Wednesday, April 1, 2020

My Guilty Plea

A few posts ago, I wrote about being too comfortable... about how I needed to get out of my comfort zone and take some chances in my life and career. Well, little did I know how uncomfortable the entire world would get in 7 short weeks.

While many of us are feeling a lot of the same emotions; stress, fear, impatience, sadness... this pandemic has brought out a feeling I wasn't quite prepared for; guilt. All different shades of guilt, too. From vintage to new-found, my guilt cup runneth over.

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Security Guilt
If you're lucky, you still have a job and are working from home. As an actor and freelance writer, I'm on hold with projects. With acting, self-taped auditions are always a possibility, however as most productions have shut down, there aren't any jobs available. As a writer, clients aren't looking to hire for any extraneous writing projects at the moment. So yeah, here I am in limbo from any paid gigs, but my husband has never been busier. He works in a field where his digital solution-based background is pretty invaluable.

I'm not freaking out about financial security because of my husband. Oh, welcome back vintage guilt about Being Financially Dependent On My Husband! You're always lurking in the shadows, but man did you make a grand entrance recently! I ping-pong between gratitude and guilt, spending more time on the guilt side of the table since I know so many family and friends who are worried about how long receiving a paycheck will be an actuality.

Even before this pandemic and quarantine, this is something I've wanted to write about for a long time. In a nutshell, I feel very undeserving of the life I have. The house I live in, the car I drive, the ability to not have a traditional job with a regular paycheck... none of it. The reason? Because I do not feel I've earned any of it. Simple as that. If my husband and I purchased our house 50/50 with both our incomes, the guilt cloud would dissipate. If my job was paying for half of all our expenses, that guilt cloud would never reappear. In reality however, my contributions in the financial arena of our family life isn't a blip on the screen. And I know myself enough to know that that guilt will never go away until I have the goddamn bank statements to back it up.

Now, I realize there are different ways to contribute to a family that has nothing to do with money. You could say that my taking on the brunt of all the home and kid stuff has allowed my husband the time to focus on his career, thus his success is also my success. Yeah well... I can barely balance that pin at the end of the lane before the bowling ball knocks it down. And not without severely pinching my fingers, as well. I've been so conditioned to see money as the equivalent to worth, and now with the financial security of millions in jeopardy, I've never felt guiltier about my lack of worth... and guiltier still that my lack of worth won't be an issue since my husband provides our security. It's a whole guilt tornado that I have too much time to think about.

Guilt Academy
This is the second week of e-learning for my kids and it's been pretty smooth so far. Well, because I have the time to spend organizing and helping. On a recent Zoom call with some lifelong friends, all the busy working parents were lamenting about how difficult it is to juggle work and all the virtual school stuff. Oh, hi Stay-at-Home-Mom guilt! You surged after both kids went to school full-time, ebbed after I had accepted my creative purpose, but your re-entrance last week was epic!

So many of my working mom friends have posted about squeezing in lessons in between conference calls, or after work entirely so it's sort of a night-school situation and some are even saving all the work for a marathon lesson session over one day. For us, the daily work is usually done by lunch and the rest of the day I can focus on my stuff. Only, sigh... my stuff has been neglected and that segues nicely into my next type of guilt...

Useless Guilt
Oh, is that... oh it's you! Hi there No Practical Skills Because I Squandered My Education And I Make So Many Excuses To Justify My Lack Of Motivation Guilt!! Ya know, I had made SO much progress squashing you into a deep dank hole, but the way you just sprung up a few weeks ago was one for the books.

Besides feeling useless because I cannot be saving lives or making PPE for medical professionals, I've also let my projects suffer because... pandemic. My tendency to let every emotional upheaval affect my productivity has been in overdrive. The old Sheevani stand-by to let projects suffer because of "going through a hard time," couldn't be more prevalent and I feel guilty about backsliding. Before all this madness, I was on a productivity streak of writing, auditioning, setting goals with timelines, etc. But like... the kids need my computer for school, so OF COURSE I cannot do my writing. What? Oh right, they are done by lunch... but like, I just need time to workout and decompress after making sure they turned in everything, ya know? Huh? After they go to bed? I mean... I could... but like... pandemic, ya know?

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Okay, guilt pity party over. This isn't about feeling sorry for myself, BELIEVE ME. It's just about acknowledging what I'm feeling. One thing I am VERY proud of is the grace I give myself to evolve and learn from the past. I know the things I feel guilty about are the things I should feel gratitude about. I'm so f*cking lucky to feel secure and to have the time with my kids and engage in their schoolwork... and well, taking a break from a project or two doesn't mean I cannot jump right back in with more vigor than before. Which is what I'm doing right now. The guilt I'm feeling is pointless... there are plenty of ways to support those who are truly suffering and I am already doing that. Food banks, neighborhood senior support, reaching out to friends in need... done it, doing it and will continue. If I turn this guilt into action, then I have nothing to feel guilty about.

In the spirit of gratitude, many friends I made during my formative years have turned out to be brilliant humans who I have the honor of knowing. One of those friends is Dr. Jenna Elwart. She recently posted a video that spoke so loudly to me. I can think of no better way to end this post than with her message:

"Living in the Ands" by Dr. Jenna Elwart

Stay safe and stay home, friends xo




Monday, March 16, 2020

Probably...

