sexuality I did a lot of things that were definitely in contrast to my religious beliefs at the time.

In a way, I kind of felt like two people at once. On the one side I was this perfectly agreeable Christian girl, and on the other side I was a very sexual being. I ended up not waiting until marriage to have sex, and I just kind of went with it without experiencing the crushing guilt that a lot of Christians that end up “giving in” tend to experience. I wanted to do it, and so I did. I think though, that it is worth noting that at the point in my life that I was active sexually I was also off my medication and in the midst of my manic phase, so I did do a lot of “high risk” things and my judgment was somewhat damaged. This does not mean that mania is the only reason I was so sexual, but anybody who has bipolar disorder knows that when you’re like this everything is heightened and turned to 11.

Previous to that little fling, I had only really been in relationships online- one of which lasted for a really long time. Obviously the only way to be sexual was remotely, on webcam or by trading risque pictures back and forth. It was my longest relationship ever- lasting years really- and it definitely was affected by my religion. I drew the line about a lot of things for the longest because I was concerned with being too revealing or too immoral, but in the end I got really bold as things went on. Also, I broke up with my boyfriend more than once when I was on a spiritual kick because he was “too worldly” or “too unspiritual”. We’re great friends now, because I’ve finally accepted that even though he hadn’t changed- that I have.

That was the great big deal of it. Part of me was never really as “innocent” as I seemed. I was never as “Christian” as I seemed. I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge, and the confining nature of my faith was never going to be satisfactory for me. I always thought that I would marry a Christian man and raise Christian children, but deep down I knew that wasn’t what I wanted. I was attracted to “worldly” guys with a sense of adventure.

Also, even though I had come to accept that I was bisexual (sort of), I never allowed myself to picture the possibility of being in a relationship with another woman- especially because my faith forbade it. I always thought that my attraction was purely sexual and that I was pretty much just heteroromantic. I know it sounds very stupid, but seeing happy couples on Youtube like Jelly and Day and Kaelen and Lucy changed my mind. I realized that I had an entirely warped picture of what being in a relationship with a woman had to be like. I always thought it would be unhealthy because women were “too emotional” and now I see that women who are in relationships with women have relationships that are just as varied and just as valid as women who are in relationships with men.

I think before, when I was an adherent to Christianity, I had a lot of “rules” and had to live with constantly breaking them.

1) Don’t have sex before marriage

2) Don’t masturbate

3) You can only date fellow Christians

4) You can only date the opposite sex

5) You shouldn’t really “date” but “allow God to guide you to the ‘right’ partner”

And sometimes 6)

6) Birth control is immoral even when/especially when you’re married

And so on. So yeeaaaahh…you can pretty much see why that wouldn’t work too well for me. Now though, instead of just continuing to live against the dictates of my religion I just decided to live without the religion. It kind of cut away a lot of the hypocrisy that was in my life.

I also used to see relationships as means to an end- that if this wouldn’t/couldn’t end in marriage it wasn’t worth my time. This was a problem because I don’t have any strong desire to get married right now, either.  I just have so many other things that I’m concerned about.

In many ways, even though I’ve changed, I’m not that comfortable with just “dating for fun” or the whole one night stand thing. I’m not very comfortable with my sexuality, and I’m very guarded when it comes to relationships. I do hope that I find something happy and lasting, but if it doesn’t come I’m okay with that too.

A Wasted Opportunity?

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

Today at my job, I ended up in a conversation with a woman about genealogy and tracing back your roots. I guess you could call it a conversation, but it was mainly one-sided. She was pretty much talking non-stop without giving me much of a chance to interject, but I was somewhat okay with it because what she was talking about was really intriguing.

That was, until the conversation went in a different direction. She suddenly started talking about the history of the Israelites/Jews- who she referred to as God’s chosen people- who were in exile in Babylon and the heathen King Cyrus was used by God to restore them to their former lands. This of course led to her saying that the plight of black people under their white masters was similar to the Jews under slavery.

It then started getting weird when she started saying that God had given wealth to some people and allowed others to be poor, but that physical wealth wasn’t really what mattered because Jesus gave us the gift of eternal life and treasures in heaven.

She concluded it all by saying that it wasn’t about race, but that in the end we would all be under “one kingdom”- that it wouldn’t be about being Buddhist, Muslim, or Hare Krishna but that everyone would be subjected under the rule of the one King Jesus Christ. She also said that the Jews who trusted in God would be allowed into the Heavenly Kingdom but that Jews who did not would be destroyed.

