– geoffrey chaucer, prologue to the canterbury tales
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
– t. s. eliot, the wasteland
growth is never easy. change, even wanted change full of passionate intensity, takes an immense amount of energy. it can be exhausting. and sometimes it asks of us absolutely everything.
while tadpoles slowly grow legs and their tails disappear and some inner changes occur that allow them to complete their lifecycle as frogs (and it is incredible)… this is not what happens to a caterpillar that enters a cocoon and emerges a butterfly. a caterpillar actually breaks itself down into a kind of primordial soup. it is no longer a living thing at all. and from that soup, the pieces are gathered and rearranged to form a completely new life. it’s amazing. it’s beautiful. it’s Terrifying.
some of our changes as humans happen because we simply grow up. physically, we become taller, our skin collects freckles and eventually wrinkles, we develop very different bodies with unique capabilities that our child bodies did not have. and we are quite present through all of this, even if some changes seem to appear between one glance in the mirror and the next. i remember many fitful nights when i was young, when i could feel my legbones stretching into their new shape, and i writhed in bed, unable to escape the processes happening inside me.
yet other changes happen because we experience and learn. things happen to us, those things have consequences, and we develop new rules and patterns to help us avoid or achieve certain outcomes. every relationship has some benefit to us, or we wouldn’t maintain it. from food and water to love and intimacy, we seek out what brings us pleasure and find ways to fulfill our simpler and more complicated needs. sometimes along the way we burn a hand, or break a heart. but slowly we learn to move like water around the life-sharpened stone. we soften our shores. we become comfortable. we relish the end of the draught.
but one kind of change can hurt us the most. and this kind doesn’t happen to us inevitably. we must move towards it and not turn away when we feel we are about to lose control. we have to seek it, the painful honest answers of our true selves; who we are, who we want to become, what we are or are not capable of. in some ways we must be willing to fully dissolve our old selves, letting go of that entire life, in order to enter the new one. the new one without any guarantees of being better, only more real. how cruel it can feel, stirring the dull and dusty roots with the incisive pins and needles of a cold spring rain.
the sleeping limb feels nothing but the sleeping limb cannot bear any weight. so,
awake my heart and mind.
peel open the lids
and let the steam of a boiling spirit escape.
sweet agony whistles through the narrowest of spaces,
nov. 1: when you’re having a bad day with your mental health, what do you do to help yourself?
this was the first november 2016 blogher prompt, which i skipped entirely in favor of sharing my own thoughts. but i am circling back around to it because there’s something hidden in here that i think is important; finding strength amid a perception of weakness.
we all have “bad days with our mental health.” every single human, categorized in the dsm or not, has a depressed day now and then. or an event that triggers anxiety. or difficulty enforcing boundaries in a relationship. the list goes on. difficult mental health days are not owned only by those we would diagnose as mentally ill. of course, this shows two things. 1) to have these days is normal (within limits), and 2) it’s not that they happen, but how you respond that ultimately counts. developing strategies for not only surviving but thriving through the inevitability of these tough days is the basis of a lot of therapy and motivational speaking. and not all healthy coping strategies come naturally. often they need to be taught, always practiced, and constantly worked on.
but let’s say you’re past that point. you know it’s normal to have a bad day and you know you get to choose how you’ll respond. well what if your response is also seen as weakness? certain behaviors, like anything in excess (drinking, gambling, eating, etc), are obviously problems because they can affect your health or financial security. these behaviors can also lead to addiction, which is another problem in and of itself. society regularly portrays addicts as weak, perhaps due to a desire to believe that if you are strong enough, you can cope with your bad mental health days however you want without putting yourself at risk for addiction. for being “one of those people.” this perception is dangerous because it often prevents people from seeking help when they know they need it. perhaps an addiction was triggered by poor initial choices, but often these people were managing their bad mental health days and weren’t ever taught or able to practice more successful coping strategies. but this is another topic entirely.
for me, my coping strategy is also often seen as weakness, though it’s not as often hung out on the cross as a failure of character. actually i myself struggle at times with how to perceive my handling of bad mental health days. because the truth is, i need other people.
