Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Intentions for 2018 (and beyond)


As I've gotten older, words and concepts that used to make me roll my eyes have settled in and taken residence in my heart and mind. 

Talk of full moons, energy exchange, open-heartedness, connecting fully, cleansing rituals, and authenticity that used to grate on my nerves...  I'm bewildered to find that now they have blossomed into things worth reaching for.  I consider all the time I spent living in a life that wasn't my own, and I know that now it is worth it to put thought into where I place my energy, and what kind of return I get on it's investment.  In these years of awakening and finding myself, my focus has fallen on living with intention.  I'll be honest, even typing those words still makes me feel a little uncomfortable, but I'm working on embracing them un-apologetically.

In the past I've felt that talking about authenticity or living with intention implied more control over life than people can really claim to have.  As my fingers feel out these concepts and pull them closer, the idea of the law of attraction - that if you put positive energy out life will return it Ala The Secret - still doesn't sit well with me.  Imagine having spent year in a relationship that left you hopeless, worthless, and broken.  Now imagine someone telling you that if you act more positively, good things will happen to you.  How can I reconcile the blatant implication that all of that terrible sadness and pain are now my own fault?  No, that's not quite what I'm talking about here.

In my mental and spiritual growth, I have come to embrace one key concept above all the others.  In everything, in every way I can, I must cultivate and nurture the positive.  I have spent ENOUGH time in this life shuffling through days filled with negativity.  Negative energy, self-doubt, put-downs, worthlessness and things that make me feel bad have no place here anymore.  In the past four years I have cultivated my tribe, chosen to stay connected with people that bring positive value into my life.  I look at my jobs, my activities, my hobbies, and my friends and acquaintances, and I ask myself - when I put energy into this, does it energize me?  Does it lift me up?  And here I am, in a life where I have surrounded myself with people and things that make me feel happy, make me feel so much hope and love.

It isn't about controlling life - because we can't do that.  I am still sad sometimes.  I have bad days, I have anxious days.  I have days where an interaction doesn't sit right, or where I wish that something was different.  There is plenty in my life that is out of my control.  Making the decision that the things I DO have control over need to be things that are good and positive gets easier and easier.

So, for 2018, I'm setting intentions for myself.  These are not resolutions, made with the idea that next year will be the year I finally change or better myself.  They are not goals made with a mountain to climb and an ending in sight.  They are realistic, and the ones that reach are not reaching to someplace that feels unreasonable or unattainable.  These are the things that speak to my heart, and the ways I want to fill my time as I go about my life.  These things will build me up, empower me, and move me forward.

Some are biggish steps, and some are small.  Many are about building habits that add positive value to my life, and about connecting with the people and things that fill my heart and make my life beautiful.  Even my list was created with intention, with care and practice and colors that make me happy.  It is hanging on the wall between the living room and kitchen, where I will see it and walk past it many times every day.

Here's to you, 2018.  Here's to creating and connecting, to building a better world in whatever small ways I can, and to appreciating the good things I have.  To cultivation, intention, soul-filling, heart-growing, self-care and nurturing, and beautiful memories created every day, in every way I can muster.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

An Open Letter: Not All Men

This morning, Democratic senator Al Franken resigned from his senate seat amidst allegations of sexually inappropriate behavior.  I listened to his words, about how he is not admitting fault, and my heart hoped that it wasn't true, but at this point, hope is pretty dingy.  I nearly cried as he gave up his senate seat.

