The Work.

School work - 1946

Self-examination with a weighty purpose

I am white and female. I am privileged. I am Oklahoman. I am American. I come from a place where the past is uncomfortable, painful, shameful, and unspoken. The traditions I come from rely on compartmentalization and denial. The culture taught to me was to cover feelings, to move on to move forward. I have a lot of Work to do.

The Work: the Work is mine. I have to figure it out. No one can tell me what to do for the Work, but they can help me find it. They can help me know myself, articulate my intrinsic knowledge. I find the Work when I find hard truths- the parts of myself and my history that make me cry or shake or freeze or swallow hard. When I identify these places, I have found what I must confront. These are aspects of myself that are scary for me to venture into, but they are same areas that, if not reconciled, make me dangerous and harmful to others. 

What sort of frightening messages do these truths hold (and how do I know when I am close to them)? They tell me I am stupid and wrong (I convince myself I am right). They tell me I am weak and vulnerable (I make myself impenetrable). They tell me I am not good enough (I think, at least I’m better than you). They tell me I am unworthy of love (I project that on to you, too).

It takes courage to do the work of breaking through defenses that I put up to then do even more work on repairing parts of myself that hurt. In the past, I surely tried to breeze by these painful parts of my life or my mind. Maybe I drank. Maybe I shopped. Maybe I busied myself. Maybe I moved away. Maybe I found someone to love me. Maybe I blamed them when the pain resurfaced. Maybe I didn’t want to face it, and I kept reaching outside for something or someone to heal me.

Now is the time to do the Work. My country, my culture, my workplace, and my family are shifting. Hidden internal conflicts are coming to a head all around us.

Collectively, we have to resolve years of festering neglect to our interconnected social and environmental systems. We have to find a way to reshape our world so that we can, quite literally, survive. COVID-19, racism and prejudice, and climate change are threats to us all. Our social structure, our collective uncomfortable history and painful truths must be confronted in order to move forward. To do this, we need brutal honesty and humility at the individual level. I have to do my WORK.

I, along with the rest, am called on to do the Work. As one causing harm, I am called on to do disproportionately more of the heavy lifting. I have to. It can only be done by me, because it is my heart, my mind, and my actions that have to change. It doesn’t mean anything if I try to get the answers from someone else. Deep down, I know what I have to do, or at least where I have to start.

You have to stay focused on the work…Y’all know what the work is. If someone has to tell you what the work is, then you don’t want to know what the work is. Then you don’t want to do the work. You know what the work is. Anybody who wants to do anything knows exactly what the work is. And if you don’t know what the work is, find out. It’s easy to find it out.  -Billy Porter

This however, does not mean that I don’t have support as I go through this journey. I am doing my Work while those around me are doing theirs. Others share their stories, and I share mine, and we learn from one another. I have my therapist, friends, family, teachers, and mentors to help. They help me work through sticking points. They help me say the unsayable, and then it becomes less scary. They help me trade my harmful habits for healthy ones. They help me understand that I am worthy, that I am lovable even with flaws, and that I can overcome my mistakes.

This journey may seem like it is dwelling in the past and stirring up trouble. But it is nothing compared to the prolonged anguish of doing nothing. Of always looking around for a magical antidote for mental unrest. Of feeling shame and guilt in the most unlikely of places. This Work is for me. It is for others. This Work is worth it.

Some things we don’t do for money

If I could choose one message for my little niece and nephew to carry with them and guide them, this is it. If I could write a song and sing it to them everyday, these would be the lyrics. If it filled their ears and guided their steps, so many choices in life would be made easier, and I’m convinced their lives would be more satisfying.

Everyone has their price
And why should they not?
Dollars bring dreams
Of beauty and yachts
Success they keep saying
Is money spent freely
Is a self-made man
Above most all feelings

Don’t you believe them
Those are all lies, my honey
Disgrace, trick, and harm
Some things we don’t do for money
The value we hold
Won’t exchange or diminish
It’s the head on our shoulders
The energy within us

We don’t trade our bodies
Or spare our convictions
We don’t laugh at others
Or become a victim
We don’t quiet the voice
That speaks out for justice
We don’t ignore the truths
That challenge or confront us

With good times and spokesmen
They’ll try to confuse you
Prizes, jewels, and glitter
But none of them will do
Because you won’t believe them
Those are all lies, my honey
Disgrace, trick, and harm
Some things we don’t do for money

When you burn your hand on a pot handle

dad cooking

Somehow, this is easy to do. For me, it happened when a burner I’d accidentally turned on heated the handle of the pot that was sitting on the burner I’d meant to turn on. I won’t go into details. Bottom line: I full on grabbed a piping hot metal pan handle and scorched the surface of my palm.

