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

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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. 

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Mr. Husband, TEAR DOWN THAT WALL!

You can't see it, but there's a wall there
~~~

I feel my blood pressure drop as we hug. Why do we always do this? We always feel better after we talk, yet we both have to get to the point of diarrhea level stomach aches before we actually say what's on our minds.

We head to the bathroom to do our pre-bed routines; his being much longer than mine since I'm too lazy to commit to a full brushing and flossing routine. Hey, my dentist hasn't shown concern, so I'm not going to mess with my unbroken system. As I pull out a make-up remover wipe and brace for the cold moisture on my face, I think about how we didn't delve into all the issues on my mind. Sure, we tackled what was freshest on the surface, but what about the stuff that's buried?

I glance over at him hunched over the sink, 3 minutes deep into his 8 minute brushing session, and wonder if he is thinking the same. What am I even saying? Of course he isn't. For the entirety of our relationship, I've been the deep thinker when it comes to our emotional well-being. He probably thinks everything is 100% clear and fine. We shall coast on this false clarity for weeks or months until the next set of concerns come up. Then there will be a few days of awkwardness, snippiness, avoidance and disingenuous pleasantries. Finally one night, after the kids are asleep, we'll do this all over again.

Back in college, a roommate of mine would pull her comforter over her bed and say it was "made." However, she'd never fix the fitted sheet that was half off the mattress, or smooth out the flat sheet that was wadded up on one side and her pillow was almost always wedged between the frame and wall. At a glance, the bed looked tidy, but a closer examination would show so much messiness underneath the top layer.

I long to break the pattern of pulling the comforter up over our issues... it's time to fix those sheets.

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Lately I've been feeling really helpless when it comes to my husband's happiness. Everyday I see him experience a range of emotions from heartfelt joy when he sees the kids come down for breakfast, frustration, impatience and anger in his home office, back to happiness after work with the kids, ensconced in sappy love as he puts them to bed, distracted annoyance as he opens his laptop again and then total exhaustion that causes him to pass out 15 minutes into our alone couple time. It's work shit. It's ALWAYS work shit.

I remind myself that it's easy for me to say things like, "Just don't let it get to you so much," or, "It's not the end of the world." From my vantage point, the level of discontentment he reaches every single day seems unnecessary, but I have to remember that it's not about me "getting it." The dichotomy between our typical days is pretty extreme, so I have no right to get judgemental about his moods. Also, we are different people. His approach to career and success is and has always been vastly different than mine... it's not wrong, it's just different.

My main struggle, however, is seeing him build this emotional wall around his career dissatisfaction. He is a master at compartmentalizing his life. When we lived separately before we were married, I would only see this happy-go-lucky side. Since being married, however, I've been privy to many other sides. Mostly, I've noticed an unfulfilled career pattern... company after company, role after role. In an earlier post, I wrote about how I've made certain choices in order to cut a clear path for his career to flourish, which I believed would make him happy. In fact, I banked on it making him happy. And while he's a successful person by anyone's standards, I know he is still very unfulfilled when it comes to his career. At times, I get so annoyed and think, "You are a white man in America with an MBA and executive salary! What more could you want?!"

Ah, there's that judgement again. The one constant in our marriage is that my husband has stood by me through all my struggles and never once shown any judgement. He listens quietly, sometimes because that's what I need, other times because he doesn't know what to say... and at other other times, I'm sure, he is biting his tongue. His patience and support for me throughout our marriage has been rock solid, so I want to reciprocate. Only, we've always differed in our capacity for patience. Paul's tolerance tank for me is that of a robust SUV while mine is comparative to, say, a lawn mower.

I've spent years pushing away my desire to obliterate his emotional wall, but now I'm starting to really fear the effects of all these repressed emotions... for both of us.

Got Time to Lean, Got Time to Clean
It's only been in the last 5 or so years that I've learned what really makes Paul tick. Of course, I had known the trivial things; likes and dislikes when it came to movies, food, cars, etc., but in relation to big picture stuff, I had to do some very uncomfortable digging. Considering we've known each other for almost 2 decades, I realize this may sound pathetic, but it's our reality. He's not a big sharer and I've been too scared to force it. The painful discoveries from his past came out during very emotional and trying times in our marriage. I needed him to open up or else our relationship may not have recovered.