I was talking to a friend a couple of nights ago about how angry I am, and how disappointing it continues to be that people are surprised by how utterly shitty our patriarchal, misogynistic culture is for women to live in.  It started with us talking about the fantastic Welcome to Hell video from last week's Saturday Night Live, and this is what she said:
I know it's nothing new and I've known all this shit for a long time, but sometimes I get so so so mad about it all.  Like the keys in the parking lot thing.  I hate that we have to do that.  I have done it since I could drive, and like, planned what I would do if someone attacked me... ...men on my Facebook are like, oh shit did you guys know about this?  YES AS A MATTER OF FACT.  And of course now that men are learning about it, it legitimizes everything.  Like millions and billions of women throughout history wasn't enough.
I've been feeling so unsettled and aggravated because of the atmosphere of the world at large, and this morning, I posted something on Facebook about it.  This is what I posted:
I'm so fucking disappointed.  Because Al Franken's resignation is an example before the blind eyes of people like Roy Moore.  Because it is so frustrating that no matter how many women come forward there are still so many men in power, and other men who refuse to hold them accountable.  Because change is happening but it isn't and we still live with this fucking rape culture misogynistic BS that makes me glad I don't have daughters but scared I won't be able to negate the lessons it will try to teach my sons.  I'm just... ANGRY. 
Several hours later, I got a private message from a male friend about my post.  I've removed any identifying information, but here are some snippets of what the message said:
"I understand what you are saying, however, this post comes off as a blanket statement against men in general.  It was a bit hurtful."
"I have never nor would ever coerce or offer inappropriate remarks to any woman.  I've been on the receiving end of inappropriate comments and ACTIONS from women in authority and yes occasionally from men.  Could it be nurture over nature?"
I'm not posting this to shame anybody.  I sat there at my desk for at least 10 minutes, typed in and erased about 10 different replies to this person.  I took a step back because I knew that it wasn't going to be civil, then my mind went where it always does - to writing down how I feel and why I feel this way, and backing it up with the words of some other smart and succinct women and men.  So, here's my open letter to this man, and to any other men who read my post this morning, or any woman's post about the current climate, #yesallwomen, or #metoo, and felt the same way, or who have been tempted to talk about how not all men are bad.

*****

Kind Sir,

I want to apologize for the fact that you felt hurt by my post, but I just can't bring myself to do it.  It's nothing personal.  I don't dislike you, and part of me doesn't blame you for your response because I think a lot of guys really don't know better.  I’ve had a really hard time responding at all because I feel like you’re missing the point entirely.

First of all, my post was not a blanket statement.  I didn't write that "ALL MEN ARE IRRESPONSIBLE SEXUAL PREDATORS."  I wrote that there are a lot of men in power who abuse that power.  That's true.  I'm not entirely certain why you chose to take it so personally.  If you haven't abused your power, or taken advantage of your inherent male privileged to oppress women, there is nothing for you to feel hurt about.  However, now that you have told me it made you feel bad, let's talk a bit.  Let me ask you a few questions.  

When you learned to drive, did you learn to hold your keys between your fingers as you walked to your car at night in case someone tried to grab you? 

I did.  

Have you been sent random photos of men’s penises because somehow this has become an okay thing to do in our culture?  

I have.  

Have you been flirted with, then when you turned someone down, been told they didn’t want you anyway because you are fat/ugly/a whore?  

I have.  

Have you made less money because you are a woman?  

I have.  

Have you been discounted at your job because you have the wrong genitals, and had someone needed to hear the exact same answer from your male boss?  

I have.  

Have you sat in the ER and held a woman's hand while she has a rape kit done, and is given antibiotics to try and make sure she doesn't catch anything from it?

I have.

Have you ever thought how it's lucky you never got raped, because really, that's all it is is luck?  

I have.  Often.

This isn’t a question of nature vs. nurture.  This is a question of whether you care enough to try and understand how exhausting and scary it is to grow up as a woman in this culture.  There is a systemic issue of power and sex which involves men.  That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen in reverse but that is not systemic and it’s also not what I’m bringing attention to.  

Your message smacks of the “not all men” argument, and the thing is that we already KNOW it’s not all men, of course it's not.  That's missing the point though, the point is that it IS all women.  ALL women in the US are growing up in an environment where this is commonplace behavior that happens to them every day.  Where I'd conservatively estimate that 80% (at least) of my women friends have been raped, sexually assaulted, or harassed.  Where I get called babe, honey, sweetie, and dear by men who don't know me.  Where my best friend's male coworkers put their hands on her leg, or got close enough to rub up against her in the copy room when there was plenty of room not to.  Where the idea is alive and well that women somehow invite rape when they choose to look pretty or wear a skirt or some makeup.  Where articles and news channels continue to use the phrase "non-consensual sex" when we all know what they are ACTUALLY talking about is rape.  Where a pedophile is in the senate, and a rapist is in the White House.

