Today is Halloween. I have dressed as cake, metaphorically. Cake is my favorite thing. I am wearing layers and have a lot of "icing" on my face and head.
It reminds me of high school. I used to spend hours in front of the mirror trying to cover up all of the acne, layering on the make-up until my face itched.
Then I would go to my closet, where I would pull out the baggiest and most comfortable clothes I could find.
I was in hiding. I would walk through the halls of my high school avoiding eye contact, hoping to not call attention to myself and pass the day unnoticed. I was in constant fear of being seen. The pain associated with my self-awareness was stifling.
I am different now. I wear clothes that show off my figure, not hide it. I only wear make-up on halloween, and very often, I can be seen trying to call attention to myself rather than avoid it.
I have my own style. It is not what you would think a typical 45 year old woman would wear, but I love it. I am happy to be me. When I look back at how far I have come, I am immensely proud of myself.
I still have work to do. But it is nice to have days like this, where I can look back to my former selves and feel optimistic about my future selves.
I have made a promise to myself this Halloween. I promise to try. Instead of getting to places in life like this with surprise on my brow, I am going to put a concerted effort into my progress.
I am going to set goals and work toward them.
I am going to get to a place and look around and say, "self, I knew you would get here! I just didn't know you would get here so fast!"
How about you? Where have you come from? Where do you think you will be? Did you ever dream that you would be where you are?
Are you up for a Halloween Promise? Make one! Be bold and brave and ambitious.
Be Your Favorite Thing!
This week I got a tattoo. It is a quote from James Baldwin across my back between my shoulder blades. I thought it was about one thing, but it turned out to be about something else. This is not an uncommon experience for me.
As you might have surmised, I am always looking for ways to grow. I try and find people and experiences that will push me to my edge, maybe make me uncomfortable, and force me to look at stuff that I would prefer not to look at.
When I got the tattoo, I thought it was about my romantic relationships. Several days later, I realized that it was not. This tattoo is a tribute to my mother.
My mother introduced me to James Baldwin via Giovanni's Room. The book had a huge effect on me. My mother also had a huge effect on me; she shaped the way I would choose the people I would become romantically involved with. She left me with experiences and trauma I would have to work through in order to be healthy and happy in those relationships.
For a long time, I blamed my mother. I was angry and believed deeply that she was responsible for my pain and suffering. She had neglected me in the worst ways, I believed, to the point where I thought I could not trust anyone ever again. She made me work so hard for her love that my eyes bled.
That is why this quote holds such power for me. Love is about my struggle to be flawed, to be completely bare in front of the ones I love, and still have the confidence in those people to love me. To have confidence enough to know that I am still worthy of that love. That struggle? That war? It is within, and through these experiences, I grow, if I have the courage.
I write a lot about being open, about being who you really are and being loyal to yourself, first and foremost. I also write about the filth and grime that lies within us. That in order to live with it, you must ultimately embrace it. That is my struggle; there is no one harder on me than me. There is no one who feels worse about the shit I live with than me. How embarrassing it is when I hurt people. Embarrassing when I cannot trust another because of my inner voice that tells me I am not enough.
But I struggle. I battle, and ultimately, I embrace this poor girl who cannot trust. I love her. But I also push her. Right to her edge where she can dance if she chooses.
Sometimes, she chooses.
Short but sweet. Delightful though, no? Share this. Tweet it. FB like it. Pass it on. Open up to that struggle. That war. It can save you.
I was speaking with a friend recently about a certain habit she has that she doesn't really want to stop engaging in, but feels like she should for several reasons, first and foremost because it causes her a great deal of physical pain.
I shared with her that I too used to engage in this activity, and had a hard time shaking it. After discussing the tips and tricks I used to stop the behavior, we hit upon the reason that I feel is central to why it was so hard for me to stop: shame. It was something that I knew I shouldn't do because I believed that other people would think badly of me. It was a secret, and having a secret no matter how big or small, is powerful. Doing something I know would be frowned upon or judged? It is the most powerful lure; so powerful, very often, I don't even make a game of wanting to resist. I rush boldly into its dark murky depths, reveling in the badness of my behavior.
The rush of shame mixed with the satisfaction the activity provides is a cocktail that I take straight up as often as I can, until I become so self-destructive that I have to look at the cost-benefit ratio to determine if it is really time to stop. Truthfully, by the time I am looking at a cost-benefit ratio, it is long passed the time where I should have stopped and right around the time that my behavior is about to cost me permanently.
