Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Shame in Beauty

I saw this video of a poetry slam that was quite remarkable and hit home very abruptly. I felt like this man's words finally brought together a lot of the inner struggle I've had my whole life and I needed to share. 

Video: 7-cowardly-words-from-a-totally-sexist-stranger

Essentially, he overheard a man on a bus say to a woman, "You're too ugly to be raped." While the poet went on to reveal an emotionally jarring, yet beautiful flow of verses directed at putting this "man on the bus" in his place, I took away my own revelation.

My whole life I was told that I was beautiful. Yet, even as a young girl, I felt uncomfortable with this. As I grew up, I maintained a modest appearance, always over-thinking the make-up, hairstyles and clothes I chose to represent myself. On one account, I was raised to be modest and humble. On another account, I really had no sense of style anyway. But a big reason for this over-thinking and under-styling was because I didn't really want to be beautiful. 

Even as an adult, I've been asked why I don't "dress up" more or "look sexy" or play up the features that I have. My reasoning for this is a little complex. 

One: While I agree we should all be comfortable and confident with who we are and how we look, I don't want to feel obligated or pressured to flaunt my looks beyond my natural appearance. I strongly believe that - especially women - should feel beautiful with no make-up at all. We should find and cherish the beauty in our natural selves.

Two: I am modest and I'm just fine with that. It's part of my personality, whether because I was born that way or raised that way - regardless, it's who I am. I don't feel the need to show off my body to the whole world. I also don't judge other women who do (when they do so for the right reasons - some are comfortable and confident. Others are the opposite and actually present themselves as objects for men... while I still try not to judge, I don't think that's doing anyone any good).

Three: I'm more than my looks. Sometimes it's hard for people to get pass that. My role is immediately assigned to me, many times without the opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings. I have skills, knowledge, opinions, insights, life lessons, experience and unique perspectives. I have a lot more to offer and I'd like the chance to prove that. 

Four: Even as a child, I felt something that I couldn't understand. The looks I received from men meant something. There was a message and an intention behind it that I could sense, but couldn't grasp. It felt like they saw me as something put there for them. It felt like I was an object. 

So the idea that a woman could be "too ugly to rape" is much deeper and problematic than anyone saying those words would know. I've had a lingering feeling of wanting to be "too ugly to rape." Too ugly to be on the other end of those ill-intentioned looks. 

All of this has made it very difficult for me to feel comfortable and confident in how I look. It's made it difficult for me to stand up straight, keep a smile on my face, make eye contact, and feel comfortable in my own skin.

I know I'm not alone. I know many women can understand and I know many men can't. That, unfortunately, is the nature of the beast. But perhaps the more that the women and men who do understand can speak up, the more we can educate others who never really gave much thought to their actions or words. 

To the Man on the Bus, 

I understand your ignorance. I request that you be more than your words. I urge you to close your mouth and change the direction of your thoughts inward. I advise you to think about your output and what it really means - how it really impacts - those around you. I hope that people like you are few and far between.

Friday, June 6, 2014

NPR asked about our cause of stress and why

Before I could even process the question, I was already typing:

Everything I do every day impacts my daughter directly or indirectly. I'd like to think I handle stress pretty well, however it still deeply influences me and my ability to be effective in all aspects of my life. I do my best to be optimistic and take things one day at a time and I pay close attention to all the wonderful things in life. But I still carry a heavy weight on my shoulders.

Part of this stress started when I was pregnant with my daughter. I was 18 and taken advantage of by a friend, so I knew from the beginning that I would be a single mom if I decided to raise my child versus giving her to another family through adoption. While it was an extremely difficult decision, I ultimately decided I couldn't trust anyone else to care for my daughter in the way that I knew I could.

The difficulty with this, is that whenever I feel I'm not doing a good enough job, I think about that decision and stress over whether it was the best decision for my daughter. Would she have had a better life if she were raised by a mother and father? Would she have been better off with a parent who stayed home full time? A parent who was older, more experienced, more patient with more resources? Would she have ADHD or would she get straight As?

Absolutely any struggle that she had, I would reflect and naturally doubt myself - wondering if her challenges were because of me.