My dad Janak Desai during some fun times.

~~~

I never really know how I'll feel on the 16th of March. In the last 10 years it has ranged from contentment for all the memories to a blubbering mess at any mention or thought of why the day has such meaning. One thing I never expected was that the mood had no bearing on the proximity to the actual event. If I were to chart my feelings on this day for the last decade, there would be peaks and valleys versus a smooth curve downward with each passing year. Nothing about grief is smooth, really...

Ten years ago on this day my father, Janak Desai, passed away peacefully at my childhood home in Royal Oak, Michigan. After at least 100 friends and family came to wish him farewell while he laid in home hospice over 3 days, he took his last breath while my mother, brother, sister-in-law and I sat one room away. He planned that, I just know it... he never wanted to be a burden.

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I've always turned to humor in times of great stress and worry. My father did this as well and while I could always tell his stress was never fully at bay, a small quip or funny face to cut the tension helped all of us... especially him.

In the throes of self-quarantines and virus dread, the anniversary of my dad's death has steered me to think about all the funny stories about him... many of which entertained my friends for so many years. When he died, I was inundated with messages from friends telling me about those stories that tickled them.

SO... if you need a laugh right now... I give you some highlights from my life with Janak Desai:

Member's Only Comfort
I had moved back in with my parents in the summer of 2001. My time at Michigan State University was over and with no job or real inkling of what to do next with my life, I returned to the familiarity of my childhood home in Royal Oak, Michigan. After 5 years away, the adjustment wasn't too terrible and I could tell my father was thrilled to have me home. As a retiree and empty nester, having his daughter around definitely lifted his spirits.

One day late in the fall, the weather had made the shift from those waning days of warmth and sunshine to full on brisk and downright icy.

"Take your coat, Sheevu, it's supposed to be cold today," my dad said as I grabbed the car keys. My unemployed ass had plans to meet up with some friends for lunch and then knock around Best Buy to look for some CDs (like we did 100 years ago).

"Okay, " I said, "Do you need anything while I'm out?"

"No bheta," he said while rinsing his plate in the sink. My mom had made some Indian food for lunch before her full day at the salon. Daddy was always good about cleaning up after enjoying his prepared food... that day I believe it was fresh handvoh or spicy lentil cake, one of my dad's favorites.

After a few hours of being a jobless wanderer around the suburbs of Detroit, I came home to a dark house. Our Royal Oak house was built in the 1950s, so the creaks and cracks from that day's winds gave it an eerie feel. Upon entering, I saw the dim living room empty, a place where my father would usually be sitting and watching every 24-hour news station in rotation.

"Daddy?" I called out. No answer.

My warmth from the car heater soon dissipated as I removed my jacket and took off my shoes. "Man, it's cold in here!" I said, "Daddy? Where are you?" No answer again.

Our house was very small and a call-out from anywhere could always be heard. I started to worry since my father had to be home... he was no longer able to drive and besides, I had the car even if he could. I walked in the kitchen where the tile felt like ice under my feet. Empty. I called out again with more urgency. Nothing. Had he fallen? Was he hurt? Why was it so damn cold??

I rubbed my arms quickly to generate some heat as I walked to the back of the house. No, he wasn't on the computer or in the bathroom. Finally, I turned the corner into the master bedroom. His eyes were closed as he lay on his back. The darkness caused me to strain and look a bit closer... he was asleep, but was... was he wearing a jacket? Was he wearing his beige Member's Only jacket?  Was his beige Member's Only jacket zipped up all the way with the banded collar totally snapped? Was he wearing his beige Member's Only jacket while laying underneath the covers?

"Daddy!" I yelled and his eyes popped open.

"Oh, hi bheta!"

"What's going on? Why are you sleeping with your jacket on under the covers?"

"I'm feeling very cold," he said with a serious expression and a shiver. I glanced at the thermostat right outside his bedroom and noticed the house was at 62 degrees and the heat was off.

"Is the heat not working?" I asked.

"The heat is not working??" he asked with alarm hearing the opposite of what I said.

"No, I'm asking you... did you try turning on the heat?"

"Oh," he paused for about 10 seconds, "No," he finally murmured turning his head flat against the pillow with closed eyes.

"So, you felt cold and you didn't turn the heat on... but you put on your Member's Only jacket and got under the covers??" I couldn't hold in my giggle. Daddy cracked a smile and I saw his shoulders bobbing underneath the layers of 80s fashion and a floral JCPenney comforter.

Shaking my head, I walked over and slid the little plastic wand to 72 degrees and heard the furnace click on. Soon the vents were exhaling warm air. Daddy emerged out of his cocoon and joined me in the living room where I was turning on the lamps to cease the creepy vibe. He was feeling warmer, but not quite enough to remove his Member's Only jacket.

"Bheta... warm up some handvoh for me?"

Probably...
Give my dad a little information and he would expand on it in great detail complete with grand assumptions and unfounded theories. Something as little as a store closing early could elicit a long story complete with a backstory and plot twists. If my dad responded to your comment with a "Probably...." you knew you were in for some confident pontification.

One day I was taking him to get his blood drawn, something he had to do every week to check his Vitamin K levels since he was on some pretty strong blood thinners. At a stoplight, I noticed a car pulled over on a side street adjacent to the main road.

"Whoa!" I said.

"Su thayu (what happened)?" my dad asked.

"Looks like they are arresting that woman over there!"

"Where?" he asked. Since my dad suffered from poor eyesight, I had to describe the scene unfolding about a hundred yards away; a woman being handcuffed by a couple of cops.

"Probably..." he started, "She was drunk driving..."

"Drunk driving?" I said mid-chuckle, "It's 10am!" The light turned green and I knew Daddy was still thinking about the law enforcement scene as we continued to the doctor's office.

"You know, maybe she's going through a divorce and drinking a lot," he said with no hint of humor in his voice. I grinned and settled in for a stellar "explanation" of what woes this stranger was suffering from to be arrested so early on a Tuesday.

"Probably fighting for custody of her kids and losing her house... beecharee (poor woman)," he continued.

"Wow, Daddy... lots of assumptions about her life," I said unable to keep my amusement from invading my voice.

"You're making fun of me," he said. My laughter was met with a smirk on my father's face. Then came one of my favorite Daddy-isms he'd throw out when he knew one of us was poking fun at his expense.

"Slap yourself."

Champps Fetish Date??
