Asking

Many folx cite “asking for help” as one of the hardest things to do, regardless of the circumstances. I hate asking for help. But it’s not because I feel proud or courageous. In fact, asking for help scares me.

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Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Something happened to my back yesterday- have you ever felt so much pain you can’t stand up straight, it takes you over five minutes just to will yourself to sit because your muscles are DEFINITELY tearing, you know they are, the agony is so real and you just want to sit in the car for goodness sake. The person screaming yesterday was me. My entire upper back felt like braided string cheese smushed so tightly in the plastic packaging. I could barely walk, let alone carry a grocery bag. In a perfect world, I would have teleported home so as not to disturb anyone’s fun. But I was out with some friends, wandering the aisles in a Korean grocery store in San Jose, and I had to ask for help.

First, I needed help carrying a bottle of vodka. Don’t judge. It was on sale and finals week is coming up. I couldn’t carry it through the store, so I asked one of the friends with me to hang on until checkout. Next, everyone patiently waited by the car as I crawled, muttering to myself, “a few more steps. That’s it. Just a few more. One foot, the other.” As I mentioned, getting in to the car (and the front seat, which I tried to demand I didn’t need) had me wondering if I could walk home because the pain upon bending my legs made me nauseous. Our classmate in the driver’s seat insisted that I couldn’t simply go home. So, the four of us embarked on an adventure.

I felt vulnerable and guilty. Here were three graduate students accompanying me for my own damn problem, something that didn’t affect them save hearing my groaning. I refused everything they suggested at each different point, only to succumb to their insistence. And I started wondering why I couldn’t just let these three wonderful people take care of me.

Many of the students in the sections I teach utilize me as a teaching assistant very well. They send outlines, rough drafts, even crap I don’t know how to label, and I respond within twenty four hours as a personal rule. I hate sending my work in progress to others. I hate it because it scares me to show people my process and thus, my imperfections. While I don’t call myself a “perfectionist,” I realized that this fear of showing the work behind the product comes from not wanting to admit a period of uncertainty. Yesterday, I couldn’t stand the fact that these helpful, kind and caring people could actually express their care for me because it meant showing my pain before I can show off how well I heal.

When I worked as a chaplain, my colleagues and I often talked about modeling good human behavior. What we meant was allowing our students to see that we do make mistakes, muddle through problems we don’t understand, and we work to improve. I will always hate asking for help because I will always fight the negative voice in my head calling me a fraud. Maybe that voice isn’t always a bad thing- it’s the worst of any criticism. Maybe it’s ok to sit in the front seat once in a while.

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Don’t Overreact to Little Things

I’m definitely not saying anything in this post that has not been said before. It’s been said many times, it’s been said recently, it’s definitely been said today. Like five minutes ago. Because most likely, someone didn’t listen. And not listening meant upholding patriarchy and continuing to allow dehumanization and violence toward women. Toward womxn. Toward survivors and victims. I’ve heard excuse after excuse and experienced literal yelling over social media. I’ve gotten dismissive, unthoughtful responses like, “there is no evidence, so how can we know who is telling the truth?” or “think about his situation and how hard this is for him.” Consider: why would someone lie about trauma- especially knowing full well the absolute storm of disgusting responses you will receive?

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Photo by Evan Brockett on Unsplash

On the other hand, the sarcasm and sass on the internet gives me just a little bit more life. “Maybe he should smile more. Maybe he shouldn’t have worn that and he wouldn’t be accused.” ABSOLUTE GOLD. It makes me laugh so hard because it hits so directly on what women have been saying over and over in so many intelligent, patient, “civil” ways (I hate that word). It’s funny because it sounds SO stupid! And yet- advocating for the rights and innocence of someone who commits assault is SO stupid. And it is happening every minute.

So why won’t they listen?

I’m going to share a story that is not meant to equate experiences with race and gender or experience of violence. This is only to illuminate a point. I remember, before engaging in racial justice and what we usually call “diversity” work how defensive I could feel when someone called me out. Especially if they used the term “racist.” Because even though no one told me that I, as an entire human, was a racist, I associated racist behavior with being a racist, which I knew to be very bad. I did not want to be a very bad person, so I shut down a few times. I got defensive and didn’t listen or learn anything. And that was a shame, because the folx telling me truth were offering a huge gift- a gift they had no responsibility to give, that probably contributed further to baggage and eliminated a potential future ally. That is- I eliminated myself from that, and caused harm. I knew I was complicit. I didn’t want to admit it.