One very significant door that Paul opened revealed a strenuous start to his relationship with his stepdad. From what I had seen during our time as a couple, it seemed perfectly amicable. While more formal than affectionate, it never appeared to be more or less than a typical father/son bond. Paul even called him 'Dad' instead of by his first name, something his older sister chose not to do, so I assumed it had been a smooth transition from life with a single mom. But, one day during a serious discussion about some issues in our relationship, Paul told me about those first few years.

When his mother remarried, his new stepdad did not hesitate to take on an authoritative role when it came to Paul and his sister, especially when it came to helping out around the house. Now, it wasn't like Paul was at all lazy. In fact, during her years as a single mother, Paul's mom had instilled a pretty rigourous set of chores for him to get done daily. But now this man, who was new to his life and home, did not hesitate to order Paul around and make him feel bad about taking any kind of break; watching television, listening to music, playing a video game, etc.

"What are you doing? Why are you just sitting there?"

The nature of his urging wasn't overtly aggressive or violent, Paul clarified, but with all the new adjustments of that time; mom's married again, we have a new man living in the house, he's telling us what to do like a dad before we've even gotten used to him... it took an understandable toll. And Paul being the affable kid that he was, he didn't want to bring his discomfort to his mother's attention and stress her out. So he followed orders. The effects of that time are what Paul still deals with today; a persistent sense of being on edge and never feeling like he can sit still without a nagging guilt about being unproductive. There are other lingering affects as well, many of which he still won't discuss with me.

I sat there listening with tears in my eyes as he revealed what he went through. It felt like an enormous crack had spidered down Paul's impenetrable wall. He even looked a little different to me. Feeling his vulnerability after assuming a trivial reality for so long was like breathing fresh air after being trapped. Talking about it was painful for him, but it was the first time I felt like I was peeking into the inner core of who he was. I am someone who is attracted to a person's energy, so seeing a truly genuine side was so beautiful and, quite honestly, a relief. It was the closest I had felt to Paul in years.

The Theory of Evolution - Marriage Edition
As an avid listener to the Armchair Expert podcast, I've heard the word "evolved," thrown around quite a bit. When Kristen Bell was a guest, she applauded Dax (the host and her husband) for how evolved he was. What she meant was that Dax has taken the time to really understand himself and deal with his issues; the good, bad and ugly. And that information fosters a personal environment to grow into a better person. That doesn't mean his faults go away completely, but when they do arise, he has the backup data to inform the why of his actions. That understanding allows him to course correct. To me, this is the most important thing we as humans can do for ourselves. Understand the why. It's f*cking hard to do, but I'm a believer that if we are not evolving, we are shrinking into the worst versions of ourselves.

One of the greatest gifts this blog has given me is the self-reflective journeys I've been on for my posts. I've had to really dig deep into who I am and why I've made certain choices, and while it hasn't always been a pretty picture, it's been incredibly enlightening. I realize both how far I've come in certain ways, but also how much father I have to go in a lot of ways. But, I'm so fortunate to be in the practice of always looking inward and figuring out how to steer my way towards some semblance of personal fulfillment. 

I wish the same for my husband. I'm not suggesting he hasn't evolved at all, but I know there's much farther to go. After learning about a few issues from his past (the stepdad stuff was just one of many), I'm worried about him holding in all that pain. Within the last year, I've realized through my own personal rumination that I can only do so much. I've had to repeat this to myself over and over again, both in my thoughts and out loud in the mirror. He needs to figure this out himself. Some days I wholeheartedly believe that... other days I want to search and search for the magic button that shoves him toward a path to contentment like it's my job. Because for so long I considered it my job... I'm his wife. I should be the one to make him happy. But just as I discovered a few years ago, the only person capable of taking steps to improve their situation... is you. 

Don't Worry, Be Happy - ALL THE TIME!
I once heard a report on NPR that delved into the quest for happiness. In it, the reporter talked about how happiness is approached in different countries and I was struck by how the French view the concept. Rather than a destination, the French consider happiness as temporary stops along the way. In fact, they see a state of perpetual happiness as ludicrous, unattainable and setting oneself up for failure. I nodded along in my car as if I was in the audience of a Ted Talk and the speaker could see me from the stage. 