Now, I wasn't present for the event that spurred the next story, but it became a Desai Family classic thanks to both the oddity of what happened and the subsequent frustration it caused my father when others reacted to the ridiculousness of his version.

Many years ago while my mother was away on a trip to India, my brother and father went to dinner at Champps, a sports bar famous for its enormous entrees, huge beers and everything else expected of an all-American sports bar. Now, my brother's version of the story details some very odd service. As he and my dad were eating their meals, their server kept checking on them over and over again, almost too often. Then, the manager came out to chat about how they were doing. My brother wasn't sure why, but it made them uneasy and they felt like something else was going on. The frequency of both servers and managers coming out to check on them was almost comical.

The following is a paraphrased transcript of my bro and dad's conversation at their table as told from my brother over 15 years ago:

BROTHER 
What the hell is going on? So weird how they keep checking on us.

FATHER 
I don't know.

BROTHER 
Makes me uneasy, like maybe they did something to our food?

FATHER
You never know, maybe they are playing a joke.

BROTHER 
It's very annoying... I might say something.

FATHER
Well... maybe... maybe they...

BROTHER 
Maybe what?

FATHER 
Maybe they think we are... a gay couple.

BROTHER 
(furrows brow and blinks rapidly... probably)

FATHER 
You know... they think we are gay and want to make fun... 

BROTHER 
But... what... why would they... WHAT!?!?

FATHER 
What?

BROTHER 
How does being a... a gay couple connect with them checking on us so much?

FATHER 
I don't know! But probably they think we are gay and on a date!

BROTHER 
 I, um... I don't think that's it.

FATHER 
(shrugs) But maybe...

Later when my brother recounted this story to the rest of the family, we all laughed with amused confusion... well, except my dad. He did not like us laughing at his explanation. I'm pretty positive he believed his reasoning until the day he died. Any argument against it, which was mostly by me, would illicit a very temperamental response from Daddy. He wouldn't budge... those servers and managers 100% thought he and my brother were a gay couple and they were making fun FOR THAT REASON ONLY. Once during a retelling of that story at our family Christmas, I kept trying to get Daddy to explain his reasoning only to have him whip his head at me and yell, "YOU WEREN'T THERE!!"

For my brother, who was there, it was naturally disturbing to think of his dad talking about he and him as a romantic couple... but also, as my brother said as a sort of footnote, "If I were gay... I could do much better than Daddy!!"

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Sometimes thinking about my dad makes me cry, but today I choose to remember all the times that bring a smile to my face. I'm thankful for so many things he gave me during our life together, but that sense of humor tops the list... no question.

Thanks for the laughs, Daddy. Miss you always.



Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Girl Talk

Just a few of incredibly inspiring ladies in my life <3

~~

"Men, I love you but... there's nothing like a long chat with a close girlfriend. Here's to the unbreakable bonds of sisterhood."

--Sarah McLachlan introducing her song Good Enough at the Buell Theater on 2/11/2020

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I want to be a fabulous girlfriend.

For the early part of my adult life, I meant that as a part of a heterosexual couple. Today, I mean that as a fiercely loyal friend to other women. It took me way too long to figure out that close girlfriends are a necessity in every woman's life.

There was an episode of Seinfeld where Elaine comes to the realization that she has no female friends left. Kramer's response is, "Of course you don't... you're a man's woman. You hate other women and other women hate you!"

For a long time, I felt like Elaine and I were the same in that regard. I couldn't figure out why I could maintain friendships with many men, but time and time again my female friendships would dissipate. I'd tell myself that friendships with men required less maintenance and since I consider myself low maintenance the dudes just... suited me better. However, that rationalization never totally squelched my shame about the lack of female friendship in my life.

I've already covered my past of being a shitty friend in another post, so in this post I'd like to focus on what I've learned from all the women I'm honored to call my friends. Since I no longer take them for granted, I've learned how incredibly necessary they are to my survival.

As I covered in Validation Station, I was sort of burned by female friendships in my youth so I know I tried too hard when it came to keeping gals interested in my friendship.... so much so, I lost my own personality in order to fit whatever mold she seemed to want. I believe "thirsty" is the term now? I don't know... but I do know that when I look back on those years and even through many years as an adult, people could smell my desperation.

In short, I needed to smooth out my own personality flaws before understanding how to be a worthy friend to other women. As cheesy as this sounds, I needed to become the best gal pal to myself in order to properly friend other women. Once I started becoming more genuine and true to what was important to me, I was able to relax and make deeper connections. Today, I have a keen sense of what brand of women I need in my life and not all of them pass muster. I have a type, ladies, and well... it includes he following:


  • Genuineness - After 41 years on this earth, I can spot a fake pretty quickly. I have learned so much from the women who own who they are no matter what, and do it in such a way that takes vulnerability and repurposes it into a superpower. 
  • Kindness - Sounds so simple, but after years of giving so much power to a few women who tout kindness in public but shame people in private, I know that my circle of ladies must prioritize kindness. 
  • Supportiveness - In my ridding of toxic friendships, I had to let go of a few women who claimed to be feminists, but turned out they only marched for the women who were like them. For someone like me who didn't live my life according to their rules, they shut me out and judged my life choices as less than theirs. Girl, bye. 
  • Constant Evolution - As someone who believes that we should never stop seeking a better version of ourselves, I gravitate towards women who want to explore everything the world has to offer in order to thrive, contribute and improve.

And that's about it... it's not a long list, but it's weighty. I've learned so much from the women who posses these attributes, but also from the women I had to let go in my purging process. Sometimes the bad can teach you so much about what you seek. 

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Being a woman is hard... and it's hard in ways that only other women can understand. During that time where I dismissed myself as a "man's woman" like Elaine, there was an enormous lady shaped hole in my heart that ached for that sisterly bond. Today, I'm so lucky to have many ladies just filling that hole right up. No, I'm not rephrasing that. 

Thank you to the wondrous ladies in my life for constantly inspiring me in innumerable ways. I promise to never take you for granted again. 

Hoes before bros, yaknowwhatimsayin?





Monday, February 10, 2020

Comfy Cozy Blues