Generally I'm too distracted with everything I need to manage to fuel this fear, but it still nags at me, especially when I have competing priorities.

I knew I needed to get my college degree so I could get a stable career to support my little family. I knew I needed to get good grades and comprehend my lessons throughout college so I could graduate and apply the learnings to my job. This meant a lot of studying on top of a full-time job, which meant little time left over to play dress up and go to the park.

While I was working towards my degree, I knew I needed to utilize as many government assistance programs as possible to pay rent and keep food on the table. Because so many people take advantage of the system, there are many hoops to jump through - requiring a lot of time, energy, organization and perseverance to actually get the benefits (I was on a wait list for Section 8 housing for four years and by the time they contacted me for a home, I no longer qualified). Again, more strain on my time and energy, leaving little to spend with my daughter.

I worked very hard to get my degree and get an internship with a company that ultimately set my career path in a promising direction. I was able to pinch pennies long enough to have a small savings and once I was getting reliable paychecks, I was able to buy a house. Throughout all the years it took me to finally feel stable, I did try to balance as much as possible so the time I did have with my daughter was quality time. But still, I couldn't help but feel like she deserved more.

So the daily stress through those years was primarily keeping my head above water with my investment for a better future, while still making time to cherish the present moments with my daughter. Finding that balance was tremendously difficult.

From the moment I found out I was going to be a mom to now, much of the daily stress comes not only from managing all the necessities of life - bills, my job, my daughter's schoolwork, her extracurricular activities, my three pets (why did I give myself more work? I have a horrible weakness for animals...), saving money for the future, etc. - but also setting a good example. It is so important to me that I am a good role model for my daughter.

I want her to see me and feel confident in herself that she can be successful, she can be beautiful (without make up and nice clothes!), she can be compassionate and strong, she can stand up for her beliefs but create and maintain peace, that she can make a positive impact in the world and in people's lives.

I know that all the values I want to see her hold, I need to live first. As a result, I've set a pretty high bar for myself.

The struggles I've experienced throughout my life have humbled me greatly and taught me many lessons. Despite the stress that began to take on a physical form through a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia (leading, of course, to more stress...), I still did my best to believe that everything happens for a reason and it's all going to be okay.

I share an incredibly close bond with my daughter, who is now 11 years old. She is an absolutely incredible child who amazes me all the time with her passion, love, empathy and wisdom beyond her years.

While the day-to-day stress continues to challenge my strength and spirit, I am reminded that I am a good mom in the reflection of my beautiful daughter. And that makes it all worth it.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Welcome Time

I just had my first moment of sincere gratitude for the time the Universe has given me before moving to the next phase of my life. It's been a year now since Mauricio and I broke up. It's been about 3 months since I was supposed to meet my "soul mate," according to a psychic.

Before I started dating Mauricio, I decided to take a year to be single. I made the decision because I realized I needed to hit the "reset" button and go through an inner cleanse before I got into any other relationships. I needed to focus on myself and my kid, my school work, my job, my house and other areas of my life that deserved my full attention. 

The first few months of this year-long period were especially difficult. I was depressed, lonely, lethargic and aimless. I didn't do much of anything except wish things were different. I felt like my life was on hold until certain things happened. 

The next phase was me slowly feeling better about life, understanding why things happened the way they did, and beginning to tell myself I was happy and I was okay with being single. Of course deep down, I didn't really believe it... but I was trying to.

After more time passed, I actually started believing it and living it. I found this wonderful sense of embracing my independence and taking full control of my life. I was living in a truly happy way, making the most of everything I could. I found my groove and I was at peace. I was enjoying school, my job, my time with Cambria. I pleasantly kept my home clean, I tried making new things for dinner, I laughed and sang and danced with Cambria. I was at the top of my game and never felt happier. 

At this point, I actually preferred to stay single. 

Apparently, that's all the Universe needed in order to determine the time was now right to send Mauricio my way.

So here I am. Single again, lonely again. Stuck with my life on hold. Waiting...

Of course I know I should embrace this time and be happy now and not wait for things to change. But I also know that it's okay to just keep telling myself that. It's part of the process.