This is aimed not so much at abusers and perpetrators- y’all can honestly rot for all I care- this is for the people who are defending the abusers and perpetrators. The people who “can’t believe her without evidence.” The folx who want to cite some completely false statistics that more women and womxn are lying about assault now so they’re ruining other “real” survivors experiences by creating a girl-who-cried-wolf-scenario. This behavior is why interrupting and catcalling and booty calls and excusing terrible behavior and assault and rape happen ALL THE TIME. This is perpetuating rape culture. It’s not only excusing the event but denying any agency when someone bravely comes forward. I want to emphasize this because I honestly had a stronger reaction to 45 mocking someone who did the best she could to tell her story than a rapist acting like an angry child. Perpetuating allows behavior to continue. Perpetuating= complicity. It’s like telling someone’s fortune, except it’s invoking future trauma.

So. I’m coming out strong to say that if you tell me your story of trauma and survival, I believe you. Thank you to those who listened to and believed me. I am working on checking my own actions that perpetuate.

Fat

I’ve written about my struggles with weight before. They’ll never go away. Since engaging on social media, it has become glaringly apparent that every woman- and perhaps every person- struggles with body image. How could we not? The health and fitness and food industries make up multi-billion dollar sectors. Not to mention pharmaceuticals and healthcare.

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Photo by Elena Koycheva on Unsplash

So, I want to share a little bit about my struggles and comment on how widespread fatphobia and fat-shaming are. First- I am not “fat.” Of course there is no standard, but I live with what we might call “thin” privilege. I am not thin, but I can generally fit into a clothing size at most stores. I can afford healthy food like fresh vegetables, and even to bake for fun. Perhaps the biggest privilege I have is time- time to cook once or twice a week, time to work out. I used to work as a personal trainer, and learned how to “eat real food,” “burn fat through High Intensity Interval Training,” and in general “live a fulfilling and healthy life.” As if our bodies could determine how we feel about our worth- and they often do.

The time in my adult life when I weighed the least was during my first full time job as a college chaplain. I busied myself with work- staying long hours, working out early in the morning, making almost all of the food that I ate each day. Work was overwhelming. On most days I didn’t eat lunch until 4, and then I was full for dinner. Admittedly, it improved my confidence. My clothes fit. I didn’t worry as much about keeping my arms close to my body when someone took a picture so they wouldn’t look huge. But I never once said “this is enough. I feel content with my body.”

When I was 14, a doctor told me my throat was closing and not allowing me to swallow food because I was overweight. She even offered a medical explanation. It took five years to discover, after working to lose weight and still having issues with swallowing, that the problem stemmed from a soy allergy. But the humiliation remained- I was fat and I hated myself. A professor once told me doctors are the best salespeople- we trust them, even if their recommendations cost us thousands of dollars and life-long shame.

I started reading a new article  called “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong” by Michael Hobbes. The first parts, mainly describing the history of discrepancy between known health issues and policy change made me pause. Then I started bawling. It was the story about a mom who attends a kid’s birthday party every week and didn’t eat in front of the other moms or kids because she is fat that brought on the tears. She waits to clean up all the leftovers, takes them home, and when her kids go to bed, she finally eats. No one watching. She replaces an entire tub of ice cream so no one will know she ate the whole thing because she’s a “good fatty.” I’ve done that- I’ve hidden food, stashed it, and looked forward to it- my secret. And the next day, I workout twice as long to “burn off the sin,” promising that I will have more willpower, that I’d rather fit into my clothes than eat the cupcake, and somehow will feel better about my life if all of this goes to plan. It never does. I love to bake- I’m really good at it, and in my work where there are no “answers,” it feels great to make something the right way.

I know my experience is probably quite normal. Because fat-shaming is normal and we do not talk about it, except to complain to each other about our own weight and subsequently assure each other that we’re wrong. It is not acceptable to accept someone’s assessment of their own weight because the weight itself is not acceptable. Especially as women, we must continually strive to be less so we can have more.

“I am unlovable.” Have you ever, even subconsciously, thought or felt this? A particularly toxic consequence of fat-shaming is this notion that our weight and body determine who can care for us. Unfortunately, I have witnessed that people treat me differently even within a seven-pound spectrum. Largely, people who live with thin-privilege also live with access to a public legitimacy- no one questions their abilities, habits, lifestyle, or drive as a fat person would experience.

I don’t have an answer yet except to start talking openly with one another about “fatness” as a permanent identity, not one that we can change. Losing weight never changes the constant fear of a “lapse,” or going back to “who we were.” Body-positivity is great, but not enough to truly explore the constant shame that comes with “being fat.” And talking about this kind of identity without openly exploring how race, gender, ability, CLASS (!!!), nation of origin, mental health and other identities interact with the body as a marker will do no good. Size is an identity, one of many a person holds.

One helpful thing I do is try to recognize when I feel shame about my body because chances are, I can change my own behavior toward others if I am more aware. I’m going to keep baking because it’s something I love to do. Cupcakes anyone?

