A Supposedly Straight Woman’s Process for Grieving after Orlando

My name is Jessica. I recently graduate with my doctoral degree so, in some spaces it is also likely that I am referred to as Doctor Williams. I am 5’9″ with an undercut and kinky, curly natural Black hair atop my head. I weigh somewhere between 250-350 lbs at any given time depending on what is going on in my life but I always identify as fat. Today my shirt is a “Large” and my skirt is a size 18. My preferred gender pronouns are she/her and I consider myself heterosexual, though my affect and affinity for the Queer community has made me curious about how much of my sexual identity as heterosexual is socially constructed. I am a feminist who believes that people have the right to define themselves for themselves. I identify as Christian, though feel my union with God to be unable to be contained within one religion. I see religion as sociocultural and not necessarily indicative of one’s faith beliefs. I grew up in a middle class, though some argue upper middle class home in Atlanta, Georgia a majority minority city and later Douglasville, GA a middle class suburb of the city. I have minimal physical ability barriers, but am currently managing PTSD and an anxiety disorder stemming from sexual assault. I would describe myself as a beautiful mess.

Fresh off the high of learning my dissertation had been published the mass shooting at PULSE nightclub in Orlando, FL happened. It knocked the wind out of me. First because my younger cousin who identifies as lesbian had snap videos in the club in Orlando the night of the shooting. I reached out to her immediately after finding out about the tragic incident yet once I learned of her physical safety, the sense of comfort did not come. Days later I would find myself in a lesbian bar celebrating a friend’s birthday. A place I’d frequented for various reasons over the past few years in San Diego now had a coldness to it that had nothing to do with the temperature. The mood of the space–set by the additional security  and rainbow flags at half mast–had shifted.

“I’m sorry I haven’t said anything about Orlando to you,” I found myself texting to a dear friend of mine who both identifies as Queer and manages an LGBT resource center at a university, “I honestly did not have the words.” My research conducted on fat women and identity highlighted the kinship between the Fat and Queer communities. In my dissertation I wrote:

Borrowing on the popular “We’re here, we’re queer!” mantra of the gay rights
movement, Fat activist Katie LeBesco (2004) recalls chants of ‘We’re here, we’re
sphere!’ from the fat community. LeBesco details Pam Hinden’s “fat coming out story” noting that “coming out” as fat was akin to “coming out” as queer in that it meant that one was going to intentionally and unapologetically forego traditional social norms; “coming out meant mustering outrage to engage in activities usually thought proper only for thin people (Lebesco, 2004, pg. 95)…”Queer language such as
“outing” or being “in the closet” further illustrated the bond between these two
marginalized communities. Says Margaret Wann (1999) on her last day “in the closet”, “living in the closet [was] not working…[I] decided to come out as a fat person and tried to do it really publicly and really loudly because [I] wasn’t going to put up with exclusion” (pg.95). In this instance “coming out” was strategic to indicate one’s acceptance of self be it our sexuality or our bodies. While it may seem paradoxical as a person is conspicuously fat where queer may be harder to visually assume, the idea of “coming out” refers to an individual proclaiming an internal truth to an external audience. Being “here and queer” or “here and sphere” was less about queer or sphere but in fact, it was about “here” and the acknowledgement of one’s self which in turn calls for acknowledgement by others.

marsha-p-johnson1If it were not for the research I had quite literally just completed, I am not sure I would have felt like this tragedy was mine to own and ache for, like this was a hurt that I had the right to publicly express. However, my connection to this community, my community was undeniable. I look at a leader like Marsha P. Johnson who just went out to dance and ended up making history at the Stonewall Inn. PULSE nightclub could have been any night club in any city at any time and that is what chills me to my core. As a woman, going out requires careful calculation. My heels must be high enough to make my legs look good but not too high that I could not run at the end of the night. My dress should be short enough to move in but long enough to make it clear that I am not public property or for public consumption. The flowers in my hair invite conversation, even adoration but not objectification. The love made between me and the music is our own and sometimes it is a threesome with a man of my desire, but sometimes it is not.  Nearly every woman, and every single fat woman I know frequents “gay bars” because it is a space where we, too, feel free.  The space was not created for us, the space is not ours, but yet we are welcomed and accepted in this space.

For someone to violate such a sacred space…it’s the chill. It’s the kind of cold you feel after trauma that requires swaddling and circles rubbed across the entirety of your back. It is the hurt that you cannot put words to and you cannot describe to anyone who has not also felt this sort of violation. I shared with a Lesbian friend of mine that it felt like rape all over again in some ways. The feelings of confusion, helplessness, loss of safety, loss of comfort, need for closeness with your community and also a fear and hesitancy to put yourself out there again for fear of repeat violation. You try to make sense of the hurt, try to understand why and not one single explanation makes sense.  All you know is that it happened and now having lived through it, you are different and everything you knew before you know now in a different way. You become more attuned to shadows. You grow more suspicious, more cautious, more timid, more “safe” and you try your best not to close off from the whole world. Only that does not help either. It only leaves you alone with your pain to fester and rot. God damn this curse of survival, I do not want the memories, I do not want the pain, I do not want the scars, the tears, the flashbacks, the loss, the confusion, the sadness, the worry.

