8.30.2014

Why I Write: Pregnancy, Miscarriage, and Life



I write because speaking is not as easy. Writing is where I find my voice. I think back to when I started. I remember the why. I remember why an audience—why blogging.

It was the summer of 2006, four days after I found out I was pregnant. I was newly married and 21. I decided on a blog to update family on life-happenings and hold a space for an upcoming reality. I had people all over the United States, and a blog seemed more efficient than emails and phone calls.

Then a few posts in and few weeks later, I started to bleed. It was doctors' offices, and tests and a phone call, and finally the end. I wrote the reality of the moment: “We lost the baby…”

It was fear and joy that started a blog and it was love and grief that kept it going.

Writing is where my soul finds its voice.

Life is a heavy burden to carry, much too heavy to go it alone. So, I write into the cool fog with the others who are lost there. But we are not lost—not completely—but in the thick of it, it feels like lost.

That real shit? That ugly mess? That’s why I write. That’s why I yell and cry and get it all down. Because we don’t deserve to go it alone. This whole life-mess kind of sucks and we’re looking for others who has survived—it’s how we know we can too. Therein lies the hope.

We can offer a bit of funny, a touch of sarcasm, some well-timed expletives, and a deepening sense of not-aloneness. I can talk about the journey, the struggle, the darkest places, share the little bit of light I’ve found—that’s what I’ve got to offer. I’m not very good at the black and white, but I’ll walk with you through that grayness, through the fog.

Where does that leave us? What’s going on right now, today?

Writing is a painful and unlovely thing. It takes work. It is how I say "Goodbye;" Hello;" "It hurts;" "I don’t know;" "I love you." It is how I’ve sorted through a tangle of relationships and emotions and truths. It is the process by which I get at something real and good and even holy. Writing is an act of spiritual necessity.

So, I’ve finally been writing enough to start throwing words into the beginnings of a book. I think that book is going to take a bit of oomph and gusto, and I want to do it right—it’s full of that life-shit. There’s no contract, or agent, or big-name-in-lights, but there is a story, and sometimes that's good enough.

So while I know I promised three blogs posts a week, I can only manage twice a week, and I wanted you know.

And I also wanted you to know why this blog exists.
Now you do.

Now tell me, how does your soul speak?


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8.22.2014

When Hope is Absolutely Ludicrous

“You write in order to change the world ... if you alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” ― James Baldwin


The stories from Ferguson seem a part of a dialogue that is not entirely mine, yet it is essential to the story of where I live, the people I love, and the history we are making together. So much has been written, said, and posted, and so many have said it better, louder, stronger.

However, I am reminded that silence does not help. Not right now. Not today. Not when silence perpetuates a status quo that is unhealthy, unnecessary, and wrong. I get it. It’s nuanced, it’s tricky, it’s messier than black, white, rich, poor, civilians, police, politics. It’s messy, but that's not an excuse.

It’s in the mess where we get at things that matter. It takes work to move the needle forward.

Allison Vesterfelt wrote, “The times when you need hope most are the times when hope seems the most ludicrous.”And it seems absolutely ludicrous right now.

Part of my frustration is the lack of an agreed upon premise. Can't we agree that racism is alive and rampant in parts of our country? Can't we agree that we better start learning to talk about it? Shouldn't we be able to say, "Hold on. Wait a minute. Maybe we're doing this wrong"?

What right do I even have to talk about Ferguson?

I’m Hispanic, I live in the Silicon Valley, I rent an overpriced apartment in a mostly-white bro-hood. What right do I have? I've struggled with this for weeks.

I've come to the conclusion that my right is in my humanity—as is yours. I am a human being who hates injustice and intolerance. I will always hate the message of less-than, not-worthy, irrelevant.

To the majority-black community in Ferguson, Brown's death was seen as something that could happen to them or their own sons. Darnell Hunt, an expert on race relations and civil unrest, compared the situation to the shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012: "Not only was this something that affected people in country, but other people realized that the fate of Trayvon was possibly the fate of their own sons."1

You know what? It doesn’t matter if you think that’s true. It doesn't matter if you think the police in Fergueson are top-notch middle-American citizens who have handled themselves with absolute decorum. What matters is that there is a community of people in the United States who believe what just happened to a man in Missouri could happen to their own family members. Do you see the problem?