This idea that we need to keep trying to make ourselves and others happy starts so young. Oh, the baby is sad! Give her a toy! Our forefathers even included happiness as a pursuit in the Declaration of Independence. My Google search of "happy songs" came back with 935,000,000 results. Last time I was at Barnes and Noble (yes, I still enjoy physical books, thank you very much), there were at least two tables of self-help books, 85% of which touted some advice about how, why and what you must to do achieve HAPPINESS. Hell, this whole post is about my husband's happiness and my desperation for him to find it.

It's hard for me to change that destination happiness mindset, though. Ever since I can remember, I've been trying to solve the issues of my life with the sole purpose of being happy. If I could just change A, B and C... then I'll be happy. But as I think about that NPR report and seek a more spiritual side of existing, I can see the damage we do to ourselves when we feel this expectation to find our bliss, always stay positive, seek our passions, make the MOST out of every day! 
  
Look, I'm not saying I'm trading in my positive attitude for a new bitter town address, but I do see the value in recognizing that being happy all the time is not at all realistic. I do not expect Paul to suddenly find the perfect formula and he'll never be unfulfilled again! For me, there is no clear answer about whether or not happiness should be held as a persistent intent... but self-improvement sure is. Maybe if we focus on being the best version of ourselves, the happiness is an accidental side effect?

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Every single day, Paul and I marvel at our son and how that little boy can find joy in pretty much everything. At least once a day, we catch each other's eyes, smile and shake our head at the beauty of it all. Paul will say, "Oh that kid..." But lately, he's been following that up with, "I hope I don't screw him up." To which I say, "Huh? How would you screw him up?" Paul then responds with a shrug and dismissive, "I dunno..." I ask him the question even though I think I understand what he means. He's not unaware of the wall and he's well aware of the damage it could do to our kids if the reasons for that wall aren't dealt with.

My life has been an open book to my husband. I met Paul almost 19 years ago, and since then I have revealed the hardest struggles and the darkest secrets of my life to him. Even when he has shared some past struggles, the emotional scope feels very abbreviated as if there is so much more he is not telling me. Do I feel an imbalance of emotional vulnerability? Am I scared that the truths on the other side of that wall will hurt me? Am I scared that this wall will have a negative impact on our kids? Yes. Yes. YES.

There has been a new addition to my recurring dream repertoire. Paul and I will be having a serious discussion and, suddenly, he will have an outburst... telling me so many things he's been holding inside for years! And then he breaks down in tears because he feels so much better. The dreams usually end with us in a sobbing embrace feeling an ocean of relief. Then I wake up and the pit of my stomach aches because it wasn't real. Ugh, why couldn't I have just dreamed about Tom Hanks being my best friend again??

My love for Paul is so incredibly deep. No one has helped me become a better version of myself more than him. There are things he needs to let out and I only want that for his own benefit. I know it will be tough for both of us, but I'm prepared to trudge through that pain to make my recurring dream come true. It's time to smooth out those sheets... I just hope I can find the courage to start the discussion. Definitely something I still need to work on.

Anyone have Kristen Bell or Dax Shepard's contact info?!?!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Every Pity Party is a Shitty Party

I read over the post I was minutes away from publishing and I had to stop my own fist from punching my own face. The overarching theme of the post was about my tendency, for much of my life, to equate a slow social life with being a total loser. When I thought of this topic and how I've often felt "out of sight, out of mind" in social circles, it felt relatable and worthy of my blog.

My nose scrunched as I read story after story of being left off an Evite or not getting invited to a wedding. The whole point of the post was to share these feelings, but also illustrate how I've evolved into accepting my tendency to be a loner. I do believe that. I'm perfectly at peace with my social activity and inactivity. However, as I read over the post I had spent days writing, I sounded like a whiny bitch.

After a huge eye roll, I pressed down on the trackpad, dragged my finger up over the text and with a disgusted exhale... hit DELETE.

