We are all awesome ladies.

IMG_1060Last Friday, after a long week, I took myself away for a weekend.  Just a quick trip to Gettysburg – a bed and breakfast, a morning at the spa, and a day of historical tourism.  A perfect weekend.  There was much reading.  There was a fireplace.  There were freshly painted toenails.  It was a perfect weekend.

On Sunday morning, I enjoyed breakfast with a couple of fellow travelers – and after explaining that I was, in fact, traveling alone and that I did so quite often,  one of my new friends remarked that I was an “awesome lady”.  It was brave, she thought, to travel on your own.

While I try to remind myself that I am an awesome lady as often as possible, I have not, generally, thought of traveling solo as a brave act.  For me, it is firmly within my comfort zone to make a last minute reservation, throw some stuff in my car and take off for a few days.  I can also acknowledge the immense amount of privilege in my life that allows me to do this without worry.

My intention with this short post is not to either shake off or lessen my own “awesome-ness”, nor is it an attempt at #humblebrag (although re-reading the paragraphs above, I’m afraid that’s how it has come across).  My point is that someone else looked at my actions as brave, because it was something that she wished to do.  I need to remember that things that I take for granted as easy and comfortable are, in fact, small acts of bravery that make me awesome.

But that is true in reverse, as well – those acts of bravery that I see others accomplishing that are awesome and courageous.  Taking a yoga class for the first time.  Raising children.  Being a volunteer fire fighter.  Standing up in front of a classroom of children or teenagers as a teacher. Driving a large truck.  Performing on stage. Tiling your own kitchen backsplash. Eating exotic food. Running a 5K. Wearing white pants.

There are a million brave acts – some large and some small – that I observe with awe.  Every single one of you has done something that I think is unbelievably brave, possibly without even a second thought.  So you, too, are awesome ladies (and gentlemen).  Embrace your unique brand of bravery!

 

Oh, Wendy.

For my non-Pittsburgh area friends, this blog post probably requires a little back story.

FB_WendyBellWendy Bell is (or was, until very recently) a very popular local news anchor.  Everyone knows Wendy, and through the magic of social media, we all know about her kids, her husband, and her take on family values. Lots of people love her, because they can relate to her.  And everything points to Wendy Bell being a Pittsburgh mom who loves her city, loves her family and genuinely cares about the people around her.

Wendy Bell is almost certainly not a Racist.

Recently, after a devastating mass shooting that killed five people and an unborn child at a backyard BBQ, Wendy took to Facebook to try to make sense of the tragedy.  Read the original post here, along with more context.  A lot of people read her original post and did not think there was anything wrong with it.  (In fairness, even many Wendy supporters could easily see where she went wrong in that original post.)  If you are one of those who didn’t see any issue, though, let me try to summarize:

1.) Making an assumption (particularly one so firmly stated as fact) that the perpetrator of a crime was a young black man is a racist conclusion.  You’ll say that it is based on statistics and history, but that’s the thing about racism.  If we continue to allow it, it is self-perpetuating.  That’s what leads to the systemic nature of racism.

2.) Taking that a step further and making assumptions about that fictional young black man’s upbringing and back story – that he has siblings from multiple fathers, for example – is even more glaringly racist.

3.) Ending with an uplifting story about the young black man working at the restaurant and making something good of his life is not just generally condescending, but blatantly racist.  That young black man might have an IQ of 150, be a student at Carnegie Mellon, and the son of two wealthy professional parents.  Using one young black man as a comparison to another (let’s remember, fictional) young black man is racism.

This isn’t the first time that she’s posted something to Facebook or said something in a public forum that exposed her white privilege.  Her comments on the University of Missouri’s racial tensions made me cringe several months ago (and unfortunately her social media accounts are disabled and I was unable to find the text online).

Again, I don’t think Wendy Bell is a Racist, with a capital “R”.  However, I do think that she is a white woman who sees the world through the eyes of white privilege.  I am also a white woman who sees the world through the eyes of white privilege.  Sometimes I make assumptions and jump to conclusions in my mind that I’m ashamed of.  But I work hard with every thought, word and action to fight against that ingrained racism and white privilege, and I’ll continue to do so for the rest of my days.  Based on Wendy’s readiness to share her thoughts with her immense audience via social media, it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t recognize how that white privilege and ingrained racism impacts the way she sees the world.