For the nth time I once again didn’t say what I really intended to say. Even when she was talking about how black people couldn’t keep wealth because a lot of times their motives are wrong, I didn’t say what I should’ve said and instead mentioned Michael Jordan, saying he was still wealthy- but qualifying that he carried himself with “humility” and “had a good spirit” man I feel like an idiot.

The problem with these conversations is that I am so used to responding in the “standard” or “Evangelically correct” way that sometimes I just say something “in character” out of reflex or habit. It’s like I’d rather just have them nod in approval and feel really satisfied with themselves- and hopefully end the increasingly more uncomfortable conversation- rather than say something contrary that might provoke a heated debate and keep me embroiled for even longer.

I know that people say you should “pick your battles”- she was a customer, I was an employee; it’s pretty much my job to keep her satiated and happy. On the other hand I keep thinking about how easy it would’ve been to just interrupt her when she started going on about the whole Kingdom of Jesus stuff and just say “Ma’am, I don’t believe that”. Yet somehow I saw in her my earnest parents’ faces and displeasing her seemed to be so close to displeasing them- even though they were miles away and would never have heard our exchange.

I am almost twenty-six years old. I’m tired of this.

I think that religious people take it for granted that they can just speak out about their highly subjective beliefs like they’re fact, and have most people just automatically agree with them. Especially religious people of color who talk to other people of color- there’s this unspoken assumption that, I look like you, so I must of course also go to church (or to the mosque) and have all of these “standard” beliefs on Jesus, that I probably have a “praying mama” somewhere (well, half of that’s true). I think nonbelievers of color have it really hard, and that’s probably why “Black Nonbeliever” groups on Meet-up are so strict with their admission standards.

My dad always used to say, if a person is not financially providing for you- they’re not feeding you, they’re not clothing you, they’re not otherwise keeping you alive- that it basically shouldn’t matter what they think. I wouldn’t take it that far, but I think he has a point.

There is absolutely nothing that woman could’ve done to me. If I had been rude, she could’ve complained to my supervisor- but I wouldn’t have been rude, I would’ve just calmly and kindly expressed a dissenting opinion. Of course, neither of us would’ve changed the other’s mind- but the difference right now is that she goes home peaceful and satisfied thinking that she had a great conversation, and I’m wracked by disquiet and the torment about having kept silent.

There’s also just my extreme politeness- I will be almost effuse in my gratitude- like I told this woman “Thank you so much” even though there was really very little to be thankful for. Of course though that could be interpreted many ways- “thank you for coming to our business” or “thank you for the first half of the conversation before it got all weird” but I knew that I was being a little bit insincere.

Of course, I don’t do this just when I’m put in awkward positions by religious people- and they often pick me as a target for some reason- but also with anybody.

A patron that I currently refer to as “coupon guy” came into my work. He’s constantly giving me coupons for everything from massages to dental work. He’s very garish and flamboyant and is obviously trying to flirt- just doing it in the most awkward way possible.

Anyway, today he told me “I have something for you- and this is a big deal because I don’t usually share these with people” so in my head I’m thinking, Lord, what is it this time? but I really should’ve already guessed.

He pulls out a small piece of paper with a Redbox code for a free day’s rental- he said it came off of a 79cent Big Gulp cup, and admits that he sometimes collects these things from cups that he finds on the ground, because, “That’s money, and people are just throwing it away”.

Sexy.

Anyway I was like, “Oh wow thank you” and do you know that I saved that little piece of paper even though I’m not even going to be going to Redbox any time soon? Primarily so I wouldn’t lose it and feel compelled to lie about it. The question is though, why should I even care? This is a guy who seems to fancy me but apparently only thinks I’m worth some random coupons that he finds on the ground. Yet I’m more concerned about his feelings than he seems to be about mine.

I do this all the time. I will do everything to make myself seem invisible, unobtrusive, everlastingly accommodating and I think it needs to stop. Obviously yes- sometimes it isn’t worth it to get into contrary conversations with strangers, and so what if a rando keeps giving me coupons that I may never use? These things are little in the grand scheme of things, but every time I force myself to bite my tongue I’m perpetuating a belief to my Self that my opinion is not worth it, my feelings are not valid, and my rights are unimportant. If they can speak, so can I. If they have a right to be offended, so do I.

I’m going to promise myself, that the next time I have the opportunity- I’m going to actually come out and say something. I think it’s really hard to do this when I’m used to my survival hinging on my ability to be agreeable. Even though now I’m an adult and in control of my own life, the old subservient attitudes cause me to automatically clam up, and that has to stop.

I’m my own person and I have a right to say what I feel without being intimidated.