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In that now defunct post, I wrote about a few parties that were thrown without me, but the one party I refuse to attend or host is a pity party. As an eternal optimist, I cannot allow myself to go too far down the road of despair because there are too many things to be thankful for. Every single day I try and surround myself with positive energy because, as I get older, negativity sucks the life out of me. Seriously, I would be like a dried fruit version of myself if I succumbed to all the bummer stuff around me. For my own mental health, I have to literally and figuratively turn off sources of doom. It is especially hard right now with the current climate; both political and well, actual planetary climate, but I make it my mission to focus on all the beauty around me. And yes, there is plenty to find.


The Woe Is Me Club
At my very first job out of college, there was a group of men at the office who were miserable. Naturally, they were all friends; you would see them congregating at each other's desks, going out to lunch, huddling together at happy hours (ironic). As a fresh-faced woman in my early 20s, young and excited about life, I had no idea why they insisted on being the office wet blankets all day, every day. Today I am older than those men were then, and I still don't get it. During those years of working together, I had learned quite a bit about each of them... they all had families, all were relatively healthy, they had college degrees in viable fields and well, obviously they were employed. I'm sure there was plenty I didn't know about them, but learning what I did during the years we worked together, it was pretty clear these guys were bound and determined to be miserable. 

I sound pretty harsh here, I realize, but I'm not even going to try and sugarcoat how little patience I have for people who have SO much to be thankful for, but choose a life of whining and misery. To be clear, I'm not talking about folks who are clinically depressed or suffer from other debilitating mental health conditions. I'm talking about chronically negative, privileged people who have lost perspective. 

One day, I was sitting in the cafeteria with one of the Woe members and he was bitching about being passed over for a promotion. 

"Story of my life..." he exhaled shaking his head. 

"Well, it doesn't have to be," I said biting into my turkey sandwich.

"What do you mean by that?" His eyes bored into mine as if I'd just accused him of saying something racist.

"Well, I'm just saying if you're so unhappy here, maybe you could find a better job somewhere else," I shrugged.

"Ohhhh, the naiveté of someone who's been here for 2 years," he leaned back with a snarky smile and folded his arms over his chest. 

"Ohhhh, the bitterness of someone who hates his job but won't look for other opportunities," I said mimicking his body movement.

He laughed. We were acquaintances at best and he seemed surprised by my bold response to his insulting statement. That day, I was in no mood for his negative crap and I had no qualms about telling him that.

"Look, I'm just saying that this isn't the only place to work... if you hate it so much, make a change. At least see what's out there." I felt odd giving someone 8 years my senior such advice, but I also felt like the more logical one at the table given his attitude.

"It's not that simple," he said shaking his head.

"Why not?" I asked.

We went back and forth as he made up flimsy excuses about having put in so many years at the company, established relationships, probably nothing better out there right now, etc. I would deflect each of these with simple statements like, "But, you hate it here," or "If you haven't looked at other options, how do you know nothing is out there?" Frustrated, he finally retorted that I wouldn't understand because I was too young and inexperienced.

"Believe me, when you're my age with a family, you'll see things the way I do," he held his hands up to signal the end of the conversation.

Nope, I thought, I'll be sure to never see things the way you do.


TCBW
This isn't to say that I haven't had dark periods where I've fallen into "the world is against me" despair. When I look back on those times, I realize now how trudging through that emotional sludge was so necessary for me to appreciate all the fantastic things in life. And that mental shift didn't magically fall into my lap. I had to want it and find it. One thing I've learned over and over again is that finding the proverbial silver lining is work. I wish it was more like, WERK... but no, it's solid WORK. Ask Oprah... she probably has about 4,000 gratitude journals at this point.

BREAKING NEWS: THINGS COULD BE WORSE!

I live by these words and have for a long time. Do they always work to salve my pain? Not always, but again, I'm willing to work at it. Some of TCBW thoughts are:
  • Yeah, my baby is fussy and not sleeping, but given that my dear friend just had her 2nd miscarriage, I'm going to cherish this healthy, fussy monster.
  • Okay, it's not ideal that my husband travels a lot, but he is supporting our family. He also listens to my concerns about feeling like a single parent at times and never dismisses my feelings.
  • Fine, my face and bod look old and fewer people understand my references, but at least I'm around to look old and bore people with my stories of the 90s. I didn't lose my life to cancer at 37 like my friend Amy, I didn't suddenly die in my sleep like another friend last year, or get killed by a drunk driver like my husband's dear friend in college. 