Then you remember something. For me it was Marsha and it was Audre my two heroines who, in my mind, could just as easily beat a face, speak in couplets, as they could fuck up systematic oppression. I remember them and I said to myself, No one is going to ask you if you’re gay in a nightclub if they are coming to shoot. You cannot escape the pains of the queer community through semantics and uncertainties, this is your fight because otherwise you are turning your back on an entire population that has opened their arms to you, loved you when you did not know how to love yourself, shown you the importance of self acceptance and self expression, given you the freedom to express your impulses and explore your inklings and held you in a way that only someone who has been there can hold you. I not only gave myself permission to fully grieve Orlando, but I made myself accountable to action to respond to the needs of those affected by Orlando–not just now, but always.

This year, San Diego Pride will mean something much different to me. Being in attendance will not be just dancing and drinking in lavish and colorful outfits. It will not be just a celebration of love and acceptance, I imagine it will also be very emotional. Cathartic. It will terrify me to be in a crowd knowing that at any moment someone could inflict pain on myself or others around me for reasons that will never make sense. However, there really is not an option to not go, to not participate and to slip quietly into the “safety” of supposedly “straight” clubs. The first pride was a riot; says Michael Fader,

Everyone in the crowd felt that we were never going to go back [after the Stonewall riots]. It was like the last straw. It was time to reclaim something that had always been taken from us…. All kinds of people, all different reasons, but mostly it was total outrage, anger, sorrow, everything combined, and everything just kind of ran its course. It was the police who were doing most of the destruction. We were really trying to get back in and break free. And we felt that we had freedom at last, or freedom to at least show that we demanded freedom. We weren’t going to be walking meekly in the night and letting them shove us around—it’s like standing your ground for the first time and in a really strong way, and that’s what caught the police by surprise. There was something in the air, freedom a long time overdue, and we’re going to fight for it. It took different forms, but the bottom line was, we weren’t going to go away. And we didn’t.

And we won’t.

Truth Art and Suicide

I’m laying in bed with a pain in my right side, sharp and intense and tears flowing a bit too liberally down my cheeks. I just watched Mara Akil’s BET show Being Mary Jane and witnessed both a suicide of a supporting character and how each other character was then affected by it. 

In some ways I feel exposed. As though the deepest darkest secret I’ve ever housed was just displayed for all the world to see. In other ways I feel so sad that anyone should ever feel so unheard unloved and insignificant to end their own life. When Mary Jane admitted that she would ask her friend how she was doing without a real want to hear her truth, I broke down. Because I’ve been both Lisa and MJ. 

  I’ve felt unloved unheard and insignificant. “She died because of the silent treatment…” I winced. It was as if everyone in that room could see how the sum of their interactions added up to all the pain housed in this now lifeless body. Selfishly I wondered if those who chose to answer me with silence would ever consider the pain they caused? 

I’ve also felt so consumed in my own life my own experiences my own emotions that I did not check in with those around me. I have been the silent one. And I have been the one to skimp on giving significant attention to friends’ troubles without diverting attention back to myself. I have been self-centered and involved only in my own orbit never minding the other paths I affect. 

I can feel the anxiety spreading throughout my body and even my hands feel tight as I type. The desire to be relieved of pain is so destructive. We drink because of it. We smoke because of it. We get high, have sex, risk our lives in various ways just to “feel alive” because our stasis is in a vice grip of suffering. I can’t name all the ways I’ve tried to escape it before falling deep into the pit of depression where it holds you captive and makes you feel all the things you’ve been avoiding all at once at amplified. That’s why it hurts all over your body. 

I know the havoc I’ve caused in my life escaping pain. While I never had a plan, I also know I fantasized and romantacized the freedom I perceived in death. I didn’t actively want to die. But I also didn’t actively want to live. I cried just this morning wondering if there’ll be a morning soon when I wake up at peace. When I wake up not thinking immediately of my first reprieve. 

Yet…somehow we aren’t supposed to talk about it. Let’s distract ourselves with a pumpkin spiced-Pinterest-perfect life only to discover that joy cannot be found in the perfect Christmas card or mini quiche. And who do we think we are fooling with these lies?! I appreciated most MJ’s call to get real. And the promise to love even the ugly truths of our loved ones. Even at my worst…find the love you have for me and cling to that. 

Above all, even my own emotions and experience with suicide, depression and pain I love how healing it is to see it depicted through artistry. To know that someone else knows this pain so intimately that they can tell their story, my story, with enough depth and detail to bring me to weep. The courage and authenticity in that artistry…there is so much power in it. And God I promise, I am going to use my own art to the same end. To tell ugly truths and bring healing to festering hurt. Even as I recover…especially as I recover. 

Even more truth telling

I was having a conversation with Alex this morning and we were talking about going to the gym. I’d shared with her my feelings and we talked about how no matter your size or physical ability, the gym can be an extremely vulnerable place. As we came to the mutual conclusion that people very well may judge, I shared with her that I was getting over being anything other than what I was in that moment.

