Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Shhhhhh


I looked down at my phone and saw an old friend was calling. He and I had more of a text or Facebook message correspondence, so a phone call seemed a bit odd. Although, I had an inkling about what he may be calling about. After a deep breath, I swiped to answer. 

"Hey you!" I said.

"Heyyyy," he responded, "I had to call you... your comments on Kellie's post were incredible!"

"Ohh, heh.. thanks."

I knew it. My stupid Facebook outburst with a mutual ex-coworker of ours made it's way to his feed. Apparently it had really entertained him while I was going back and forth about whether or not I have some serious online rage issues. 

"First of all, she's a total idiot and secondly, THANK YOU for saying everything I was thinking!"

I sighed. My ego was swelling a bit from this friend thinking my tirade was amusing, but I was in full-on regret mode. 

"Ohh, I don't know... I feel kind of bad now."

"WHAT? Do not feel bad. She is so tone-deaf. I'm glad you pointed that out. What a dumb thing for her to post!"

"Yeah I know, but I should have seriously taken it down a couple notches. I feel like a dumbass."

A few hours earlier:

I was on Facebook at the office instead of working on some boring ass Ladder Plans. What are Ladder Plans, you ask? Oh, you didn't ask? Of course you didn't... let's proceed.

I see a post from a former co-worker. I should mention that this particular person had a tendency to post very annoying things that basically put her wealthy lifestyle on display; complaints about her housekeeper, seeking advice for St. Barts resorts, pictures of her baby son in Ralph Lauren outfits... shit like that. I'd usually just roll my eyes and roll on by her posts. Today, her post caused my finger to stop mid-scroll:

Just got off the phone with my manager and was offered a position that requires a move to some city in India for a couple of years. INDIA! Yeah, no thanks. No way (my son) is going to eat naan before eating a bagel!! Any jobs available in Paris or Milan? LOL! 

Okay... I'll admit that the actual post on its own wasn't terrible. Annoying AF which was par for the course, but not terrible. Then I read some of her friends comments:

Ew, no way. India is filthy.

NEVER!! Bill wanted to go there for vacation and I refused. I hate Indian food and I've heard it's so gross.

I had a friend move there and he hates it. Stay in America!! Keep your baby safe!

Not unless you enjoy diarrhea!

I looked to see if Kellie had refuted the xenophobic comments. Nope. Nada. She liked all of them and even threw in an LOL to a few. 

After a couple of deep breaths I started typing:

I understand that a move to India is not for everyone, but let's not say insulting things about the country considering there are people, like me, who take offense to such insensitive comments. 

Okay... that wasn't bad, I thought. Gets the point across but doesn't take any cheap shots at anyone. I felt good about it. 

Well, what ensued over the next couple of hours escalated into a full Facebook fight. Her friends dug in and defended their xenophobic comments. Other friends chimed in and defended the India-haters. I even think Kellie's grandmother commented in all caps saying that Kellie was "THE SWEETEST SOUL AND IF YOU REALLY KNEW HER YOU WOULD NEVER ACCUSE HER OF SUCH THINGS." 

Oh man. I engaged and now Meemaw was yelling at me. None of their empty defenses changed my viewpoint, however. At the core of it all, I was pissed that Kellie couldn't even acknowledge that my feelings were at all valid. She just kept repeating herself and saying I was being too sensitive and she was "half joking" anyway. Her friends, she insisted, were the nicest people who certainly didn't mean to insult India. Soooo they accidentally insulted it? My responses went from polite to bitingly sarcastic and nasty. By the end of it all, I had accused her of being a typical white elitist and that it was laughable that she was in the Human Resources field considering her lack of human understanding, not to mention that her first action after being offered a job was to scoff at the notion of said job on "f*cking Facebook." I may have even threatened to warn her manager about her shitty unprofessional attitude.  

Yeah, I unfriended her right after that. I didn't regret that I had spoken up, but I had let it get to a point where I was saying things out of pure emotion rather than keeping it measured and at a level to keep some integrity. The message I had started out with got lost in a sea of insults that were satisfying at the time, but upon reflection, they were petty and ended up making me look rather unhinged. 

