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.

Last Night a DJ Saved My Dissertation

The entire room felt like one massive, united tribe of thousands of people, and the DJ was the tribal leader of the group. People weren’t dancing to the music so much as the music seemed like it was simply moving through everyone. The steady wordless electronic beats were the unifying heartbeats that synchronized the crowd. It was as if the existence of individual consciousness had disappeared and been replaced by a single unifying group consciousness, the same way a flock of birds might seem like a single entity instead of a collection of individual birds. Everyone in the warehouse had a shared purpose. We were all contributors to the collective rave experience.
~Tony Hsieh “Delivering Happiness” 

I’d read these words sometime last year and highlighted them to remind myself to share them with my Work Wife. I knew she attended raves, and I wanted to know if this experience that Tony described was what she felt, too.  When I asked her, she confirmed and ever since then I’ve wanted to attend a rave. Last night I did.

A short remark before I continue, people are often surprised at the things that I get into.  My thought now, and for most of my life has been to just have fun and never be afraid to try new things.  Of course there are things that I do not like or that do not sound appealing to me (sky diving), but more often than not I believe in the fun of the adventure and a life free of what-ifs.

So, last night Work Wife (WW), her husband and friends and I went to see Armin Van Buuren here in San Diego.  I was dressed like a highlighter in bright neon workout clothes because she told me to dress bright and light–as in light fabrics because with so many people dancing it can get hot.  We arrived at the concert at about 8, and for the next five hours were treated to lights, smoke, acrobatics, singing, dancing, live musicians, confetti, and of course, really really good music.  I’ve told WW previously about my ability to see people’s auras and colors in music.  There was a moment last night when I sat down and just closed my eyes. She asked me if I was too hot or needed anything and I told her no I was fine but I could see better with my eyes closed. I tried to describe to her the way all the colors looked to me but nothing I said could quite paint the picture. It was amazing, and the words Tony used, or that I would use to describe the experience fall daftly short to even begin to explain.

I texted a friend of mine who has been to raves and told him that it was easily one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in my life, and asked him why he never told me about them before.  He messaged me back and simply said, “Its a total different experience, right?” It is.  When I woke up this morning I was still so curious about what I’d experienced the night before. What was that? It was beautiful, whatever it was, but what was it?  It was then that I went back to my copy of Delivering Happiness and looked for Tony’s words to see if I could find my own truth hidden in them. It was exactly it.  It’s a shame that raves get this stigma of drugs and out of control behavior, because it was so much more than that. It was, I thought, exactly what I’ve been trying to describe in my dissertation.

Connection…drafting…murmuration…movement…one purpose…deference to the collective…this was it. It was the experience of being at a rave but in a classroom.  How do we get that? How can we foster that? What do we call that so we can ask for it specifically?  My synapses were firing all over the place lighting up connections between this theory and that study. It was like a laser light show of thought.   I went straight to my computer and began typing. I didn’t stop for two hours.


Old New, Lessons Learned and Lists

I’ve been racking my brain.

Trying to figure out what I wanted to do for my birthday. I couldn’t think of a thing and I couldn’t pick an outfit. I could not even muster up an ambiance or feeling I wanted for the occasion.  All things that are generally atypical for me. It was not until last night when after looking for dresses online for a few hours that I closed the computer and went to my closet. I’ve been sick all week and so I have not really eaten anything other than soup twice a day.  My hair was undone, my face was bare, I did not even have on shoes…but I slipped on a dress–my favorite dress. I have owned this dress since 2007. I bought it to wear at a bachelorette party. It is a size 12 and I am not, nor was I then, a size 12 but it made me love the dress even more. Then and now. It hugs but not too much. It’s short but not too much. It’s sexy but not too much. It is exactly how I want to feel on my birthday.  Like me.

It dawned on me then as I walked around my room in the dress, that what I wanted most this year was not something new, it was something old. Something meaningful. I did not want to go to the hottest new club. I wanted to feel comfortable. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to be with people I loved in a space I know. I did not want pretense or extravagance, I wanted it to be just enough but not too much.

There was something about figuring out what I wanted to do for my birthday that made me want to make a list of things I want in a greater sense. I mentally began to draft a list:

  • To publish multiple non-fiction books
  • To be a multi-millionaire with multiple streams of income–in this I want to be sure to only align myself with people and projects that I feel parallel my values.
  • To, at some point, work with Zappos in an official capacity (I see this company as an example of the aforementioned)
  • To one day have Harvard call me.