So, that means if I’m terrified to step foot in the gym, I show up that day terrified. And if I tremble, I tremble. If I cry, I cry.  What I’ve learned more than anything from this blog is that people respond favorably to authenticity.  It is what all my favorite bloggers, writers, artists have in common. They have carved out some space and through some medium they have managed to communicate their truth clearly and courageously.

speak+the+truthIt has been my greatest lesson of 2014: honesty.  In the beginning of the year when I told P2AD that I couldn’t do it anymore it changed so much. I lost a very dear relationship and in some ways I lost an image of myself I’d been holding for nearly 20 years. Because of who I thought I had to be in relationship with him, I refused to own all the parts of myself, because some wouldn’t fit. There wasn’t enough room, enough air for both of us to fully breathe. And when I was honest with myself and with him I let go and I took my very first deep breath in a long time.

The tailspin of that loss caused my work to suffer. I wasn’t completing assignments on time or at all. I was giving the bare minimum but it was genuinely as much as I could do because I was so checked-out. I had to be honest with my professors. I had to tell them where I was, and I had to ask for more time. I had to or I was going to have serious repercussions for my actions and inactions.

When it came time move, I was overwhelmed by the cost of everything. Deposits, furniture, lights cable, and all of this while my teaching contract was ending and I was heading home for my sister’s graduation. I had to just be honest. Told my roommate what was going on so she could understand my frustration and my hesitation. Then I told someone who could help and I got my finances fixed.

Little did I know my finances would take a dive over the summer. Things out of my control and things I couldn’t help. I struggled and held it in and I tried to keep it together for months. Summer bled into fall and I finally reached the point where I told my friends what was happening. Not for help with the solution but because it was killing me to just be struggling, feeling hopeless and unsupported. Well, I wasn’t receiving support because no one knew I needed it!

They all serve as examples, but they happened one after the other in quick succession and from it I’ve taken the lesson that you cannot be afraid of your truth. Repeat:


Further, you cannot be afraid to ask for what you need. Asking for help has always made me feel gross, for lack of a better term. I feel irresponsible, I feel incapable, I feel like I should know better, and more than all this, I feel other people think these things of me. If they do, they never say so.

I believe it was time to begin to tell a different story.  That it is perfectly okay to need. That is perfectly okay to struggle, in fact we are all struggling with something.  That it is perfectly okay to not know. That is is perfectly acceptable to make a mistake. To fall down, to cry, to hurt, to bleed to scream, to take your time getting up and to ask for a hand to hold for a while. It is okay to ask people to give you time. It is okay to let go of the people who cannot, trust that it has little to do with you and more to do with them. Similarly, it is okay to tell someone their time is up with you. I am of the opinion that people may not like the truth, they may be frustrated by it, they may hurt as a result of it, but when the dust settles, they are deeply appreciative for it.  Because truth makes room for other truth.  It allows for all of us to show up in a more authentic way.

My truths have put me through the ringer this year. I’ve wondered if I’ll find a life partner who can accommodate and appreciate all of me. I’ve wondered how I can balance both financial stability fulfilling purpose. I’ve wondered how I can own temporary inabilities without incorporating them into permanent states of being. There will always be questions. There will always be more to unearth, but because I am always becoming.

And honestly, it is a privilege to be doing so.

Part I: “Perfect” (or) Shitty Yoga

For a 6:00 yoga class it usually goes something like this:

  • 5:00pm–talk myself into going and convince myself that I will be happy I went after its over
  • 5:13pm–put on capris and tank top
  • 5:14pm–do downward facing dog and watch as capris roll half-way down my legs
  • 5:15pm–kick off capris and search closet for “yoga pants”
  • 5:15:30pm–make mental note of how no one in yoga classes actually wears yoga pants, in fact, yoga pants have more of a home at Target on a Saturday afternoon than they do in a yoga studio.
  • 5:16pm–Pull on exercise leggings and spin to examine all angles
  • 5:17pm–bend over rear to mirror to see if pants have “LuLu effect” they always do.
  • 5:18pm–pull on Gap Fit capris which always fit well but are typically worn for running and decide it doesn’t matter.
  • 5:18:30pm–decide that combination of fitted capris and tank top is too tight and looks for perfect light yet loose (but not too lose) shirt.
  • 5:19pm–tie up not-my-hair in a ponytail
  • 5:21pm–tie up not-my-hair in a bun
  • 5:23pm–change from not-my-hair option #1 to not-my-hair option #2 and pin it back off my face
  • 5:24-5:32pm: tear apart my entire room looking for “yoga headband” which has elastic and stays in place while absorbing sweat
  • 5:40: after taking 17 unsuitable-for-instagram photos I notice how late it has gotten and I grab my keys and run out the door for class.

imagesI arrive. The room is heated and no matter what the actual temperature is, it is perpetually five degrees too warm and I begin to sweat immediately. I search around the room for a familiar face. There never are any. Svelte bodies stand erect upside down balancing to “warm up”.  I lay down in corpse pose and pull awkwardly at my clothes. Pants up, top down. I wiggle back to re-center myself on my yoga mat and try to bring myself into the room and the moment.