These are trivial things, I realize. But I also suppose that's my point. My life hasn't been rife with tragedy and drawn-out struggles, so therefore, I refuse to let myself ignore the fortune of living a pretty charmed life. Nothing irks me more than privileged people finding shit to complain about. Yeah, it hasn't been all smooth sailing, but I'm also not a refugee or an abandoned child roaming the street. I don't live in poverty or in an abusive household. I'm not suffering from a debilitating mental or physical illness that limits my independence. But here's the thing, there are tons of stories of people overcoming those types of injustices or personal tragedies. Those badass tales are all around us! Read Educated by Tara Westover or any of Maya Angelou's memoirs among others. Those types of inspiring stories certainly knock my perspective back in place. Look, this works for me and I'm not saying it's what will work for everyone. I'm just glad that I have this nagging gratitude reminder which I fully engage if I smell a personal pity party going on for too long. 

An area where a TCBW thought is harder work for me is with my relatively new migraine condition. Back in 2008 when I got my first one, I thought I was having a stroke and went to the ER. The doc that day gave me my first TCBW moment when she came back with the results of my CAT Scan.  She told me I had "nothing scary" in my brain, but instead seemed like I suffered a migraine with aura which was both common and treatable. Since then, I've gone through ebbs and flows with those damn things, and there is constant worry that I'll get one. While I had an extremely hard time with it at first, I've learned to deal with them as best I can. I live with the possibility that they could get a lot worse as I get older... but I never forget to remind myself that they could get better as my hormones level out with menopause (good GOD). Below is the TCBW work I need to do and, admittedly, isn't always easy to do when I suddenly can't see half of someone's face. 
  • I get these migraines once every few weeks while some people get multiple migraines per month. I do not suffer from chronic migraines and for the most part, I've figured out my triggers. Some people have to be hospitalized or prescribed strong drugs while I can treat mine with OTC pills and recover relatively quickly. I have quite a few friends who have offered to help me if things do get worse, including using medicinal marijuana, which sounds super cool and would make 15-year-old Sheevani blush from how edgy I've become in my 40s. 
My common theme here is to never forget that life is hard and while sometimes my own shit may seem awful, a ton of other people out there have it a lot worse than I do. That's something I will always work to keep at the forefront of my thoughts.

Wah WAHHHHH
I will sit and watch Debbie Downer SNL sketches for hours, but as for a real-life Debbie? No, that's a swift drop-kick right out of my life. All that complaining and seeing the gloom-and-doom in life is draining to be around. Now, I'm not talking about listening to a friend going through a hard time or providing a much-needed shoulder to cry on. I love to be that person of comfort. But, even those friends can overstay their welcome, especially when they are doing zero to help themselves. I'll refer you back to the gentlemen of that Woe is Me club from my first job. They all sat around having the exact same complaints for at least 7 or 8 years as if somehow the Gods of Whining would dump some good fortune on their cubicles.

My father educated me about a lot of wonderful things during my life, but the most important, albiet unintentional, lesson he taught me repeatedly was how I never wanted to view the world like he did. I'm not talking about politics or religion, but more the cynical lens through which he saw almost everything. I'm pretty sure a lot of us can relate to having an elder tell us they are just being "realistic," but to me growing up, I just saw my dad wallow in negativity so much that I know it affected far more in his life than just sharpening his gift of snark. My father did have real stress, from his career to his health... all pretty major and tough to deal with, however, he certainly didn't make it better for himself or any of us in the way he dealt with the challenges. I remember feeling this unfair burden of emotions due to his unwillingness to address his issues properly. Once, during a summer back home from college, his emotions about his own issues had boiled over to the point where he wasn't allowing me to spend the day with my then boyfriend. His arguments were absolutely nonsensical, so I said, "Why are your issues the reason I cannot go out? Can't I just have fun for a day and not deal with YOUR issues for once?!" My words sort of snapped him out of his rage. "You're right," he quietly responded, "This isn't your problem... go, bheta. Have fun with Greg." 