I’m not saying that the entire Ferguson police force is bad or unqualified or even racist, but I am saying it's time for a conversation about how we make sure they definitely aren't. It's time for a dialogue about the real fears of a larger community that feels marginalized, afraid, and unprotected while living in the United States of America.

Let me see if I can explain this a bit better...

Both my parents are from Puerto Rico (a territory of the United States). My siblings and I? We’re all U.S. citizens. I was born in Texas—Houston, Texas. By any definition, we are very much American. We are also very much Latin. We look Latin. We dance like we're Latin. We bake apple pies, we eat rice and beans, and we make it work.

My entire life I've been reminded that I "don't look white." I've been repeatedly asked "what are you?" While these statements are mildly insensitive, that's okay. It's okay because questions—insensitive or not—are how we learn. They're how we combat ignorance, start a conversation, and extend grace. Questions mean we're open to learning; we're open to the fact that we might not know everything.

Now, remember in 2010 when things in Arizona were heating up about immigration? (reference Arizona SB 1070). The conversations around this ruling revealed disdain for people illegally crossing the border, disdain for immigrants, hatred for Mexicans, an incredible dislike for Hispanics. There was an underlying thread of jokes and feeds about lazy Mexicans, worthless Hispanics, and an unquestioned ignorance about peoples' every-day lives.

Now let's assume the best. Let's assume that there were/are legitimate well-researached reasons for the stricness of that Arizona law. Just humor me. Now, let's talk about how it felt to be marginalized as "Hispanic" in a country I thought was mine too. I remember worrying I'd be driving, and get pulled over, and someone would assume I was an illegal immigrant. Sure, I’d give them my driver’s license, but what if they had a reason to doubt me? What if they thought I had falsified documents?

I realize this is not entirely rational. I live in San Francisco, I don’t travel to Arizona often, I only ever get parking tickets. But fear is sometimes based on the truths we see: people who look Hispanic were not welcome. At the very least, they deserved to be treated differently.  It was as if they—or more accurately we—had somehow earned it.

And I think that might be what's going on in Ferguson, or at least part of it. The truth that is experienced by people on a daily basis is not one of a welcome country with equal opportunities. And it's time we listened. No, really. It is time we listened and asked questions and said, "Hold on. Wait a minute. Maybe we're doing this wrong."

On some level, most of us know this, but it's still uncomfortable to hear. Plus, once we acknowledge that we know, there's a responsibility to act. That's part of the struggle I've had. Now that I know, now that I know more, how do I respond? How do I become part of the conversation?

How do I really listen?



Not Up to Speed? Here are Some Resources...

1. German Lopez for Vox: 11 things you should know about the Michael Brown shooting. 23 August, 2014.


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8.20.2014

The Human Condition: A Walking Oxymoron


A few weeks ago, it was one of those weeks. The weather was crap, and I felt out of sorts, and as Anne Lamott put it, "It was like Old Yeller meets the Hunger Games; plus the parking is terrible." I also got a parking ticket.

Then someone unkind started doing quite well, and everything finally bothered me all the way down. I wanted to yell: "That person is awful, and mean, and loud, and could use a haircut, like, 3 years ago. Can't anyone see this person needs a haircut?!"

I was hardly an adult.

Sometimes these things get to me in a way where I become silly and small and really not my best. For a few low moments, I am personally offended at the seeming success-infringment. My well wishes are reserved only for those who are good, and humble and bake pies, and kiss puppies, and say "bless'er heart" but actually mean it. How can a human so underserving be so celebrated? It just isn’t right.

See? Hardly an adult at all.

I was reminded eventually that we are all a mix of good and bad, humility and pride, jealousy and generosity. We are walking oxymorons. Myself included.

And you know what my problem was? I wanted my own life to be slightly different. Success is never quite a threat unless it challenges our own expectations, goals, routine. I didn't want to be where I was: angst-y and whining and tired. And when I get like that, which is to say like a sunburned 3-year-old on a hot day at the zoo, the best thing for me to do is write. I get out my journal and put a few things down. I write until those answers appear.

I wrote out the angst, I worked through some of that damn process. I talked about the feelings. I dove into it all, and I took a break. Then, I wrote some more.

I remembered how we each have that thing—that one thing we'd do if you put us anywhere on this planet. Some of us would read, or write, or sing. Some would build, cook, make, think. People’s thing helps them survive, live, grow. It's more than a passion, really. It's the way we learn to be, to be here, to make things bearable, and to help us not yell at strangers.