Back to the phone call:

"Well, I thought it was perfect. Don't waste your time beating yourself up. She needed to be called out," said my friend.

I smiled and reluctantly thanked him. The icky feeling in the pit of my stomach would remain for the next couple of days. Never again, I thought, never again will I allow myself to stoop so low and conduct myself in a way that negates the legitimacy of my beliefs. And especially not on Facebook.

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That Facebook debacle happened over 9 years ago and yet it still informs my online behavior today. If I see some ignorant comments, I definitely scrutinize the who, the what and the why before I choose to engage. Most of the time I deem it isn't worth it... because it's Facebook or Twitter and really, debates on those sites may as well be in an echo chamber where everyone has their own deflector shields. 

In addition to deciding when I should speak up, I've also seen the necessary choice of keeping quiet, especially lately. My choice to stay quiet is not to take the path of inaction, however, in fact, my silence is to engage in something I feel is just as important: LISTENING.  

Believe me, I've seen those who have chosen silence because neutrality seems easier. I've been that idiot. I've also learned that posting on social media is not the only way to take action. Especially since I feel people use a Facebook post or Tweet as a social record of what they've said, not necessarily of what they've done. 

Since I'm an improviser, I'm in a community with much younger friends who have grown up in a post-internet world, so their interpretation of involvement is heavily measured by how often you post what you're doing. Not that I'm immune to that behavior just because I was born in the 1970s, mind you. My time spent on Facebook isn't something I particularly like to brag about. As I get older, though, I'm seeing the pitfalls of the medium and am being more selective about how I utilize these sites. 

The world's on fire... it's more than I can handle.
~Sarah McLachlan

I'm trying to handle it, oh am I ever. The current state of the world is by far the most divisive in my lifetime and while so much of it hurts my heart and brain, it's also forcing a lot of reflection. In yoga we learn that we are exactly where we should be at this moment in time. With that in mind, I've been in mental overdrive thinking about why I'm supposed to be here... in this moment, with all this strife about so many things. And as I was trying to listen to what the universe was telling me, I realized that listening and, in turn learning, is the answer after all.

After I saw a post from a friend equating silence to being a racist apologist, I sat back and thought about how she really meant social media silence. That if you hadn't chimed in on a post with your own comment, you'll be seen as siding with racists. This was in reference to a specific movement within the Denver improv community. When I read her post, I realized what an odd requirement we put on ourselves to only express our outrage or ally-ship on Facebook or other social media outlets. Personally, I'd rather show my action in other ways that don't include wasted time on flawed websites.

With all the issues at the brink (or in the midst) of exploding in our world right now, inaction is not an option. However, bulldozing into issues without the necessary knowledge cannot be the other option. I am listening with wide open ears and mind. Too often I see that comment box trigger finger strike only to show a person spew thoughts without any foundation of understanding an issue. That's the heart of what's broken in the world I see. Even within the communities with which I identify and agree, I see a lot of talking without understanding... reacting without learning... shouting loudly only to drown out the complexities of what we're going through.

I've done the Facebook fights and Twitter debates and you know what happens every time? Nothing except it ruins my mood and my internal shame tumor grows because I've wasted my time and energy. Sometimes you have to trudge through the shit tunnel that is social media in order to come out the other side a more enlightened person. I've learned a lot of what I don't want to be through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram... so I do value that. 

There are times to speak and times to listen. I'm in listening mode right now and when I feel it is time to use my voice, you will hear it loud, clear and informed. 
 


Friday, May 29, 2020

Unbitten Tongue

"I'm not racist, but those guys were a bunch of n*ggers!"  ~Dude from college describing some black students at a pick-up basketball game (who were far better at basketball).

"Ugh, why are we listening to this Martin Luther King music?" ~Girl from college upon hearing a group of us listening to rap music.

"Hey, check this out! N*gger lips!!" ~Multiple kids in grades K-12 curling their lower lip and resting their tongue on their upper lip as a joke.

"Black people are just dumber than white people, my dad told me." ~Girl from 7th grade in front of a black boy... who stared straight ahead and said nothing.