If I want to get rid of any behavior, any activity that I participate in that I feel badly about, I have to change my feelings around that behavior.* In essence, it is not the behavior itself that is pulling me, but my feelings around it.
This is the essence of embracing my sludge, my filth, my grime. It is all good, but I tend to judge myself and others for it, when the behavior is really a natural part of my life. Short of harming myself or another, there is no good and bad, just things people do.** The sooner I can release my intense feelings around my behaviors, the less power those behaviors have over me.
For many years, I struggled with sugar. I would binge, then quit, then binge, then quit, my blood sugar and anxiety going up and down with where I was in my "cycle of sick and shaky" (literally sick to my stomach from binge eating sugar or shaky in a sugar crash). It wasn't until I stopped viewing sugar as bad, and my desire for it as evil that I could actually go through life treating it like it was just another thing. Now, sugar is a thing I eat only when I want it, and only until I don't want anymore. In fact, I can very often be heard at work, proclaiming proudly, "I am eating cake, everyone!!" It is all part of coming out of the sugar closet. I have embraced it, brought it out into the light, and now, it really doesn't control me.
Is there anything in your life that you keep in the closet? Anything that you feel shame around that keeps you chained to it? Reconsider your feelings toward the behavior, and your feelings about yourself regarding that behavior. Love yourself because of that behavior, not in spite of it. The sooner you stop seeing any of your traits as flaws, the sooner you stop seeing your behavior as bad, the sooner you will know freedom.
*This statement does not apply to physical addiction, which is a whole other issue which I do not have the chops to comment or advise on.
**This phrase is taken from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
Wondering what that "habit" was at the beginning of this post? That is the power of shame, the power of a secret. It is seductive and exciting and often, quite destructive. The habit of which I speak happens to be a pretty boring, typical habit that would disappoint you if I disclosed it. Which is the power of disclosure. It frees you from the anxiety around it. Lesson learned?
Didja like this? Share it! FB Like it!! Tweet it! Pass this one on. It might just help someone who needs to embrace their sludge.
On Monday, I put my art diploma up for sale on EBAY. I was hoping to comment on the rising cost vs. the falling value of education in the U.S.
I created a tongue-in-cheek press release, which you can read below, outlining the irony and sadness of this reality, hoping to create a dialogue around this state of affairs, but what it did, which was much more useful, was get me to think about the real value of my art education.
I learned how to communicate in art school. I learned how to give criticism, how to take criticism and use it to improve, and I learned how to communicate without words. This set of communication skills has been more valuable to me in business, social, and personal relationships than anything I learned in business school. By far.
So, though I really do believe that education is becoming cost-prohibitive, and that a degree means less and less as the years pass in terms of being able to find actual work, the shit I learned while going to art school? There is no currency system in the world that could measure its value.
So, go ahead and read the press release below, maybe follow the link to Ebay, think about the nature of education in the U.S., the state of the political system, and the fact that in one way or another, a loan is just a chain around your ankle holding you back from true liberation.
But understand that this idea, the expression of it, and anything that comes from it is the fruit of my labors in art school. I can do this because I did that.
Incredible Investment Opportunity Discovered in Art Degree
Bellingham WA, October 6th, 2014: 45 year old Sara Young discovered yesterday, much to her surprise, that since its purchase in 2000, her degree in craft (art) has more than doubled in value, creating an opportunity for investors and art collectors alike.
In 2000, Ms. Young purchased her degree, and thus her education for $48000. In 2014, this same education and degree is selling for $107,200. In fourteen short years, the value of this piece of paper has more than doubled, and Ms. Young is offering an excellent opportunity for investment this week on Ebay.
“I spent a grueling four years of my life earning that degree,” Ms. Young offered, clutching her head and shaking it, “it would be nice to see someone else get some use out of that thing, its value increases every year the more the price of education skyrockets and the value of the dollar falls.”
Ms. Young believes that the cost of education will just keep going up until prospective artists will be priced out of the education market all together.
“Soon, people won’t be able to buy this type of education. It will be a thing of the past. Art education will be dead, and this piece of paper will be worth millions.”
Ms. Young is the sole proprietor of Your Badass Heart, (pleaseyourselffirst.com) and Spike of all Trades (spikeofalltrades.com). She is an artist, a writer, and an entertainer.
2807 Cottonwood Ave.
Bellingham, WA 98225
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Things happen so quickly when I'm emotional. I open my mouth and words fly out that I really wish I could pull back and shove right down my throat again.