Now, would I go back in a heartbeat and sit with him to understand what was troubling him so much? Absolutely. But, that's not the story. The story is about a father taking out his issues on his 20-year-old college girl. Here is another lesson he accidentally taught me as well; that I never want my own issues to distress my kids. This doesn't mean I will never show them vulnerability or emotion. Give me a break, they see a range of that every single day. But, as they grow up and develop their own problems in their own little bubbles, they shouldn't have to worry about or deal with my shit. In order to be the best possible mother to them, the least I could do is figure out how to properly address the issues of my life. If they ask me why I'm sad or struggling, I'll happily open that book for them because I know I'll have a chapter in there titled, "In Progress," or, "My Plan." 

Obviously I have no clue what sort of battles our family may endure in the future, but I never want my kids to feel I'm not working on myself at all times. For me, it's about transparency at all levels, from the onset anger or despair to picking myself up, wiping away the tears and figuring out how to see a path forward. While my dad didn't really put that sort of thinking into practice during my lifetime, I know he'd encourage my approach during his grandkids lifetime. 

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Please don't let the theme of this post suggest that I do not understand how therapeutic a good old fashioned bitch session can be. I LOVE to bitch, WE ALL NEED TO DO IT. Life is hard and the alternative to venting to our friends is bottling up that shit and I don't know about you, but my blood pressure is not equipped for that. But, just as I tell myself with strawberry cheesecake and baked macaroni and cheese, everything in moderation. You do too much of any of that, including the bitching, your insides will hurt and all those toxins released from your body holes will alienate a lot of people. 

Whether a bitch session or pity party, I choose keep mine short, poorly planned and with shitty food. Like the Fyre Festival of pity parties... except with much less Ja Rule.  

Monday, September 23, 2019

Welcome Week - The Real Story

My last post featured a short story inspired by my first night away at college. When I started writing it, my intention was to tell what actually happened, but as I typed away I realized I wasn't quite ready to share the true events of that night. So instead I wrote about what I wished had happened. This week, I'm still not ready to share, but for some reason, I feel compelled to do so.

This account of that night from 23 years ago is as accurate as my memory will allow. It certainly wasn't my ideal way to start my college life at Michigan State University, but it was certainly a lesson in poor decision-making, speaking up and healing shitty first impressions.

The following is a true story.

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Co-Ed Expectations

Party Time

I breathed in the humid night air of East Lansing as I walked across Grand River Ave. The feeling was a mix of guilt and relief; guilt because I truly didn't think I deserved this gift of going to away to college and relief because I finally felt like I could make up for the years of social stagnation that my 18-year-old self had deemed unacceptable. I was sick of being the odd one out and now I could just blend in with the rest of my peers... at least on a social level. No more, "I can't go," or "I'm not allowed." For the first time, I could actually make the decisions for myself.

Back in 1996, Welcome Week at Michigan State University was a full week. I have since learned that it has been reduced down to a weekend shortly after I was gone from campus, so I feel lucky that I was one of the last to enjoy an entire week of familiarizing myself with the various aspects of scary college life. That first night, I tagged along with Kavita and her friends to a few house parties off campus. I couldn't think of anyone better to usher me into the college party life than my best friend of 9 years. She was starting her sophomore year, so she could show me the ropes.

We were one of many large clumps of co-eds crossing over to the party streets; Charles, Division, Bailey among others. Flashes of various party scenarios appeared in my head, no doubt an amalgam of tv shows and movies I'd watched for the last 5 years. People making out everywhere, lampshades on heads, loud music and dancing, keg stands, rounds of shots being passed around. Basically, if it happened on My So-Called Life, Beverly Hills 90210 or any John Hughes teen movie, it was swirling around in my head as a trailer of what I was in for later that night.

The beer was gross, but Kavita had assured me that I would acquire a taste. "It won't be so bad after you have a buzz going," she said. After achieving said buzz, I was having a great time. While not every party trope I'd seen on screen was happening, I was relishing the freedom of it all... I didn't have to watch the time or figure out an excuse to tell my parents. The night was as young as I wanted it to be, and I loved every minute of this new normal.

Post Party Time

The group had splintered into a few pairs and triplets, but eventually we all made it back to Holmes Hall. Since I was already with her and her friends, I had decided to crash with Kavita that night instead of going to my own dorm room, which was all the way across campus. Besides, I barely knew my roommate yet, so spending my first night with a familiar face was the perfect way to start my college life.