Better Boundaries

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

I’m feeling a lot more refreshed after returning from my long holiday weekend. I had a great time visiting with my brother, my brother’s wife and their little baby.

I did end up visiting my parents, but I chose to just stay a few hours instead of staying the night. I felt mixed feelings because my younger brothers seemed to be really disappointed that I was leaving so soon. That being said, I knew that I had to do what was right for me.

My dad didn’t really say anything that was overly bothersome. It’s just that every time I talk about having a good time with my nephew my dad will say, “See how much of a blessing children are” and make all sorts of not-so-subtle allusions to why I should have one- and not even just have one, but to actually give birth rather than even adopt or anything like that. I realize though that that’s a lot more about him and my mom wanting to have another grandchild than any sort of genuine concern about me ending up childless and alone.

My dad just said, “I’m just saying that if God decides to give you one, don’t say no” and I said, “Of course I wouldn’t say no” because it isn’t like I would ever have an abortion (but thank God for contraceptives).

Anyway, it wasn’t so much anything about what he said. In fact, I was very surprised and satisfied with how little his comments managed to get under my skin. I was pretty much able to say to myself, “This isn’t about me, this is about him” but I also chose not to stay overnight. I would’ve liked to spend more time with my mom and my siblings, but beforehand I told them that I might not stay the whole day and left myself the opening to be able to return to my older brother’s house.  I’m realizing that these are part of my boundaries and I just need to continue setting limits for myself, without avoiding visiting all together. Family will always be family. I still want to have access to my mom and my siblings so I don’t want to just alienate myself entirely.

On the topic of having kids, though; Children do not exist merely to serve their parents. My dad’s argument for me to have a baby was to point out that my own mother didn’t regret me standing there helping her (I was helping her remove the husks from corn) and “she had to make so many sacrifices”. Really though- that point worked against him. My mom is an amazingly brave and strong woman, and I really don’t know if I’d be able to make the same sacrifices that she did- and I told my dad that. My mom chimed in that a popular newscaster came out and said that if she could’ve told her younger self anyone she would’ve “decided to have a baby at 25” (guess how old I am right now?).

That being said, having a child is a huge responsibility. Also, there are no guarantees that they’ll love you in the end, or take care of you when you’re old, or share in your interests, and yet it is your obligation to take care of them. You have to love them without expecting the same in return. So who’s to say even if I had a child, that they would be “taking care of me when I’m old”. In fact, there’s also a possibility that my child would be born with a disability and they would never be able to take care of me- even if they wanted to. My dad is making an assumption that my child would be born healthy- and then if my child wasn’t born healthy you can rest assured that he would blame it on something that my partner and I did.

All of that aside, after hearing of the terrible atrocities happening to children in foster care- including the government seizing money that was rightfully left to them by deceased relatives- I feel more strongly than ever a desire to be an foster parent and at some point adopt a child. I don’t know how/when the opportunity will be presented to me- but as my dad pointed out, if God offers me a child, I’m not turning that kid away. The fact that my dad mocks my aversion to childbirth and prioritizes the needs of hypothetical biological children over kids that are living and breathing right now speaks greatly of how much he is caught up in the ancient mindset. He’s a part of that culture that embraces “God’s” admonition to “multiply and fill the earth” as well as “women should bear children and guide the house” and forgets the verses that say, “children should not lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children”.

I’m not going to say that it’s wrong to have a child simply because you want a child- but I’m definitely going to have to say that it’s not wrong to not have a child simply because you do not want to have a child. This idea that it’s a woman’s “duty” to sacrifice her body as a vessel by which the hypothetical future geniuses and leaders of the world are to come into the world, while undermining the women who decided not to do this but do decide to give themselves over to philanthropy and social justice is frankly absurd. In fact, it’s not even necessary to insist that a woman choose one over the other. You’re not “weak” for wanting to be a more traditional mother, and you aren’t “superior” if you decide not to be. Biological motherhood is not the only way to epitomize being a woman.

I’m not going to apologize for my views in any way. My dad is not the one who would be carrying a baby in the womb for 9 months, so in my opinion he has very little right to dictate what I should decide to do with my body. At this point I have absolutely no desire to be pregnant or give birth to a child, though yes, if something were to happen and I would end up being pregnant I would embrace the moment and go ahead with it. I don’t dislike children, and I love my nephew very much but I am keenly aware of the fact that if I were to be too worn out after taking care of him I have the option to send him back with his parents. Parents don’t have that option. I am very proud of my brother and his wife for doing such a great job with my nephew, and again, I don’t know if I could do the same myself, and I’m proud of myself for being able to very calmly express this to my dad.