Yes, inspirational sign, I'm doing that! So why is my soul so blah?

Text from Paul:
Were you annoyed with me this morning?

I read his text and sighed. It wasn't a mystery why he was asking... I had snapped at him a couple of times during the morning routine. Not only at him, but the dishwasher, refrigerator door and peanut butter jar were all victims of my wrath. And yes, my kids got an earful about their usual offenses during the morning routine; not packing up in time, forgetting socks, wanting the jacket that was in their rooms rather than the one right next to the door. After the house was empty and the kids were off to school with Paul, I took a deep breath and regretted all my brattiness from the previous hour and a half.

My response:
Eh, I'm just kind of feeling down lately... a bit lost so I'm easily annoyed. Trying to figure it out... 

And that was and still is the truth.

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To be blunt, I feel pathetic again. Yes, after all my big talk about being proud of my choices and career direction, I'm questioning it all. After a particularly horrendous callback I had a few months ago for a high-profile television commercial, I've noticed the auditions have slowed way down. There is zero evidence that one has to do with the other, but my mind is screaming that I ruined my reputation as an actor and casting agents are avoiding me like the plague. Before that cringe-y experience, the frequency of auditions were very steady and encouraging. I felt like I was making very significant progress. But what was once a steady stream has slowed down to a trickle. Along with that (probably) imagined drama, my love for improv is waning. Or rather, my dedication to improv as a totally volunteer gig is wearing on me. I never expected to make a living with improv, that's laughable. Most of the theaters are barely making ends meet (or so we as students/performers are led to believe), but I'm not ashamed to say that for as much time and money I've invested in becoming a solid improviser, it should not be a volunteer gig all the time. People don't go to school and get degrees in order to lose money on the field they studied. Look, if I were in a big city where I had a chance to be plucked for bigger and better things, I'd be investing the time and stamping that stage all I could, but the reality is that here in Denver, that ain't gonna happen.

This is a familiar feeling. I've felt pathetic for a myriad of reasons throughout my life... only now, as much as I hate to admit it, the intensity is much higher because of my age. My search for direction didn't feel so urgent at 27, but at 41? Yikes. I'm in a constant battle to turn my mind's eye away from the rearview mirror reflecting my lack of accomplishments. Also, once that vulnerability door is slightly ajar, the rest of my insecurities barge through in an organized march and just exacerbate my despair. Everything from ancient career blunders to the voices of my life-doubters resurface at deafening decibels.

The other morning as I drove my kids to school, the core issue of why I'm feeling lost sort of hit me in the gut. Apropos of nothing, it was as if the words in my head were being announced over an intercom:

You need a challenge.

You aren't seeking anything outside your comfort zone.

YOU ARE TOO COMFORTABLE.

It was as if a blinding light had just flipped on. And, to be honest, I was sort of shocked. While I love watching a contestant on Project Runway struggle with making menswear when she has always been a bridal designer, I've always considered myself to be a permanent resident of the land of comfy cozy. As I've written about before, my past is filled with me bypassing opportunities because they require too much work or appear too difficult. I've made progress with that flaw and I'm proud of how far I've come. But lately, it's as if I'm finding some allegorical bed sores from all the comfiness and well, I'm anxious to heal them before the pus starts.

Another reason I'm surprised by this recent discovery is that I had believed that if I were pursuing my passions, I would never feel pathetic. Back when I wrote about being an average (at best) employee at my various corporate jobs, I felt so woeful because I had no love for the work. I thought my sadness about my career was fueled by my nagging desire to be a part of a creative community. I just knew that if I ever got on that path to being a professional actor/comedian, my emotions would be sailing on smooth seas with Yacht Rock blasting tranquil hits.

I suppose the most recent venture that launched me into a scary space was starting this blog... and it continues to serve that purpose for me. As I've said before, this blog has saved me. I gave myself permission to do it and prepared myself for the worst... only to find it's been the absolute best. There are very few personal accomplishments that I'm more proud of than Impressionista. So, it's not going anywhere.

I'm really grateful for this life lesson. And no, I'm not giving up on acting or comedy. I'm just tweaking my dreams. In the process of writing this post, my brain has been on overdrive with ways to put myself out there that will both challenge me and fulfill my evolving goals. Along with evolving as a person, I have found that what I want out of my career is also developing in very surprising ways. What's also incredibly cool, is that I'm looking to get out of my comfort zone in areas that have nothing to do with my career. Areas which may not increase my income, but will contribute to becoming a better person.

Here I go... I'm ready to scare myself out of this fluffy place. There are many things that will take me out of my comfort zone, and I'm looking forward to the risk and certain reward. My little rut was like a punch in the gut, or a kick in the butt and so deep like a cut, but... I've climbed out and will find a new route so I can be proud... no doubt. Hmmm, slam poet perhaps?!? No, no, no... that would just be incredibly scary for everyone else.




Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Team Jillian Lizzo!


I LOVE body positivity! I LOVE endorsing a healthy lifestyle! I HATE offending people!

~

"Feelin' like a stripper when I'm lookin' in the mirror, I be slappin' on that a-word, gettin' thicker and thicker..."

~My six year old son singing Lizzo's "Scuse Me" while playing with Matchbox cars

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Spotify recently informed me in my year-end usage report that my most played artist of 2019 was Lizzo. I was not surprised. I've had that playlist that includes her latest record along with previously released tracks on a JUICY LOOP. I love her. I follow her on social media and marvel at her posts. For this aging mama who rarely comes up from the ocean of 80s and 90s synth pop, Lizzo has been a breath of fresh air. I'm a fan, pure and simple, and I absolutely love all the success and accolades she has been receiving.

In addition to so much adoration, she was recently criticized about her weight by fitness guru, Jillian Michaels. The gist of Jillian's comments was that she loves to celebrate Lizzo's music, but cannot get on board celebrating her being overweight. My first reaction was, "OH MY GOD! I CANNOT BELIEVE SHE SAID THAT!!" But, a few seconds later I thought, "Although... I kind of see what she's saying..."

Back In My Day...