But I can't. The words, no matter how ridiculous, painful, or destructive, are out there doing their damage, and I am left holding the putrid bag of responsibility for whatever destruction my words might wreak.
That is why I advise the people I help to try and avoid using their brains when communicating. While that sounds counter-intuitive, the truth is that communication is all about your guts and your heart.
We all have stories we create about ourselves and others. Generally speaking, when we are stressed, a lot of those stories are based on our fears. Our brains fabricate worst case scenarios and project them onto people and events faster than even we know that we are doing it. By the time we realize what is going on, we have created a personal hell in which we suffer at the hands of others and from which there is no escape.
As you might have guessed, this does not have to be the case. I have already written a bit about Clutch Communication and the value of practice and personal values. This is where you have the power to override your brain. You practice training your heart and your guts to take over.
When I train to listen with my guts and speak with my heart, I am basically training myself to slow down, allow space for the person or people to whom I am speaking, and to make space for myself in the conversation. I am training myself to understand on a very basic level that it is okay to be wrong. I am making sure that I am not preparing what I want to say while others are speaking. I am listening. I am also watching for any knee-jerk defensive reactions that I might have to anything that is said.
Defensiveness and not listening are characteristics of a person who only wants to be right. Clutch communication is not about being right or winning arguments. It is about compassion and generosity, first and foremost for yourself. It is about resolution, not revolution. It is about knowing yourself. That is what practice provides. The more you practice in clutch situations, the more you learn about yourself and the more you can define what you need when you leave a conversation.
It is like practicing any type of physical endeavor, be it dance, drawing, baseball or ping pong. You are training your body to react in specific and highly efficient ways in specific situations so you don't have time to think. You are practicing overriding the stories in your brain.
It is the same with communication. You must practice and build up the muscle memory in your heart and your guts so that your brain does not have the opportunity to tell you stories of pity and woe. When I was younger, I thought I had to be right. I thought I had to fight. I thought it was best to be confrontational and acceptable to say anything that was on my mind, as long as I considered that stuff to be true. While I might win the argument, I would leave the conversation with a bad taste in my mouth because I knew I had hurt someone to get there. After a while, I started to suspect that I was just a bully rationalizing my bad behavior because in my mind, I was right. The realization was tough, but it helped me to alter my behavior so that it was more in line with my values.
No matter what anyone tells you, it is always best to let your guts do the listening and your heart do the talking. You let your head into the conversation and you are sunk. I will, as always, provide you with an example.
Very recently I was pulled into a certain individual's office quite by surprise and attacked with a line of questioning which displayed this individual's intense aggravation with my behavior. As I sat there across from him, watching his eyes roll at me and listening to him cross examine me about things I had said and done, I knew that I had a choice. I could lower myself to this fear-based type of communication, further skew the message I was hearing by making assumptions about his motivation, or I could stay calm, state the facts, and speak from my heart. I could choose to speak about the only things that I truly know; what I need and what I am not getting.
I was able to listen with my guts and speak from my heart because I have had the opportunity to practice this repeatedly over the last twenty years, and while I have made the wrong choice many times, this time, I remembered my training, and my guts and heart took right over.
I expressed to him what I was experiencing, what I needed out of the conversation, and I was honest about the anxiety his behavior had induced. I was open to hearing about anything I might have misunderstood and anything I might have been wrong about. I took him at his word. I did not try and figure out his level of honesty, his level of commitment to the resolution or his willingness to resolve the problem. I did not judge, I did not presume.
By the end of the conversation, he was taking responsibility for his part of the misunderstanding and apologizing for rolling his eyes. I felt good leaving his office because I had not put him down (though for a moment I desperately wanted to) and I had not backed down. I left respecting myself.
This conversation could stay behind me. I would not replay it in my head, wishing I would have said something else, and I would not regret horrible things I had said.
After all the work I have done to get here, being in this place is magical. It is trans-formative, it is astounding, and experiencing this success gives me a road map to help me get back there the next time that I need to. This conversation was, in the end, more practice. And it ends up that the guy who rolled his eyes at me is someone who is helping me get to where I want to be.
While I would never tell anyone that this is the way for everyone to look at communication, I do help people communicate in ways that help them know themselves better and feel better about how they leave conversations.
My next blog post will be about how not to take things personally. It is a favorite topic of mine and one which radically changed the way I view myself. I am diving deep and pulling it all together in order to present it in a way that will enable you to scarf it down.
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