It’s not about convincing anyone, it’s about knowing what I want to do and being confident in my own judgment.

Paramore, Revisited

Previously published on my Tumblr page, http://a-woman-apart.tumblr.com/

Last week I finally purchased “RIOT!” by Paramore. I believe it was their second album, a.k.a. “sophomore” production. It has a very upbeat theme to it, with even songs like “We are Broken” having a kind of musical enthusiasm to them.

It’s interesting to compare and contrast “All We Know is Falling” (the debut album) with RIOT! “All We Know” kind of had a kind of darker theme to it, with songs like “Emergency” and “Pressure” being the stand-outs on the album. There’s also “Conspiracy” with its plaintive and memorable,

Explain to me / This conspiracy against me / Tell me how / I’ve lost my power

RIOT! is just so much more lighthearted than that as a whole, with songs like “Crushcrushcrush” and the smarmy, tongue-in-cheek vengeful love song “Misery Business” (Misery Business was actually the first song I ever heard from Paramore). RIOT! has a whole “screw everything, we’re headed for the top” kind of message on it with optimistic songs like “Hallelujah” and “We Were Born for This”. You get the impression that Hayley and the band are really happy and comfortable with their identities. All We Know is Falling didn’t have that same kind of feel. In Pressure Hayley croons out,

Can you feel the pressure? / It’s getting closer now / We’re better off without you

In the first verse she says,

Tell me where our time went / And if it was time well spent / Just don’t let me fall asleep / Feeling empty again

There’s that hint of desperation in it that you don’t really find anywhere on RIOT!  A notable lyric from RIOT! can be found in the song “Hallelujah” where during a transition Hayley sings,

We’ve got nothing but time on our hands / Got nothing but, got nothing but / Got nothing but time on our hands

There’s a kind of unbreakable, confident, rebellious spirit to RIOT! that sets it apart not just from All We Know but also from Paramore albums that came later on.

For example in “Brand New Eyes”- which is actually my favorite of all the albums to date- there’s a kind of return to the All We Know days of introspection and desperation, but also deeper levels of questioning and self-doubt. “Feeling Sorry” is a song about a friend of Hayley’s that simply isn’t moving forward in his life (as far as she’s concerned). When she is trying to spur him on to action, she sings this;

And I’m getting bored waitin’ round for you / We’re not getting any younger / And time keeps passing by but you waste it away / It’s time to move forward

So what happened to the Hayley of a couple years back who was singing about “nothing but time on our hands”?

You see these kind of shifts all throughout Paramore’s growth and progression as a band. Personally I think I’m starting to see a theme.

All We Know is Falling (debut)- Darker, instrospective, heavier guitar riffs

RIOT! sophomore) – Very upbeat and punk, tongue-in-cheek lyrics

Brand New Eyes – a return to introspection, varied stylistically, and a point of contention for the band

Paramore (self-titled) – Return to some tongue-in-cheek humor, still varied stylistically with a few notable punk songs, more outward-focused themes

Now you’ll probably be wondering what I mean about “return to some tongue-in-cheek humor” in the self-titled album. I feel like some of the interludes were a good example of this, like “I’m Not Angry Anymore,  which is a ukulele-backed little bit that has lines like this,

I’m not bitter anymore / Yeah I’m syrupy sweet / Rot your teeth down to their cores / If I’m really happy

Also there’s the song that they won a Grammy for- “Ain’t it Fun”. It is kind of a facetious warning for someone who’s suddenly wakes up and finds themselves “livin’ in the real world”.  Quite a bit more lighthearted than “Feeling Sorry” but with a similar kind of message.

Looking back, I kind of do see why Hayley said the album they chose to be self-titled was the 4th one and not an earlier one, because the 4th one really does the best job of comprising a little bit of all of the themes they’d been working towards so far. While it isn’t as raw or introspective as Brand New Eyes it does have its sad and self-reflective moments (Last Hope, Hate to See Your Heart Break, etc). Yes, we do have more silly and stylistically stand-out, ((One of Those) Crazy Girls), as well as the playfully brash (Anklebiters) and the “token” love song (Still Into You). So it is a very well-rounded album. In some ways I find it lacking- like maybe it tried to do too much and isn’t as cohesive as the rest- but overall I think it was brave work.

I also can’t wait to see what they’re bringing out next! Paramore has been a huge inspiration in my life. I feel like I’ve grown up going through so many of the struggles that they confronted on their albums and I can’t wait to keep adding more of their stuff to my collection.