When I looked on the internet for specific solutions to this problem, there were plenty of headlines about grabbing a hot pot handle, but I was taken to generic burn instructions that didn’t necessarily speak to my issue. However, I sifted through them to find some sort of pain relief and strategies to limit blistering. I have compiled this list of relevant and helpful guidelines for addressing this specific problem.

First, take off jewelry. Your hand is going to get puffy and red. It’s going to feel like the worst sunburn you’ve had.

Second, run hand under cold water faucet. Experts say 10-15 minutes (click for link). If you fully grasped the pot/pan handle, you’re going to need more time than this. I felt bad about wasting water, so I put cool water in a bowl and just moved my hand back and forth.

If possible, take an ice pack out of the freezer and let it sit out at room temperature during this time.

Third, stay away from putting stuff on your hand. I tried a few products with aloe in them and then just straight aloe, and each one seemed to intensify the burning. Though internet searches said these would help, anything that covers the burn limits its ability to dissipate heat. Cool water is best.

Fourth, the cooled ice/water pack is helpful for moving about. Ideally, this wouldn’t be an ice pack because very cold temperatures on the skin after a burn can further damage tissue (see link here). When my pack was a bit too icy, I wrapped it in a towel that made it feel the temperature of cool water.

Fifth, if this happens at night, sleep at the edge of the bed with your hand in a bowl of cool water sitting on something below bed height (chair, tiny table, etc.). I tried this two ways, first on my back with my left (burned) hand off the left side of the bed. This is tricky because I had burned my palm and had to turn my arm in an awkward position. The second way worked better for me. I laid on my right side and let my left hand rest in the bowl of water that was on the right side of the bed.

When I woke up the next morning, my pain had subsided and my hand was out of the bowl.

Sixth, if there are no blisters, leave hands bare. While the rest of the day there were still some hot spots (pre-blister) on my hand, they were mostly gone, at least smaller, and healing quickly.  If there are blisters, don’t pop them and keep them covered to reduce risk infection (see link here). I didn’t have this issue, but I trust traditional first aid knowledge at this point.

Luckily, our skin is amazing (see here) and can heal quickly when we take care of it. Give it some TLC while its healing, and you’ll be back in business in no time.

I’ll make you waffles

My mom in her kitchen, early 1950's (Instagram)

All I wanted to do was to sleep longer. In that snug state of just waking up but being too sunken into the cradle of sheets to move, I heard a deep, soft voice whisper, ‘I’m making waffles, do you want one?’ After momentarily contemplating sleeping longer and ignoring the voice versus waking up to the waffles that I realized I could already smell cooking, I woke up saying ‘yes.’  I mean I actually woke up. Woke up from the dream. There was no tempting aroma, no waffle, no handsome man waiting to serve it to me. You can imagine the disappointment I felt.

It always perplexes me how in one moment I can go from strong, independent, fulfilled woman to a needy little lonely girl. That day I woke up feeling like the little girl. Why the hell was there no one around to thoughtfully fix me waffles as a gentle way to ease me out of bed? As the day progressed, similar questions arose. Why did I have to do all of the chores, depend on myself to get me where I was going, talk myself into doing what I needed to and out of the stress and confusion that came up in my life? Why was there no one there to pick up the slack if I decided to let it all go?

Inevitably, I recovered and made it back to a healthy state of confidence and happy self-reliance. I also happened upon a philosophical discussion (via Oprah podcast) about the ego and awareness parts of the self. In this conversation, spiritual thinker Eckhart Tolle talked about how he realized that these parts were distinct when he was talking in frustration to himself about himself. Continue reading

How to Write a Reflexivity Statement (for professional or personal purposes)

 

One little trick can help you gain more accurate research results, improve personal relationships, and avoid professional pitfalls. All it takes is answering questions you inherently know the answer to and then taking a few steps to make those answers useful.

How do you see the world? What paradigms structure your life? How are you influenced by the people and places around you? And vice versa?

These questions are part of what are answered with a reflexivity statement. They are crucial to understanding yourself and your place in the world around you. In research, best practices mandate that you write a reflexivity statement before penning a proposal  or stepping into a community.  You must understand why you are asking particular research questions, how your perspective may be limited, and how you may be prone to bias. Though knowing your inner workings does not prevent them from playing a role in research outcomes or conclusions, it does help to limit their influence and gives you the power to correct for your own shortcomings. Continue reading

Finding Inspiration to Live Big


PICT0035

A couple months ago, my 5 year old niece invited me to her private swim lesson. She’d graduated from using floaties and was excited to show me all the new swimming she could do. In front of a rather large audience for the occasion (4 family members and the swim instructor’s dad), Rosie practiced her little heart out.