There are more but that is where I started. For only a moment I thought of the audacity I had to make such a bold list. Only for a moment. In the next breath I knew that nothing I wanted was out of reach and I have to only set the intention and pull it to me.

I had a moment last week in talking with EmJ about old friends and how I didn’t like the idea that some of my oldest and dearest friends feel we are not on the same “level” because of things I have accomplished and they have not.  It makes me sad and I want to bring EVERYBODY with me but the thing is…you can’t.  Moving up, stepping out…it can be extremely lonely for a while.  It can serve as a test. Can you stand to be blessed? Do you have the wherewithal to sustain the shedding of old skin? Can you let go to let come?

I feel like that was what this year so far has been for me. I have had to let a LOT of things go. Namely, the pictures in my head of what it was supposed to be. The pictures in my head of what I was supposed to be. I had to let it all go so that the truth of what and who I am could emerge.  I am not yet in the emergent space. I am still the lotus closed underneath the mud.  My eyes are just adjusting to the darkness that surrounds me and  I’ve ceased my panic.

Jessica, give yourself the same time you would offer to others.


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.

Wining and Dining Quitting

If, at some point during your doctoral studies, you do not think solidly about quitting…I mean plan out your life for the next year, finances and all, as though you were to walk into your department chair’s office the following morning with a typed letter on your best stationary (or a hand written note on a post-it depending how busted your give-a-damn is) and explain to him or her why you are taking a permanent leave…then I might not trust you.

IMG_0043Over the past month I have thought considerably about why I am still here.  Now, here is the part where I spoil the ending because so many of my professors and colleagues read my blogs and are probably thinking they need to check on me, don’t worry folks I’m staying.  But I was seriously thinking about it.  I looked at jobs I could do given my educational background and experience and I wrote out a 6-month plan for having my first book done.  The idea was so appetizing I could all but taste it on my lips.  I do not consider myself the type of person who needs to finish just to say she did.  In fact, I take great pride in not being afraid to leave nouns (people, places, or things) that no longer serve me.  So I had to figure out did this work still serve me? What did I stand to gain besides three small but powerful letters at the end of my name?

I was seriously entertaining quitting. I was wearing my best outfit, I had my best bottle of aged red aerating and the most decadent meal was being prepared.  I was being a most gracious host and thought, well you’ve learned some great things the past three years you can walk away knowing it was not a total waste. And then…

I stopped.

I had to remember why I started.  In my personal statement for admission into my program I wrote:

Though my career path has changed many times, my goal has remained static: I want to inspire people…USD’s PhD in Leadership Studies’ international study requirement shows the dedication for grooming new world leaders.  We must reach beyond our own frame of reference and stretch into the unknown, and the unfamiliar to find growth as leaders.  We must do it as leaders before we can expect those who follow to accept change.  I strongly believe that embracing the idea of a collaborative global community, especially in helping professions, only aids in the building of an effective and inventive leader.  Lastly, one of the four types of knowledge USD instills in its Doctoral candidates is somatic knowledge.  In my growth as a leader, I have come to rely more on my intuition, and essentially faith in my decision making. It is faith that guides my work as I counsel college students through anxiety, depression, grief, and loss; faith that I am a capable practitioner, faith that my knowledge and training will prevail over personal bias or limitations, and faith that I can make a difference in the life of a student. In a profession that is often heavily reliant on empirical proof, research, and reliability, it is refreshing to find adherence to something as powerful, yet unintelligible as faith.

That is why I am here. It is much less about the PhD and what that means and more about learning and receiving training from people within an institution who share my vision of leadership and change.  I was reminded of conversations particularly with my Org Theory professor and I told him how I understood leadership and relate it often to biological metaphors.  I often use the sciences (biology and physics mostly) to make sense of my experiences and here was a place, and a person in a place, a person in a place in a space that not only understood me but supported my thinking and pushed me to consider even more.  So, it’s changed a bit. I came for the degree and am staying for the community.