I am happy to see that most Pittsburghers agree that her original post displayed (at the very least) an insensitivity to the subject of race.  The division now is – Should Wendy Bell have been fired from her job at WTAE?  Given that it isn’t the first time that she was forced to apologize and that this particular incident was related to one of the most horrific crimes that Pittsburgh has endured in recent memory, I don’t think the station had any other choice.  She’s become too divisive to remain on the air.

I wish the best for Wendy Bell.  My sincere hope is that she finds a project on race relations in Pittsburgh to which she can devote her admirable energy and share lessons on tolerance that are sorely needed in our city.

Even if you can’t relate to my challenges, perhaps you might relate to the struggle.

I'm still here!I haven’t written a real blog post in over six months. It isn’t that there hasn’t been anything going on with me. It isn’t that I don’t have things to say. Figuring out how to say it, however, has been a challenge that I’m only just now even attempting to meet.

I recently wrote something for another venue where I talked about my passion for creating safe space for others to share their personal challenges and triumphs. While I think that this safe space is often something very intimate – one-on-one conversations with a friend – I also believe that sharing my own imperfect journey via social media is a way of opening up some safe space, albeit in a far less intimate way. Even if you can’t relate to my specific challenges, perhaps you might be able to relate to the idea of struggle.

After having to say goodbye to the most amazing therapist (due to her move to another state), I am happy to say that I have found another, similarly wonderful person with whom I can continue to learn. With her, I am addressing two of my personal addictions – shopping and food – in a way that I have never done before, and quite frankly, with mixed success. Now very conscious of my previously unconscious thoughts, I find myself putting an extraordinary amount of energy into recognizing, acknowledging and redirecting my thoughts. It is exhausting and has made me more irritable and difficult than normal. But I’m noticing changes in my thought patterns already, which is just enough to keep me going forward.

I am also trying to understand and address some lost relationships that I’ve experienced over the past year. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t understand why these ties dissolved, but what I don’t understand is why I allowed it to happen. Some of the most important relationships in my life have been frozen this year, and I have not taken the steps that would be necessary to restore them. It’s a failure that I am deeply ashamed of, but I do still feel stuck in inactivity.

And while those things are addressing the negative energy, there is a lot of positive, as well.   I believe that I’ve finally figured out what I want to be when I grow up. I’m pursuing a path that feels right in a way that nothing really has before. And while I’m not yet ready to discuss the details, I will be sharing more in months to come.

I swore I would never move again.

I swore I would never move again.

With all of that happening, I am also preparing to sell my house and buy a house with my parents. I am certain that this will spawn many blog posts to come, as preparing to live together again is challenging, exciting and a tiny bit terrifying. We’re still six months away from any actual move, but preparing two houses for sale, planning to consolidate into a single house again, and mentally preparing for everything involved in selling, buying and moving… The stress of such a move starts early.

I do plan and hope to return to blogging more often in the months to come. I suspect that my posts may become more personal—more about myself and less about the world at large. I have no doubt that I will return to social activism from time to time, and hopefully in a bigger way in the future, but for now, I am giving myself permission to focus on my own world.

The Story of Charlie

(Not my normal blog post fare.  In fact, I’m not sure what this.  Inspired by art therapy night and a desire to cheer up a friend having a bad day.)

cat stories

Charlie is a major diva, but it wasn’t always that way. As a kitten, having one tan paw was a constant source of embarrassment. Other kittens would tease. “Gnarly Charlie” became the most common nickname. Uninspired, perhaps, but effective in making Charlie feel like a misfit.

As Charlie got bigger, however, that one tan paw caught the attention of whoever had the pleasure of meeting hir. (Charlie also decided around this time that zie didn’t want to conform to gender stereotypes. As a house cat, that was remarkably unremarkable.) Charlie’s human (a girl who was happy to conform to gender stereotypes, oddly enough) took photos of Charlie all the time.

Like all good ugly duckling stories, Charlie blossomed into a swan. Not literally. Charlie was still a cat. But the most fabulous pussycat that ever existed.

When Charlie’s human bought the first pussycat hat for hir, both Charlie and hir human were not sure how it was going to go. Cats were notoriously persnickety, and Charlie was the persnickety-est. But the moment Charlie felt that elastic band snap under hir chin, Charlie knew that zie had found hirself.   From that moment, Charlie dedicated hir life to being fabulous.