when i am having a bad mental health day, i help myself with friends, family, even sometimes just any kind of social contact. this may be seen as an extroverted tendency, and we all know the world is extrovert friendly. but more often it’s seen as a lack of self-sufficiency. i need other people to help me re-frame. i need them to hold me accountable. i need them to remind me of my value. i need them to remind me not to sweat the small stuff. i need them to listen, so i feel wanted, and to share their own experiences and ask my advice, so i feel needed. i need them to call me out when i’m being an idiot. i need them to motivate me when i am not strong enough to motivate myself. and this is how i feel like the world, and sometimes i too, feel like this dependency is weakness.
but my opinion about this has changed, and i’ll tell you why. because i am no stronger or weaker than anyone else on my own. but with other people, my strength is unlimited. here is an example from my own life. 4 years ago i was running the baltimore half marathon. during training i over-did it, and ended up with exertional compartment syndrome in my legs. i had to stop running for almost a month before the race. other people told me i probably wouldn’t be able to finish. here is the first way in which other people helped me. i love to prove someone wrong about me (for the better, of course) 🙂 so i told myself i dang well would finish, even if i walked the whole way. on the day of the race i told myself i would pace well and i would walk when i needed to, but i would get to the finish line. so i started at a nice jog. and i kept going. and i kept going. i kept it up longer than i had in any training run, floating on the positive energy of the people around me. but of course after a while i was feeling fatigued. my legs were doing well, but i was just tired. i gave myself a visual landmark at the bottom of the next hill and said when i got there, i would walk. but before i did, i saw a man with a below knee amputation having already completed the loop in front of me coming Up that very hill. holy crap. my legs aren’t hurting, so there is NO way i am walking yet. and you know what? i was able to motivate and inspire myself with the strength of other people through the entire race. and i ran slow as heck, but i didn’t walk once. and i made it across the finish line. all thanks to other people.
here is another example that is not (yet) from my own life, but that i have been blessed enough to witness over 200 times. and that is women giving birth. for starters, women at baseline are just strong as hell. i mean really. every single time, c/s, vaginal, epidural or not, i am blown away by the strength and grace i see women exhibit when they become mothers. it’s quite literally awesome. but here’s what’s even awesomeR. women use the strength of those around them to become even stronger. their husbands, partners, family members, midwives, doulas, and i personally believe the feminine spirit of the universe. they pull in the strength of their whole team like some kind of amazing transformer, and they become capable of things they said themselves they could not do on their own. they show mental and physical control that is almost super human. it’s true. i have seen it with my own eyes.
in less than 1/4 of these photos is the woman shown “alone,” and even in those photos she is not alone because she has life inside her that gives her strength.
so what’s the take home message here? mainly, don’t judge yourself so harshly. “we’re all just walking each other home” (ram dass), trying to get by in this sometimes crazy world. but if we keep our minds open to learning better ways to cope, our eyes open to seeing the truth of our own amazing strength, and our hearts open to the strength others can lend us when we’re running low… we will come to realize that the power of the human spirit is truly limitless.
“words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. capable of both inflicting injury, and remedying it.” – albus dumbledore
words are powerful. i have always believed this, and being a person who really enjoys reading and writing, i have always kinda liked it, too. reading and writing bring me happiness, and making someone happy is a good kind of power. a healing power. glinda the good witch power. the kind where you say the words “there’s no place like home,” click your heels together, and realize the power was within you all along.
but this past week i have been thinking about their other kind of power. the dark and hurtful power. the kind that paints whole groups of people in sweeping generalizations, or wipes out the validity of their experiences and feelings in phrases printed on dime a dozen memes. words that inflict injury without reason or sometimes even realization, that make no effort to understand their terrible magic.
i think this is the trickiest thing about words; that those who use them don’t even know how powerful they can be. nor how powerful not using them can be.