Dr. Avery (sidebar, she is such a gem…she does not know it yet –or maybe she will shortly–but I am going to make time to talk to her at least once a month because she anchors me. Not just academically but in a lot of the very important ways.) Anyway, Dr. Avery asked me “When your dissertation is done, printed and bound, what do you want it to say about you?” I did not have an answer for her, but as I was talking it through with Nicki last night in a chat about Kegan I realized this dissertation is my work.  Not just my research but my work.  It will be evidence of my own desire to balance the both and; embededness and differentiation. To be both I and We and the same time over and over again in new ways.  So what it will say about it me is that I and We existed in that way at that time never to be replicated again. And more so that through my own work (and work) people came to understand their own embedded|differentiated selves.  That perhaps we push a little harder for connection.  What that says about me? Well perhaps that I was simply the medium for which something greater was uncovered.  It will be a hallmark, and that I find great peace in.

The Attraction to Impossible

ERhSc14I have a knack for coveting the incaptureable.  I realize that to some degree, we all want what we cannot have, however for me it is exponentially more complex.  Not only do I want it, I believe it can be mine. I do not view it as “impossible”, incredibly difficult maybe but never impossible. I become fixated on it and then of course, once I have it, the thrill is gone and I am off to the next impossible thing.  I thought to myself today, “You have far too much air and not enough earth.”

I am always chasing, running, looking for adventure. Moving, jumping, diving, flowing with air and sometimes getting tossed around in it, laughing at gravity and daring it to stop me.  Something as big as gravity, I laugh at it.  I taunt it and I tease it and I fancy myself ultimately unbound by it. These are the things that I believe, and so when it comes to being ardent, steadfast, predictable, and still? I struggle.

I’ve been toying with fire lately. Trying to teach myself to move the flames. There is the way of forcing it, it is aggressive and brash and then there is Iroh’s way which seeks balance with the element. He bends fire like a waterbender bends water, recognizing the destruction that both can cause when abused.  I was standing in a circle during a Shamanic prayer exercise, there was burning resin at the center of the circle and the smoke as first was blowing in the wind.  Until…

I started to play with it. I tried to force my will upon it, to no avail.  Willing the smoke to come to me I called it, flirtatiously at first, then more persistent.  It could sense my frustration and fled. I breathed deeply and decided on another approach. I said the words, “I yield” and I repeated it over and over again in my mind until the whole of my body vibrated with the sentiment and the smoke came.  Circled at my feet I tried not to lose focus of my vibration as I took in what was happening. I let it go, and the smoke moved to others in the circle, no longer slave to the wind it touched us all. Then I called it again, “I yield. I yield. I yield.” I repeated, and again it came.

When I told others in the conference about the experience it was interesting to note that many people noticed the movement of the smoke and some even noted how they were surprised it moved and did not just blow in the direction of the wind.

Even now as I recall the story, I have to tell myself not to chalk it up to coincidence.  Even in knowing that you are in tune or in touch with the unexplained world around us, it is still very difficult to hold that and to be that.  So much of my life is in words. Boundaries. Deadlines. But the truth of me is that those things are only half of my story; black and white are simply concentrated shades of grey.  I just believe in much more than can be written or explained. I believe in experiences, the body will remember.



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.

Something and Something Else

This is an always that I really didn’t recognize until the new year, but right now I am in a state of in-between. Professional and student, 20s and 30s, provincial Southern girl and adventurous woman of the world, middle class and…the place I am destined for. I could go on but the case for liminality is mounting, I am not here nor there but somewhere else entirely.

Same as before, I remain ever so watchful over my life at present.  Not quite in the heavens not quite on the earth. I had a moment of sitting watching myself at dinner last night with my mother and aunt. I became aware of our country accents, our penchant for talking to strangers, and being a little too honest. I even noticed as certain emotions arose, and in an almost meditative state I nodded my head to them in acknowledgement to bring them into existence and by doing so they popped like bubbles; colors soap and childlike wishes lost to air and space and time.

thumbnailImageI can smell the change in the air before it even arrives, the winds are turning. Crisp and sweet the breeze tastes like golden delicious and pumpkin spice, I have my wings up like sails ready to be blown in the direction fate would take me.  Often I am asked if I will stay in California and I say no with no inkling of an idea where the next place shall be.  I have never been in a place I did not want to leave, except Jamaica. And then, I left just to be able to experience the bliss of returning.