  • 6:00pm–the instructor begins class. Asks us to remember to breathe. Sweat decorates my top lip and I wish silently for a clock anywhere in the studio. I chuckle to myself because if there were a clock it would be fogged over. It’s so fucking hot in this room.
  • 6:27pm–after the 107th downward facing dog and 1,203th chaturanga my shoulders ache and I melt into child’s pose. My sweaty forehead sinks into my mat and I breathe my GODHELPME Ujjayi breath. It has surely been an hour, I think.
  • 6:31pm–my shirt which began as loose and flowy is now soaked with sweat and sticking to my skin. I self-consciously tug at it in between spreading my branches in tree pose and hands to heart.
  • 6:43pm–as we star pose to the side and the sweat drips as though I were wringing myself out I hear it hit my mat and it echoes as though Niagara falls were in the studio. I wonder if the man behind me can hear it too.
  • 6:50pm–spine twist, my body can barely bend this way and I look around the room to see others facing the back wall breathing effortlessly.  I make a mental note to research “yoga for fat people” when I go home.
  • 7:00pm–I taste the sweet relief of fresh cool air on my skin and say goodbye as I wonder if I can text someone to meet me for a late burger and a drink.

Yoga practice, not yoga perfect.

To conclude:
I made a promise to myself after my last class that I would not repeat this song and dance. Despite my account above, I really do love the practice of yoga. But I wanted people to know how incredibly frustrating it can be to get OUT of your head and be where you are. I get hung up on what I look like. What I sound like. What others think of me and think of my practice. But I just do not want to live that tightly anymore. I am in a place where I really am ready to shed the weight and restriction of other people’s opinions (and my own self-judgment). Happy.  That’s all. It doesn’t come from the perfect outfit or the nailing the perfect pose. Happy comes when you can enjoy exactly where you are, and what you look like and know that in those moments how blessed you are to be in them.   Moving forward, that is what I’d like my practice to be about: gratitude. Every inhale grace and every exhale thanks.  Perfection, or this ideal that I have been striving for…it was stifling me. I want to keep it out of my yoga classes and out of my everywhere else too.

Love and the woman I am

I knew I was different when I asked you to share the sky with me.

I had a thought the the other night, one I’ll reserve from saying outright because despite my own belief that this is my personal private journal, I know many people read it. Anyway I had a thought which fundamentally changed the way that I look at myself. In a great way.

I think it began last week at yoga. I was on my mat struggling though poses, and willing myself to just stay with it. I hate downward dog. For many reasons but mostly because it’s supposed to be a resting position and it instead feels like my body is going to implode from all the work I’m doing.

I was shaking and went to my knees and into child’s pose. But every time downward dog came up, I would try again. Even if I only held it for a few seconds. And I made an important decision: that a few seconds was enough. I also, at the end of class right before corpse pose, told myself I loved myself. And I meant it. I love and appreciate who I am and I know and respect who I am not. I felt a great peace in both speaking and receiving that message.

Then Saturday night I asked myself if this person I believed so ardently was me, was really me? I was telling myself a story about having to have a certain type of life and certain type if career and really income. And I looked at it in a totally new way. And I asked myself why not THIS? Swirling the decision around in my mind like red wine in a glass. I breathed it in and felt the rich full bodied flavor of the consideration. It was sound. It felt good.

20140310-072623.jpgImmediately after liking the thought I said, “Wow! You have NEVER thought that before.” It felt impossible. It felt improbable. It felt like someone other than me. But in coming to terms with myself, I realize that it is a part of me. A part. As is independence, ambition, competence, humility, and love. Love is a big part. And I want to be a woman who loves.

That was the theme from the women’s retreat I got to attend. “Let us be women who love.” And why not? I want to live a life that maximizes the amount of love in the world. Not just for me but for others as well. So if that means entertaining new thoughts; being a new and improved (honored and accepted) version of you, then that’s what it means.

Woman as only I mean it

I was sifting through tumblr wasting time until sleep caught me when I ran across the following quote: “Life is too short for shitty sex and bad relationships. So go find someone who fucks you right and treats you how you deserve to be treated.” I immediately reblogged it grateful that my Tumblr which is largely unfollowed by anyone I actually know is still a space where I feel free to express all parts of myself. As I contemplated tweeting the quote I was hit with the notion of, “well who follows me?” Professionally, personally I want to be cognizant of how I say things and what I say. And in the same moment of consideration I thought how stifling. And so I tweeted it. And here I am writing about it in a blog post that will later be published to facebook.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Beyoncé Grammy performance and the backlash she received over being so openly sexual. Since when is it anti-feminist to be a sexual being? Isn’t that the exact point of the feminist movement? So that women get to make their own definitions of self? I’m aware of the arguments that say well women fought so hard for us to be so much more than sexual beings for the pleasure of men. Well, and does that mean I can NEVER be a sexual being for MY man without derailing years of sorority? I don’t find myself in defense of Beyoncé but certainly of her right to be whatever the hell she wants to be as an artist and as a woman. I want the same for myself.