"It's not a racist thing, but I just don't find black people attractive." ~Co-worker reacting to a discussion about hot celebrities, commenting specifically on LL Cool J.

"I'm sorry, but I won't be coming to you anymore... it's getting too "dark" around here." ~Client of my mother's who stopped going to the salon where she worked because of the increase of black patrons at the mall.

"Well, you know, all these black people came out of the woodwork and started voting all of a sudden!" ~Appalled family member reacting to Barak Obama's victory in 2008.

"If he would have just listened to those police officers he wouldn't have gotten the shit beat out of him, serves him right!" ~Father of my friend watching footage of the 1991 Rodney King beating.

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I am not a confrontational person. It's one of my personality traits that I think has helped and hindered my life in equal measure. While it has helped me to not overreact in many situations, it's also prevented me from saying many things that have needed to be said.

I bite my tongue when I don't want to offend or upset another person. There are so many occasions where I've chosen to keep my mouth shut in order to keep the peace, occasions where I have been personally offended by something, but opted to "not go there" because it won't be pretty. In essence, protecting the offender while my night has been ruined from some offhand comment.

George Floyd is the latest black man to be murdered by excessive force at the hands of police. I watched the footage and once again felt the absolutely nauseating heartache I do whenever these stories emerge. I wonder how the hell this is still happening. I marvel that these cops see people filming and yet continue abusing a non-violent, unarmed black person because they're aware of the historic lack of consequences. I get enraged, and I'm ashamed to say... I haven't done much beyond that. That is going to change.

Check Your Empathy
In reading articles by black journalists and authors, I've gleaned so many helpful insights into the appropriate ways to address these horrific stories with sensitivity to the black community. The biggest lesson is to not make it about you. This isn't about you. Rather than focusing on the emotions that YOU are feeling, express your sympathy for your black friends. Saying 'I'm so sorry this has happened again' or 'I see you' and lending an ear goes much further than expressing how the event has made YOU feel. Again, if you aren't part of the targeted marginalized community, do not make it about you.

Part of me thinks, "I can't win! Even if I express my own shame or disgust, I'm in the wrong!" That statement proves the point. I should focus on re-directing my feelings outwardly and make it about the feelings of those in the community. I'm still coming from a place of honesty; it's still the same sentiment that my heart is broken about what happened, but instead of saying how it affects me, I am recognizing that it affects the black community in a way that I cannot comprehend.

I'm guilty of being that woman who posts my reaction on Facebook and thinks I'm really doing something. I'd feel better since I expressed my disgust and heartache in a wordy diatribe. Again, I made it about me and how I felt. "Oh, people will know where I stand and that I hate when these incidents happen, good for me!" Even though I was being sincere in my words, my lack of action always left me feeling very inauthentic, because it WAS inauthentic. I'd say, "THIS MUST CHANGE!" but without the courage to actually participate in the change. My fear of putting myself in the fight has gone on too long.

If I truly care about these issues of racial injustice and want to be part of the solution, I must educate myself. I will join/donate to organizations that focus on serving people of color, I will read books and attend workshops about how to be an ally. I won't rely on my black friends to educate me, I will do my own work. I can get up on my soapbox all I want and say all the right things, but this is about DOING the right things.


My Lips Are Unsealed
In a previous post, I wrote about how I was always one to speak up against racist comments at school or other situations with co-workers or acquaintances. I didn't let that shit slide. However, when the racist person is my father-in-law, it hasn't been so easy to openly chastise him. Let's just say he and I couldn't be more opposite about many things, but specifically racism.

I'll be honest, it's been a real challenge to endure his racist comments in the almost 19 years of knowing him. My body tenses up and my heart pounds in my chest when he flippantly says things that make my blood boil. I internally try to calm myself with reminders that he has been a father figure to Paul and a great husband to my mother-in-law after a tumultuous first marriage to Paul's biological dad. While his opinions about black people are gross, I cannot deny that he provided a much needed support system for the man I love since his formative years.