But today was different. Today I had a glimmer of real, deep feelings of appreciation for this time that I have. I'm starting to understand why I didn't meet my "soul mate" when the psychic said I would. All of a sudden, I had something I was waiting for - something I knew would make me happy. As soon as I started waiting, and stopped living, the Universe gladly stepped in: "HA! She thinks she's so smart. Let's move some pieces around and give her an opportunity to really wise up again."

I wonder if that psychic didn't tell me about my near-future "soul mate" if I would have actually met him and be in a completely different place now. I still think I would have needed to figure some of the same things out first, but maybe I would have focused more on that than waiting and keeping my eyes out for him.

Anyway, I can feel myself in that transitory period between lying to myself that I'm okay being single and it's all for the better, and actually believing it's okay and all for the better. Not quite 100% there yet, but I'm happy to start feeling it as truth. 

I'm re-reading the Story of B and something that really stood out to me was the idea that things change when it's the "right time." No matter how hard we try to change in a big way (in the book it's referring to changing our culture's vision), we can't really change it until it's the right time. But when it is the right time, it will be almost effortless - an unstoppable force of change. 

So my goal for right now is to do the things I know I need to do. And in doing so, everything that will happen, will happen in the right time.  

Monday, December 31, 2012

Day 90: I did it!

Okay, so I didn't exactly write in my blog for 90 days straight, but here is my 90th post and I'm making it before 2013!!

Of course it wouldn't be my style unless I waited till the last possible moment. : )

I want to keep this brief, but I am really looking forward to 2013. I have no idea what the year will bring, but I feel like a lot will happen. It's very possible that a lot could happen. In fact, the possibilities are endless. 

So this is it for my "last" post for my 90 days resolution. But you can count on more posts as I think of more to say. After all, I always seem to have something to say...

Happy New Years!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Day 89: Passing on the right stuff

Okay, so there are a few different things I could write about, but honestly the most pressing issue (and also the most difficult to pin down) is Cambria and teaching her how to be the "best Cambria" she can be. 

Let me start by saying how much I love and appreciate my family. Growing up I was influenced by both nature and nurture (anyone else?). And as with everything, there were good and bad attributes from both. One of the bigger challenges were that mental illness ran in my family, so in terms of nature, I had those odds against me. 

In terms of nurture, I consider myself very lucky to have parents who love me so much and my siblings and I really did have a good childhood. But once I became an adult, I learned that for me personally, I couldn't deal with my emotions by either sweeping them under the rug or letting them completely overwhelm me until I was debilitated. I needed to find my own way of handling my issues, and observing my parents and friends handling their issues in ways that may have worked for them, wasn't giving me enough options to help myself.

While I still struggle...since I am alive and human...I am proud of my growth and learnings. I feel like I'm in a pretty solid place and even when I get off track, I know how to find my way back. 

The timing couldn't be better because now I've got a 9-year-old who is beginning her journey of exploring her own feelings, emotions and issues and ways of dealing with them. My biggest worry is that I won't equip her with the tools she needs to be happy, healthy and strong. I know what works for me or my Mom or my Dad or anyone else may not work for her. But I want to give her my best shot so she's got a stable foundation to work from. 

I think if I focus on her - knowing that she's so carefully watching me (way more than she's actually listening to me) - than that helps motivate me more than anything to work on myself and be aware of how I'm dealing with my issues. No one expects perfection here, but there is a strong expectation of effort and progress. That's all I want from her, and that's all I want from myself. 

I started writing this after we had a bit of an issue. I was putting together her new bed frame and she was supposed to be cleaning her room at the same time. But she seemed to lack the motivation to really work hard and kept getting distracted. So every time I noticed her "taking a break," I decided I should take a break too. After all, why should I be working for her if she can't even work for her? 

Finally after she displayed a brilliant performance of "Well I just don't know what to do!", I decided I could spend my time in a better way and left her room. As I started getting ready for bed and starting up my computer for my post, she would appear on multiple occasions with an emotionally-charged request that I give her attention in one way or another, likely wanting me to indulge her in more of her award-winning role of "The Victim". When her small efforts for big returns wasn't paying off like she hoped, she went back into her room and waited. 