to be clear, i am not talking about one or the other side of the political aisle. i am talking about both sides. primarily i am talking to trump supporters and hillary supporters, but also to those who voted third party, and to those who didn’t vote at all (the category with the largest subscription this year). unless we all learn to somehow communicate with each other, your positive words fall on deaf ears and your negative words injure our democracy.
america held a free and fair election on november 8th. in my opinion, it ended in total f-ery. this is the “fault” of everyone, and it is everyone’s responsibility to try our best to attenuate the injury. to start, we have to think about our words. think (is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind?) about what we are saying and why we are saying it. think about what we aren’t saying and why we aren’t saying it. in the age of social media, our words or our silence can mean just as much as our actions or inaction. let’s think about that as we go forward. we all have the choice of who we want to be, of which kind of magic we want in our world.
(addendum: speak up when you see injustice! point it out if your own party isn’t representing you! ask for help understanding a dissenting opinion! but healing actions are also great, so please don’t stop at a facebook post… protest peacefully! step in if it’s safe to protect those who need protection! sign petitions! donate to the organizations that need it now more than ever! prove that love trumps hate, don’t just shout it at those you believe to be hateful.)
1920 was a leap year that began on a thursday. it was an election year, in which woodrow wilson handed over the presidency to warren harding, who would die of a heart attack 2 years into his term. it was also the year, in august, that american women were granted the constitutional right to vote. it would be 96 years, however, until women would be given the chance to vote for one.
november 13th, 1920, was a saturday. there have been 35,064 days since that day, and 1,187 full moons (the next one is tomorrow). the hudson river was frozen at albany, and that was all that was notable about that day according to onthisday.com. on wikipedia, they find it interesting that over 100,000 people, both military and civilian, evacuated the crimea on russian imperial navy ships that day.
but for me, this specific day changed my life. because it was on this day, in baltimore, maryland, that a woman given the 8th most popular name of that year was born; elizabeth. she was the 5th of what would ultimately be 14 children. she would one day marry a man named joseph, and they would have three daughters. the youngest of those babies would some day marry and have two daughters of her own. and the oldest of those daughters would be me.
today in 2016, my grandmother elizabeth post nee hartman, is 96 years old. i am not there to celebrate with her, but i’ll be there in a few days, and today i am thinking about her a lot. in fact, i have been thinking about her a lot all week. she is one of the sassiest people… no wait, the sassiest person… i have ever known. it’s usually hilarious and sometimes rotten, and according to my mom it didn’t come with age. liz was born that way.
mostly she picks on you, but if anyone else would try the same they’d feel the wrath. her love is the definition of tough. she is the definition of tough. after falling earlier this year and being admitted to the hospital, she walked down the hall faster than i could to prove she was ok and should be sent home. that’s just how she rolls. if she can’t hear you talking, she might assume it’s a good time to start a story of her own. and by story i mean dirty joke. i’ve been handed a baggy of hard stale mini marshmallows every winter for as long as i can remember, with a label explaining that it’s snowman poop. i can’t help laugh every time. it’s not even a new baggy, you guys. it’s the same baggy from 1989. i have no idea how she keeps track of it in the house where she lives alone, and has kept everything she’s ever owned for the past 1,087 full moons. everything except the countless hats and scarfs and booties she knits for nicu babies and the homeless. and for us.
anyway, there are many stories i could tell. stories i myself have heard let’s say more than once 😉 but this isn’t the point. the point is “there’s a pleasure in being reminded of the value of ordinary life” (karen t walker). her ordinary life has been extraordinary to me. i am so fortunate to have had her in my life for another year. so lucky that she attended my wedding in august, wedge clogs and all, lighting every sparkler she could grab.
happy 96th birthday, gram. i love and admire you so.
how did politics get so emotional?, i googled today, after discussing with ashwin his feeling that our mental health would be significantly improved if we could work towards a position of active (meaning becoming informed and exercising our right to vote) neutrality (when it comes to the outcome, over which, if you did the latter, you did all you could have done and otherwise it was totally out of your control). well my mental health might be better it’s true, but i can’t say i agree. nor can i say that it’s even possible, at least for me. i think we have a right to feel our feelings, and a responsibility to be civil when we express them. despite that, the dialogue about emotional politics is interesting.