It was decided that a bunch of us would go to the brother floor and hang out. All the rooms had the bareness of the just-moved-in quality; boxes half emptied, beds barely made, closets adorned with a few hanging garments. Holmes Hall was one of the dorms on the far east side of campus affectionately called, "The Projects" since it was one of many high-rise residential halls that lined a divided road, each of them looking exactly alike with their beige brick and sterile design. Kavita had been a bit horrified that I had been placed in the West Circle side of campus, with the old architecture and dorms that resembled more of a tudor style aesthetic. She insisted all the fun happened in The Projects.

Kavita and I were hanging out with a couple of her friends in their room. One of the friends, Carl, was a guy I'd heard quite a bit about during our long distance conversations the previous year. Kavita told me all about how complicated he was, but also how smart and sensitive he could be. I had built him up in my mind to be Troy Dyre from Reality Bites.... Ethan Hawke's portrayal of a smart but damaged guy who lets his potential slip away in order to avoid becoming a yuppie seemed the perfect imagination match for Kavita's stories.

Sitting on the dorm-issued couch next to Carl was sort of thrilling. He wasn't exactly warm or friendly, but again, my knowledge of his nature allowed me to excuse his iciness. In fact, I wasn't sure he knew I was even in the same room... that is until Kavita and the other guy left, and all of a sudden Carl reached his arm around my back and hoisted me on top of him. Completely surprised and unaware of how to do... well, anything, I let him sort of take the lead. My heart pounded... first at the surprise at what was happening, but also feeling a bit flattered that THE Carl wanted to make-out with me?! I couldn't really say for certain that he knew my name.

Uncharted Territory

Before the night began, I was hoping to kiss a guy. I feel no shame admitting that. A full make-out? Okay sure! Sex? No way. I knew better than to go straight to rated-R before getting comfortable in PG-13. Ever since I hit puberty, I was a boy crazy, rom-com loving, hit teen-show watching dork who longed for my over-romanticized first boyfriend, kiss, couch make-outs, etc. Much like the Nancy Reagan "Just Say No" campaign worked on me to avoid drugs, episodes of my favorite teen shows scared my unskilled libido into submission with pregnancy scares and HIV/AIDS tests. I was eager to start, but I was in no rush to enter the world of condoms, birth control or going to the free clinic for tests. 

We made it back to Carl's room and onto the top bunk which he had claimed. His roommate wasn't arriving for a couple of days, so we had all the privacy we needed. Laying beneath him, kissing in the dark, hearing his breathing and feeling his hands on me, it felt... okay. While my experience level was pretty much zero, I could tell Carl wasn't a master at the art of making out. His movements were urgent, sloppy and totally devoid of the romantic rhythm I had seen with Dylan McKay and Brenda Walsh. He wasn't aggressive or scary, just clumsy and clueless. As it was happening, I distinctly remember the thought, "I'm sure this will get better," crawling through my brain. 

At a certain point, my shirt was off and his attempt at unbuttoning my pants was met with a clear "no" from my mouth. "That's cool," he panted and returned his focus to everything above the equator. I felt very shy being topless with a guy, but given that the room was dark, I wasn't as self-conscious. It was exciting and scary at the same time. Carl never made me feel unsafe, mind you, but there were moments where I wondered if I was actually enjoying myself. These moments occurred when he'd be giving a lot of attention to my virgin nipples with the enthusiasm of a newborn baby. That's as detailed as I can get without wanting to melt into the floor. But yeah, let's just say that Carl had a fixation on two very specific parts of my body that night. 

I'm not sure how long the make-out lasted, it could have been 30 minutes or an hour. We were done after a knock on the door from Kavita wondering where I was. Carl hopped down from the top bunk and cracked the door open slightly. I heard some muffled talking and Kavita's signature giggling.

"Having fun in there?!?" she yelled.

"Uh, yeah!" I responded half embarrassed, half lying.

"Haha! Okay, I'm going to bed now Sheevs... you coming with me orrrr....?"

"Oh yeah, hang on! I'll be right there!"