One Thanksgiving, years into my relationship with Paul, I couldn't take it any longer and we had it out. It got heated. It wasn't pleasant. There were tears on both sides of the table. I needed my father-in-law to have the decency to recognize that his racist beliefs cannot be on display around me. After so many years of biting my tongue, I was glad to express how his words had affected me, but I was afraid that I may have splintered the relationship between Paul and his parents. As anyone who has racists family members, the feelings are very complicated. You love them but absolutely abhor a big chunk of who they are.

Since that night, we've tried to avoid hot-button issues that could spark a racist tirade. He and I don't have the closest of relationships, but we can be civil. More recently though, he's had the tendency to slip and say offensive things and I bite my tongue. "It's not worth it" I tell myself. "You're never going to change his mind, so what's the use?" I say. "We're only here for a short amount of time, let's not turn this into an argument," my mind screams.

I recently started examining those situations and the position my silence puts me in:
  • My father-in-law says something racist 
  • I choose to let it go because I don't want to cause tension 
  • He has no idea that he upset me
  • I hold in my anger and it causes me stress
  • He moves on completely at peace
  • I'm on edge and exhausted from putting on a happy face to protect his feelings 
It's really f*cked up. He's the one who said something awful, yet I put an incredible amount of energy to not upset a man who inflicted all of these feelings of anger and hurt. He continues his ignorance while I have to expend so much mental energy to figure out how to reform my attitude towards him and remember "he's good in other ways."

Those days are gone. Now, I don't want to turn everything into a heated argument, but a simple, "that is a racist thing to say," can be effective enough. I know I cannot change his mind and it's not even about that. I've always known that wasn't possible, but I cannot stand by any longer and let him say things that are blatantly prejudiced and let him think it is okay. I'm tired of making excuses for him.

And to echo the point I made earlier, this isn't about me. Sure, my own personal emotions get affected, but this is about speaking up for every black person who has had to suffer from ignorant prejudice. My father-in-law epitomizes the attitude that holds back progress for the black community, and as an ally, I will make sure he knows that. They aren't the problem... he is.


Passing It On
Racism is learned, so I'm not teaching it.

Once during a Facebook thread about the Trayvon Martin murder, a black friend of mine thanked me for my sentiments and then said something that I wasn't quite prepared for. She thanked me for "raising kids who won't see her son as an enemy because he's black." I hadn't even thought of that as something notable, I mean, I'm just raising my kids to be good and decent people. But to her, I was taking part in forming a new generation with less racism. As she went on to explain, she had seen the prevalence of black oppression through generations of her own family. From slavery to the civil rights movement, she could track how her own ancestors had been affected by each era. I was so inspired by her hope, even in the midst of such brutal violence on the black community by law enforcement (amongst so many other racial viral stories), she still holds onto hope.

Her words have never escaped my psyche. It is my duty to teach my children to see everyone as equal and further educate them on what has occurred throughout history and what is still happening today. When they see me enraged watching or reading the news, they often ask what it is about. I'm open and honest with them about these issues. And when I don't know something, we look it up together and learn together. I apply this to all marginalized groups. Sure, it's about being an ally... but it's also about doing what is right as part of the human race.

I'm aware to not to pat myself on the back too much with raising good kids... because as I've already stated it is not enough. Beyond talking about it, I need them to see me put those words into real action.

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Click below for a comprehensive list of resources for those who want to be an ally to the black community.

Anti-Racism Resources

"In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.” — Angela Davis

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Dear 1996 Sheevani...

