There is a sign that lives above my desk that reads “Celebrate the Successes.” It’s something my sister once told me as I related to her how I was struggling with feelings of inadequacy and stagnation. About how life sometimes just feels so hard and how everything feels like just one long series of failures.
We had that conversation long ago, maybe last year, maybe the year before. I can’t remember, but the paper the sign is printed on is pretty tattered, so it certainly wasn’t recently.
And yet, today I need it more than ever.
Because life is hard, yo. It’s a constant struggle. And, yes, it still feels like one long series of failures.
I was going to come here to whine about just how hard it all is and how low I feel right now, but then the sign caught my eyes and I realized that maybe, just maybe what I need today is a moment celebrating the successes instead of going over the list of failures one more time.
I have work. I even enjoy some of it.
I’m successfully working from home.
The kids are having great years.
I’ve started working on a new novel.
I’m making time to make more family meals.
I’m making more time to walk and take care of myself.
I’ve cultivated and nurtured some amazing friendships.
When I stop to think about the successes in my life, both big and little, it’s like a weight lifts from my shoulders and the dark clouds over my head get a little less heavy.
It’s been a rough few weeks. So much angst and worry and sadness. So many burdens to shoulder. I know I’m not the only one struggling this month. I see it all over Facebook and among my friends. January is hard. Brutally, unapologetically hard. It’s good to stop and remember that finding a little light to make the darkness more bearable is within our reach.
The other day when I was organizing my office, I moved the signs on my wall around. I think I need to move this one sign back to where I can see it easily so I keep reminding myself that success lies everywhere and it’s up to me to look for it.
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I was still living in France on 9/11, so while I fully felt the effect of watching my country be attacked, I didn’t experience the mass grief effect that affected everyone on American soil. By the time we landed in California just over a month later, the initial shock had passed and people had started processing and moving on.
In short, this week, I’m experiencing mass grief for the first time, and while it has some uncanny physical similarities to the grief I experienced when my father passed away, it’s so very different in so many ways. Not the least of which is the fact that, since so many of us are feeling this way, it’s hard to know how to comfort others or know how to find comfort from them.
Also, the anger. So much anger everywhere.
I keep asking myself “what now?” and, more importantly “what do I want my kids to think/do and how do I role model that for them?”
I’m not ready to accept anything or simply “get over it.”
I’m not just upset that Trump was elected, like many others, I feel betrayed by the people who elected him both because of or in spite of his rhetoric. My heart is breaking for every woman whose post-assault PTSD is triggered every time they see his picture. My soul hurts for every person who feels like each Trump vote was a vote against their personal human rights. And I feel a silent scream building when I start to think of the world this will create for my children, for all of our children.
And then there’s Facebook.
Where everyone is just yelling and screaming and not listening to anyone else. Making the situation a million times worse.
So, what now?
How about we start with something incredibly simple and unbelievably powerful.
When someone is saying something, instead of instantly jumping to the defensive, let’s all try to
STOP and LISTEN.
Set aside whatever discomfort the words cause you and just LISTEN.
Say “That is not how I see things, can you tell me more?”
Say “I’m not sure I understand your point of view, can you explain it to me again?”
Say “I’d love to hear your side, please tell me how you feel.”
Say “Things are different where I live, please share with me how things are by you.”
Or, just don’t say anything and LET THE OTHER PERSON TALK.
And while they’re talking, actually LISTEN. Don’t mentally prepare a response or a defense. Don’t think about how you feel. Look at them, and listen.
It’s the hardest thing in the world to do, and the most important at this time.
We have reached this point, as a nation, because everyone is so damn convinced they are right that they never take the time to hear anyone else. Social media and cable news has made it so we don’t ever have to hear anything we don’t agree with, so we’ve literally forgotten that people can think differently.
It’s time for that to stop.
It’s time to stop putting people in neat little buckets and assuming that, once filed, you know how they feel or think.
The only way to get past that is to LISTEN.
“Tell me what that safety pin means to you.”
“Tell me more about your take on this.”