I think about the size of my body waaaaaayyyyy too much. And that's not a natural instinct, it's 100% due to the images and messaging I grew up with. As a child of the 80s and teen of the 90s, it was all SKINNY GOOD, FAT BAD. Simple as that. Fat people were the butt of jokes and if you were underweight and fit into sizes 0-4, you were to be celebrated. Oh, and health had nothing to do with it. The overweight weren't picked on because they were unhealthy, they were ridiculed because not being skinny was seen as ugly and less-than. If health was of any concern, pictures of starving actresses whose bones were protruding out of their skin would have been seen as obscene rather than the height of glamour.

During the heyday of the "waif look," I was a slim girl... and not because I was trying. My genetic make-up gave me a body that just didn't put weight on very easily. When I think back to those days when I could easily pound a huge burrito smothered in cheese and ranchero sauce without the need to loosen a pant fastener, I get a bit sad. Alas, those days are long gone... but not forgotten. While I was enjoying the pleasures of youthful metabolism, I witnessed many of my friends who became obsessed with losing weight. Every single friend of mine who saw themselves as fat were unequivocally not overweight. They just weren't Kate Moss skinny. I would try to tell them they looked just fine, but why the hell would they believe me? All we saw in the media were images of sickly looking women who were being presented as the standard of beauty. At the time we were all so brainwashed that it didn't even occur to us that another type of body could be seen as attractive.

Since those teenage years, I've heard some heartbreaking stories from those same friends about what they would put themselves through when it came to their weight. The amount of self-hatred they expressed was both heartbreaking and infuriating. Impossible standards of beauty have been around long before magazines had the audacity to print "Too Skinny?!" on a picture of Calista Flockhart after they had perpetuated so much of the content to cause her skeletal frame. I remember buying that issue only to find ads for weight loss pills 14 pages from the article about the "fear for Calista's health!" Assholes. The concept of extra weight being the enemy isn't a new thing, so our mothers and grandmothers have been feeding us a lot of these messages as well. Who can blame them? They were told to eat 3 grapefruits a day and smoke cigarettes to "stay trim."

Team Lizzo
Today, I love what I'm seeing with body positivity and self-love. To me, that's the best thing about Lizzo's music and overall message; LOVE YOURSELF. We as human beings waste too much time feeling inferior for a myriad of reasons, but mostly about the way we look. At my age, I feel this dumbass pressure to "look good for my age," because apparently after 40, we're all supposed to resemble that lady from Throw Momma from the Train. We've all heard the notion of "aging gracefully," and while I love the sound of that, I struggle everyday to not cringe at what I'm discovering in the mirror. So yes, listening to Lizzo sing soulfully about owning yourself and loving everything, flaws and all, gets me pumped!!

Lizzo's message is so important because we are bombarded by content that shows unrealistic standards for the everyday person. Which is why I also applaud Jameela Jamil, actress and activist, for calling out celebrities who endorse those detox drinks, diet supplements and lie about their plastic surgery. She works tirelessly to end the ever-present curated perfection that influences young girls into thinking they need to look flawless all the time. As a woman who suffered from eating disorders  in her youth, Jameela is passionate to show the reality of these products.. so much so, she posted a picture of herself on the toilet having diarrhea as a result of those "miracle" detox drinks. Apparently the miracle is that your butthole survives the explosive barrage of liquid poo. She also started the "I Weigh" campaign on Instagram, which was a movement to define one's worth by factors other than body weight. Jamil's I Weigh included loving her job, standing up for women's rights and being financially independent among other things.

So, when I hear Lizzo's lyrics, watch her Insta stories proudly showing her body and speaking so openly in interviews about her struggles with self-love and self-acceptance, I think about those friends from my past who needed to hear and see what Lizzo is putting out there today. My brilliant, kind and funny friends who reduced their self-worth down to nothing because their mirrors didn't reflect a trim waist or thigh gap would have benefited from everything Lizzo is about. Her message is powerful to the young women and men who have been told they are less-than... she's an incredible role model.

Team Jillian
Back in my 20s, my energy was shit. Sure, I could easily fit into size 6 pants no matter what I ate, but I was basically trudging through my daily routine longing for the next time I could be horizontal on a couch or bed. My internal voice just told me I was lazy and I accepted that. At age 26, after spending an entire day watching an Intervention marathon on television, I thought, "I think I'm just getting old." Oh young Sheevani, you were so delusional.

That lack of energy was a result of my poor habits, I know that now. My pathetic workouts barely raised my heart rate and my diet mainly consisted of fast food or huge restaurant meals. As I wrote about in my blog about finding my love for fitness, my intention to get into better shape about 5 years ago was for a number of reasons, and losing inches and pounds off my bod came in 4th or 5th on the list. Of course I wanted to look better, but I also wanted to feel better. Today, my body is fuller than those days in my 20s, but I have 1000% more energy, clarity and motivation about life. I'll take a bigger ass if that ass can move faster, longer and be more productive.

Sigh, okay... I'll be honest and admit I'm a bit nervous to defend Jillian Michaels here. Look, at a distance, it's easy to pin her as the villain; the rich, fitness guru white woman calling out the rags-to-riches black woman who appears overweight. My progressive instinct is to subscribe to that narrative, but I cannot deny that I tend to agree with her on some level. Her statements expressed some of the concerns I've discussed in private with my friends and family; can body positivity go too far and result in a disregard for bodily health?

As much as I see the immense value in body positivity, I am afraid of the pendulum swinging too far to the other side where we aren't able to say something factual without being accused of "fat shaming." You don't have to be a health expert like Jillian Michaels to understand that being overweight leads to so many dangerous health issues. The obesity epidemic in this country has been an issue for several years and now even our kids are being diagnosed with obesity-related illnesses that were once only associated with older people. It's a very scary and real issue. Just ask Michelle Obama! #letsmove

All I know about Jillian Michaels is she was a trainer on The Biggest Loser who struggled with being overweight herself. She has dedicated her career to health and fitness, so whether you love or hate her, she's an expert in this field. Also, she was asked a direct question: "Do you celebrate Lizzo being overweight?" I mean, could she really say yes? That would be against everything she believes in. Now, she didn't say that because Lizzo is overweight she should hate herself, not be included or be deemed unworthy of success. In fact, she applauded her talent and celebrates her music, but what could be more off-brand for Jillian Michaels than to say, "I love that she's overweight!"