As soon as “not all men” gets thrown into conversation, it’s shutting down a valid conversation that could be used to make things better.  Here’s a good explanation of that:
“If I’m talking about rape statistics and you say, "not all men," we’re no longer talking about the horrifying amount of people raped. We’re talking about whether or not everyone is a rapist (spoiler alert, we both know they’re not). 
If I’m talking about catcalling and you say not all men, we stop talking about how men on the street feel entitled to talk about my body, we’re talking about how sometimes men that I walk past don’t harass me.  
It changes the conversation from something that is happening to women that shouldn’t be to the fact that not every man does this, so we shouldn’t be talking about it. 
Maybe not all men do these things, but enough do these things that I feel comfortable saying "men" when I talk about these issues. 
Because it’s not just a single man or a few men, it’s a lot of men. 
And it might not be every single one of you, but it’s enough that these are consistent problems. If there are just a few shitty men doing these things, catcalling and talking down to and assaulting women, why is it such a universal thing that most women can relate to? It might not be all men, but all women experience these kinds of things. 
If the first thing you choose to do when a woman talks about how men have treated her in the past and how it seems like a systematic problem is to say, "not all men," you’re enabling men to keep doing that. 
Saying "not all men" makes you as much a part of the problem as the men she’s talking about.” source

Part of the problem with that argument is that as a part of the group who engages in the coercive and inappropriate things, you can’t be the one deciding what is coercive or inappropriate.  Are you really asking to be recognized for the fact that you have managed to act like a decent person and NOT assault anyone?  That should just be a given.  You are a man living in a patriarchal society, so you’ve been told you’re right and you’re entitled.  This isn’t your fault.  It’s a function of our society.  But you can still recognize it as a problem, and if you don't do anything to change it or make it better for our kids, that part IS your fault.
"Some men rush in immediately to remind us all that not all men are rapists and harassers. And of course they aren't, but that doesn't change the fact that toxic masculinity exists, that rape culture exists, that we live in world where sexual harassment and abuse of women at the hands of men has been normalized. It doesn't matter that not all of them do — it matters that too many of them do. Why isn't that enough?" source (and an excellent article I'd highly recommend.)
Imagine if you are a woman who has been raped, and instead of hearing "I'm sorry that happened to you, we need to work to make sure that never happens again" what you hear is "Well, not ALL men are rapists."  How do you think that impacts the healing process? 

There is an inherent problem with your response to my anger and outrage and pain being that YOU have never done anything wrong or said anything inappropriate.  Aside from the fact that you are taking my feelings and making them about you instead, you are coming from the standpoint of being part of the group that has experienced privilege and entitlement, and benefited from the culture that tells boys and men that all of this is okay, even expected.  Boys just being boys. I don't think you've ever done anything on purpose, but I also think that it's not always easy for men to identify behavior that wasn't okay, especially when outside forces have been telling them it IS okay for their entire lives.

I have been in a similar position when a friend who is a person of color has told me that my comments were problematic.  I felt angry, and I felt accused and I felt like defending myself.  But do you know what?  It was not my place to do that.  It WAS my place to listen to her, to examine my behavior and attitudes and language, and to figure out how I could do better for people who are being discounted, marginalized and treated poorly instead of somehow making it about me. 

Now is not the time for men to speak and to cry out "not me!"  Now is the time for men to listen, and for good men to reply with "I hear you. I see you.  I believe you.  I support you."  To ask the questions that need to be asked - what can I do to cultivate change?

The mere fact that you chose to private message your feelings to me shows me that you didn’t feel comfortable saying this in a public comment, which is probably because you knew that it would not be well received.  Perhaps there is a reason for that, and that is something to think about.

I hope that you will take this not as an attack, but as an effort to explain to you why your response was problematic.  I hope that instead of choosing to get defensive, you will take this opportunity to do some reading and some thinking, educate yourself, and decide to offer your support to women instead of just defending yourself against an accusation that never happened.