a significant part of the answer seems to come from the fact that we have become more and more segregated by political beliefs and political party, socially and even geographically. like-minded people tend to live in the same areas, like-minded people tend to become friends with each other and marry each other. on social media we tend to surround ourselves with the constant personal thought vomit of like-minded friends. living in our self-affirming cocoon sure feels good, but it leads us to develop a stronger and stronger sense of in-group vs. out-group; “since inter-personal contact across the party divide is infrequent, it is easier for people to buy into the caricatures and stereotypes of the out party and its supporters” (iyengar). this division may even extend to the idea that “liberals and conservatives in the same country think as if they were from different cultures” (talhelm, haidt, et al).
mud-slinging campaigns, hot-button issues, a widening partisan divide, and flagging confidence in the system as a whole (pappas, livescience) all add to the weight so many people literally feel in their hearts and guts. social media also gives us unprecedented access to the thoughts and feelings of others, on a minute to minute basis, that we otherwise might never have even known. and it gives us a white sheet to hide our faces behind as we spew out whatever divisive junk we feel like spewing.
the heightened emotionality of everything leaves us, then, “without ability to give and uptake new information, [so] people get stuck in one view with no potential for growth, shifts, or nuance” (dr. heitler, psychology today). i don’t want to be unable to truly hear opposing arguments, or be stuck in my ways without chance for growth. i know i have work to do. Lots. but we can forgive ourselves if that work is hard when the other side is simultaneously refusing to listen at best, at times using verbal or physical violence against you or those who think like you, or in my personal opinion that is supported by facts, willfully sublimating the rights of the few (who aren’t that few, by the way) for the rights of the many (who aren’t that many, by the way. at least in so many ways i keep hoping).
i am white. heterosexual. native-born. upper-middle class. college educated (x3). trump’s america won’t desecrate anything sacred to me, besides oh just my tiny little belief that every individual regardless of these characteristics deserves the same liberties, protections, and opportunities that i have. this is the america i want to know and be a part of. and this is what gives me the biased sense that my beliefs are “better” than those who disagree. i think, this is so basic, how Can anyone disagree? how can people not acknowledge that different people have different experiences of the same america, for whatever reasons, and these experiences lead us to different opinions, that don’t make us better or worse human beings? and then i think, well i often do the same thing. and some of my anger is then at myself for being judgmental. for being so angry.
i was unfriended on facebook in the days before the election by a person who seems to have just discovered that i am a liberal (despite that ‘political beliefs’ is a relic in the ‘about me’ section that i think i filled out in ’04 or ’05 when i first made my profile). this girl was molested as a child by an adult male family member, and yet, she supports donald trump… a person who bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy” without consent, getting away with it due to status, and suggested that this is a normal way for men to speak to each other about women. a person who said his daughter was a beautiful baby but he’d have to see how her breasts turned out, and later said he would want to date her if she wasn’t his daughter. this now ex-fb friend even rubbed it in my face by saying she hopes the words president trump “taste really good coming out of my mouth.” this person has a 2 year old daughter.
obviously there is some part of the republican party platform that is so important to her that it trumped (ha) the black hole sized flaws in this specific man’s character. i suspect it is related to the abortion debate, as she posted things about this online (the only specific issue i ever saw addressed, actually, in between the razor sharp political assessment that hillary clinton is a “bitch”). so ok. aside from the fact that trump was pro-choice until it was to his political benefit not to be. but why does this make me So angry? what does it matter to me what she chooses to prioritize in her own life, the way she chooses to see the world and set up her values, the aspects of our president elect to which she turns a blind eye, and the way she indirectly teaches her daughter it is ok to be treated by men? i think it’s because it feels like if this person, with her specific history, won’t stand up against someone like trump, what hope do we have? it’s the feeling of losing a battle that seems so important that it triggers a deep sense of fear and despair, and that is expressed by our primitive brains as anger. so how do i cope? do i really think i am from a country of mostly racist, sexist, bigoted and blind, a-holes?