 

 

Blowup

The title of this post comes from a conversation I was having with a friend about taking care of infants. Y’all who know, know what we were talking about and I’m just going to leave it at that. So this past weekend and mainly this morning, I had an experience to which many of us can relate. I don’t want to use specific words for it because there is no one title for it, so I’ll call it “coming up.” Stuff came up for me. Like, a bunch of stuff.

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

The first thing that happened was a real impulse to cry. I fed that impulse. Mascara was everywhere, and then makeup, and then other stuff. You know that phrase “ugly cry?” Imagine the ugliest. Then my body started to hurt, like after a really tough workout. My neck and shoulder muscles especially just ached. It was as if they were holding in all these unexamined emotions right there, right in the fibers. The knots began to stiffen, and then suddenly release. An outpouring. I curled into bed, clutching a pillow and waiting. While I waited to calm down, I tried to observe the thoughts that scrolled through, the visions that caused these feelings- feelings of worthlessness, being small, being unlovable and irrelevant and a failure, feelings of living in a body that holds guilt and shame inside of it- flashed over and over. It was a blowup. Except instead of a diaper to clean up, it was the thoughts. Slowly and carefully, I imagined a mop gently wiping the inside of my forehead. It felt soothing.

What is this blowup thing, and where did it come from? Different folx have different answers. Sometimes it’s a place. A smell, a noise. Sometimes a person. Sometimes a memory that appears out of nowhere. Sometimes there is no explanation. If I try to pin down the origin of this time, I’d say it has something to do with returning to writing my own story. Sometimes knowing is helpful, and other times I think it’s really about processing. Because I am writing, I wanted to lean into what was happening. I drew a thought bubble chart that helped me parse some of what’s happening. Stress about the exhibit opening. Fear of failure. Rage about injustice. Trauma in my body. I circled body because I continue to struggle with the healing process. And I started writing, and crying, and listening to the first sermon ever preached at the Women’s Mosque of America in my home city. Edina Lekovic, the Director of Policy and Programming for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, gave a call to action. “We must build upon this beautiful truth,” she said. “The truth that we now have a Women’s Mosque, and our daughters will say ‘of course we do’ when they grow up. We are inclusive, not exclusive. We are open, not closed***.”

I want to help build these beautiful truths for which women continue to lay the foundation. I am glad everything “came up,” because like a foundation the pain sits and stirs once in a while. Upon this foundation, we can build not walls but windows into beauty, and greatness, and love.

You can check out this amazing sermon here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4g26wK-VYV0

Space

About a year ago, Jose and I packed a burly Chevy Tahoe full of our stuff and set out for home. We took about two and a half weeks to finally arrive in Los Angeles after touring the northern United States. In the weeks that followed, I wrote almost 50,000 words describing our trip- who we met, what we ate, what scared us, what we learned about people who do not live where we do. With two weeks left in the Spring Quarter and what yet again seems like a million assignments to complete, I feel as though that trip happened years ago. Of course so much has changed.

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Photo by NASA on Unsplash

One thing I have learned constantly for a little over a year now is what it feels like to experience both intense depression and despair and genuine joy. I am back in New Mexico this weekend to meet with the chaplains and think toward the future about our field. The upcoming conference and our work feel promising. I find myself immersed in my work at Stanford feeling a real sense of purpose- even enduring the struggle in a way that feels good. My colleagues around the table have expressed that sometimes, the work doesn’t feel meaningful. And sometimes, amidst distractions like email and reports and meetings, the work still makes sense. But the reality is, sometimes what is meaningful changes, and sometimes what is meaningful is not worth the headache. Context matters as much as action.

I realize, as I return to our roadtrip last year, that sometimes we need to let go of meaning in order to free ourselves of grief. As we drove across the country, I was searching for some kind of closure to our time in Boston- this was “a new beginning.” But it wasn’t actually the beginning, or an end, it was a process of losing and making space to actually begin. One chaplain suggested we must “lean into a struggle when we don’t necessarily know what that means.” When we can’t name what we want, how do we know what to change?

As we navigate the joint conference between the two chaplain organizations, we must lean into the struggle to define our joint meaning. I realized today that this poses issue in “trivial” things- like where people pay to register, or what the schedule of conference sessions should be. All of this plays into a larger question about what makes this experience meaningful enough for people to come- the small struggles illuminate larger convictions about why we work through them.

A year ago, I felt so empty of meaning. The job I loved for many reasons also caused me deep strife, and I had failed to find a genuine sense of community outside of work. I didn’t know what I wanted, exactly- but I knew I needed the emptiness for a while. The long drives gave me more than enough time to reflect, but the discomfort in visiting places that I did not know opened a space to think about crafting a new purpose.

 

 

Women Who Grieve

Happy International Women’s Day! I love the outpouring of pictures and writing and speeches about the women who have trail blazed and led and mentored, those who are, and those who will.