I think so many people are uncomfortable with their own sexual selves that the projection of sexual images upsets them to no end. We can’t stand to look at the parts of ourselves in others we openly intrapersonally ignore. So how does that become my problem?

I have to do constant work around this. I recently had someone tell me after reading my blog and then meeting me in person their experience of me did not match my online presence. And I apologized that her experience of me was different than she expected. But the more it sat with me the more I wondered, why am I apologizing? How much is me and how much was their own projections into the situation? And even if it were me, even if on that day in that moment I was the biggest bitch of the west, is that cause to apologize? That was me in that moment. I am allowed to be sad. Mad. Angry. Cold. Dismissive. Stoic. Introspective. Allusive. Or whatever else, right? And it’s not about right or wrong it’s about understanding that however you treat people has a consequence. I genuinely didn’t mean to treat them poorly (if in fact I did which I did not recall). But it’s about that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. But maybe I’m okay with that and whatever it might mean. It’s really no ones call but my own.

I just find myself really calling into question so many of the rules and pictures I used to hold so sacred. I lived and died by precedence and tradition, Shoulds and supposed-tos. And now it’s just not that cut and dry. I write “woman” in my own handwriting and it means exactly what I mean it to. Nothing more or less. I define it myself and others opinion of me is of little concern to me, in that regard. I care immensely about those closest to me and how my actions affect them and how my actions affect my greater global community. But I simply cannot live in fear of disappointing, or in hopes of being affirmed. I’m learning to affirm myself.

20140202-030314.jpgThere’s a line in Perks of Being a Wallflower, “I would die for you, but I won’t live for you.” It’s kind of like that. So for me it means talking about sex. And emotions. And love. And sometimes not talking at all. My womanness is swollen with pride she stores in her hips and thighs. I don’t need to apologize for that. I don’t need to feel ashamed of a need or want to be touched, cared for, adorned, or taken care of be it sexually spiritually emotionally all of the above or otherwise. I read this article yesterday titled, “All I really need is a good f*ck and someone to pick me up at the airport.” It was satirical yet honest and I wanted to share it but felt the shame pour over me as I considered what other people would think about me reading such things. I shared it with a few friends but felt disappointed in my inability to shake the Shoulds. Who is this person I’m supposed to be? What ideals am I living up to? Who am I really disappointing by silencing myself? This is who I am. Let me be her. All of here. Let me carry her where ever I should go.

If I’m making my own rules, my own path, my own way then let it start with that. No apologies. I’m tired of being sorry for shit I’m not sorry for. I’ve been telling the truth, my truth, more than ever lately. As I grow my evolution has been such a shedding. I don’t feel the same pull to protect myself. I feel more secure in who I am and strong enough to handle the consequences of my actions. And more than that, I want people around me who understand that, who understand that I love them but I love me, too. And who, in some way, are doing the same things: Working. Living. And throwing Emily Post out the damn window. Looking for joy in small cracks, dancing when the mood strikes, and having sex when the itch needs to be scratched.

And doing so without apology.

Of course marriage is for you!

Currently dominating my newsfeed is this article about how Marriage is not for you, it is for the person you love, the family you create and blah blah blah. Cheesy. Is this a new notion? But the God’s honest truth is I very much disagree. Of course marriage is for you, how could it not be?

I believe that the falling in love facade is really us falling for the person we are in that moment. We, essentially, fall in love with the person or people who reflect the Self we like to see. And we divorce when we cannot stand to look at (or be) that person any more.

I had an ex who asked if I thought we would ever wind up together. I said no. But not because I didn’t love him, and not because he didn’t love me–he continues to this day–but because when we were first together we were open in a way I don’t know how to be anymore. Especially not with him. He said, I never lie to you and always feel like myself. I said, we didn’t know any better then. I think he misses some parts of how he used to be. But I don’t. So we can never work.

imageHere is how I see marriage: a covenant between who we are and God’s potential for us. I think when we look at our partners and we “just know” it is a deep soul-level recognition of all the love we could ever give, the joy we could ever create, the talent we could ever showcase, the gifts we could ever bring to this world. And we fall. We fall hard and we dare to dream, impossibly, we want to tell the world how good it feels and so we do. We spend thousands on weddings to celebrate our union, we invite our loved ones to bear witness to vows which hold us accountable to this other being, our beloved.

It’s ridiculous for me to think any of that is about the other person. It is about the me that I can only see through us. Because you bring me into existence. As much as I need to be seen, I need you to see me. Further, I choose you to see me. Most of all, though, love marriage unions…it’s about God. Or whatever you call the being greater than ourselves or even the sum of our parts. It is about an introduction to our capacity for this life. It is about connecting and loving, which is our highest calling. And if you only come to know the power of your self, and the power of union through marriage…I’d like to think that’s quite alright with God.