Sincerely,

Rachael

Further Recommended Reading:

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Soulmates

People think that soulmates have something to do with romance, but I know they are wrong.

Since I was two years old, I have always had a best friend.  I have many friends, and I love them, but I always have that one person who is my anchor, my female confidant, my person.  My heart needs that friendship as deep as the ocean, the one that you can turn to without doubt or hesitation.  The one that you can turn to when you cry because you dropped the frozen pizza face down on the oven door, or when you need to send a series of 15 snaps ranting about something, and who will understand when you’re fine two minutes later.  The first phone call or text you make when grief hits and life stands still.  That person you text as you prepare to pull out of their driveway after a whole night together - "I miss you.  Why don't we live together??"

Our connection is inexplicable to me, some supernatural, sparkling path that leads from my heart to hers.  Sitting down to write this is hard, because for all of my vocabulary and for all of my experience with caging my emotions in words on a page… this one feels wild and un-containable.

Being in the same room is like the eye of a storm.  Life never stops around us, but for a few hours, it can’t touch us.  In your lifetime, you may meet a handful of people who nurture your spirit and fill your bucket so completely.  This is a cavernous love, the kind that you feel in your core, whose memories alone are enough to bring smiles and tears.  Hugging is dangerous because it’s like a living security blanket – the appropriate time for a “normal” hug passes in seconds and sometimes I just don’t want to let go.  I have met a lot of people in my life whose energy clashes with mine, and this is the opposite of that, currents that merge and play instead of colliding.

Neither of us remembers how we became friends.  We both remember the first time we met, but how we went from friendly hellos that night three years ago to where we are today is a mystery.  Surely it is part luck and part destiny, and part the encouragement and support of our wonderful partners who seem to recognize that we need each other.  In a way, I love the fact that I can remember a time without her, because it makes me excited for all the time we have left as friends.  She makes sense to me, and she Gets me in that big G way where you can be completely yourself and never wonder if they know what you mean or whether you’re joking.

We can cry together and laugh together, make the worst jokes and puns to each other, be terrible and amazing and witty and sometimes we don’t have to say anything at all.  We can tell our truths without judgement, knowing that there are not rules, no right way to get through the moments we need to get through.  When our hearts are breaking, we are each other’s caves – that warm, dark space you crawl into where the world can’t see you, but your people can.  Few people exist with whom you can seamlessly navigate the quiet buzz of grief intermingled with the humorous and mundane.  But that is life – and those relationships that mirror it feel the most natural of all.

I don’t mean for this to read like a love letter, but in some ways it is.  Because if I made a list of the people I love most in this world, she would be near the top. I imagine us growing old together in the same way I do with my heartmate, and think about how we will either be the Cool Grandmas or the Embarrassing Grandmas, but either way, it’s going to be fantastic. In my mind I know that we haven’t always known each other, but in my heart it seems impossible. 

Speaking of my heart, I tend to give out pieces of mine, which is a dangerous game.  On the other hand, when you find the right people to hold those pieces, the love you gain access to is almost infinite.  When the end of the hours that never seem like enough comes, I leave a piece of myself behind, and know that it is safe.

Monday, October 30, 2017

I Cry

I cry because I don’t have any vegetable oil.  Without it, I cannot make the cake from a mix that only requires two ingredients because we just moved and our house is in disarray and even though our kitchen is mostly unpacked and I spent $200 on groceries, we do not have 1/3 cup of vegetable oil.

I cry because he asks me what I need, and I can’t answer.  Thoughts swell in my head like a storm, whipping in anxiety’s wind, I cannot get a deep breath and collect myself.  When he puts his arms around me, holding back is not an option and my face grows hot and wet with tears.  I feel my muscles tighten and the tentacles of sadness too big for words wrap themselves around my heart, my lungs, my stomach, and bend me in two.

I cry at the realization that I am still holding back.  Despite his presence, and his words which I fully believe, that I am loved, that I never have to be alone again, that I am so broken that I haven’t been sharing all of myself.  When I don’t, it comes out as irritability and I seem annoyed.  I feel guilty for spending our precious free time together sobbing in his arms. 