It has just come to me that I am drawn to characters who drift. Mary Poppins, Holly Golightly, Carrie Bradshaw…and perhaps the latter most “stable” in terms of her movement all three seemed to float in and out of situations, love, and experiences.  Their willingness to live…

Life is short, far too short to spend it in one place or the other. Always packing or unpacking…but then there is something so completely lovely about having a home which holds the intimate treasures representative of a life well-lived.  I think….I think its best that as I may drift, and as right now I take no residence in anywhere in particular that I keep that home in my heart and my heart planted firmly in the in between.

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. 

Torchbearer’s Creed

There are very few things I love more than my alma mater, and anyone who spends any extensive time with me can attest to that.  From my Tennessee home key, to my “you’ll always be…” necklace, to the orange and white checkered post-it notes that sit on my desk, I am a Tennessee Volunteer through and through. But if I had to choose one thing that stood out among the traditions born on Rocky Top I would solidly choose the Torchbearer’s Creed.

One that beareth a torch shadoweth oneself to give light to others.

I found myself standing with these words on Saturday as I thought of a goal for myself: to be the torch and the torchbearer. When I made the proclamation I was thinking of being fire–owning the power that is within me that, yes, has the potential to destroy but also has the potential to warm and sustain–and also being the giver of light to others.  This brought my life long goal full-circle.  I have always only ever wanted to inspire people. Simple, right? The piece that was missing was the former part, recognizing that in order to give others’ their light, I have to first be the light.

I woke up this morning in a curious predicament. I was wrapped up in my blankets and sheets, quite literally they had formed a cocoon around me and as I came into full consciousness I wondered what on earth had I done in my sleep? I rarely ever move in my sleep, and yet here I had swaddled myself in the night.  My morning ritual is to begin by saying thank you to God and expressing gratitude for anything that comes to mind.  So I began my thanks, and as my feet hit the floor I knew something was different. I felt different.  Now, it would be awfully cliche to suggest that on the night I cocooned myself in my bedding that the next morning I emerged this wonderfully transcendent and enlightened butterfly, and I am not suggesting that.  What I am suggesting is that today and everyday after today will be markedly different than the days that have preceded it.

Last night in hearing the incredible gifts that each of my colleagues, friends, and confidants shared in class was was so therapeutic. One in particular though was in so many ways my story and as he offered how he would go through it all again just to be where he was today with us, that there was and is a divine reason and order for everything.  So when I woke this morning I said thank you to my father. And I thanked him for the hard time that I/we went through between 2007-2009. I thanked him for loving me in the very best way that he knew how.  I forgave myself for making him the villain in so many stories I’ve told and I understood that had it not been what it was, I could not be where I am.  Similarly, in the moments of last night I thanked my weight. It sounds weird to admit. But, had it not been for the sheer volume of my physical body…I remember it was raining on perhaps one of, if not the, darkest days of my life and thinking I could just as easily disappear…and that I would go through with committing to my physical nonexistence if it were not for leaving this ugly body to then be handled and seen by all sorts of people. Its really…honestly its fucked up to think about and it seems so far away in the emotional memory of me, but it was there. I couldn’t die without being beautiful first, and that meant thin. So I thanked my weight because if I had been anything but 334lbs in that moment, I might have done something irreparable.

And then there is right now, the moment where I see the immense value of my life and am very aware of my purpose during my time here. The space where I see what I have to offer and am beginning to find outlets to engage and grow. The place where I recognize the gifts that those around me have to offer and I am inspired by them. I live in a garden with so much potential around me and it is exciting and inspirational and a blessing.

When I consider where I was and where I am, I have this overwhelming feeling of gratitude. It is with absolutely grace that I look over the events in my life and think, my god was it beautiful.  I learned to stand alone when I was left. I learned the gift in living when I most wanted to die. I learned the power of my own voice when I was asked to be quiet. So I suppose this is but a continued portion of my morning ritual, a moment of thanks.

4736433638_c21b813e01_mSince the time of my depression I have not considered my own mortality. I have never thought of what it might be like to not be here anymore, and while I do not fear death it is quite an awesome (in the true sense of the word) state to contemplate. What I smile at is that by spreading my own light, that pieces of me will exist in anyone ignited by my flame. And in that way, we are all infinite…as is by design. What is perhaps the most cool thing about the universe’s way is that it only works if we are a we…we are not an multitude of i’s. That is the only way it works, as a collective; the creed too because it is with the other that I, the torchbearer, find my purpose. And to that I have to say thank you to you, simply for being and in doing so, bringing me into existence.