And maybe that mean, awful, haircut-needing person was doing their thing. Maybe that’s how they were surviving. Who knows. I suppose it doesn’t really even matter now. Either way, I finally realized I was wasn’t, I wasn't doing my thing. I wasn’t leaning into my truth. I was too busy getting parking tickets and complaining about not-my-life. I was distracted.

So I kept writing and talking and listening and even complaining until I finally got somewhere. I finally realized what was going on: I wasn't where I wanted to be and I was a bit to blame.

8.15.2014

Making Room for Angst


I catch myself holding my breath, having to remind myself to relax my shoulders, unclench my jaw, inhale, exhale. Breathe. It is a work unto itself these days, breathing that is. There is so much bad, and so much good, and it's hard to make sense of it all while pushing for equality, and kindness, and some decent customer service from your cable company.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Everything seems so convoluted and mixed up, like a child's chaotic finger painting, except way less endearing. It's all over the walls, and the carpet, and the furniture, and I'm not quite sure how to get the stains out of, well, everything.

Inhale. Exhale.

It's a difficult thing to live with angst, especially at this age, especially when puberty and middle school are so far away. Frankly, it's annoying. It's annoying like the way my friends keep telling me to go deep into the angst and this is what comes before change and stop acting like a 5-year-old.

Clearly I need new friends.

Inhale. Exhale.

It's not that I'm distraught or don't know what to do. I do. Kind of. You put one foot in front of the other. You show up, lean in, do. You don't rush the process--not if you really want to get somewhere. You write things down, talk them out, cry, listen, and really try to keep your blood sugar stable. You fight to get all those incongruent life-things back in order. You realize you don't quite know what order they go in. You push. You try. You fail. You do it all again. You don't stop. You keep breathing. You get so damn uncomfortable that you finally decide to give a few less fucks, and off you go, making the work you are supposed to do.

Sounds real fun-like, doesn’t it?

Now it might seem like I'm complaining, and I suppose I am. But more than that, I'm trying to sort out these feelings and the path, and make sense of it, and do this all before I turn 30 because, of course, that’s completely reasonable.

I realize we do not quite arrive while we're here. That's maybe for another time. But wouldn't it be nice if we could? If we could get our shit together and save the earth, and be kind to our neighbors, and get a good night's sleep, and maybe even find decent parking?

I wonder if really surrendering to the process is about holding space for the hope that we can do more, be more, change more, and get those incongruent life-things in some type of order. Maybe a good start is being honest. Saying yes, I don't really know what I'm doing, but I'm going to try at it anyway.

I think we all hope we can do good work, something that is authentic and alive and true. But then we set out to do it (which is an entirely different thing) and it's mostly shit. It's usually a disappointment. But I think we're supposed to fight through that, fight through the ugly finger painting mess until we finally get somewhere we sort of recognize; we look around and realize we might be on to something. And finally we've got that story to tell.

Change happens while we're doing the shit-work, slowly, gradually, and then all at once. It happens while we're uncomfortable and trying really, really hard to breathe. It begins when we make some room for the angst, and introduce hope, and keep remembering to inhale first, and exhale second.


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8.13.2014

The Valiant Fight



"If I believe one thing to be true about heaven, it's that the collection of souls that gave up the fight after valiantly fighting depression - they are treasured for the battle, held in precious regard because it's unlike anything else." (Shaylynn)

Pain, depression, loneliness, despair: they are often in the distance until they aren't, until they take up space next to you, dig in, hold on. They are written across your forehead, staring at you in the mirror, and no matter how hard you try, you cannot erase their bold black lines from your memory.

Sometimes it is just so hard to be here.

The debate has started: Is suicide a choice? Is it selfish? Is it a disease? Should we do more? Are we doing it right? Are we all just fucked? I can hear the noise in the distance, the questions, the tears, the yelling, the fights. It's all getting louder, and angry and hurtful, and sometime it's all too damn much.

Then I remember we are human, and broken, and we're going to hurt each other along the way. We are. When we are trying to pretend we are not scared or tired or confused, we make a mess of things. We are still learning, so imperfectly, so begrudgingly, and we forget. There is a place for dialogue, for questions, for pain. We're allowed to raise our hands to say "Why?" "How?" "I do not understand." The hurt, the broken, the beautiful, they are raising their voices too, sharing the truths of their lives, and we wake another morning to know we are not alone in this. As the wagons circle and the stories rise, the need for kindness and for grace is so very high.