Not sure I went one minute without that dark lipstick on in high school 

~~~

"Sheevani, you're almost done, huh bheta?"

I leaned forward and craned my neck to see the auntie inquiring about the end of my high school career. With three tables pushed together at Buddy's Pizza, it was a bit hard to see her. Whenever a few of our Indian families went out to dinner together, the chosen restaurant had to scramble to accommodate all of us. Part of the evening was usually spent entertaining ourselves while waiting in the lobby. We'd nurse hungry bellies until we heard the hostess mispronounce the given name followed by "party of (greater than 6)." At least Buddy's had video games.

"Oh, yeah. Just a couple more weeks left," I said. This particular auntie always intimidated me. She had an air about her that always made me feel like I was beneath her, which was ironic since her petite stature allowed me to grow taller than her by age 11. It also didn't help that both of her kids were in the academic elite of our community.

"Very good, bheta. Which college are you going to?" her chin jutted forward and her eyes narrowed. My heart started pounding in my chest. Ugh, WHY does she make me so nervous?

"Um... I got into Michigan State, so..." Please let this conversation stop. I had barely talked with my parents about a final college decision and I absolutely didn't want to go down that road with Judgy Auntie as the moderator.

"Oh? Not U of M?" There it was. No, not f*cking U of M. I wasn't smart enough to get into the superior University of Michigan unlike all the other brilliant ass Indian kids!

"Still need to figure a few things out," my dad interjected. Whew.

"Bharati and Janak, Michigan State is a party school... Sumbalje (be careful)."

I internally rolled my eyes at her warning to my parents. Of course she would think any school that accepted me was some second-rate party trash school. Ugh, where was the waiter with more sesame breadsticks and butter pats?!

"Are you having a graduation party?" The parents were talking amongst themselves now, thank goodness. I pretended not to hear them.

"No, she didn't say she wanted one," my mom said and she was right. I didn't quite know why I wasn't inclined to celebrate.

"American people make such a big deal about high school graduation... it's not a big thing!" my dad said.

Oh yeah, that's why I felt no desire to celebrate. My parents barely considered this an accomplishment.

"Well Janak, unlike our kids, many of these American kids don't go to college, so this is a bigger tradition for them."

"Even so, big parties and gifts... family coming from out of town to celebrate? All for just high school?!"

I wanted to scream but I wasn't sure if they'd be able to hear me from atop their high horses. Graduating high school was special, I thought. Maybe it wasn't some big accomplishment for me, but it certainly was a milestone. Just because it was expected doesn't make it any less significant. But, I couldn't say that. They'd never understand.

Once our orders were taken, the conversation had moved on and I was ensconced in the latest triviality in which a 17-year-old could revel down on the kids' side of the table. I'd be done with high school in exactly 12 days and I guess I was the only one who thought that was... something.

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

I will admit, at the onset of this pandemic where everything was shutting down and all I could think about was where my next toilet paper roll would come from, I scoffed at the woeful posts, "Oh no, my kid won't get to experience all the last traditions of high school!" In my own personal panic haze, I couldn't fathom giving a shit about missing a prom or a long-ass ceremony. Come on people! THERE IS A RAMPANT VIRUS DEVASTATING COUNTRIES ALL OVER THE WORLD!!

Cut to now; quarantine life is the new normal and I've had time to adjust and realize we aren't all imminently doomed. Now, I can totally feel that sadness. I also feel fortunate that my kids aren't being robbed of those last special months of high school.

I'm choosing to focus on the high school graduates losing out on their closure since, for me, that was the one academic rite of passage that was most impactful in my life. My entire childhood I longed to be older and graduating high school felt like that entrance into my adult life... with endless possibilities.

After watching the graduation episode of John Krasinski's Some Good News show, I was transported back to that time where everything was winding down; last final exams, banquets for all the clubs to which I belonged, my last time on the Kimball High School stage, my last choir concert, prom and graduation followed by the all-night party. In addition to those memories coming back, I could actually feel that indefinable energy that came at the end of high school; a mixture of excitement, relief, sadness and nerves. That collective feeling that we all knew our lives would markedly change after that last day... we all left with different memories of our time in that building, yet we could all say we were leaving as very different people than when we entered.

In the SGN episode, some lucky graduates got to ask a question to their commencement speaker, of course, not knowing who John Krasinski would present via pop-up screen during their online ceremony. The questions were fantastic and ranged in topic from holding onto your dream to a simple, "Now what?" Each celebrity guest gave very poignant answers and advice as only an accomplished and much older person can. It got me thinking that if I had the chance to talk to myself in 1996 when I graduated high school, what would I say?

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

Dear Sheevani,

Whoa, you're done with high school. Can you believe it? I mean, doesn't it feel like just yesterday when you'd steal Sheel's yearbooks and study every single page for hours? Now, you've got 4 of your own yearbooks and you're actually IN them! Insane.