well, there are those. and one of those is too many. but they have to be in the minority. they have to be. most of trumps supporters wouldn’t self-identify as racist, for example. maybe some are wrong, but giving the benefit of the doubt let’s say Most actually are Not. people on both sides of the wall (ha), or where ever in between, think their path is the morally superior path. people on both sides truly believe “god is on our side.” so how can i seek to better understand these people, while tuning out the impossibly loud minority of the opposing party who seem to pummel my soul with their awful and relentless bull? it’s HARD. it’s hard af, when i see people who are laughing at the legitimate fear some people are feeling, who are assaulting muslims especially women, telling mexican school kids they’re going to be kicked out of their homes now, spewing N words everywhere, brandishing their guns while they threaten people, spray painting swastikas on public buildings… when people say sensitive crybaby liberals are the problem with this world when anyone complains about it. when people who passed around “merry christmas from the obamas” memes depicting two ape-like people emerging from a swamp, then say they don’t want to be lumped in with “the racists.”
but i maintain my belief this isn’t who republicans or conservatives really are. this is who racist (or fill in the -ist) pieces of poop really are. i have to fight being swept up in the emotions that make me want to lump those two together. i want to try to understand those who think differently than i do (in a respectful way), because i want people over there to do the same for me. i posted on facebook that i truly believe this is the only way america will realize her potential greatness, and i meant it. we should not stop feeling our feelings. they are what makes us human and what ties us to the rest of humanity. but we need to learn to have an open-minded conversation In Spite of them. i hope some day we can work towards that dialogue, because right now there are too many raw feelings flying around to “give and uptake new information,” and in that place, we cannot grow.
that said, if i enter into a conversation with respect and it is not given back to me, it is also my right to shut it down. at some point we both have to be walking on the high road to be headed in the same direction. so, i shall easily bid farewell to any “friends” who are unwilling to consider chewing on anything but the grain in their own silo. and cheers to those who keep fighting the good fight, sometimes straight uphill, through whatever political lens you are looking. that america is better than this will be proven when americans act better than this. i sincerely hope we’re up to the challenge.
nov. 9: what do you want to say to hillary clinton today?
dear mrs. clinton,
i have so much i want to say that i am left feeling almost speechless. i have a feeling you may be feeling the same way. i can’t imagine how much wine and/or ambien you probably needed to ingest to get to sleep for a few hours this morning before giving your inevitably painful and disappointing speech. for my part, i am not saying the things to you today that i expected and hoped to be saying either.
first of all, i am sorry. i am sorry you have been so terribly thrashed by so many people in this country for the past… well, ever since you demonstrated that women can seek and be worthy of power. for whatever reasons: party bias, vilification by the media, the silent sexist majority… you have been criticized by being called a “bitch” instead of by attacking your political platform; the most sexist thing i can even think of. not to mention your wardrobe, your hair and make up, how much you smile or don’t… you know what it’s like to be a woman from the front effing row. you’re certainly not perfect and you have made some serious mistakes in your career. it doesn’t make it ok, but i’d challenge anyone to find a politician in the game for so long who hasn’t (besides maybe B). i am sorry you have done your best to stand by your man while simultaneously challenging outdated gender norms, advocating for women, children, and minorities, and we weren’t able to meet you half way. i guess we just aren’t ready. it feels so disappointing because it’s so personal. but the people have spoken, and they have chosen their “champion,” and we will all wake up in that world and must find a way to live in it; for better or worse, america has the president it deserves.
second, the results of this election don’t mean that the people who support you are going anywhere (besides, if possible, to canada – ha – kidding but not kidding). we are still proud of the work you did to advance difficult dialogues in this country. we were still proud, if awfully defeated, when you called to concede when the outcome became obvious, instead of dragging it out in a classless manner that we can imagine other major party candidates for the presidency might have done. though we had (and will have) our tearful moments, those moments where in safe company or in privacy we couldn’t force ourselves to “go high,” you still did. all of this was not unnoticed, all of this was not in vain. thank you.