My first make-out was done, I had decided, and it was a solid 5 out of 10. Eh, maybe 4. I re-dressed, jumped down from the bunk and asked Carl if I could use the bathroom. He nodded and yawned as he pulled his shirt back on. After peeing I looked at the mirror in horror to see purplish patches all over my neck and chest. ALL OVER. It was like a strangulation of hickeys. I opened the door and Carl stood there, bleary-eyed and waiting to use the bathroom himself. He took one look at me in the light and his eyes grew large.

"Oohhhh shit... I'm so sorry."

I fake laughed, said some semblance of a farewell and sped-walked to the other side of the building to Kavita's room, thankful to not see anyone else in the hallway. She was the one and only person to whom I could show my complete humiliation. Along with her roommates, they commiserated with me and called Carl an asshole. I didn't totally defend him, but I also kept saying, "I had no idea it was even happening!" The entire session was just a jumbled mess of kisses from my mouth down to my... well, Carl's favorite points of interest. His apparent "passion" lended itself to higher than average suction settings. 

Turtleneck in 90 Degrees

The morning after, Kavita's roommate let me borrow an ill-fitting white mock turtleneck that only covered half of the affected area. The combination of that shirt along with the expensive concealer my mother had ordered for me was how I masked my neck for the next couple of days. I could see the looks of consternation at this weird girl wearing a white turtleneck in peak August heat. The edge of the white collar eventually got stained with a ring of beige concealer as I sweated the days away. The worst part of my make-out aftermath happened under that marred shirt and was only known to me. Carl's prolonged fixation on my nips that night caused the skin to crack and bleed. In the days leading up to the start of classes, I'd feel sharp pains from the peeling skin rubbing against my bra. With every stab of nipple pain, my eyes would flush with tears and not just from my physical malady. I just wanted to have a fun make-out with a guy... but I ended up an ashamed idiot with a neck full of hickeys and bleeding nipples. College was supposed to be where I could start fresh as a confident young woman who was eager to explore her freedoms. Well, that first night certainly wasn't the ideal way to make that idealistic impression.

They All Knew

It wasn't until about a month into the semester when my new dorm friends were comfortable enough to address what they saw of me that first week. 

"Oh my god, it was so obvious! The more you tried to cover it up, the worst it looked!"

I would bury my face in my hands with a muffled, "I know!!"

"I felt so bad for you, but I didn't know you at all, so I couldn't really say anything!" said the girl in the next room over.

I finally explained what had happened and how it was basically a cautionary tale for any other sheltered girl looking for too much excitement the minute they leave the nest. 

"It could have been worse... believe me," another girl said with a serious expression.

"Oh, totally," I said, understanding her implication,"A lot worse, I know."

Contrary to what Kavita had said, my side of campus was just as fun as hers. It may have not been the mecca of secret kegs being snuck up to dorm rooms, but there were nights spent chatting with some incredible friends, who really became my saviors that first year. After they learned more about who I was as a person, that first impression of me from Welcome Week seemed to be an alien who had invaded my body. After some time, I could joke and laugh about that ugly turtleneck. While it took longer than my nips, I eventually healed from the shame and embarrassment of it all.  

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So, that's what really happened that first night away from college. This wasn't easy to share, but at the same time, I feel it sort of encompasses a lot of my identity struggles in a single night. When I find myself cringing at this story, it's not so much about the hickeys and nip abuse, but more about my inability to distinguish who I was and who I was supposed to be. 

Look, at age 18, most of us don't know who the hell we are yet, but for me, I rushed to be what I'd seen in others rather than figuring out who I really was. Back then, I was sure my parents rules were to blame for my stagnated experiences and well, that is true, but I had also built that up as what was "holding me back." From what exactly? Oh, all the stuff that parents are supposed to protect you from. "You'll understand when you're older," has never rang so loud and true in my ears. 

This is a story about succumbing to an urgency of identity and not following your gut. It has served as an example over and over in my life of what happens when you covet an experience or lifestyle that may not be what's best for you... or even something you'd enjoy. 

I'm happy to report that eventually I did experience my fairytale moments complete with movie-like magic and true love romance. They happened when I wasn't trying so hard to be someone I wasn't... they happened exactly when they were supposed to. Go figure.