She kick-boarded, blew bubbles underwater, and dog-paddled. Practicing jumping into the pool, she repeatedly belly-flopped. Each time, she said she was fine, swam to the stairs, and walked to the edge to try again. Finally, her instructor told her it was time to practice swimming under water. This was the big thing.

Her instructor stood a few feet away from a step in the pool, and Rosie would swim the distance between underwater. At first, Rosie did well, and she was all focus. Gradually, the instructor moved further away making the swim a little bit further. At one distance, Rosie tried a couple times unsuccessfully, and she hesitated before starting again. She said, “I don’t think I can do it.” Her gift of an instructor didn’t miss a beat and replied, “I think you can do anything you want to. You just have to learn how to do it.” Sure enough, Rosie tried again and she made it.

I was so grateful to be there for this particular moment. Getting to see Rosie try her hardest at something and overcoming self-doubt and fear was incredible. I was definitely a proud aunt. More than that though, I was inspired. This girl goes out there everyday with challenges to learn, make friends, and develop skills. With her heart on her sleeve and a smile on her face she goes for it. Thank goodness she’s supported and encouraged along the way. Thank goodness she sees her effort being worth the risk.

I have thought about this little moment often this semester. As I face challenges in developing new skills, navigating relationships, and a stressful workload, I battle self-doubt of my own. I sometimes wonder if I am up for it or if I’m the right person for a job. Sometimes I am unsure if I should voice my opinion or share my ideas. Should I tell someone how I’m feeling, or just leave it alone? Will it matter if I do? Sometimes I question my judgement.

When I’m out of my comfort zone, it gives me peace to think of Rosie’s brave moment. I know growing will be hard. I know putting myself out there and trying to be something more than I am already is risky. I don’t know that I’ll be rewarded. People may not support me. They may not care what I say or may think it’s dumb. They may be mad that I have anything to say at all or be mean when I do. I’m in school to become an “expert,” a PhD. My career and professional reputation is on the line with how I use my voice. So is the well-being of those I am meaning to help by using my expertise.

In this process of really hard work and intensive self-analyzation, I recognize that I feel the need for courage in speaking out in another area in which I have expertise: my personal life. It takes bravery to have tough conversations with family members, to show your feelings in a new relationship, and even to try to run as fast as I can.

These feelings that have been brewing all semester overflowed in the last week watching Christine Blasey-Ford’s testimony. As she shared her knowledge and experience with the world in a moment of pure courage, we saw the painful instance of lack of support and encouragement. We saw the risk as maybe not being worth the reward (though I would never say it was for nothing- she has inspired so many).

Right now, our social and political infrastructure tell us to be safe, not take risks, not grow or improve. They tell us to be quiet and be comfortable. I feel it at every level.

From academic departments, to government officials, to friends, to dates, to family relationships. Messages are clear: don’t innovate or create, keep the status quo. Know your place. You are not important.

It sucks we have to battle this mindset, this mood of the country. I love the art, the music that speaks out against that narrative. Today when I was running, Leela James’s version of “A Change Is Gonna Come” came on my radio station. It is so honest to the experience of the tension between hope and struggle. It gave me strength. Just like memories of Dr. Blasey-Ford’s brave testimony and Rosie’s brave swim lesson do.

I’m resolved to find the less dominant “go for it” narrative in all I can. For as long as I can keep it up, I am hearing only “you’re worth it,” “you matter,” and “you make a difference.” It’s going to be in messages I give to myself and others. It will be evident in my music choice, my running, my routines, my conversations, and my media choices.

Risk-taking is always going to be hard, but I think we can make it easier by immersing ourselves in hope and support.

What’s the Status Quo on Cheating?

 

Audrey Hepburn and Mel Ferrer on the set of War and Peace, by Milton Greene, 1955

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For whatever reason, we don’t talk about cheating. We don’t know where everybody stands on the topic or what their experience with it is. It’s often a shameful experience for both the cheater and the cheated on, so maybe we cautiously avoid it out of a concern for other peoples’ feelings. When I respectfully disregarded that respectful distance, I found out that broaching the topic is welcomed and oftentimes needed.

 

Asking seven fairly simple questions about peoples’ experience with and views on cheating, I entered into conversations that lasted anywhere from 3 to 45 minutes (transcribing was a beast!). Everyone I approached was willing to partake in the survey, and most were curious about my findings. ‘What did other people say?’ was a common question I received when mine were finished.