Charlie dreamed of being famous. Instagram-famous! Tumblr-famous! Charlie aspired to Grumpy Cat levels of fame. And with a change of wardrobe, a vigorous fur fluffing and some fabulous pussycat accessories, Charlie started hir meteoric rise.

Fan letters started to pour in. Instagram followers hit 2 million. Memes appeared all over the internet. And that’s when it happened. “Gnarly Charlie” started to appear in the comments. Internet trolls made fun of Charlie’s one tan paw. Transphobic hate groups started “anti-Charlie” groups on Facebook.   Internet fame had an ugly side, and it had reached Charlie.

But this story has a happy ending. Charlie is a cat. Charlie can’t read. Charlie has no idea that the haters exist. And so Charlie lived fabulously ever after.

The moral of this story is that life is better if you can’t read comments on the internet.

Celebrate the US Constitution – Raise your voice and stomp your feet.

us constitutionToday is the 228th anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution.  The Constitution was not ratified until almost a year later, but September 17th is “Constitution Day” , the federally recognized anniversary of the document that is the basis on which our nation has been built.

Until recently, I only had some pretty vague notions of the background of the writing of the US Constitution.  A few years ago, I probably would have credited Thomas Jefferson (he was actually in France at the time of the Constitutional Convention) and I would have assumed that the US Constitution was created right on the heels of the American Revolution, with a universal idea that the new nation needed a new guiding document.  I would have been wrong on both counts.  And if you aren’t clear on the history of the Constitution, I’m going to attempt to give you the 30 second version.*

30-Second 5 Minute Version of the US Constitution’s History

During and immediately following the American Revolution, the United States of America looked to the Articles of Confederation as the basis of national government.  The Articles of Confederation provided a very loose framework for a national government – purposely limiting power at the top in favor of state sovereignty.  There were lots of good reasons for this approach, and it is certainly understandable for the colonies who were trying to get out from under the tyranny of the British to not want to create a strong, central government.  The states themselves were also incredibly diverse, and didn’t necessarily think of themselves as “one nation” in a deep sense just yet.

During the Revolution, the inability to coordinate supplies, funding, volunteers… the inability to coordinate the war itself was one of the direct results of having a weak central government.  Only the states could impose taxes or raise funds, and so a coordinated effort for money and manpower was virtually impossible.  General Washington, particularly, felt this burden deeply and saw the need for a higher level of centralized power.

Ultimately, (most of) the states agreed and appointed men to attend the Constitutional Convention.  Rhode Island, historically persnickety, declined to participate.  (Thomas Jefferson, as previously noted, and John Adams were both in Europe at the time, and did not participate.)  The men sent to the Constitutional Convention were charged with one goal – revise the Articles of Confederation.  And as far as that goal goes, they failed.  Or rather, they didn’t even bother to try.

Instead of revising the Articles of Confederation, the delegates started from scratch.  Having unanimously selected George Washington as the president of the Convention, the delegates agreed to Washington’s demand that the proceedings be entirely secret and sealed.  (I’m not sure that they happily agreed, but they did agree nonetheless.)  No delegate was permitted to take notes or to talk about what was being said during the Convention.  The idea was that by keeping all discussion behind closed doors, the delegates could be free to have genuinely open debate, without fear of reprisals or pressure from their home states or other interests.  When they came to an agreement, they could present a united front on the final decision.  It also served the purpose of allowing them to scrap the original goal of revising the Articles of Confederation in favor of pursuing a more sweeping change.  As it turned out, James Madison took copious notes, which is how we know anything at all about what went on.  Thanks, JM.  (I find it hard to imagine that Washington didn’t notice; there is an amusing story about Washington finding a page of notes lying on the floor and flipping his lid.  He wasn’t kidding about the no note-taking thing.)

us constitution signingAnd let’s be clear about the debate – there was a LOT of it.  The delegates didn’t agree on anything.  They didn’t even agree on whether they should be creating a new Constitution in the first place.  Certainly many originally wanted to stick with the idea of revising the Articles of Confederation.  And the debate was not all high brow and academic.  There was name calling.  There was sarcasm.  There were fists on tables, loud voices, stomping feet and probably at least few times when one of the delegates flounced out of the room.

The 3/5ths compromise that made slaves count for just 3/5ths of a person?  That was a Northern compromise, because the North didn’t want them to count at all.  The South wanted them to be counted fully as part of the population.  No one intended to allow black voters, of course, but counting them as part of the population gave the slaveholding states more representatives in Congress.