I've discovered that the truth, the painful ugly truth, is the story that will kill us or free us. Sharing my story is what saved me. It made room for people, for help, for change. And while I realize this is an easy thing to write, and read, and even say, it is another thing entirely to live.

"Gravity yanks us down... We need a lot of help getting back up. And even with our battered banged up tool boxes and aching backs, we can help others get up, even when for them to do so seems impossible or at least beyond imagining. Or if it can't be done, we can sit with them on the ground, in the abyss, in solidarity." (Ann Lamott)

When there is one day or one small moment we're able to forget for a few seconds how broken everything is, there is nothing quite like it. We know how hard, how breathtakingly hard, it has been to have that moment, that sliver of hope. It is almost not worth; it is almost unbearable, really. That is until we see someone else have that same moment, that same relief from the cosmic sorrow, and their moment happened because of us, because we were here.

And, finally, something about heaven suddenly becomes very clear.


Related Posts
Suicide Prevention Resources
National Suicide Prevention - US
1-800-273-TALK (8255)
International Association for Suicide Prevention


photo credit: deathtostockphoto.com

8.09.2014

Self-Esteem: Why Christian Girls Don’t Need It?

I read it this week. Someone wrote an essay entitled:
Self-Esteem: Why Christian Girls Don’t Need It.



To quote my sister, "That's shit."
(Side note: love my sister.)

The fabulous thing about the Internet is people can write whatever the hell they want. Exhibit A:
Self-esteem is defined by many as "feelings of worth based on their skills, accomplishments, status, financial resources, or appearance." This kind of self-esteem can lead a person to feel independent and prideful and to indulge in self-worship, which dulls our desire for God. [1]
I suppose that's the type of definition you get when using a Bible-centric search engine. Didn't even know those things existed. #TheMoreYouKnow

Now, to quote those Ph.D.s who actually came up with the definition.

Self-esteem is a disposition that a person has which represents their judgments of their own worthiness. [2] The famous sociologist, Dr. Morris Rosenberg defined self-esteem as a personal worth or worthiness. [3] Self-esteem is a positive or negative orientation toward oneself. People are motivated to have high self-esteem, and having it indicates positive self-regard, not egotism. [4]

Psychologists didn't invent the term "self-esteem" to better capture an epidemic of people feeling bad about themselves. They came up with it in 1890 as a way to talk about the "global self" and the "known self." They gave us language to describe how we operate in the world. [5]  Shout out to William James for that. Holla!

Making people feel guilty for feeling good about themselves is, frankly, mean. Not inherently, intentionally mean like kicking-someone-in-the-face type of mean, but neglectful and irresponsible  in the Christians-have-enough-guilt-they're-dealing-with-anyway type of mean.

Nonsense like self-esteem being bad for women isn't helping the conversation. It doesn't create space for a dialogue about identity, worth, or value. It creates a false dichotomy where there doesn't need to be one. It's this same type of thinking that demonizes the use of the word "happiness" because it's only "joy" that is godly and magical. To put it succinctly: it's silly.

If we can't speak openly about insecurities, failures, mis-steps, and the like, then can we really have an honest discussion about abuse, depression, feminism, sexuality, and religion? I think not.

So, self-esteem? It's good to have. Even for women. Even for Christian women.

I know. I know.

Shocker.


[1] gotquestions.org
[2] Olsen, J. M.; Breckler, S. J.; Wiggins, E. C. (2008). Social Psychology Alive (First Canadian ed.). Toronto: Thomson Nelson. ISBN 978-0-17-622452-3.
[3] Baumeister, Roy F.; Smart, L.; Boden, J. (1996). "Relation of threatened egotism to violence and aggression: The dark side of self-esteem". Psychological Review 103 (1): 5–33. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.103.1.5
[4] University of Maryland: Rosenburg Self-Esteem Scale; August 8 2014.
[5] José-Vicente Bonet. Sé amigo de ti mismo: manual de autoestima. 1997. Ed. Sal Terrae. Maliaño (Cantabria, España). ISBN 978-84-293-1133-4.
Photo credit: deathtostockphoto.com