Below is a summary of what I found, meant to be reflective of the 54 responses I received. Each participant was generous in sharing their views on such a personal subject, and they warrant more space than I can give in one article. Thank you to all who shared your experiences with me.

The participants were 30 males and 24 females of various adult ages. The interviews were done on the street, at coffee shops, in bars, on trains, in FedEx lines and anywhere else I found myself in conversation with people willing to chat. Participants were from 6 different countries and interviewed in a few different states and countries.

As you read the responses to these questions, I challenge you to think about what your answers are for these questions. It’s not all as simple as you might think. So, deep breath! Here we go. Continue reading

How significant is cheating in relationships?

MARILYN Monroe

Marilyn Monroe: famous for her star power, sexuality, and scandalous affairs

Is cheating normal in relationships? Do some situations warrant or even necessitate cheating? Is fidelity an outdated social constriction that no longer applies? I’ve wondered where the rest of the world stood on these questions with various degrees of interest throughout my life. People around me have shown and expressed their feelings on the topic, movies and tv shows give mixed answers (depending on the protagonist’s stake in the matter), and I have my own ideas from my experience and upbringing. They don’t all add up.

Though its name may suggest otherwise, this blog has never outright tackled the topic of cheating. For a long time, for whatever reason, I didn’t think of writing about it.  When I did, it felt a little too close to home to report on objectively. Somewhere along that journey, I became very curious about one aspect of cheating: its normalcy. Dating in Los Angeles is enough to twist any person’s concept of relationship norms, but what really did me in was Lexington, Kentucky. As I spoke with a client who requested personal training session with his “lady friend” to be billed separately from his session (because his wife handles the bills), he explained to me that cheating was normal. He elaborated, “everybody does it, but nobody talks about it,” and “sometimes it’s the right thing to do.”

Meanwhile, I was talking to (and really excited about) a guy who kept initiating plans for us to go places and do things, but never nailed down a day and time. It seemed strange, and with my client’s words in my head, I asked him if he was single. His answer: “it’s complicated.” It’s complicated = wants to break up with his live-in girlfriend of 2 years + works for her father + shares her friends + doesn’t know how to leave + is a tool.

Together, along with seeing loved ones fall into the ethical gray zone of relationships, these experiences led to a true mindfuck, where I was questioning the most basic strands of social fabric. For a little over the next year I asked over 50 people to do a survey for Cheating June that explored how people viewed cheating and what their experience with it was. It has now been 2 years, and though this is the most interesting and important line of questioning I have ever endeavored with friends, family, and random strangers and people on the street, I never wrote it up and published it.

This survey brought me understanding and peace regarding the subject, and I now have a better way to answer the questions I had pondered for so long. From these surveys, I also know that I am not alone in feeling that their answers are ambiguous in our society; people are looking for those answers. So I will share the results in this modest blog hoping that they help whoever finds them have more of an answer to their big questions about cheating and fidelity in relationships.

¡Quinoachos!

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Marilyn demonstrating electric stove, 1949A meal with loads of protein, a superfood, fresh veggies, and Mexican twist? Yes, please! Earlier this year I realized I was missing out on significant amounts of protein in my diet. This simple recipe has become a staple because of its high nutrient value, quick prep time, deliciousness, and reheatability. Continue reading

How my time and energy speak for me

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Watching the World Cup never ceases to inspire me. Seeing athletes laying everything on the line, giving everything to the game is goosebumps worthy. Of course, mixing this immense show of passion with a couple pints of beer only magnifies the wonderful soccer feelings. This current revelation, however, was not Guinness-induced. It came after watching Spain and Iran battle out 90+ minutes of emotional roller coaster soccer.

I always like to watch how the players move off of the ball. You see how each player allocates his extra effort. Who does he move to defend or to combine with? Where he works the hardest gives a clue as to which players he sees as most valuable and to where he sees his own value. For instance, Spain’s Iniesta always moves to support players on the ball for a short pass to connect two teammates; he rarely looks to position himself for the shot on goal. Pique will rush to support developing play from the back and instinctively looks to get the ball off of his feet; though he offers his height as a target for corners and free kicks, he gives most of his effort to his role as defender. In today’s game, Australia’s Arvani seemed to move everywhere, undiscerning and unlimited in where he would spend his energy. He took chances like no one had ever told him it wasn’t his place to do so (and he’s 19, so, maybe he has that luxury).

The games go so quickly, no player stops to weigh the pros and cons of moving one way or another. No one questions the meaning of their instinctive reactions. It is reflection and review, the slow motion replay that reveals those hidden messages.  Continue reading