“Tell me how you’re feeling.”
And then, shut up, and LISTEN.
And if you really have something to say, AFTER the person is done talking and you are done LISTENING, then, I highly suggest you start your sentence with the word “I.”
It’s simple. “I” sentences engage. “You” sentences alienate and put people on the defensive.
“You” starts an argument. “I” starts an exchange of opinions and ideas.
On Tuesday night I watched the election results and wept. And then I kept right on crying as the reactions unfolded. It’s been a brutal week. A week where I have had to, repeatedly, put aside my own knee jerk reactions to people’s comments so that I could actually hear what they say.
I keep wanting to yell at the top of my lungs “I AM A WHITE WOMAN AND I AM SCARED TOO. I AM NOT TO BLAME. DO NOT LUMP ME IN WITH THE REST.” But I haven’t and instead I’ve been trying to listen. It’s how I was actually able to hear the person who explained that I have guilt by association because I didn’t do enough to convince other white women to vote.
It stung, but it’s not wrong. I was complacent in the belief that sharing Facebook posts to my already converted audience was enough. I could have and should have done more. At the very least, I should have asked more questions, and listened more carefully to the answers.
Just like we all should now.
Listening, letting people feel heard, is so much harder to do than we can ever imagine. But it’s also the greatest gift we can offer to others and to ourselves. Listening leads to compassion and understanding, and there’s no way to achieve peace in our hearts or in our nation until we go through that process.
I beg of you, for yourself, for your family, for our children. Stop talking, just listen. Whatever side you’re on, hear the pain and sit with it until it becomes a bit of your pain too. Only then will we be able to move forward together.
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I just spent a pathetic amount of time trying to find a photo I took of Little L on election night in 2008. It’s lost somewhere on a thumb drive or a USB card, or maybe the laptop I was using back then. The fact that it’s not stored in my Facebook memories probably says more about how much my world has changed since then than anything else, but I digress.
In the photo she’s sitting in her highchair wearing not much other than a diaper. The tray in front of her shows the remains of the pitiful dinner I managed to pull together for her while keeping my eyes glued to the election Twitter feed. Olive slices and cupcakes. That’s it. That’s what my delighted toddler ate on election night 2008. There is no record of what her 3 year old sister had for dinner that night.
It was an amazing night. One full of hope and excitement. I couldn’t take my eyes off the giddy frenzy that was Twitter. It was all just such a high.
The last year has felt like the opposite of that high and I’ve often looked back at all the tragic events that have sucked the hope right out of the air and the vitriol that has filled it instead and wondered where it all went wrong.
Where did the love go? The hope? The camaraderie and support?
So much hate. So much anger instead.
It’s enough to make a person want to lock their doors and hide forever.
Even Twitter, so full of bubbling joy that night, has become a cesspool of muck.
Then yesterday I joined a top-secret-not-so-secret Facebook group titled Pantsuit Nation.
I was sick and tired of the increasingly desperate Facebook posts of people pleading 3rd party voters to not throw away their vote. Exhausted by reading the same rhetoric again and again. And lured by the hints of hope I was seeing from people who had joined the secret group.
I waded in with zero expectations and was gobsmacked into feeling hopeful again.
It’s not a group for convincing fence sitters or staunch opponents, it’s just a group of people celebrating Hillary.
No, no, not a “rah rah, ain’t she great!”, kinda place, just story after story about why people are voting for her.
Intensely personal stories about late term abortions, immigration, daughters and sons. About elderly parents who are voting for the first time. About terminally ill people holding on so they can see history made. Stories about triumphant love and healthcare. About beating odds that didn’t even exist 8 years ago.
It is a place of hope and love, of support and encouragement.
It is proof that all the goodwill hasn’t been sucked out of America.
Proof that lies in the fact that, as of this morning, 2.5 million people have joined the group and the comments aren’t angry, aren’t mean or demeaning.
That’s worth repeating. The comments aren’t angry, mean, or demeaning.