I cry because I transition as gracefully as a giraffe on stilts, wobbling this way and that, unnatural and stuttering.  For so long, I have been just holding on, just getting through, doing the best I can.  Now with a new home and a good job, it hasn’t sunk in that I don’t have to be worried all the time or be in “emergency mode.”  For a year and a half I have felt that my life was on hold, in limbo, and coming out of that limbo isn’t proving to be a whole lot easier than it was going in. 

I cry because my heart is always so open, and I see people close to me in pain.  Heartbreak comes in so many forms, small and big, everyday and out of the ordinary.  With my ability to love so fully and whole-heartedly comes leaving pieces of my heart walking outside my body, connections with beautiful, amazing people that give me so much love and whose pain I feel deep inside.

I cry because the one thing that has been truly constant, and something positive that I’ve been able to work towards, has been taken from me.  The aching empty clenching in my heart rages at the loss of control and power, that familiar feeling of helplessness.  I can’t express the enraging madness I feel at once again being the receiver of abuse and the one required to make the sacrifice.

I cry because the chaos of moving isn’t just chaos.  It represents trying to be on my own and start a new life, when my life has fallen so completely to pieces three times in the last five years.  Despite everything, fear lurks beneath the surface.  I don’t trust completely that I can move from surviving to living again after so many stumbles.

I cry because I feel the weight of being burdensome, a broken record of insecurity and weakness and melancholy, and I wonder who would ever want to spend their life listening to that record on repeat?  I worry that the refrain that I am having a HARD TIME will get so old that no one will want to listen or reassure me that it is okay.

I cry because somewhere deep inside I think I am not enough.  Like a rolling fog, the thought skulks that I am not worth it, that I am not doing enough, that I am not on top of it, that I can’t do this, that I am not a good parent or a good partner, that I will always fail.  Fear hisses, a slow leak you don’t notice until you are approaching flat and suddenly precariousness overtakes security.

I cry because I it is the only way to move forward.  The release of all of this comes through my eyes, my body racked with the sobs of cleansing.  When he tells me that I am safe, that it’s okay, that I will never be alone again, that he loves me… it blows away a little bit of that fear inside me.  I cry harder as I feel it go, because it is a part of me and it is lost, and I have held it there for so, so long.

I cry, and I breathe, and the tension goes, and I am one step further than I was this morning.

I cry.

Monday, October 23, 2017

A New Idea

Dear Bill O'Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, et. al.,

It seems like you are really struggling to understand some things, so I just thought maybe I could help.  So here are some new ideas and tips, courtesy of women everywhere.

If you don't want to lose your job, if you don't want to be criticized by the media, if you don't want to lose your livelihood, if you don't want your family to be embarrassed, if you don't want to go to jail... don't fucking rape or sexually harass people.  It's really NOT THAT HARD to understand. 

If you don't want to be embarrassed or humiliated, don't do things that, when exposed, will EMBARRASS and HUMILIATE you.  You should be ashamed of yourselves.

Here is another tip, for anyone that's not sure.  There is no such thing as "non-consensual sex."  There is also no such thing as a "non-consensual sexual relationship."  There is sex, and there is rape.  There is a sexual relationship, and there is sexual harassment, abuse, and rape.  Rape is not sex.  Rape is a violent attack and a show of power.

Oh, here's another!  If you have to pay someone $32 million to not talk about something you did?  You probably SHOULD NOT HAVE done that thing.  You should probably not do that thing ever again.  You probably deserve to lose your job when people find out about this thing.

Rot in hell.

Rachael


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Etched on My Heart

I never thought I would, but I did.
On a clear, crisp fall day, I spend 45 minutes on the bow of the ferry, wind in my hair and warmth on my face.  Sunlight shimmers on the water, mesmerizing in bright silence.  As we approach the mainland, return to solid ground, I can feel it coming on, the heavy, mournful warmth of leaving behind.

How was it?  Was it all that you expected?  Tell me all about it!

My throat is frozen and I can’t form words, I craft my memoirs in details and feelings and it’s all a bit too close to figure out right now.  I don’t know what I expected, but now that I’ve returned I feel like something profound is lurking in my mind.