Okay, first of all, great job in high school! I know junior high left you a bit scarred, and your strategy entering into 9th grade was to find friends who were good people and treated you well. And you did just that. I can further tell you as your future self that many of those same people will remain in your life for a long time. Just thinking of them and their impact will bring you to tears, so well done.

Now I know you think you aren't some academic stand-out, but you did well. Yes, Mummy and Daddy never seemed quite satisfied with your grades, but I know how hard you worked. Especially in all the math classes. While you could have put in some more elbow grease overall, I don't think you should be ashamed of what you accomplished academically. Plus, you rounded out studies with fabulous social experiences. Okay, all of your crushes went unrequited, but don't worry... good guys come to girls who wait. And believe me, I know it was frustrating that Mummy and Daddy were so strict about dating, but you'll thank them in the long run.

Okay first thing, keep writing. I'm sad to report that you'll give up a lot of things that give you joy pretty soon. Don't worry, you'll find your way back, but there will be long and painful detours. You've been writing in a journal pretty much everyday since age 10, so don't stop. Even when you don't feel like it, WRITE. A lot of what you write will be shit, but write it anyway. Much like Andy Dufresne, a river of shit can lead you to greatness on the other side. Oh wait, you haven't seen The Shawshank Redemption yet. I know the title isn't very catchy, but just know that this movie will be on regular rotation after you see it in college. Ah, back to writing! It has been your therapy thus far and as you get older, you'll need it more than ever so DON'T STOP.

Also, don't stop acting. That fear thing you've succumbed to a bit in high school only gets more forceful in the next few years. The world is bigger and scarier, so yes, the chances of getting the part lessens dramatically (pun alert), but remember, everything is an exercise in experience. You can grab so much from every experience, including failure. The more you give in to your fear, the more you'll lose yourself and not in the Eminem way (that'll make sense in about 6 years). You are so much more capable than you think, trust me.

Please seek help when you need guidance. Don't just assume there's no one who will understand your lack of direction, because there are literally people whose job it is to help you. See your guidance counselor regularly, talk to friends, talk to professors. Also, and I know this seems totally impossible, but talk to Mummy and Daddy. I know, I know... serious conversations with them have never gone particularly well for your whole life, but trust me... keeping them in the dark about your struggles will be a regret from which you'll never recover.

And finally, trust your strength. Okay, I can see the confusion on your face... damn, your face is so skinny and smooth. Whoops, sorry... anyway, YES YOU ARE STRONG. Tell those voices in your head that are comparing you to all the "good Indian kids" to shut up. Their accomplishments do not take anything away from you. You are different and you've felt this your whole life.  Different doesn't mean worse or less than those other kids. And believe me, many of those kids are not happy. They are living their life for their parents approval and nothing else. Staying true to your core isn't a betrayal to Mummy and Daddy, but it is a betrayal to yourself. None of this will be easy, Sheevani, but it'll be so worth it.

Oh yeah... hug Daddy a lot and ask him a lot more questions about his life. Don't leave any questions unanswered... please. And tell him you love him about 1000% more than you do now. Cherish his wisdom and advice. For all his faults and annoying habits on which you tend focus very heavily at the moment, trust that everything he does comes from a place of complete and unconditional love.

Well, I think that's all I can say, 1996 Sheevani. Congratulations on graduating and know that even if you follow NONE of this advice, you will still be okay. You've got a good head on your shoulders and while things may go in the pooper every now and then, you will pull yourself out and find a new way. All of those nights you stayed in over the last 4 years really served you to become your own rock. You listened to music, wrote in your journal, talked to yourself in the mirror and basically, became comfortable with being you. That's better learning than any math or history class as far as I'm concerned.







Oh right, one last thing... you meet Depeche Mode.


Love,
2020 Sheevani

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My heart aches for these kids who will not get to experience all the things they have been looking forward to for so many years. It's not fair. But I am sure that so many of these kids will come up with some fantastic way to properly celebrate when it is safe to do so. I'm a strong believer in the "better late than never" philosophy. And whenever you do have your 2020 grad bash, pay no attention to the random Indian woman weeping in the corner... thanks.


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?

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

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.

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

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!!"

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

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

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

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. 

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

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.

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

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.