Soooo yeah, I'm Team Jillian when it comes to endorsing health and wellness. I put it in terms of my own kids... if I notice my kids adopting some really unhealthy habits, I'm going to make it a priority to help them figure out healthier options. That's my duty as a parent which is why I do my best to lead by example with my own choices. One thing I know for sure is that my message will always be about health and not about body size or shape. After I'm long gone, I hope to have left behind a strong message to my kids about honoring the one body they've been given.

Big ASSumption
Hang on a second, why do we assume Lizzo is unhealthy? Oh right, because of the size of her body. Tsk Tsk. If there's one thing I've learned through all the fantastic content that has been released in the name of body positivity, it is that you shouldn't assume someones health status by how they look. I'm a yoga nut and for so long I assumed only a Gwyneth Paltrow or Jen Aniston body were how true yogis looked... then I discovered Jessamyn Stanley or "Fat Femme" on You Tube and that just blew all my previous stereotypes out of the water. Holy shit can that woman bend and stretch in ways I can only dream of! One of the most beautiful realizations I read about Jessamyn was how when she looks at pictures of herself in complex yoga poses, instead of hating her fat rolls (which she always had), she recognizes how incredibly strong her body was... if that's not empowering, I don't know what is.

As a subtle retort to J-Mikes, Lizzo posted a video on Instagram from one of her live shows that featured what she calls the Big Girl Dance Break. The choreography is fast, intricate and would increase the heart rate of anyone regardless of fitness level. The caption expressed how she does that routine every night on tour. That's relevant! I see plenty of women at the gym who aren't sporting size small Lulu pants, but they can run for miles and lift way more than I can.  Seeing all sorts of body types at the gym has taught me that I'm inspired more by ability than I am a perfect figure.

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Body positivity and bodily health are not mutually exclusive. People like Lizzo help me to embrace my changing body. I see her, listen to her lyrics and feel so much better about myself. She's taught me to be my own soulmate and teaches my kids that they are so much more than what they look like. People like Jillian Michaels remind me to make my health a priority because I know it will not only help my body, but also my mind and soul. I see her and get motivated to find the healthy balance in my life so I can stick around for many years.

In this age where we read a headline and take a side instantly regardless of the deeper facts, I choose to reflect and realize that so many issues aren't black or white... well, in this case I guess Lizzo is black and Jillian Michaels is white, but you know what I mean. I don't think it's fair to pin either of these women as a villain or a heroine... but it is possible to grab inspiration from the core of each of their messages. If we did that... we would all be empowered and unstoppable... and smokin' HOT, by the way.

Thursday, January 2, 2020

New Decade, Ongoing Me

"I hope I get pregnant, I hope I get pregnant, I hope I get pregnant."

--My thoughts circa January 1, 2010

(Spoiler alert: I got pregnant that same month)

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According to social media, I'm supposed to reflect on the last decade since we are starting a new decade. Okay, I'll bite. 

In the last decade I became a mother and lost my dad. Paul and I went from being married and free to married and child-trapped (by both love and obligation). I saw my mother become widow and marveled at her strength. I discovered what it felt like to be an "EMBA Widow." Paul and I built 2 houses. I went from working mother to stay-at-home mother... back to working mom... then finally to SAHM. I saw the worst in myself. I saw my potential. I saw Depeche Mode 3 times. My marriage was a roller coaster, but we survived. I celebrated my 20th high school reunion... and I survived. My kids have propelled me toward constant evolution. I found my inner activist. I moved away from my home state to start a life in Colorado. I learned to ski and, to my shock, loved it. My body got bigger. My face got fuller. I fell in love with fitness. I figured out it's not always my fault. I loosened my grip on the power of other's opinions. I became an improviser. I became a sketch writer and comedian. I became a working actor. I got closer to my true self.

I also started this blog. The entire decade lent itself to a lot of personal growth and major transitions... as most decades do, but this past year of writing so much about myself and my thoughts has been remarkable. The re-ignition of my love for writing has been both surprising and necessary. I learned how beautiful vulnerability can be and how mandatory it is to move past a lot of bullshit. This blog has given me a purpose... something for which I was searching for years.

All of the introspection for Impressionista has given me a healthy dose of peace but also opened my eyes to how much further I need to go. I've pulled at threads only to unravel many more loose weaves that need repairing. Furthermore, I've learned that a click of the Publish button doesn't mean the subject matter itself is buttoned up. There are days where I feel the opposite of things I've written and it's maddening. Nevertheless, there is zero regret for putting myself out there.

Staying positive is a tricky thing. In fact, the last couple of weeks have been filled with doubt. Maybe it was all the cookies and carbs over the holidays, but my body and mind have been sluggish and sad. However, one of my most important lessons of the past decade is that I have the absolute power to control my life. Plus, as I wrote in my post about  Pity Parties, I give myself permission to feel shitty, but not for long. I'm well on my way to changing course.

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In 2030, I'll have a daughter in college and a son in high school. I hope I'll have found more peace. I hope Paul and I will have plenty of empty-nester trips planned. I hope my career as a writer and actor will have flourished and I can be proud of myself.  I hope to be healthy. I hope my body and face won't change at all... okay, that's ridiculous. I hope I can embrace the further saggy body and face changes. I hope to have played a part in making the world a kinder place. I hope to have seen Depeche Mode a few more times.

Most of all, I hope to be around in 10 years... because I have a lot more shit to get done.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Religion and Racism: Sweat-Inducing Chats With My Kids

I was sitting at this exact desk when I called out a classmate for being racist. Also, the yearbook caption writer greatly overestimated my interest in physics class.
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"What do you get when a black woman gets an abortion? A CRIMESTOPPER!!"

I took a deep breath and exhaled loudly as the other kids uncomfortably laughed. Still giggling, Kelly looked over at me and my blank stare.

"Oh Sheevani... that's just the way I was raised," she said with a flippant wave of her hand.