24 hours later, talking to a friend, I tell him that I feel like the experience hasn’t ended – somehow though my body has returned home, the intensity in my heart and mind are still building.  This is the unexpected.  He tells me that is normal.  He says that the relaxing, empowering weekend was a trick and that by intentionally expanding my thought processes, I have begun neural reprogramming.

“When you call it by its name, you… realize how important and draining and epic it really is.”

Then he makes me promise not to be too overwhelmed to reach new highs.  I think in some ways he might be my muse.

Four full days after I set foot in Doe Bay, I finally cry.  As my love wraps his arm around me from behind, my body recognizes safety and lets go.  My heart aches.  Intensity upon intensity upon mundanity, my body shakes and releases.

There is a hill before me, lush and fertile, just over the crest something vibrates and thrums, pulling me towards it.  Unknown, it is soft and heavy and so big my eyes might not be able to take it in.  I feel it calling me, and I know now that I have to climb, that it is time.

When the tears stop, I float.  It’s as if the air has changed, become charged and somehow more real than it was before.  Faces and voices float through my mind, ideas rise like baking bread.  The connections I felt most leave haunting music running through my mind, longing beauty etched on my heart.

Magic isn’t a fairy tale.  It is in his vulnerability, it is in her story, shared without shame, it is in his fingers as he writes and in her sweet lilting voice as she sings.  Time stops in a room filled simultaneously with reality and embracing our stories with thoughtful abandon.  The feeling of being in a room with nothing but open hearts, pulsing and reaching, passionate and raw, is incomparable.  It is food for the soul.

In line at the ferry, I got out of my car and went in to the tiny gift shop.  After a weekend immersed in words and story, the stones with their etched words call me.  I choose one for each of my boys, then dig, looking for my own reminder.  Smooth and cool, my stone is truth.  My craft is truth, and truth is my courage.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Dreams into Plans

We have a home.  Today we picked up the keys to the house we’re renting, and for the first time in almost four years I will be back to living with my family of four in our own space.  A different family, a healthy family just starting out on our journey.  Perfect in imperfection, supporting each other as we all grow, change, and become fuller, better people along the way.

There are things that will be different.  Having a place with Scott will be new, we have been living together this year, but it’s not really the same when you’re in limbo and staying in a bedroom in someone else’s house.  It will probably take us most of the month to move all of our things, and living with my Mom gives us the luxury of taking our time.  We will meld our things, our preferences, our opinions, and create a place that is ours.  I am excited and anxious, but before I start to think about it too much I have somewhere else for my brain to be this weekend.

I have reservations tomorrow on the 1:15 ferry to Orcas Island, and will spend the next four days immersed in passion.  I’m taking my camera and leaving my computer at home, and one of my goals for this weekend is to try and set some thoughtful goals and intentions for my writing.  For years, I have been saying “I need to write more.”  It’s time, it’s past time, to commit to it and make it happen.

I am looking forward to everything I am going to learn, and the people I’m going to meet.  This feels like one of those summer-camp type situations where proximity and creative energy contribute to reaching an intimacy with people that normally takes longer to build.  If you’ve ever been to a retreat for anything you love, you know that there is a certain indescribable energy to being in a confined space with people whose souls are passionate about the same things yours is.

I want to write about so many things.  Self-love, body positivity, what it’s like to live as a fat woman in America, self-care, embracing passion and integrating it into your life, overcoming abuse, living a positive life and knowing what you can control and what you can’t, love, polyamory, emotional freedom, embracing humanity, sex positive living/parenting, authenticity…  That last one is something I’m thinking about a lot as there are a few other things I’d like to write about that I haven’t shared with the world at large and I’m thinking about how to embrace writing and life in the most authentic and beautiful way.

I’m saying it out loud.  My goal for this weekend is to make a solid, realistic plan for embracing writing and fanning the flames of my passion and wordsmithing, and making real progress towards my goals.  I want to share my story.  I want to touch people’s hearts and show them that they aren’t alone in this world.  I want to nurture this part of me that I haven’t paid enough attention to.

See you on the flip side.