This morning in the Pantsuit Nation group I saw a photo of a man standing in line to vote, wearing the most amazing pair of red patent leather high heels. And the thousands of comments were all positive.
For a man who is so hopeful to cast a vote that might mean he can truly be himself, that he wore red high heels to vote.
I don’t know what tonight’s election results will bring. I’m crossing all of my fingers and toes that the nation turns out to vote in favor of love and not hate, but no matter what happens, I’m going to forever hold those red shoes in my heart.
Over the last few years, we’ve been showing our really gruesome underbelly. Hate. Racism. Sexism. Xenophobia. I don’t believe that these are new, I just believe that people have kept them hidden deep in dark closets and basements.
Maybe, just maybe, Pantsuit Nation is proof that what was really happening is the first step to the great clean-up. When it’s time to tackle that closet no one dares open or talk about, you first have to take everything out, lay it out, and start sorting.
We’ve laid it all out. I finally have hope that what comes next will be beautiful.
That baby who is no longer a baby covered in olive juice and frosting deserves to grow up in a world where people are loved for who they are instead of being reviled for being different.
No matter who wins tonight, I take heart in the fact that at least 2.5 million others feel the way I do. Because in the end, it’s proof that humanity hasn’t yet lost.
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The me that I imagine I’ll be then isn’t lithe, nor is she overweight, she’s an indistinct somewhere in between. She’s somewhat inspired by the maternal figure in Trixie Belden, or at least as I remember her, portly, busy baking pies and cooking for anyone who might be over, and also by other literary figures who have charmed me over the years.
The thing about this me of the future is that she’s secure in the knowledge that people love her exactly for who she is and how she makes them feel, and not because she’s dressed in a particular style, or looks a particular way. She’s just very comfortable being herself.
She putters. She wears flowy colorful clothing clearly designed for comfort and not for looks. She brews tea at all hours of the day. She hand-writes quotes and hangs them all over the place. She has notebooks stashed everywhere in case inspiration strikes.
She’s always ready to have people drop by for a treat, a cup of something warm to drink, a chat in the yard or in the cozy kitchen.
She’s got advice if it’s wanted and an ear if it’s needed.
I like to think that she’s a safe haven because she’s so secure in her acceptance of herself as she is.
Occasionally I see glimpses of this me I hope to someday become.
The handwritten notes are already populating my office walls. The tea is already a fixture.
It’s the rest that still eludes me. That feeling that I could wear anything that makes my soul feel at peace and not worry about what others might think or say.
Once in a while I spot an item and think, “I need that. I must have that. Because one day that’s who I’ll be.” Usually I demure. And sometimes I don’t.
Which is how I ended up ordering the one piece romper jumper thing that everyone was talking about one day on Facebook. It’s utterly ridiculous, and yet my soul cried out for it and my wallet didn’t balk at the $14 price tag.
The package arrived and sat untouched for over a month. I couldn’t bring myself to face the ridicule, knowing how much I would love having it on.
The other day, I finally found the courage to try it on. I swooshed around the house, loving the feel of the fabric flowing around my legs, relishing the utter freedom of the endless comforting material.
Then I saw my daughter’s face, half smiling/half afraid that her nutty mother might actually wear this thing out in public, and I changed out of my romper and tucked it away.
It’s ok. I get it, I really do. And I’m not entirely ready to be that person anyway.
So, for now, I’m happy to let it sit there, in my closet, waiting for the day that I’ll finally be that person whose self-assurance shines through so brightly that what she drapes over her body isn’t what people will see first.
And maybe on quiet days, it’ll come out to play.
In the meantime, I’ll smile at the knowledge that I’m not the only one who bought the romper while it was on sale. The Facebook frenzy about it is enough to tell me that I’m not the only one who dreams of one day being that self-assured woman.
I look forward to sharing a cup of tea with them in the not so distant future.
Please note, in the interest of full disclosure, you should know that the links above include my Amazon affiliate link. Should you click on them and purchase something like maybe a book to treat your inner child or a romper to tempt your future self, I’ll earn a teensy tiny portion of the sale and I will be endlessly grateful.