At least that’s how I see it.

Life Beautiful

Out of all the forms of social media, I think tumblr is my favorite. In high school, I wanted to work for a magazine. Initially I thought I wanted to be editor-in-chief; not because I knew what the editor-in-chief did but because I knew I wanted to probably be “in charge” because that’s just me.  Then once I got to college I decided I wanted to be the art editor. Again, not based on anything related to the job description aligned with this occupation, but because I wanted to “be in charge of making things beautiful.” That was the thought that consumed me, and to some extent it still does.

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Not a single day passes without me photographing something. Thinking a poem or singing a song. I am a total creative. I enjoy the process of making, of fretting and getting too involved only to eventually step out of the way and letting the art create itself. I love going into a piece with an idea and abandoning it completely in favor of the emergent. I recognize that not everyone does this, but then anyone can create art but not all are artists. 

When I think of the future I’d like to have I approach it much like I do a piece. I have a rough sketch but when the moment(s) come, I (try) to surrender to the moment. It is the reason for my moods.  Anyone who knows me knows I am a very emotional and “moody” person and while the latter has a negative connotation I am not sure how else to describe it.  I feel everything at 200% and make no apologizes for it.  As much as it probably annoys some, others find it courageous, I don’t really think about it or how others will react to it, I just am.

I wrote the following to a friend today, People really think I am crazy or an idealistic dreamer when I live [as if it were impossible to fail].  But I LIVE my dreams. And no matter how many times you tell people about the law of attraction and unwavering faith…they want to believe it’s a magic trick inaccessible to mere mortals. Because it’s easier to believe that than to come face to face with the FACT that we have the power to create new realities. I was saying, in a round about way, that not everyone is an artist.

Now, I do not believe that it is some talent only tangible to a select few, I think that we all find art/creation in our own ways.  But through those mediums it is a covenant with us and something much bigger, much more powerful, it is us and pure grace in those moments. When we craft, and we do so with intention and reckless abandon be it through cooking a meal, working through a garden, composing a song or humming a lullaby, sanding wood, or through the brushstrokes of a painting it is a walk with God.

The things that I am drawn to, I love lines, I love dance and movement, I love the human body the shape and the form, I love color and I love black and white, I love food that looks like it tastes, I love smells that leap into my veins, I love stories and songs and songs that tell stories. I create a life full of it.  Who is to say I cannot be a professor who teaching through creation?  No one can stand in the places that I stand and give what I give because I was created for this moment.  As were you in your places, spaces, and time.  I believe that.

So when I think of my future home. I can smell it, spices and oatmeal. Brown leather couches that swallow you swathed with warm blankets open to the kitchen and never far from natural light. Photos of loved ones on the walls, frames that are mix matched and yet coordinate together perfectly.  A kitchen table built by hand, our initials carved into the knot in the middle.  I have full access to that life and yet, as much as I love it I am willing to throw a bucket of water on it all until the paint drips down to the ground leaving only wet, bare possibility.

Terri told me recently that I have a very lively way of writing. I do not think she meant it was necessarily upbeat. I think she meant my writing is living. It has a pulse and a name, and you can call it what you want.

Timing and Acknowledgement

Did you know when you started out on your [journey] what your [story] would soon become? Someone asked Liz Gilbert this question of her famous adventure-in-soul-searching book, Eat Pray Love, to which she said, “what sane person could have ever imagined such a thing?!”

It got me to thinking about beginnings. When was it, exactly, that I started on my journey? Was it when I left Nashville? Arguably the decision to move home instead of drink myself into an oblivion was definitely a turning point and a new start. Or was it when I moved to San Diego? Life has been a roller-coaster ride of surprises since I’ve been here. I’ve grown–both upwards into the light and also down into the earth. But perhaps neither of these is the beginning and my great work has yet to begin.

Of course, that’s simply not true. Even EPL began before it began. In a sense, we are always living our stories. Sometimes the past is the only way we can contextually make sense of the present…which as we make meaning of it, is passed.

Sometimes when a moment is happening, you get a sense that it means something much larger than the right now. I felt that way the first time I met E, or RKB. Or even the minor players and some friends. Standing in the “now” it feels as if past present and future have all aligned and these people fit into your life in a way that seems space was carved for them; and it was.

I feel as though when I make sincere requests to God, my prayers are answered. Often tenfold. Lately, I’ve found myself praying for presence. For the ability to, when faced with an inconvenient truth, not bolt and dive head-first into numbing activities. Give me the ability to stay and endure. Meredith said last night, “the only way out is through.” How absolutely astute, and sure I’ve heard it before but something about hearing it at that moment on that day made it a little more true than previously.

Ash once told me the greatest advice she ever got was, ” Right guy, wrong time; wrong guy.” It a greater scope I take it to mean that, the universe–in all of its infinity and wonder–does not nor will it ever do “almost”. Natures timing is perfect. Things bloom when they are supposed to, die when it’s time, and are nourished all the days of their life, all things considered. Why should we be different?