I collected my thoughts and decided it wasn't okay to have both of us go to bed in the current state, so I set my computer down, went into her room, gave her a 2 minute talk about how it's difficult, but imperative to overcome our pride and stubbornness, and that it's still admirable to apologize after-the-fact if we can't seem to change our route of negativity in the present (which is definitely something I can relate to), listened to her talk about something related to our discussion and then something completely unrelated... 

And then I laid down with her in bed and read part of her new book - The One and Only Ivan. Which I think is going to be a big hit.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Day 88: Climbing the Mountain

I have to say, I'm really looking forward to 2013. This past year wasn't horrible, but it wasn't all that great. It definitely feels like there were more downs than ups. More hills than valleys. More challenges than rewards. Of course it's all about perspective too.

I know from experience that I'm in the process of climbing my mountain. There have been a lot of mountains so far in my life that have needed climbing. What's hard is that I can't see the top from where I am, so I never quite know how close I am. What's great is that once I've reached the top, I've been thankful for the journey and the struggles I had to go through to get there. The view from up there is quite insightful and I'm able to see how various events intertwined in such a way to continually move me forward and upwards, making progress even if I couldn't see it.

The place I'm in right now is familiar. Patience is not one of my strengths and I'm doing my best to not put my life on hold and depend on other things to happen in order for me to be happy. I'm trying to enjoy my life for everything it is right now and not wishing for anything to be different. It's a challenge. The only thing that truly helps with this is time. And knowing that, helps... a little.

There's no shortage of things I'd like to work on. Being a better cook (and dare I say it... finding some enjoyment while doing it?), organizing my house, getting rid of everything I don't need, writing a book, being healthy, finding balance, taking up a hobby or two (like singing with a group, playing the guitar, sketching, painting, acting, yoga, kickboxing), traveling with Cambria, setting up a college fund for her, helping her memorize her math facts, volunteering more at her school, volunteering more in general ... the list goes on and on.

So I guess the best thing I can do is let time heal... and pick something from my list to do each day. And try to stop my brain from all its reckless and unhelpful chatter. 

Friday, December 21, 2012

Day 87: The End and The Beginning

In an open invitation to celebrate the day, Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, explained that "the Mayan calendar's  21 of December is the end of the non-time and the beginning of time. It is the end of the Macha and the beginning of the Pacha, the end of selfishness and the beginning of brotherhood, it is the end of individualism and the beginning of collectivism."

And continued, "The scientists know very well that this marks the end of an anthropocentric life and the beginning of a bio-centric life. It is the end of hatred and the beginning of love, the end of lies and beginning of truth. It is the end of sadness and the beginning of happiness, it is the end of division and the beginning of unity, and this is a theme to be developed. That is why we invite all of you, those of you who bet on mankind, we invite those who want to share their experiences for the benefit of mankind."

Reading this made me so happy today. Happy, and hopeful. It has felt like there has been a significant amount of negativity and tragedy in our world lately. From small, day-to-day interactions to larger scale news, I've been feeling pretty overwhelmed and at a loss for words. 

There has been a lot of talk lately about WHY things happen. And WHAT we should do differently. Unfortunately, all this talk is focusing on the bigger, "out there" kind of stuff. A lot of discussion on what the government should do or what the schools should do or what big organizations should do.

But until we, as individuals, make a commitment to change how we do things every day, none of the big stuff will happen - and more importantly - won't change our world. Let's not forget the we, as individuals, compose all those bigger entities. 

I will admit that it's not easy to change your attitude, perspective and habits. But the first step is simply realizing there is an opportunity to change and grow. The next step is to make improvements wherever and whenever you can. Following that, is simply building on your momentum. 

Today is the Winter Solstice, and also the shortest day of the year. So as we've been getting closer to this day, our hours of sunlight have been decreasing and hours of darkness increasing. But now that we're here, we can look forward to only increasing our hours of light. Kind of like, when you've hit rock bottom, there's no where to go but up. 

My hope is that the end of this time period is like that, which would explain why it feels like things are getting worse (darker) before they begin to get better (lighter).