This was her go-to excuse whenever she made a racist joke and I sat stone-faced. A group of us in the back of Physics class were often subjected to her racist comments and "humor." Before class started or when we were supposed to be doing in-class work but the senioritis was too strong, she'd educate us on her ignorance and always just say, "Well, it's just how I was raised," as if that excused her behavior.

"Why do you get so pissed anyway? You aren't black!" she laughed and looked around for expressions of agreement, "It's not like I'm making fun of... you know... Muslims?"

"I'm not Muslim either," I said with my stoicism acting as a shield for my increasing rage.

Don't freak out, Sheevani. Don't. Freak. Out.

"Well, whatever... I grew up with those kind of jokes."

"Those jokes are racist and NOT funny." I said opening my Physics book. Perhaps today I could distract myself with the thermodynamics chapter we were covering. I looked up to find her glaring at me with a look of disbelief.

"OH my god, Sheevani... I am NOT racist!"

I stared back... partly because I didn't know quite how to respond and partly because I was taking some pleasure in offending her for a change.

"They are just JOKES. God, just because someone makes a joke doesn't mean they are racist!"

"If you weren't racist, you wouldn't tell them or find them funny." I said.

Mr. Schultheis began class and the room quieted down as bodies shifted forward and books were opened. Kelly's eyes lingered on me before she turned around. Her face showed genuine hurt and for a moment, I felt bad for calling her out. I looked over at my friend Tom who grinned and gave me a thumbs-up. Lucas glanced back and mouthed, "Thank You," to me. Whew, I wasn't alone... although, those same guys laughed at her joke. I may have had supporters, but I was the only one who spoke up. In that moment my momentary guilt dissolved and I knew I had done the right thing.

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Lately, my kids have been bringing up some heavy topics that I should have seen coming, but naively assumed were a few years down the road. Namely, racism and religion have had top billing around our house for the last couple of weeks. The innocence with which my kids ask questions and share things they have heard from friends is just that - innocent. These topics are ones about which I want to be very thoughtful. That thought has forced me to once again be reflective about my own experiences with both... and as always, I try to provide my kids with open and transparent conversations. Admittedly so far, the conversations have been a bit clunky because I've been so caught off guard, so the imperfection of my response is where I'm struggling. I didn't expect parenting to be easy by any means, but I also wasn't prepared for such complicated conversations at this stage. Nonetheless...  they're here.

The Worst Word
Earlier this week, my daughter told me that a boy said the n-word at school. We were driving home from carpool pick-up and my stomach dropped. She explained how in history they were learning about the Niger River, but this boy said it the "other" way. For a moment I unclenched and asked if she thought he said it by accident... just pronounced it wrong, but she said he has said it before. I had about 47 more questions but asked only a few more; Had the teacher heard him? Did he laugh when he said it like it was a joke? Did other kids join in saying that awful word? Turns out, my daughter had heard the story from a friend since she was in a separate history class, so she didn't possess the details about which I was inquiring. While inside I was horrified, I tried not to show too much of my emotions while driving home. 

"Well, that's an awful, awful word and I'm disappointed to hear he said that," I calmly said as I drove past the town Christmas tree. 

"I know," my daughter said. 

"If... if you were there when he said it... what would you have done?" I asked trying not to lead her to any specific answer. 

"I would have said he shouldn't say it and it's very hurtful to black people," she said and my shoulders relaxed with relief and pride.

Truth be told, I had talked to my kids about that word months ago because of.... well, Beyonce. Both the record and Netflix film, Homecoming, were in heavy rotation for a few weeks at our house and Queen Bey lets the n-word fly. And yes, I let my kids listen to uncensored music. Look, music is one of those constants in my life that has served many purposes from inspiration to healing. I would be lost without my favorite music and I just cannot subject myself to Kidz Bop. I hold absolutely no judgement if that's your jam for your kids, I certainly understand why, but I'm selfish. I can handle the occasional Disney soundtrack, but I cannot handle Kidz Bop. I'm an original artist purist and I'm won't apologize for that. 

Since my daughter seems to memorize lyrics after one listen, I felt it necessary to tell her that she shouldn't be throwing around that word while singing along to Beyonce. We had a very frank discussion about it and why it wasn't a good word to say. She had even noticed that when I sang along, I'd skip that word.

"There are bad words and there are WORSE words... to me, that word is the worst word. It really makes me sick to my stomach when I hear it used as an insult," I said.

"But, why does Beyonce use it?"

I knew this question was coming. Since college, I have been a part of many debates about black artists using this word in their comedy or song lyrics... how "they" are allowed to say it but "we" aren't. And yes, all the uproar came from white people who thought the black usage of the word was hypocritical. I never understood why this bothered some of my white friends so much. I'd retort with, "Do you WANT to say that word?" To which they would be horrified and say of course they didn't, yet they felt somehow repressed by this societal rule. I explained to my daughter that since I had never been victimized by that word, I have absolutely no right to judge how those who have been oppressed by it choose to use it.

"Not every black person uses that word and some don't like that black artists use it in their work, so even amongst themselves there are disagreements... but for us and other non-black folks... we should never say that word." I told my kids.

After discussing the incident at school, my daughter could see I was distracted and asked what I was thinking. I dismissed her concern, but after a few moments I decided to share some of my experiences with not only that word, but all sorts of more racist occurrences in my life. I even shared how her own grandfather, my dad, was denied housing back in the 1970s because some apartment building owners didn't rent to Indians. "They ruin the place with the spicy cooking," he was told. There were times when I'd hear the n-word thrown around casually at school or by a friend's parent. My daughter listened intently and wondered if I had spoken up, and I was honest about how it took me many years before I'd openly chastise people for using that word. Often times I would get scared to say anything because I thought if someone was ignorant enough to use that awful word, they may turn their racist venom on me. But that as I grew older, I knew that if I didn't say anything, I was telling the offender his or her actions were okay.

I chose only a few stories and held off on telling many more offensive details - I'm not sure they are ready for that yet, but the message was clear. Based on how my daughter felt about the incident at school that day... I know the message was received.