Are we?

imageThat’s the thing about timing, though. We sometimes get on our ownand forget that we are not separate from nature, but very much a part of it. We bloom when we are supposed to, die when it’s time and are nourished all the days of our life, all things considered. Right now, when I asked myself where I was in that I quickly heard myself say, you are opening. If I close my eyes I can see it, myself. A little bud still green at the base but whose petals are ready to bask in warm sunshine and be wet with falling rain.

And who knows whether my great story will be about the beginning, the middle, or the end? I certainly do not. I know that it will arrive when it’s time. And I will not ignore it, I will sit down and give it proper attention. I will write until the ending arrives. But for now, I suppose, I am just living the prologue.

50 years of dreams, and Oprah and Brene

I have written three journal entries about meeting Oprah and Brene Brown Monday. What I realized was that I needed to get out of the way of the post and let it come.  The words were ready but per usual when things go awry, I could not let go.  I was blessed enough to have the opportunity to attend a taping of not one but two Lifeclass shows.  The first Brene talked about her book Daring Greatly and the 4 myths about vulnerability, and the second show she talked about shame and becoming shame resilient.


I thought my arm looked HUGE in this photo on the top and I remember looking at the photo and saying, “Dear arm, you will not be allowed one ounce of the joy of this day.” And I posted it on every social media site I am on. When I see the photo even now, I think of the moment and then of my declaration, and I feel immensely proud of myself.

Who is Brene Brown? I suppose that is easily google-able but I can tell you who she is to me.  She is someone who put her heart into her work. She is someone who defies antiquated mindsets in “The Academy” which do not always prioritize the accessibility of research to the non-academic. She is one of my professional heroines. The thing that I can appreciate most about her is that she is relatable. I know she is a PhD but she does not lead with her degree, she leads with her heart and it is that which allows so many people to be touched and changed by her work. When I think of the kind of impact I want to make both professionally and as a person, she is someone that I can look to and say, She did it and did it well. I have shared my apprehension about being too “academic” or too “poetic” and wondering how the two could possibly exist within the living breathing dynamic creation that will be my dissertation.  What I came to understand is that if it is coming from me then it will have both because both are of and in me.  I am a poet, and I am an academic not always in equal measure, but certainly always both simultaneously, and what I can now acknowledge is that: We cannot help but to be ourselves, even if we do not wish to be.

Everyone knows Oprah, except for that one salesperson in Switzerland, and ever since I first told people that I was going to get to attend the taping I have been getting all sorts of requests of how to let her know just how much she means to people. In reality, I probably said 5 words to Oprah and none of them were life-changing, I’m sure. What I can take from the experience is this: you cannot chase Oprah.  When you look at Nate Burkus, or Dr. Phil, or Suze Orman, or even Brene Brown these are people who allowed themselves to be naked, or on fire, or whatever metaphor suits your minds eye illustration of “in it”; passionate in their own fields and surrendered in their work.  These are not people who wake up saying, how can I be a celebrity? How can I be successful? How can I get Oprah to notice me? That is chasing, and Liz Gilbert bless her beautiful soul has haunted me with the idea that the things we chase like thieves run like thieves.  So why “Chase Oprah?” I think…when I look even at myself and my own goals it is not so much that I want to meet Oprah, it is that I want to be recognized as being a passionate and dedicated educator and leader. What I believe Oprah has come to symbolize in our country and arguably in the world, is the definitive arrival at such a place. If you are meeting Oprah, as a guest in the capacity that Brene is meeting her, then Brene has “arrived”. And, don’t kill me but…Oprah is just a person. I have written before about this, but the things we feel about ourselves, the things we know about ourselves when we see her is what makes her who she is.  The thing I wish we really acknowledged is that we are JUST AS SPECIAL as she is, she just already knows it.

And while I absolutely am thrilled for Brene and her successes that have come and are sure to continue, for myself I see, there is work yet to be done.  When I got home from the taping that night I wrote thoughts of how to make small changes in my classroom as both student and teacher to be more present and apparent in my work.

dreamI am a person who believes whole-heartedly in the power of dreams, and it is no wonder that this post did not show up in me fully until today, the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s I have a dream speech. I believe that dreams are blueprints for the type of world that we are capable of creating. I believe that anything that comes to me (or anyone) in a dream is not only possible but that it has come to us in particular because we have everything that it takes to bring said dream into fruition.  I believe that more often than not we get caught up in our own self doubt, shame, and then the projections that other people place on us of their insecurities.  Somehow it has become far easier to believe the awesomely negative rather than the awesomely awesome. I am a person who anticipates extraordinary.  I wait for it like I wait for the sun to set, and I am person who does not think small of tiny miracles.

When I announced the Brene/Oprah opportunity, I had many people asking how this “stuff” always happens to me.  Honestly? I wait for it to.  But not without work, faith without works is DEAD! I practice gratitude daily, all day beginning with my first morning thoughts, and I pull goodness to me with absolute intention. I foolishly believe that I am deserving of amazing things and experiences and the universe conspires on my behalf.  It is a simple and as complicated as that.  How can we dare to expect extraordinary if we cannot find the beauty, the joy, the grace in the so-called ordinary?