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

I’m going to say something bold. This week, it seems like grief and death have surrounded me- from Coco winning at the Oscars to thinking about empathy in end of life care in my class to an interfaith memorial service to…the horrid violence that can occur when grief goes unchecked. Now, this violence is also rooted in toxic patriarchal and white supremacist attitudes. Grief can play a role in exacerbating this. In my short life, I have encountered lots of grief and found that frankly, often women deal with it better.

On Sunday my partner and I watched a live performance of “Remember Me” at the Academy Awards. The song was up for best original song (and it won!). I think many people would say it’s easy to cry- the premise and the melody remind us of friends we have lost. We cried too. This morning my partner texted me saying that he listened to the song while looking at pictures of his father, and he didn’t understand why he did that. It only made him cry again. “It’s been more than a year, why am I still doing this?”

I’ve written about death and grief a fair amount. In my work, we think about memorial services, funerals, and other ways of ritualizing death quite often. I think what goes unnoticed is not the raw grief from more “fresh” loss but the grief we carry through the rest of our lives. We often hold this idea that at some point in time, grief will exit, it will leave us. We “get over” it. But that’s false. Several people that came to to the interfaith memorial service grieved for people they lost five, ten, or even thirty years ago, and perhaps their grief looks different than someone with raw pain, but the entity is there. Grief becomes a part of us as soon as we experience loss, and it stays with us- it morphs and changes and takes different forms. This is why we wake up crying, or feel empty, or sometimes even laugh out loud for no reason. The other day I was thinking about my grandmother who loved to tell anyone, much to their chagrin, who visited her house about these dolls she had- King Henry VIII and his wives. It was one of those moments that explodes with joy and pain and yearning and sorrow all in the same instant.

I think it’s crucial to talk about grief often. Grief is not always related to the end of life, but it is always related to death as an end. The end of a career, the end of a relationship, the end of living in a particular place. Is grief our friend? I think we might discover different ways to relate, but knowing it exists within us is helpful and actually soothing, sometimes.

Today I am lifting up the women in my life because they hold grief in ways that push them. My mom, my sister, my friends, my classmates, my professors, the activists and teachers and writers I admire- we all hold grief for loss. Some of this loss is what should be and simply isn’t because women constantly fight for space. Our grief can be shared by the space women make for each other.

Forgetting to Remember

76 years and two days ago*, Japanese fighter planes bombed Pearl Harbor on the Island of Oahu. Just two days ago I went about a normal graduate student day, writing fiercely about saints and early Christian monastics and interfaith dialogue using storytelling as a model for transformation. I took breaks and went on Facebook. On the right side of the news feed, the subjects trending included the college football playoff, more heartbreaking news about assaults on young women (this time in academia, very close to home), the terrifying fires in my city of birth, and something about bitcoin.

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Photo by Jordy Meow on Unsplash

I don’t remember seeing anything at length about what happened 76 years ago. 76 isn’t a particularly meaningful anniversary- we tend to recognize milestones in fives and tens and fifties. The next day, more news appeared about Baker Mayfield as the Heisman trophy favorite despite his controversial behavior on and off the field. I went to my last day of classes for the quarter with a small feeling of triumph- I made it! Only five papers and an oral presentation to go. I looked forward to baking as motivation to get my writing done. After my last class I sat and chatted with some religious studies undergraduates and laughed about the sassy monks we read about this week. I went to my professor’s office hours and discussed my thesis for the paper. In passing, he used the phrase “I forgot to remember” to describe the woes of historians’ work. I kept repeating the phrase in my mind over and over.

What we forget is much more than what we remember, due to limitations of human memory. What we forget to remember is due to something else- pain, trauma, events we don’t want to relive. A recent article detailed why victims of sexual assault often describe the assault inaccurately- trauma often forces them to push the events out of their minds simply to go on living. They subconsciously forget to remember- though there is no such thing as erasing.

A couple years ago I was watching Archer with my divinity school classmates. The crude yet intelligent humor appealed to us amidst the brutal winter night. Archer, the brash but charming hero, finds himself in a situation involving a Japanese gang. Archer’s mother saves the day- she prevents the gang from wreaking havoc and at the end shouts, “that’s for Pearl Harbor!” The line is meant to be funny because as we say, it’s not “too soon.” Time passes and heals. Except that last part isn’t really true. Pain passes down through generations. We forget to remember atrocities because history is often about what we’ve forgotten. What about the two atomic bombs that killed over 300,000 people instantly and left years of radiation illness lingering for generations to suffer? It can be hard to connect with places and times far away, but progress is a dangerous assumption. We can’t forget to remember those before us suffered as many suffer today, from oppression and supremacy. Time can heal, but healing isn’t forgetting.

 

 

*Note: this post has been published retroactively