Praying with my Dad at my pre-wedding Ganesh puja

I Don't Want To Start Any Blasphemous Rumors
My son loves to chat. And I love that he loves to chat. Part of his daily oratory abundance is a rundown of what he's learning at school. He's at the age where everything is interesting,  and he cannot wait to tell us about things like ancient Egypt, sound vibrations and even punting a ball. He's so proud of how much he's learning and I eat it all up.

"Mama, the Star of David is the symbol of Judaism," said my son out of nowhere while eating his after-school snack. 

"Yes it is! Wow, how do you know that?" I asked.

"We're learning about it in school. Also, they celebrate Hannukah and it lasts for 8 days!" He licked his top lip leaving a key lime yogurt mustache I'd have to wipe off later. 

"Very cool, bud... I'm glad you're learning about that," I said. 

For the next few days, he brings up different tidbits about Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all the topics of their World Religions unit. I was so focused on my delight that their school is exposing them to different religions, that I didn't see a very obvious question coming. One night while we were watching The Great British Baking Show, my son asked what religion we were.

"Umm... well, I'm Hindu. I mean, I was raised Hindu... and Daddy was raised Catholic," I sputtered.

"So, we're Hindu and Catholic?" My daughter inferred.

"I mean... I guess? So, I tend to be more of a spiritual person versus religious and Daddy really isn't religious at all... but, that doesn't mean we aren't... I think there are certain parts of Hinduism... like, some people are very religious and we aren't... not that I don't believe in God, but... (sigh)... it's, um, complicated, I guess."

Oh God.

Yyyyeaaaah, needless today my kids stared at me blankly and turned their attention to the technical challenge on GBBS since it was easier to understand. Paul and I looked at each other and sort of shrugged. But, me being... well, me, I have been thinking about my clunky response for days. I didn't want to confuse my kids but at the same time, I don't know if I'm very clear about where I stand on God and religion. 

"How are you guys going to handle religion when you have kids?" 

A co-worker of mine asked this during a discussion about her own struggles with her husband. I sort of shrugged and said we would "figure it out." She sighed and said how lucky I was. Her husband was insistent that their kids be raised Greek Orthodox - no debate, no question. He insisted on this because my friend wasn't religious. Since religion wasn't important to her, but very important to him, his logic was that the kids should be brought up with his faith. However, being a headstrong, intelligent woman, she couldn't accept that as a sound reason. The topic had gotten so heated and contentious, that it was delaying their attempts to start a family. I felt relieved not to deal with such a hot topic in my own relationship.

While we were dating, religion was barely on the radar. I suppose it was at it's height as a subject when we got married. We had heard about a non-denominational "priest" who could perform the ceremony and thought that was best since both of us weren't very religious. But I did want the presence of the Hindu ceremony because I've always imagined performing some of the elements I had seen at countless Indian weddings. Paul was very supportive of that and I knew it would make my mother happy. So we combined a Humanist and Hindu priest to perform our wedding. Done. Easy Peasy. 

Growing up, my mother prayed every single day. After she bathed, she immediately performed her puja, or prayer, at our home mandir, or shrine. I'd watch her as a young girl and sometimes sing along to the Hindu hymns, or shlokas. My favorite part was seeing her eyes open after the final meditation. Her calm was blindingly apparent. On the other hand, my father had more of a scientific mind and deferred to logic over religion. While he'd show doubt, I knew he wasn't a complete non-believer. Almost every summer, our family would take a road trip to a temple in Pittsburgh. During our visits, I would see my father, our resident skeptic about all things, press his head against his clasped hands and close his eyes so tight that I could almost feel the importance of his prayers. 

Paul is an Agnostic with a pinch of Atheist. On the rare occasion where we have talked about religion, he's expressed strong opinions about the Catholic church as an entity (given the rampant pedophilia and the lack of consequence for that pedophilia), but he's sort of ambivalent to the concept of God. He doesn't proclaim there is absolutely no God, but he's not willing to submit to a "fact" that God exists. For me, I have issues with believing only one religion has it 100% correct. Whether it's Hinduism, Christianity, Islam or Buddhism, there are elements to every religion that serve humanity in their own ways. I wouldn't say to a Christian that they are wrong since they don't believe in Lord Shiva, nor would I want to be persecuted about polytheism by a Catholic.

It seems I have inherited a combination approach about religion from my parents; a good amount of faith with a healthy dose of logic. I feel a comfort when I enter a Hindu temple, yet I'm not willing to subscribe to all that Hinduism has to offer. While I cannot prove there is a God, I cannot bring myself to tell my kids that God doesn't exist. During tough times in my life, I have prayed in private for some guidance, but I've also found strength within myself to take things head on... but did God give me that strength? I don't know.... I just don't know.

A few days after the inquiry about our family's beliefs, my son asked a more pointed question, "What is God?" Once again I found myself to be incredibly inarticulate. So, I did what I've done whenever my kids ask about shit I cannot answer; I Googled it.

"God is a supreme being or creator. An all-knowing, all-powerful, all present being."

My son stared at me.

"Like... like a superhero who helps you figure out your life," I said.

"Oh, cool!!"

I chuckled at my kid-friendly translation and knew it wasn't quite enough. Later, I spoke to my kids about how everyone has different beliefs, and how those beliefs must be respected. My own approach to faith, I told them, was a bit complicated and I was still figuring it out.

"But one thing I do know is that no one should be picked on because of their religion, and no one should force their beliefs on other people. Respect what others believe and move on."

I'm pleased with how I handled this religion stuff, but I know I'm not done. No doubt there will be more complicated topics to tackle in the future... and I can only pray there is a Pinterest board to help me out.

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I want my kids to be good people. It's that simple. The challenging discussions were perfect occasions to talk about diversity and respect. When I told them stories about racial and religious strife throughout history, they couldn't fathom how people could be so cruel to one another. To them, it didn't make any sense. I hope that view strengthens and permeates to their friends, colleagues and, one day, kids of their own. But, telling them to be respectful isn't enough... I am keenly aware how my actions will go much farther than my words, which is why I'm very conscious of how I conduct myself. After all, I want to be a better person, too.

God knows I'm trying... or maybe it's just Wonder Woman.