I think Dr. King had to have been one of those people as well, who despite all the negative that other people may have seen in his struggle was so fixed on the end goal, The Dream, that the other things did not mar his spirit.  Did he say to himself, I am in jail but Thank you God, I am not hurt, my family is safe, and my purpose is not lost? I think he must have been because he persisted. Not only that, but it did not tarnish the spirit of the movement. This summer, during the conference one of my group members said, “Sometimes I’m grateful for anger, because it makes people get honest. People get angry and they really show up.” Non-violence did not mean that people were not angry or that they numbed themselves to the human experience of feeling humiliated, angry, frustrated, worn, or deflated. But the absolute belief in this dream of equality, of being Seen, of being Heard…it refocused the energy of an entire generation.

That is where I can draw a parallel in what was happening 50 years ago and what is happening right now on Sunday mornings on OWN across the world.  There is this…space where acknowledgement for the full human experience is not only present but encouraged.  We are invited to be in community with one another as our whole selves, and what Brene’s work speaks to is the challenges we have in doing that and how we can overcome it for this dream…the same one Dr. King had, where people–all people– felt worthy enough to show up and the collective was accepting enough to say, I See You, I hear you, you exist.

It is a beautiful thing…and I see my own place in it all as well. I know that my own work in concurrent individual and systemic development has a lot to do with how people “show up” in groups. It has a lot to do with authenticity, with values, with vulnerability, with shame, with doubt, with trauma, with fear and with judgment.  At the end of the day I want my research to show that, I could not get there myself, but damn it, we got there together.

I wish this for everyone; for everyone to find something that gives them absolute peace and fire at the same time.  Something that keeps you up at night thinking, something that you want to share with your spouse, your neighbor, your children, something that makes you want to live a better life and help others to do the same.  I wish for everyone to find the thing that gives them purpose and to DO THAT THING. Take the time to find what fills you, it is absolutely worth it.  Ask yourself the hard questions, co-conspire with your imagination, indulge your wildest dreams because we are SO worthy to create a beautiful world.

Lastly, and these two I got from Brene explicitly, the first is to give yourself permission to be uncool.  It is why I had to take a step back from social media a few weeks ago, because I found myself becoming increasingly more concerned with other people’s lives, and not only that but I was beginning to define my own life by the standards set by others. My outfit was only as cute as the number of ‘double-clicks’ I received on instagram.  I had to take a pause and say wait, “Does this matter? How does this matter to your life? How does this feed you? How does this nourish others?” It didn’t. And while I did get caught up in it, I also caught myself, and really that is all I can hope for, is to stay aware enough to catch it and to reset.

Second, was that the world needs to hear what YOU have to say and in YOUR voice. Brene said this to an 8-year PhD student who had lost her voice and was deferring to the voice of her faculty members around her.  It is not easy to be yourself, and so many people don’t want you to be.  It makes other people uncomfortable when you are too honest, because it gives them guilt for all the lies they tell daily. The thing is, you cannot carry that with you. I cannot. I cannot write for my advisor or my committee. I cannot teach for the one student who loves me or the one that hates me. And I cannot build my career around trying to meet Oprah.  What I can do, is to follow my heart. I can listen to my inner voice and create a life full of intention, purpose, love, and connection.  I can do my best and forgive myself when I give any less.  That is all I can do.  I think of the quote Donald Miller said of his future wife, “I will give you this, my love, and I will not bargain or barter any longer.  I will love you, as sure as [God] has loved me.  I will discover what I can discover and though you remain a mystery, save God’s own knowledge, what I disclose of you I will keep in the warmest chamber of my heart, the very chamber where God has stowed Himself in me…” and that is what I feel in large part of my work. I will give my voice to it, in language only I have been equipped to offer but it will still remain vastly unexplored yet I will keep it in all in my heart as mine and as me.

It is a bizarre thing when you realize that even when you’re pretending to be someone or something else, you are only–at best– a very good imitation.  I do not want to live my life in costume. I do not want to exist in elaborate baroque garments of society convenience, couture fabrications and designer illusions.  I want to be one-hundred percent me at all times in all spaces. How can I expect or want someone to see me, to acknowledge me, if I am not willing to step out and be who I am?  I have to be willing. We have to be willing because I cannot do it by myself. You’re scared? I am too, but I’m ready.

I prayed this prayer to the night after, I said:


Your will terrifies me. But I trust you, completely. I hear you. I’m ready. Let’s go.


Because for as much as this opportunity was about Brene and her work, it was also about me and mine–and everyone else as well. We were chosen to awaken to our own potential and to be in community with one another. We were shown what is possible and because I know of the absolute connection between us all I know that if greatness is possible in one of us it is possible in all of us.  Yes, it may look different for me than it does for LeBron James, but believe me greatness is greatness.  So I said to God, lets go. I say the same to you.

The Lifeclass featuring Dr. Brene Brown will air on Oprah’s OWN on September 22nd, and September 29th, for more information check out Oprah.com.