Another key compromise was also on the issue of representation.  The Senate would have two representatives from each state, regardless of size, but the House of Representatives would be based on population.  And any bills related to raising funds (ie taxes) would have to originate in the House.

The majority of delegates ultimately agreed that the US Constitution should be kept as short and simple as possible.  The argument for a Bill of Rights, most vehemently waged by George Mason who ultimately refused to sign the Constitution because it lacked one, was countered with the argument that if the Constitution didn’t specifically give the federal government the right TO do something, then the federal government could NOT do that thing.  In other words, there was not a need to specifically protect free speech, because the Constitution didn’t give the federal government any right to limit free speech.  As it turns out, this would come back to bite them and a Bill of Rights would be added shortly after the Constitution was ratified.

The “Founding Fathers” (as people are so quick to call such a disparate group of individuals) did not have a common set of values.  They didn’t even really have a common purpose, except for one of self-preservation.  Some wanted very limited government.  Some wanted a larger, more centralized federal government.  Some wanted to abolish slavery within the first draft of the Constitution, and others wanted to make sure that slavery was protected within the Constitution.  Standing armies, central banks, public education… these were all issues on which they just did not agree.  They even argued about what to call the head of this new government.  But they found the middle ground and they did the best they could.

228 years later, that end result still governs our nation.  We still argue about it.  Some of us want a stronger, centralized government.  Some want small, limited government.  Gun control, universal health care, banking regulation, marriage rights… there are a slew of issues on which we still just don’t agree.  There are days when I feel overwhelmed with the differences in beliefs, frustrated that someone doesn’t see things my way.  So I stomp my feet, raise my voice, pound my fist on the table – and I hope that I can live up to the expectations of those Founding Fathers by seeking out compromises and finding that middle ground.

* So I failed that that particularly objective.

A is for…

asexuality, labelsWhether or not we like labels, we all have them. Sometimes we celebrate them. Sometimes we despise them. Sometimes we just try to avoid them altogether. Some labels are innocuous, like “female”. Some labels are bound to inspire judgment, like “feminist”. And others labels are impossible to shake, so we focus on owning them, like “fat”.

Ultimately, labels can’t define us, however they do help us to connect with others like us and find commonalities with people who seem so different. Within just the past year, I have had beautiful experiences connecting with individuals who share my experiences of being “fat and fabulous”, a feminist, an atheist, and a liberal.

But when it comes to one label, I still feel like the odd duck. I am asexual.

Talking about sexuality has lost much of its taboo. Without minimizing the still-pervasive prejudice (and sometimes violence) suffered by those identifying as homosexual or bisexual, it is still possible to acknowledge that being homosexual is generally understood as an accepted state of being.  Being asexual? Not so much.

Not even sure what asexuality is? (Click here for more from the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network.)  Asexual individuals do not experience sexual attraction. There are a lot of subtleties and degrees of asexuality. In addition to being asexual, I would consider myself also aromantic, indicating a lack of romantic attraction. As far as any other details of my sexuality, you aren’t getting any. (My dad reads this blog, for pete’s sake!)

Let me be clear – I am not suffering. In fact, I’m tempted to delete everything up above there and start over, because this all sounds so dramatic. My life is amazing. I would not change a thing. And that is, in fact, my point. There’s nothing wrong with me.

asexuality

I have maybe used the word “asexual” out loud in conversation (in a serious way) maybe twice. It’s not something I talk about. Why? Because there is an assumption that a lack of sexual or romantic desire is the result of some medical or psychological issue. I can’t say this enough – there is nothing wrong with me.

I have never been abused. I do not have a medical condition that impacts my sex drive. I am not – and this is the most pervasive and most offensive assumption – insecure because of my weight. It is not because I simply “don’t know what I’m missing”. I’m not a late bloomer. I’m not afraid of sex. I’m not just waiting for the right person to come along and change my mind. I’m not, as it turns out, missing out on any of the wonderful things life has to offer. My life is amazing. And there is nothing wrong with me.

There is a downside, though. Asexuality is not the standard state of being; the world caters to a sexual and romantic society. I’m not necessarily suggesting that it should be different, but I do find myself wishing for more acknowledgment and understanding. It occurs to me, however, that acknowledgment and understanding can’t happen with open and honest conversation.  So this is me, being honest and starting the conversation.