but here’s the reality. you had a steeply uphill battle for so many reasons. the political pendulum was not swinging in your direction, and the force of that swing was especially immense given current local and global situations (8 years under a black democratic president, syrian refugee concerns, the ridiculous pitting of black lives vs blue – as if it’s an either/or option, the legalization of gay marriage, and the death of a supreme court justice, to name a few). i know we can both understand (though strongly disagree with) the fear-based, emotional, reactionist undertow that comes after such a strong tidal wave. yet it’s hard to understand how this particular figurehead was chosen to represent and advocate for the remedy to those more or less legitimate concerns. almost impossible, actually. but clearly, many people felt this was their only choice, and this has to be ok. this is democracy at work.
nothing is forever. maybe our hope to cling onto things is just selfishness, our mortal sense desperately clawing for immortality. barack obama won’t be president forever, your presidency wouldn’t have been forever, donald’s presidency won’t be forever, america’s position as a superpower won’t be forever. yet let us hope that we can forever stand together, as long as people inhabit the earth, with pride and love for the entire human race… even in the moments it feels unlovable.
today feels dark. we (your people) are scared. scared, but not hopeless. americans believe in different things. we may believe that other people’s beliefs will take away the rights of citizens who should be protected. human beings who should be protected. but we all want our country to be great. today, let us hope that class and kindness will still somehow win out. let us sincerely hope that the future “i told you so”s of the democratic base aren’t in the face of lives lost or liberties lost. let us hope that we and our daughters and sons know that while today wasn’t the day for women to break through the highest glass ceiling, the day is coming. (and know that if you don’t live to see it, some day your resting place will be decorated with “i voted” stickers as the first female president is elected to lead our country.) let us hope, in the face of what has happened today, that somehow, love will still win.
let us trust that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
with gratitude, and bruised but indefatigable hope, your fellow american, morgan
ps: to the black, mexican, muslim, female, disabled, mentally ill, young, old, gay, jewish, immigrant, and poor people of america… we see you. we hear you. we are still with you.
“Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.
But to what purpose
Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves
I do not know.” – excerpt from burnt norton, t. s. eliot
starting a new week with day 1: your blog name.
well t. s. eliot is not my favorite poet, but he did write my favorite poem. that poem is, coincidentally, Not burnt norton, nor the 4 quartets of which burnt norton is the first. it is the lovesong of j. alfred prufrock, which i first read in high school when i was studying literary arts. i even memorized a significant portion of the poem for a class assignment. it was the first poem that spoke to me in a deeper way, and further made me despair that i would never be a poet, since thomas wrote the lovesong with seeming wisdom far beyond his years when he was 22. i’m now 10 years beyond that and haven’t even approached conceiving of something like that poem. alas.
but, when it came to naming my blog (and also my instagram that i created only a week or so before the blog), i wanted to think of something “deep and brooding” to characterize what i hoped would become a creative outlet separate from the usual superficial facebook banter and recitation of meaningful quotes. this phrase quickly came to mind. to me, it speaks of a figurative place where things are fine and lovely as they are, without need or purpose for interrogation. what has been and what might have been, what will be and what might be, all of it comes to this point. the present moment. so what is the purpose of wondering the answers to those questions that exist beyond the gate, all of time outside of this moment, or even asking in the first place.
in the past i have been accused, probably accurately, of over-analysis. my therapist several years ago said that i would do well in some situations to simply, let it be. she’s probably right. there are many things i can work on about myself, of that there is no doubt. But. while blowing the dust off the rose-leaves might make me cough and sneeze and my eyes itch and water, it leaves the petals bare and ready for whatever comes next. there will always be more dust. absolutely, a dusty bowl of rose-leaves is a vision in itself. that memory of the person you were at the time you were her, frozen in a polaroid and marked with the date in a handwriting that used to be yours… on the surface without anything added, it is objectively beautiful. but what makes it beautiful And meaningful? subjective reflection. the present moment calls on all moments that have been and that are yet to be. one would do well to respect some limits, that is true. but, against professional recommendations, i think i’ll go ahead… and disturb the dust 🙂